I met Sean Miller at a missions conference and he has continued to be a good friend serving around the world. Check out this post on partnering!
This is not a new topic to the mission’s discussion, and one that is easily agreed upon. I can make the case like many others have for creative ideas to bless missionaries, grow your church’s relationship with them, etc… but more often than not, various writings about this topic do not lead to action. Just as a heads-up, these 10 ideas are primarily geared toward a home church partnership. Missionaries simply aren’t that special for every partnering church to feel compelled to do all of these things! Missionaries are everyday people just like you, simply seeking the Kingdom’s growth in a different context and it is also their “job”.
However, cross-cultural missions has its own unique challenges that a home church and partnering churches need to seek to help the missionary family overcome. There was a story once told about William Carey: “After hearing an account of the spiritual needs of India, the secretary of the meeting remarked: "There is a gold mine in India, but it seems almost as deep as the center of the earth. Who will venture to explore it?" "I will venture to go down," said Carey, "but remember that you must hold the ropes."
The local church must “hold the rope” for their missionaries as they serve cross-culturally. If you are reading this and are not a missionary’s “home church”, still look to apply some of these ideas to your other supported missionaries, perhaps albeit in a reduced fashion. If you are a home church to a missionary or missionaries, don’t feel pressure to apply all of these immediately! Start somewhere, and seek the Holy Spirit to reveal other ways to “hold the rope”.
*NOTE*…. none of the below has anything to do with regular support giving.
10. You show grace
Missionaries are sinners, are not perfect and they should not be put on a pedestal. The missionary that says, “praise the Lord, brother/sister/pastor everything is great”, is more than likely being superficial in conversation. Go deeper. They will thank you for it, even if it is painful to talk about whatever current issue is going on. Except, in going deeper, show grace. There is spiritual, cultural, language, financial, personal, family, marital, health, material and everyday pressures that you in America do not understand unless you have lived as a cross-cultural missionary yourself. It may be easy for you to do different things you are supposed to do or follow advice given, but it is much harder for them. Show grace, it will go a long way. Don’t assume because a missionary is struggling in a particular area that it means they shouldn’t be on the field. The Lord may be refining them through the above pressures to equip them for further long-term ministry.
9. You do crazy stuff for them
I know of a church missions team member that heard a missionary loved Starburst jelly beans, so they bought a case of 40 bags!
Another missionary friend of mine knew there were no street names where he lived, so they made a legitimate road sign with his name on it! One of our churches knows we like Milo’s Sweet Tea, so they made sure they would have a couple gallons of it when we visited them on furlough.. Seemingly a trivial idea given to them lets the missionary know you are listening, even to the small comments.
8. You randomly call them
The missionary has time to call people. Any missionary that has no time to talk to people back home is too busy and doesn’t plan his/her schedule in a “non-burn out” healthy way. You make time for what is important to you, and you as an effective church partner need to make time for them if they are truly important to you. One of my missionary friends faithfully talks to his senior pastor every single week, talking and praying together. No agenda, no “trying to fix him/them”, just to pray with him and provide a safe place to talk about whatever is on his mind or heart with no fear of being criticized. This can happen easily and free in today’s modern era with VOIP home phone options, Skype, Facetime, etc…
7. You plan a team of people to intentionally love on them
Effectively showing this kind of love doesn’t happen because you “want to” or “feel like it”. This takes careful, deliberate action by a member care team at your church. They can be a sub-committee of the local church missions committee or it can be a separate team by themselves. There needs to be people assigned to this, with not a lot of other things on their plate. They need the ability (and the resources allotted to them) to make it happen.
6. You seek to understand them
Try to understand your missionaries. If they send a newsletter (print or email), read it and make notes to bring up in your next phone call/email with them. Intentionally follow them on Facebook or other social media. This means once a week or before a phone call, read what they have posted and make mention of it. Learn their likes and dislikes; find their hobbies and what makes them “tick”. Find out about their culture, struggles with the local people, and what is “not” in the newsletter about daily life. For example, questions like: “What is the grocery store like?” “Are there family things to do where you live?” “What are fun things that happen?” “What is the ministry like?” “What do you do on a daily basis?”
5. You visit them
Put it in the mission’s budget to have a member of your church visit them and spend a couple days with them. Some missionaries live in business and vacation “high traffic” areas. Make sure if people in your congregation goes to that country or near that country the missions team asks them to stop by and visit a nearby missionary. In this visit they could bring needed items or even just simply have a quick meal with them. Have a staff member or pastor or missions committee visit them at least once a term. This one-on-one visit should be separate from any short-term ministry team visits.
4. You personally give to them above and beyond regular support
Unless a missionary comes from a wealthy family, they are most likely broke. Only recently have missionary organizations been providing financial stewardship education, and it is usually limited. Pay for them to go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or pay for them to go through the Crown Financial Ministries MoneyLife program. If they make comments on social media or in a newsletter about a personal need, pay attention to it. They more than likely have thought through it, prayed about it and debated whether or not to even share about it. After evaluation of how best to help, intentionally try to meet the need. Most missionaries have minimal salaries, often times have high costs of living, and some may have debt they are trying to eliminate. As a general rule, if they come to share at your church, they are spending money (personal, ministry finances or both) to get there. It is very helpful to give them personal money/cash specifically for them. They probably have private needs they aren’t sharing.
3. You care about and love on their kids
Third culture kids have much adjustment in their lives. Make sure when they are on furlough they can do fun things, not just get dragged from ministry meeting to missions conference. If their kids just want time with their parents, make it happen. If the kids want to go to Chuck-E-Cheese, take them. While they are on the field, ask what the kids like and cannot get where they are. A few young girls at AWANA from my church growing up sent our 4-year-old daughter some Disney princess magnets, in a package just for her! Our daughter was very excited by the gift and it meant a huge amount to us as her parents! MK’s love to get mail just for them, even if it is just a few stickers thrown in with their parents’ mail.
2. You care about their marriage
A missionary’s marriage is one of the highest places the enemy attacks but it is also one of the most “assumed all is well” things a local church partner thinks. Just because a missionary is cleared for service and the ministry is growing does not mean all is well at home. Are pastor’s sometimes jerks to their wives? Guess what? A missionary does the same thing. Do pastors and pastor’s wives have to intentionally work on their marriage? Missionaries have to as well. Except as stated above, they also have other cross-cultural pressures of being on the field, in addition to normal life’s struggles and stresses. Send them marriage books, have older couples lovingly mentor them and provide a “safe” place for counsel, send them a personal gift to go on a nice date, and ask them if they are having regular date nights. Have the church give them an overnight get-away on the field or back in the USA when they are on furlough. On a practical level, make sure when they are staying with people on furlough that the couple has “alone” time, if you know what I mean. That probably is being sacrificed if they are going from place to place, living out of suitcases and the family is staying in one bedroom. Ask how your church can help build up and lift up their marriage.
1. You faithfully pray for them and tell them that you are faithfully praying for them
Most importantly, pray for them. Pray faithfully and often for them. Keep current prayer requests on bulletin boards and prayer sheets. Make sure that if your bulletin has “Our Missionaries” on it, ensure their names are included! Tell them that you are praying for them. Send them a quick email when you have them as the “missionary of the week”. Write them and have others write them a note simply saying “I prayed for you today”. Prayer truly moves mountains in the ministry, and knowing that there is a truly partnering prayer team behind them does wonders for the missionary spiritually. There is nothing worse than hearing a church say “yeah we are praying for you!” when in reality it is just to sound spiritual. Never think you have told the missionary enough that you are praying for them. They are easily forgetful with all that happens in a day, week or month. They need faithful prayer.
Sean Miller currently serves as a missionary with Child Evangelism Fellowship in St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean with his wife Mandi and daughter Maddy. If you want to find out more about their life and ministry, visit www.amomentwiththemillers.com