Do you really want to know the answer to this question?
Okay, here we go! First, find out what they need, what are their health issues, and ask what are their limitations. Now I am not only referring to dietary needs. I am speaking of spiritual and emotional needs. Add to those their family needs and their financial needs, and you will have a full course meal…of ways to encourage your missionaries.
Now don’t get me wrong, no missionary expects you to meet all those needs! You can just take a stab at one on them or perhaps two, and you will see a grateful response. And when he or she senses that you are genuinely interested in their well being, that alone will make all the difference in the world.
Second , after becoming intelligently informed about their needs, move toward a closer step of involvement. Ask him or her something like “what are your concerns about the future, or about your family or your ministry?” The question may provide some great conversation, and that is a time where you can listen, observe, probe if necessary and especially uplift. Some of our missionary colleagues have confided in us, upon returning to Chile after a furlough, that no one really stopped to listen, or to open the topics of heart-felt concern in their lives. Most church-goers were content to let the conversation stay on the superficial level. They missed the chance to provide care and encouragement to a person who really needed it.
Third, a missionary’s spiritual, emotional and family health depend on relationships in their country of service. Therefore, to encourage and to build up a missionary, ask how close he or she is with his or her fellow colleagues. Ask something like, “what do you do for fun with your missionary team?” Or ask, “what would be a favorite memory of time spent with your mission team?”
Ask things like “do you and you children have regular time to relax, play, learn and worship together?” The pressures of life in another country (like travel in a large city which can absorb large amounts of time and energy) coupled with the burden of needs and struggles of those they are discipling wears on emotions and spirit. This is why it is crucial for a family, a husband and wife and single missionaries to set aside regular time to renew themselves.
Several years ago our Chile team went on a prayer and planning retreat. This was a special event, because it was for men only and it had been about 3 years since the last retreat. Although focused on the need to discuss long term plans and priorities as a team, the meal time, prepared by fellow missionaries, and the evenings sat talking together, rendered some really hilarious and relaxing interaction. To some of the men, these kinds of trips are tedious and unpleasant. But after three days together, about 8 meals, some late night conversations and fun, everyone could see the tremendous value to such an event. Even the most skeptical were expressing gratitude for the retreat because it had deepened our friendships one with another.
Seek to Understand their Unique needs
For our family the past year (2020) demanded we learn to live kind of like under “house arrest.” A missionary we serve with compared it to being in solitary confinement, since her apartment is located a few miles away from any other of her teammates. The reason? The world wide pandemic called COVID-19. While an uncommon situation, these circumstances left her feeling lonely, exhausted and frustrated.
Such needs can be found in many mission contexts around the globe. As with an illness, a sense of isolation can creep in, leaving the missionary vulnerable to deep unmet needs. After all, missionaries are supposed to be strong and self-reliant, right!?
Wrong! Keep in mind that your missionary may be treading water, emotionally, because they lack an adequate support team, they may not know how or to whom they can express their needs.
Find out the Needs First, then Offer Encouragement
Another matter to consider is the needs of their children. This is where expectations and unrealized plans of a teen or adult child comes into play. For many, the transition to college, following high school graduation, is when they feel a huge amount of uncertainty and fear. The teen wants to stretch their wings, wants to become independent, but the costs, the logistics and the unknown circumstances once he or she arrives in their country of study can be overwhelming!
This is a time for the home church, friend and supporters to reach out, to lend a hand (in matters such as helping the teen get their driver’s license, or in getting accustomed to banking practices) can make a huge difference! Our family has been ministered to in huge ways by friends from our home church who did things like take our oldest daughter out to practice driving, or who made room for them to rent a room while at college and others who had the space and resources to let them live in their home for the summer. These are major transitional moments when the missionary family truly needs assistance and such timely helps really make a massive difference.
There are many other needs, situations, concerns or challenges a missionary faces as they advance through the years of ministry. Your missionaries will probably enjoy a more fruitful life of service if they sense the concern and involvement of others in their stages of life. As our Regional Director often says to our mission team, learning to “paraklete” or come to the aid of one another is what God has called us to as His servants worldwide.
David L. Rogers, M.A. Min.