This is a guest post by Dave Mumford. He and his family have been ministering in France for many years, so I asked him to help us think through how we as churches can better encourage our missionaries.
Churches Encouraging their Supported missionaries
A biblical precedent?
Before we delve into this exciting topic (for supported missionaries, that is…) it might be good to consider whether churches have a particular responsibility to specifically encourage “their” missionaries, and to what extent. It is assumed that faithful churches, interested in reaching out to various parts of the world through a missions program, will send funds, and offer at least some prayer support. Do they necessarily have a responsibility besides that?
Paul and Barnabas were sent out from Antioch, and their report was heard (no doubt in some detail) in Acts 14. They were greatly encouraged by the interest of some in the congregation. Nothing tells us that the Christians in Antioch felt a special responsibility to buy the pair new sandals, provide them with some extra parchments, arrange for haircuts and beard trims, etc.
I suppose the pragmatic answer to the question “How much more involvement must churches have, in addition to financial and prayer support?” is: how effective do they want their missionaries to be? Do you want to be a real encouragement, or not (really)?
Here are some ways churches and individual supporters can have added impact:
1. At the risk of sounding a bit pious, one of the most helpful things churches and individuals can “do” to assist their missionaries is maintaining their walk with the Lord right there in the United States. It is always disheartening if the missionary perceives a church to be less concerned about spirituality and evangelism than in the past. If the pastoral staff and the core of the church members are walking with God, the support base is solid, no matter what the financial status. Spirituality does not necessarily produce ample funds, but at least the foundation of the sponsoring church will be stable.
2. Missionaries are grateful for prayer and interest. The ”and” is because it is no doubt possible to pray for missionaries somewhat half-heartedly (I am guilty of this at times…). When folks from the US, despite their busy schedules, tell us they are praying and communicate interest in overseas ministry, it is very encouraging. Conversely, one of the more discouraging things about reporting to churches in the US is the many people that file right past you without hardly any acknowledgement. Perhaps there not sure what to say. There’s a possibility that they are quite busy, and do indeed have an important appointment awaiting them (note the optimism here; very un-French…) but in many cases I’m afraid folks aren’t very concerned about missions. Granted, you would do well to not waylay an unsuspecting missionary candidate in a 45 minute conversation. I did have one missionary friend who just could not escape the conversational grasp of a certain elderly lady. She seemed to be waiting for everyone to leave. After what seemed like hours, she whispered to him “you have bad breath…” By that time, there was no one left to care.
3. News: Most missionaries appreciate at least of semblance of news from their supporting churches. By “semblance of news”, I mean: a new pastor or any other major change in the church. Perhaps one capable, well-motivated individual could be responsible for updating all the missionaries on the happenings of the church twice a year or so. It is true that the missionary could consult the church website, but with 20 to 40 churches a piece, most missionaries simply don’t have the time.
4. Practical help is of course always welcome. Sending cards, letters or packages overseas is appreciated (it is not that useful to send a note or card to the mission board home office: they simply scan the greeting card and email to you. Somehow a scanned Hallmark card does not have the same effect). A magazine subscription is a great idea, particularly for the wives. Currently Cyndie is receiving Better Homes and Gardens via a friend, and churches have sometimes enabled other magazine subscriptions. You might possibly check with the missionary you are seeking to encourage to see if there is a magazine that would be of benefit to them. Mail and especially small packages are a special treat; and depending on what is sent, can greatly encourage the MKs, too. My all-time favorite missionary package story? As a boy of about 11-12, my parents received one from a church in the US. There were 5 of us kids and I’m sure we were a bit excited. The box was opened, revealing a fair amount of brand-new, and no doubt, hand-crafted potholders! We searched in vain for some American candy bar, etc. I’m sure the women’s missionary society of the said church (sure hope it wasn’t the men’s group!) really meant well, and no doubt worked hard. It’s just that we were expecting something more profitable (for our stomachs).
Use your imagination: think of what might be helpful to your missionary friends, or simply ask them. For example, one year some friends out west designed our prayer card, then had them printed up, all at their expense. Those same friends loaned us a vehicle for 3 weeks. (Vehicles are a “biggie” – often the bane of a missionary’s furlough.) A kind gentleman is western Minnesota has allowed us to use a vehicle free of charge free of charge for several short furloughs.
Any time a person actually goes out of their way to actually think: “How could I be of help to our missionaries?”, it is helpful and, presumably, glorifying to God.
5. Financial area: Missionaries know times are tough in the US. The “normal” ones appreciate all the help they receive, and are not under the impression that churches owe them anything. Some churches are able to do a bit more around Christmas time and designate a special offering. Many a present was bought here for our kids with funds that originally came from gracious churches. As we tell our girls when they receive some of these gifts: “thank the churches!!”.
If the pastoral staff is being adequately taken care of, and there are funds available, I don’t think too many missionaries would turn down a raise in support. Everybody appreciates a raise: it lets you know in a “tangible way” that you are appreciated, and presumably, doing a decent job.