…on or off the field (other than giving them money):
Originally published here
Missionaries are often able to serve because of the generosity of financial partners, but rates of missionary burnout/attrition suggest that missionaries may need more than financial support alone. I recently returned from seven months of missionary service in the Solomon Islands, which can be an incredibly isolated geographical region. For more than three months I was isolated culturally and linguistically; I could count on one hand the number of minutes I spoke with a fellow native-English speaker. Now that my wife Kyria and I are itinerating, we’ve had some opportunities to connect with some of our supporters who have an intuitive understanding of how to provide support to missionaries beyond opening up their wallets. The following are some ideas for how to support missionaries both on and off the field.
1. Read, pray through, and respond to your missionary’s prayer requests.We serve only by God’s power working in us. While I was in the Solomon Islands I felt the prayers of God’s people on my behalf. This was most noticeable in terms of my health and safety. Apart from a bad case of tonsillitis, I was as healthy or healthier than I often am while at home in the States. When I was sick, I sent out prayer requests to supporters. Their words of encouragement were helpful to me emotionally, and I quickly recovered from the sickness.
2. Read and respond to their newsletters. Many of us are inundated with media and our inboxes are filled to the rafters, but for Kyria and me, when supporters read our newsletters and write back to us about them, we feel encouraged and listened to. Sometimes a simple, “I read your newsletter,” “Good to hear from you,” or “we are praying for [insert something mentioned in the newsletter],” can really help us to feel listened to. Even a one liner lets us know that someone out there is reading our newsletters—which take a lot of time and effort to put together!
3. Act as a liaison between a missionary and your church. Pastors and priests these days have a lot of work on their plates. While itinerating, communicating with churches can be a real challenge. Sometimes a lay leader within a church is better equipped to connect missionaries than their rector. Having a point of contact with a new (or existing) congregation can really save a missionary a lot of stress (besides a lot of phone calls). Offer to “put in a good word” to a busy rector on behalf of a missionary or consider organizing a weekend for them to visit your church. This should all be done, of course, by utilizing the existing channels and structure of the local church. Often a member of a local congregation has a better feel for the existing system than a missionary on the outside.
4. Host a gathering of your friends who might be interested in supporting a missionary (again, either financially or by other means). Visiting churches is not always the easiest way to connect with people. Sometimes an informal meal at someone’s house can be a more intimate way of sharing about the work God has called us to. These kinds of informal gatherings have allowed Kyria and me to share more openly about some of the challenges and privileges of missionary work. These kinds of meals are often less constrained by time than more formal events at churches, and they tend to feel a lot more personal.
5. Send missionaries handwritten letters and care-packages. It may seem old fashioned, but it was a real encouragement whenever I received STAMPED MAIL in the Solomon Islands. I received some hand-written cards for Christmas (sent months in advance) as well as some hand-written letters. Stops at the post-office were frequently routine; I wasn’t expecting to get anything. What a joy to head into town (an all-day, and often STRESSFUL process) and to discover a treasure waiting for me at the local post-office. Once I even received coffee, candy, and hot sauce! One caveat to this—it is best to know the situation a missionary is in before sending them a package. Some countries and contexts make receiving a package more of a hassle than it is worth; sometimes missionaries have to pay import fees, cash-on-delivery, or they may not have vehicles to carry packages home.
6. When they come home, help missionaries to enjoy recreation. This past week Kyria and I spent some time with dear friends (and great supporters) in Colorado. They forced us (tongue-in-cheek) to visit the local chocolate shop and hot springs. They were happy to share some of the local attractions, and we were happy to take a break from our usual work, which is not always easy for us. Many missionaries are driven, sometimes to a fault. Depending on the field they serve in, missionaries may or may not have much time for recreation, it may be complicated by cross-cultural pressures, or, in some situations, it may be non-existent. This makes recreation time back in our home culture much more important!