…who have labored side by side with me in the gospel… Philippians 4:3
While I myself am not a missionary, I’ve come to realize that being a missionary is a difficult, lonely, often thankless, life calling. To put it succinctly: missionaries face all the same daily challenges as you and I, but by themselves, in a different language with vastly different cultural rhythms and norms.
Housing, food, schooling, medical, transportation, utility bills…while trying to make contacts and build relationships in order to share the gospel, and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s a formidable calling, with an astounding rate of attrition. Too many missionaries leave the field on their first furlough, never to return.
How can we stem the tide? How do we labor together WITH them in the gospel? How do we demonstrate to missionaries that they are not alone-we’ve got their backs?
Here are four ideas, ranging from the easiest to the most costly.
- Pray. The easiest and cheapest-but arguably the most important and effective-thing we can do for our missionaries is pray for them. Monetarily, prayer will not cost you anything. Yet, time is a valuable currency. And time in prayer is not wasted time. As we intercede before the throne of grace for our brothers and sisters, mercy is found and grace is obtained. Prayer is the best first step to partner with missionaries. The CMML handbook guides you to pray for every one of their hundreds of missionaries on a monthly basis. If that is too daunting, pick 1 (or 2 or 3) missionaries that you personally know, and pray for them every week on the same day of the week.
- Communicate. In our age of social media, instant messaging, email, Skype and even fairly reliable snail mail, there is no reason not to be regularly communicating with missionaries. If you pray for a missionary, tell them. The easiest way to do this is to read and then reply to the prayer update emails that are sent out. Craig Fritchey suggested this at a missionary conference I attended and I’ve implemented this practice in the years since. Each time I receive an update I try to reply within a day or two. I know I personally enjoy getting newsy emails instead of soliciting emails and junk. Missionaries are people too, and I’m betting they enjoy getting updates on things in our lives. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself…Anyone can write a letter or an email to a missionary.
- Give. Give as a church. Give as a family. Give as a couple. Give as a single person. Give a little or give a lot. Give regularly and give as a need presents itself. Give generously and give sacrificially. Online giving, with recurring scheduled withdrawals is a newer invention that makes giving a snap.
- Go. Visit your missionary on the field. This is by far the most expensive, but it is exponentially worth the cost incurred. And I do say that from experience. When you visit a missionary your eyes are opened to the challenges and joys they are facing in a more real way than simply reading an update. Visiting adds perspective and depth to the prayers, letters, and giving. Visiting allows you to pray, write and give more specifically. Visiting a foreign country cultivates a bigger world view. (Most of the world doesn’t operate like our North American countries.) Visiting a missionary says, “we’re here for you” in a very tangible and literal way.
What else would you add to this list? If you are a missionary yourself, what else has been helpful?