Prayers and Paychecks: There are two misconceptions that we must address first. Often, when we talk about missionaries on the field and their immediate needs, we are told to give and pray. But are these really what missionaries need the most? Yes, finances are important. It can be super-frustrating trying to get on the field, waiting for support. We could not do what we do without financial partners! Likewise, prayers are super important. I see the power of prayer work again and again on the field. However, I think we have gotten so used to just saying, "give and pray" that it becomes just another box to check. Then, another month, year or however long goes by before the missionary returns again. In between life goes on. May I suggest a revision? Yes, pray for your missionary. But don't just blindly pray for them. Be informed. There are specific battles, needs and temptations in each missionary's life. Ask them how you can pray for them and tell them that you prayed for them specifically. Maybe your church family has specific requests already. Great! What a welcome sight it would be to get a text or email out of the blue from a church member saying they prayed for a specific need. You may even get a reply to let you know your prayers were answered. That is truly being connected with missions. As for finances... God uses support-raising in missionaries' lives mainly for humility and dependence (not on others but on the Lord). God may have you meet a specific need for a missionary. But I urge you to not just write a check or throw some cash in an offering plate just because you don't know what else to do. Instead, I urge you to ask what the needs are. You may be surprised to find that you can provide specifically what they need. God works in amazing ways through His people! Be aware and be a part. Missionaries are not organizations run like a well-oiled machine. They are people surrendered to the work of the Lord.
The Struggle for Support: We all know what it means when a missionary comes into the congregation, stands up to give a report and ends with saying, "Would you prayfully consider supporting me?" It means pull out our checkbooks, throw something in the offering plate, pick up their prayer card or sign up for their newsletter (which we may or may not read...lets be honest here, I get a LOT of newsletters. It's hard to read them all in their entirety). Granted, they are most likely looking for financial partners to get onto the field at that moment. What I don't think a lot of new missionaries going onto the field know at that moment is how much more they need and desire. Here is where I am going to be super honest, from personal experience and from watching others. There are days that it's rough, and I know that I am not the only missionary that has struggled with this. In fact, I think this is one of the biggest struggles of missionaries, summed up in one word: Loneliness. Whether you go to another country or another state, you leave all you know behind-your church, your friends, your comfort zone. What is worse, missionaries often feel forgotten by those we left behind. Everyone is busy, life goes on. We know they pray and care but their life is going one way and ours goes another. When we go home to give a report we are welcomed. People ask us how things are going and if we enjoy it. They mention they see your posts or newsletter and it looks like things are great. Then it gets a little awkward because you realize that life as gone on without you. You no longer fit into your old life or comfort zone. You feel out of place and are torn between wanting to just go back to your ministry and wanting to go back to the way things were and forgetting this "missionary thing." This is just the tragic reality of life. What do missionaries really need? They need support. But what does that mean?
SUPPORT: 1. bear all or part of the weight of; hold up 2. give approval, comfort, or encouragement to 3. suggest the truth of
I love these definitions of support. Each one speaks to the needs of a missionary. First, a missionary needs to be held up and helped in bearing the weight. Missions is messy. It is rough. It is heart-breaking. It is frustrating. What makes it even harder, is we have this idea that missions is glorious (which it is) and beautiful and rewarding. We forget that it is like being on the front lines of a battle field. We don't think of the front lines as a pretty place. Missionaries don't want to let on to all the struggles and frustrations they often see. (They honestly don't need to all the time. It isn't healthy and it isn't building the body up.) However, sometimes they need someone who isn't in the situation to cry out to. Not to whine, not to get sympathy, but to pray with them and for them and to point them back to scripture. They need reminded that they are called to this mission and that the calling is worth it. They need reminded of who they are in Christ. They need help bearing the weight. They need held up. Missionaries are people. They are insecure at times. They are keenly aware of their weaknesses. They are often tempted. They struggle with other people, believe it or not. Satan will do anything to tear apart their families, friendships, ministries and testimonies. They don't just need prayers from a distance. They need support bearers. The first goes straight into the second. They need encouragement and approval. Like I said earlier, missionaries can be insecure. You wouldn't believe how many times Satan tries to get us to believe that we shouldn't be where we are, that we have no business trying to do whatever mission God has called us to. When you are alone, facing the weight of ministry and Satan throws that lie at you!! Let me tell you, it is rough to ignore. That is why missionaries need approval. They need to be reminded that God did call them. He fights for them and works in them and through them. No, it isn't them. It is ALL God. But He chose to use them! Which leads us to the third point. Missionaries need to be continually reminded of TRUTH.
So, what does this look like practically? I can give you some suggestions but the best way is to always ask.
Respond: This might seem a little ridiculous but it is encouraging. Missionaries are told over and over again to keep in contact and to connect their supporters with the mission. It is a LOT of work to write up newsletters and prayer calendars and to write thank you notes. We love doing it, but it can be discouraging when you never get a response. When other posts get more likes than the mission pages sometimes it can cause a missionary to wonder if anyone really reads their updates. "Am I doing all this in vain?" is a question that runs through a missionaries mind. Missionaries know it isn't truly in vain but it can feel that way. Write a note, like a post, comment or send a message. These little things mean a lot. It means people are invested in the ministry.
Build a Relationship: Don't forget your missionary! Especially if you were friends before they went onto the field. Tell them what is going on in your life back home. Connect them back to the church! Ask them about their life and the ministry. Just build a normal relationship. This next suggestion may seem outdated in our technologically advanced society, but letters and packages are still fun to receive. If you have a missionary out of the country, you could even send them things you know they miss from home. That takes knowing your missionary.
Be a Part: If it is possible, go visit them! Be a part of the ministry. Help them out for a week or however long you can. It boosts a missionary's morale when the church that told them they were sending them, investing in them and praying for them actually puts boots on the ground and shakes their hand. It reminds them that they are not alone in the ministry! Any way that you can tell your missionary that you believe in the ministry that they are doing, that it is important and that they are doing something you support and are invested in, that is encouraging.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Are there some things I missed? How can missionaries and supporters be better connected? Are you a missionary? I would love to hear what you think a missionary needs most.