2 critical components of caring for your missionaries
I was recently asked by a church missions committee leader for some advice on how they could best provide care and support for their overseas missionaries, both while they’re on the field and when they return back home periodically for furlough.
I spent some time brainstorming a list of practical things the church could do—everything from sending copies of missions committee meeting minutes to keep them informed of church business to helping to plan open house events in order to promote connection with the congregation.
But fundamentally, every idea I jotted down fit into one of two categories (and sometimes both).
Relationship and response.
After all, we’re talking about providing care for people, and care is inherently a relational endeavor. Healthy relationship requires communication, trust, and commitment and it’s up to your church to figure out how it can convey the reality of these essential virtues to your mission partners.
It may mean extra work. It may mean taking the time to send copies of church newsletters or meeting minutes in order to keep those who are far away in the loop on what’s going on back home. It may mean having to take the additional step to scrub those items for security-sensitive spiritual language, depending on where your missionaries are serving. Relationship doesn’t come without investment.
The need for trust and commitment as aspects of relationship especially surface when a missionary is engaging in a process of discernment about a possible change of strategy, ministry, or even calling. The concept of relationship takes the nature of your church’s partnership beyond a mere employment contract—as if the missionary was merely hired for a specific role and to produce specific results—and reminds us of the dynamic nature of humanity and the spiritual life. All too often, churches may pull back in these seasons of seeking, threatening—either by their silence or perhaps more explicitly—the discontinuance of the support relationship if the missionary feels led to change direction.
This scenario bridges us into the second critical component of missionary care: response. Responding to the communication and circumstances shared by the missionary is actually just another facet of relationship, but it’s vital to demonstrate this response so that your missionaries know that you are standing with them.
Committing to pray is a vital part of your stewardship; do you send your missionary a note from time to time to let them know that you are indeed laboring on their behalf in this way? When they share specific needs for prayer, do you send a note back to let them know that their request has been received, and is being engaged in?
Not just in matters of prayer, but practical requests also need to be responded to. When a missionary voices a need for housing or a car during an upcoming time of furlough, do you share that need with the congregation? And if so, do you let the missionary know that you’ve done so? It can be so encouraging to hear that a need has been read and that action is being taken; even if provision doesn’t come through the congregation, making the attempt, hearing and responding, demonstrates care and relationship.
A church really shines when its response goes beyond explicit requests and it’s able to read between the lines and interpret the missionary’s circumstances to anticipate needs and make offers of help. I recently heard of a family serving in Ireland who were going to be the sole field workers for a while as the rest of the ministry units were going to be on furlough. They would have a heavy ministry load to bear in pastoring their small church plant, facilitating Christmas ministries, and parenting three young children. When their sending church read about their upcoming circumstances, they offered to pay half the cost of the airfare to send the missionary’s mother from Australia to Ireland for 3 weeks in order to provide support during a stretching time.
A response of this nature—generous, timely, and targeted to personal needs—has a profound impact on a missionary feeling encouraged and supported, and testifies to the reality of the relationship that exists in your church’s overseas ministry partnership.
Allen Hamlin has served overseas since 2006, and provides team building consultation around the world. He currently lives in Wales, and oversees ministries in the southern UK. He is the author of Embracing Followership (Kirkdale Press; Feb 2016).
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