A few months ago, a friend and I had an opportunity to share at a women’s gathering. The topic of the evening was missions.
Afterwards, I put together a list of ways to encourage Christian missionaries, based on our discussion that night. I posted a condensed version of this list on my blog, and “How to encourage Christian missionaries” happens to be the most searched phrase for hits on my blog.
I, for one, was very encouraged by knowing that people are eager to know how they can better support and uplift those serving in foreign contexts. I hope these suggestions are helpful, and would love to hear your input and other ideas, too!
1. Read Their Updates
Like, actually read them. If your life is anything like mine, I realize there are multiple sources vying for your attention at any given moment: kids to feed, e-mails to read, work to be done. Believe it or not, most missionaries are just as busy as you are, if not more so. Yet they make an effort to carve out time to type and send an update, often with limited internet availability. The least we can do is set aside a few minutes to read about what the Lord is doing in their lives and on the field.
2. Reply to Their Updates
Reply to their newsletters, even if it’s just one line, to say, “Thanks for the update.” Having been on the other side of the communication for years when I was the one in the foreign context, it meant so much to me just to get a quick response that said, “Thanks for the news! Praying for you!” Don’t wait until you have half an hour to write a mini-novel, if it means you’ll never respond.
3. Pray for Them
Set aside a specific time, maybe one evening a week, that is specifically designated for praying for certain missionaries and their work. In our home, we designate Saturday evenings to pray for church services the following day, for pastors who will be preaching, etc. On Mondays, we pray for missionaries. The kids know this routine, and look forward to hearing news from various friends we have on the field.
4. Tell Them You’ve Prayed
If you have prayed for them, tell them. It can be encouraging to hear, “I’ll pray for you,” but how much more so to hear, “Our family prayed for you last night,” or “Our Bible study group prayed for you at our last meeting.”
5. Send Something Tangible
Send them a birthday card, care package, magazines from home, books you’ve enjoyed, or treats they can’t get on the field. I must admit, care packages were major highlights for me when I was serving in South Africa. Particularly when they included bags of chocolate chips.
6. Recommend Missionary Biographies
Recommend missionary biographies that might be an encouragement to them. The mission field can be a spiritually dry place (or even oppressive)! Several missionary friends of mine have commented on how motivating and inspiring it is to hear stories of those who have gone before, carried the torch, and persevered.
7. Share Spiritual Food
Share snippets of spiritual food you have enjoyed — a verse that encouraged you during your quiet time, or an anecdote from a sermon that made you think of them. Again, it doesn’t have to be lengthy — just a line or two so they know you’re thinking of them. You never know how the Lord might use those nuggets of truth at just the right time.
8. Be a Sounding Board
Be willing to be a sounding board, a confidential source to whom they can vent and on whom they can rely when things are challenging.
9. Remind Them It’s Okay to Rest
Let them know it’s okay to take vacations, both on the field and on furlough. Not only okay, but essential. In fact, you might even consider sponsoring them to have a proper holiday that they might not otherwise afford.
10. Give Their Kids Grace
Give their kids grace when they’re on furlough. The whirlwind of meetings, houses, people, services, food, conversations, adjustments, etc. etc. etc., can take a huge toll on adults and kids.
11. Listen to Their Stories
12. Pray Some More
13. Visit if You Can
And an added bonus, straight from a friend on the field, “Of course, the absolute cherry on the cake would be coming to visit us!”
[Editor’s Note: A shorter version of this post appeared on the blog, Heading Home, in March 2014.]