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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Understanding and Encouraging Your Missionaries

Photo by Sira Anamwong

A missionary on any field faces situations and trials that most people would never dream of. Let me share some of ours from the very first years with you. I hope it will open your eyes to how to pray for your church’s missionaries and how to encourage your missionary friends.

On arrival, we understood not one word of Spanish. Not one. That meant that we had to rely on our co-workers for everything. We bought a car, we found an apartment, we applied for residency—all with our co-worker translating at our side. We moved into our apartment and began doing things on our own. We went to the grocery store and had no idea what we were buying. We looked at pictures on the labels. The big problems were the market—where you had to ask for things—and the meat counter (same story). We couldn’t understand, let alone speak. People went ahead of us in line because we couldn’t say anything. My husband would draw pictures of things he needed and take the pictures to the hardware store. The man there really worked with us. We were always thankful for kind faces.

When we came to Spain, we had no idea how Europeans dressed. Plus, we were quite a bit taller than the average Spanish person. We’d get on the bus to go to language school, and everyone stared. We wouldn’t have stuck out more if we’d had green hair!

Because we looked so different and were the novelty of the neighborhood—high towers of apartments—it was very difficult to find anyone who would talk to us. We tried to smile and say hello and be friendly, but there were no takers. It was like this for the whole five-year first term.

When we went to church, we didn’t understand the messages—for about two years. We were fed spiritually only through our own Bible reading and the odd cassette tape message our co-workers passed on to us. I started volunteering for nursery duty. (My Spanish was at nursery level!)

Back when we came to Spain, it took about three weeks to get a letter from here to America and just as long to receive them. There were no personal computers, only typewriters. For us to communicate with our loved ones, we made copies of our typed letters and sent them in envelopes to our family members and friends. If we needed an answer to any question, we had to wait and wait and wait. Thankfully, today, we have many technological advances. Even phone calls are cheaper! We enjoy Skype and e-mail. Correspondence takes minutes rather than two months. The only thing that’s worse today than back then is receiving packages. Now, the customs import price is almost is as much as the item itself. Needless to say, we try to buy everything we can locally.

Almost every beginning missionary feels those same emotions that we did thirty years ago. They are stared at. They’re adults trying to learn a language that sounds like gibberish. They are trying to fit into a culture—it doesn’t matter where—that’s totally different from their home country. They don’t usually have any family members anywhere nearby. They feel lonely, overwhelmed, starving spiritually, wanting fellowship. In short, they feel like strangers in a strange land.

So, what can you do to help your church’s missionaries through their first term (or second, third, or tenth)? How can you encourage them? 

Here are some very simple things that will greatly encourage your ambassadors on the field:

  1. Pray—But, don’t only pray. Tell them you’re praying. Send them a note (e-mail, Facebook, Twitter). Pray specifically for the people and situations expressed in their prayer letters. Let them know you’re praying for those items. Pray for their family, their marriage, and their children (by name). Pray that they would find spiritual refreshment from the Word and that God would provide them with fellowship. Pray for the struggles they don’t tell people about. 
  2. Write to them—I don’t know why, but it seems so easy for people to text their friends and business associates, but when it comes to missionaries, they think they can’t write them. It takes about one minute to compose an e-mail or Facebook private message. It can say something like this: I am Mrs. Tigger* from Tri-City Church* in Belleville, Utah.* I’d just like to tell you that I’ve been praying for you today. I was reading this verse this morning, and I’d like to share it with you. “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.” (Psalm 116:7) I am praying that you will find the Lord to be sufficient today and that you might rest in Him. Is there anything specific you’d like for me to pray for this week? God bless you as you serve Him in Dyasunga Land.*” Speaking of writing, most missionaries are on Facebook, Linkedin, and other social media sites. Many write blogs. Have your church people “friend” them on social media. (Make sure they identify themselves through a private message, so the missionary will know who they are.) Read their blogs and tell others in your church about them. (Hint, hint!)
  3. Give to your church’s missionary fund. In most countries, the missionaries rely 100% on support from their home countries. They are not allowed to work a job on their field.
  4. Take on a project. It can be as small as taking up an offering to help a child go to camp or getting together craft supplies they can’t find in their country. It might be helping to buy gospel tracts or medicines. It might be getting together a surprise package for a missionary child. It might be buying a $25 Amazon gift card for your missionary. There are lots of things you can do to be a blessing to your missionaries. Youth groups, children’s Sunday schools, ladies’ groups, and others can be a special blessing to missionaries.
  5. Remember their birthdays. An e-card, real card, Facebook greeting, or an e-mail on a missionary’s birthday is truly special. Again, identify who you are and what church you’re from (state, also).
  6. Visit—or send your pastor and his wife. Nothing gives a true picture of missions to the people back home more than a trip to the field. See if your church can send your pastor and his wife to the mission field from time to time. Your pastor will be an encouragement to the missionary, and the pastor will come back with a burden for that field and ministry. Sometimes, a mission team will be a great help to the missionary’s ministry. (Ask before planning. It really depends on the situation.) Sometimes a person or couple could visit on their own, maybe as part of a vacation. (If you visit for more than a few days, make sure you can help with expenses. If you send a team, make sure they are funded so as not to be a burden on the missionary.)
Encourage a missionary today! 

* As you can tell, the names and places are made-up.


  1. It's always nice to know your not the only one. My family and I are missionaries in eastern Ukraine. We have been here 5 months, and what you wrote above sounds just like us now. I can shop at the grocery store, but if I think someone is going to talk to me I break out in a cold sweat. We are learning the language and praise the Lord we do have a sweet Christian translator!! I don't know what I would do without her sometimes!!! Thank you for sharing this, it encouraged my heart!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Juanita. The Lord will take your hand and help you through. You are most certainly not alone. There are so many more all over the world going through the same frustrations. God bless you!

  2. This reminds me of a comment from the "missionary panel" at our church's missions conference a couple of weeks ago. I asked what we as individuals can do that is most encouraging. One missionary replied, "It's one thing to pray for us; it's another thing to let us know that you're praying."

    From reading your #1, I get the idea that you agree. :-)

    Thanks for the reminder about how important and encouraging simple communication can be.

    1. Absolutely, Steve! You would be surprised how very few times we hear that (even though we DO know that people are praying) and how much it encourages us. I remember getting notes like that on some very low days, and they made my day. Everyone needs encouragement! Thank you, Steve, for your comment.


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