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This post is written by a CRCNA missionary serving in a sensitive location.

Summer missionary visits can often be an exciting and enlightening time for North American churches. However, visiting missionaries often face unique challenges. The following post, written by a missionary serving in a sensitive location, helps give some insight into how churches can excellently support the missionaries they sponsor. 

What do missionaries really need from their supporting churches? 

  1. Encouragement. Your missionary might feel worn out from meeting the needs of others. Some have been working in or near areas with violence and hardship. Our friends who live where we used to live in the Middle East are currently struggling with the trauma and pain over the war in Gaza. Others deal with similar pain. Your missionary may also feel grief over not being able to be present during the loss of loved ones or important events in the lives of friends and family. Ask them - how are you really doing and how can we encourage you?

2. Proactive offers of support. When your missionary comes for a visit, there are a number of needs they will have. They will most likely need a car to drive and a place to stay. They may need help with putting their children into a school. On one of our visits, we needed help finding a medical doctor who was willing to see us as new patients. We needed help obtaining a public library card. Some missionaries will have family members who can provide for some of these needs and desires, but you shouldn’t assume that. The best thing is always to ask and offer help. To be honest, it was sometimes difficult for us to be vulnerable with our needs and ask for help. In our country of service, we were often the people others would go to for help. Whether it was finding assistance for refugees or giving advice to newcomers, we were among the people who could get things done. It was hard to make that adjustment and ask others for help. Consequently, the most helpful offers for us were specific. Rather than, “we should get together sometime,” a better way is to say, “I want to meet up with you. Would next Tuesday or Friday be an option for you?” Rather than “let me know if you need anything,” try “Would you prefer I come and sit with you over coffee, or would a gift card be better for you right now?” “Would you like a babysitter so you can have a date night, or would you like me to bring my children over for a play date?” All of these suggestions also dignify the person by letting them choose.

3. Clear communication about what the church is providing and what they are expecting. When we hire someone to do a job, we give them a job description with clear expectations and we communicate when and how much they should expect to be paid. Your missionaries deserve the same. It’s highly beneficial to know what kind of financial support to expect, when to expect it, and what we can do to make it more likely to be renewed. This helps us and our organization decide if we need to look for more supporters. It also helps us to know your expectations of communication from us. Is a bi-monthly update letter adequate? Would you like us to have a conversation with your committee? How often should we visit the church? When we do visit the church, please communicate with us what to expect. When should we arrive? What do you offer for our children during and after the service? Do you want us to set up a table for greeting people? Should we plan on having lunch with people on that day? Are you going to publish our names on the internet? For us, as we work in a sensitive location where our personal safety can be at risk due to our work, this was a concern.  If preaching, what does the preacher usually wear? Do you have a place for us to stay if needed? We don’t mind over-communication. In fact, we may need it.

4. Understanding. Understand that a visit to the US/Canada can be a bit overwhelming. Visiting a North American grocery store can be overwhelming. Our children might not adjust to your nursery or children’s church, meaning one of us might not be able to greet the congregation. Your church might be several times larger than any church we attend in our country of service, with a much greater sensory experience. Understand that this can be overwhelming for our children, and even for us. 

  • Understand that we may have lost some connection with you. While our photos and names have been placed on your wall or refrigerator for you to see repeatedly, we have not seen many of your people in years, and our brains are overwhelmed with vocabulary words in a new language, so we have probably forgotten a number of names. We are worried that will reflect negatively upon us. Please be patient and please be quick to offer your name. 

  • Understand that the whole family may not be able to attend everything you invite us to. An evening meal or meeting could be difficult when little ones have an early bedtime and need one parent to manage that. Some parents decide that they will handle all bedtimes or that they won’t utilize childcare offered by people they don’t know very well. Please understand that choice.

I hope all of these points will be received as honest suggestions to help improve the relationship between Christian workers and their sending churches. I worry these may be perceived as ingratitude, but I think it’s important to speak honestly about how we can do better. That is how we grow and improve. Thank you for your caring support.

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