For every missionary sharing the Gospel cross-culturally, there is a team of people making the work possible from sending churches to the many individuals praying and giving financially. No one can serve alone.
But even though missionaries share a tight bond with their supporters, it can be hard to honestly share the ins and outs of missionary life. To shine a light on the things unsaid, we asked several missionaries, “What do you wish your supporters knew?” Their answers might surprise you.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m not adding anything to my team.”
Going from a life of ministry in North America to spending your days acclimating to a new culture can be difficult for a new missionary.
One new missionary shared that although she knows this process is important, she struggles with finding purpose: “All I am doing is learning the language, and I feel terrible for not ‘doing’ anything important.”
As a supporter, you can encourage and validate your missionary by celebrating all of their ministry accomplishments — whether that’s acing a language test or baptizing a new believer.
“Cards and notes mean the world to me.”
From pictures made by kids and long letters from senior adults to Snapchat messages or emails, over and over again, missionaries mentioned that contact from those back home is always encouraging.
“They let me know that I am remembered, even though I am far away,” one missionary shared.
To make sure your missionary receives written encouragement, consider asking a Sunday school class or youth group at your church to “adopt a missionary” and regularly send him or her letters.
“My life is full of goodbyes.”
When a missionary first leaves, they say goodbye to their family, friends and home culture. And just as they get to know their team, their coworkers might move to a new ministry area or go on home assignment for a year. Then, when it is time for their own home assignment, missionaries say goodbye again to new friends from their host culture.
Supporters, you can ease some of the difficulty of these transitions. Read this article to learn how to help your missionary prepare for a healthy goodbye. And bookmark this article to learn eight tangible ways you can serve your missionary on home assignment.
“Sometimes I wonder if anyone reads my newsletter.”
It’s hard to condense the last month or two into a newsletter that people will want to read. Bonus points if you can make it look great, too! But oftentimes missionaries can send their newsletter into the internet abyss and not know if it is helpful, if people are interested or even if people read it.
If you receive a missionary’s newsletter, reply! Let them know you read it and are thinking of them. Be careful to use sensitive language for those in high-security areas, but talking about your own life and avoiding spiritual words can keep the connection open.
“Everything takes four times longer.”
In a new culture, with a different language and unique transportation, it can take all day to run one errand. Valerie, TEAM’s third culture kid coordinator, often mentions during TEAM’s missionary orientation, “You have to adjust your expectations. A successful day can mean just completing one errand.”
Having supporters who understand this can be a huge relief — and encouragement — to missionaries. Instead of asking for stats to quantify their ministry, ask them about the lessons they’re learning, laugh with them over their mistakes and let them know you’re praying for their adjustment process.
“I worry about what I post on social media.”
One missionary in South Africa shares how difficult it was to share pictures on Facebook of her days off. “On my day off, I might do something touristy like a safari or take a day on the beach, but I was sometimes worried about sharing those things on social media because I didn’t want supporters to feel I wasn’t using their money for ministry.”
This common fear is often rooted in a sense of guilt for taking time off from ministry. As a supporter, encourage your missionary to rest — and even take time to visit local sights, too! Remind your missionary that resting is an act of obedience and keeps them healthy and vibrant for ministry.
“I have to mow my lawn.”
This is often something missionaries don’t share, but, of course, not every moment is spent in Gospel conversations. Missionaries have to go to the store, change their kid’s diaper and mow their lawn like everyone else. They just happen to do it in another country.
Show your missionary you care about their whole life –– not just their ministry –– by asking about their daily routines. Ask questions like, “How is shopping different in your host country?” or “How has your dinner routine changed?”
“I can’t bake my favorite comfort food.”
Because chocolate chips are almost impossible to find in some countries!
Surprise your missionary with a package of their most-missed items. For ideas, check out this post on nine things your missionary wants in a care package.
These are just a few things missionaries shared with us that they wish their supporters knew. If you are a missionary, what might you add to the list? If you are a supporter, which is most surprising to you?