Borrowing Brains: Missionaries, Unfiltered

I’m leading a discussion about the local church and missionaries in a few days. Not a big thing—just a local pastor’s fellowship. I’m wondering if missionaries who read could chime in on two questions:

1. What are some things churches and pastors have done that were especially encouraging to you, whether during deputation, field ministry, or furlough? (What should we start or keep doing to energize you?)

2. What are some things churches and pastors have done that were especially discouraging to you, whether during deputation, field ministry, or furlough? (What should we avoid doing so we don’t deflate you?)

Obviously, be general enough so that no one knows of whom you’re speaking. But please be candid. Thanks!


18 Responses

  1. This is terribly immodest, but for now I only have time to refer you to my blog, but to save you some time, perhaps these articles will help:

    About those questionnaires:

    Before you have a “missions conference”:

    Short-term missions trips: let me be frank:

    How to drop/lower a missionary’s support (it happens sometimes):

    A bit on what “furlough” is like (if a blog post can do it justice):

    Briefly, I will add (if it’s not already somewhere in those links) that we know you have been praying by the questions your people ask. Always feels good to know people have been interceding for specific people/needs. We are always energized by people wanting to know about our ministries … don’t ask us how many people are in Albania—Google is at your fingertips! But ask about US—”How’s your marriage?” About our MINISTRY—”How’s Miguel doing in his new faith?”

    Never ask, “Is there anything we can do for you?” We’d never say, “Yeah, I need a new Land Rover.” (Well, some missionaries might, but most of us are a bit more reserved). Be more specific — “Hey, I’m a mechanic. Need any work done?” /// “We want to contribute a 4-figure gift to your ministry, what things could you do with a significant gift?” /// “We have pharmaceutical samples, can we get you any meds?”

    Etc. Read the blog for more.

  2. Encouraging: So many assure of their prayers and in a general sense the fact that people are praying is encouraging, but where that encouragement becomes personal is when there is personal connection, the desire for a relationship that is nurtured by the church leadership. It is more than even a care package, but a personal interest and effort to engage in life and ministry. Perhaps because I have children in the home, it is a special blessing to us as parents when a church ministers to our kids. A church provided toward allowing us to get away as a family – great investment and deeply appreciated. A church took our family to the Creation Museum when we were on furlough, another organized a day to celebrate the birthday of one of our children. It is a blessing to talk with a pastor in a supporting church and it is abundantly clear that he actually knows who you are and can interact about what is going on in your ministry – he actually reads your prayer letter and is informed. Personally I am blessed by a good book… on the field I appreciate Kindle downloads, give me a gift certificate and a suggested book and you’ve made my day.

    Discouraging: Hmmm… to be dumped at a prophets chamber and never spend time with the pastor or anyone from the leadership of the church. To be scheduled for a meeting and not be told that you are actually a cheap replacement for pulpit supply while the pastor is on vacation… I’m happy to supply, but ask me to do that, don’t let me find out when I arrive. To receive a pre-determined offering that is so small that there is no way it can cover your expenses let alone help with the extra costs of traveling with a family. To be made to feel that as a missionary I’m a second class minister. Perhaps its just me but when I attend conferences and interact with other pastors there is a temptation not to tell them I am a missionary. It seems that identification changes the relationship between other pastors and myself, body language, level of interaction etc. I guess I would say to those who have such a response – I’m not attending because I am trying to get something from you, I would like to enjoy fellowship with brothers in Christ. It is unpleasant to get a mission questionnaire along with a form letter from the new pastor of a church that has supported you for years. You always wonder if he is trying to purge his missions program and looking for some minor disagreement in the answers to give justification for dropping your support. Purging the missions programs is urgently needed in many churches, but much better if it is done after personal interaction with the missionary, and then wait till we get back to the States on the next furlough please.

  3. We attended a great Missions conf while raising our support. When we arrived, the entire group had a personal meeting with the pastor during which he laid out the structure of the day(s), how many missionaries they hoped to support, with a rough idea of the monthly amount, and their vision regarding how long they would support. They gave each couple a nice chunk of cash at the meeting–not in a check, but cash (this was an immediate encouragement for some of those who were more cash-strapped). The pastor came to know all of our essential theological differences through careful questions and asked us all to make sure to be charitable about the differences as we each preached/presented. (I mention this b/c I am a domestic church planter–I have a friend who was raising support to plant in the US, and was at a conf where the previous speaker made sure to point out the foolishness of supporting dom. ch. planting, right before my friend went up to present. The pastor was aware of the other missionary’s stance, and made no attempt to sway the other man from speaking against US church planting. Nice.)

  4. Don’t forget the missionary wife- encouraging e-mails and phone calls (when possible) mean so much. Just the fact that she is not forgotten even though she’s so far away can be a great encouragement, especially when other women are taking a personal interest in how she is doing and her everyday life. Same goes for the husband as well, of course- it just seems like sometimes this particular need of the wife is more prone to be neglected.

  5. 1. Especially encouraging: Assure us of specific prayer; contribute towards specific projects; send small groups on a short missions trip to help with vbs, survey, and witnessing (North America) when they have prepared properly and are submissive and willing to work. One other thing that is encouraging is to get a personal email from a supporting church pastor to report on their work from time to time.

    2. Especially discouraging: Well, not real discouraging, but supporting churches that demand yearly reports and goal sheets. I believe if a missionary is faithful in reporting accurately and effectively to them by prayer letter every month or two they will know all the info needed and be informed.

  6. Looks there are some common themes running through the comments, but I’ll add my two cents anyway.
    1. Personal contact from people who clearly read our prayer letters.
    2. Churches who take a personal interest in us as normal people. This could be as simple as an occasional e-mail or handwritten note or as involved as a skype call. Anytime people show that they have not forgotten about us and want to know how we are doing, it is encouraging.
    3. Gifts are encouraging when they demonstrate thoughtfulness or are the result of asking ahead of time what would be most helpful or desirable. More than once we have had people ask for gift ideas and then come through in a very thoughtful way, and it was a huge encouragement. We’ve also seen churches spend $60 or $70 on postage to send us things we didn’t ask for and don’t need.
    4. When pastors treat us as equals.
    5. Generally speaking, the more churches act as if they consider us to be partners with them in ministry, the more of an encouragement they are to us. This means making the effort to find out how we are doing, asking us what challenges we are facing, praying for us, etc. What really gets exciting is when that mentality trickles down to church members who get involved as well.

    1. Receiving requests for information that we have already included in our last few prayer letters or that is readily available through Google.
    2. Ditto Hosaflook concerning questionnaires
    3. It is discouraging and bewildering to visit a church and discover that the pastor apparently has little interest in getting to know us. I’m speaking more from deputation experience here, but we’ve shared meals with and even stayed in the homes of more than a few pastors who asked almost nothing about us.

  7. It’s tough to follow up after David Hosaflook’s reply. He hit the nail on the head in many areas that missionaries don’t dare to write about. His blog is so helpful in these areas, because they are honest yet constructive. I ditto what he has written about short term trips, questionnaires, etc.

    *Communication from supporting pastors and churches. Few do this well, many never do it at all. On the field, we enjoy hearing what God is doing in our supporting churches. Some send bulletins via email, sending photos of ministry events, some have FB church pages, and others Skype call. One pastor recently sent a pdf letter to us explaining what God did in the past year and it laid out what the ministry vision and goals were for the church for the next year(s). Reading that letter was helpful, because we felt like it was important enough for our family to be informed of these ministry items. If missions IS a partnership, two-way communication should be the norm.

    *No communication

  8. –Just a couple of weeks ago, a supporting church pastor called me and told me of their past week’s Wednesday prayer service. He said that a man stood up to pray and prayed for at least 15 minutes for our ministry and especially for some of the difficulties that we have been going through (people by name and for God’s grace for them and us.) The pastor said that it was so obvious that this man knows us and has been praying for us and reading our letters. That was an incredible encouragement.
    –Several churches send us their weekly prayer list–it gives us an idea about what’s going on in their church and some of the requests even give a glimpse as to what’s happening in people’s lives.
    –Westerville Bible Church has a missions’ conference that is a real joy to attend. The services are all well-attended, the people are excited about the missionaries who come (they make you feel like you are the only missionaries they serve, even though they serve many), they have good questions, they know much even beforehand about your ministry, and it’s a very encouraging time. That kind of zeal only comes from the leadership.
    –Discouraging: After our first term on the field, one SUPPORTING CHURCH PASTOR met me before our service and said, “Now where are you guys serving again?” Honestly, just wanted to turn around and walk out the door.
    –It’s discouraging when a church schedules other kinds of meetings where people in the congregation or even the leadership won’t be in the service where you present your work–gives the impression that what we have to share just isn’t all that important.
    –Dittos to what David H had to say as well.

  9. My husband asked me to write.

    1. Encouraging:
    – A huge blessing is that our home church gives us a mission house and vehicle to use while on furlough.
    – Missionary closets that have gift cards available in them. Some might not realize the financial pressure of buying clothes,shoes and coats for the family when arriving in the States for furlough. Sometimes we only have a few days to get our family outfitted for the first Sunday in the States.
    – Some churches do special things for the missionary wives during missions conferences. It is always fun to get spending money and a pedicure- not something we would normally do for ourselves.
    – What a blessing when churches do special things for our children. Some of our kids really struggle with furloughs as they feel they don’t really “fit into” American culture and don’t have friends in the States. Some of our older kids fondest memories of furloughs was when churches bought them gift, gave them spending money or took them on a special outing. It is also and added blessing when the Pastor’s children go out of their way to talk and get to know our children.
    – Pastors who visit us on the field. What a joy to have one on one time with Pastors for a week or more in our home. They know the challenges of ministry and they are such an encouragement to our family. Some have even sat on the floor and played games with our kids. Our kids absolutely love some of the Pastors who have visited us on the field and they get so excited to go to those churches when we are on furlough.

    2. Discouraging:
    – During missions conferences, having very limited time to fellowship with other missionary wives. We all face challenges of reentry back into our “home” country, sending children off to college who have never lived in the States, and struggles we face on the field. It is just nice to talk to others who “really” understand these challenges and be encouraged by them. Forty-five minutes of an informal time together would go a long way.
    – Some missions conferences are so packed that they do not allow for some down time for children to take naps. Sometimes, missionaries have already been to 3 missions conferences back to back and the kids have stayed up late each night during those conferences.

  10. This has been very helpful. And a little disheartening. I’ll do what I can to (a) be more encouraging myself, and (b) help others think better on these issues. I’d say that most often churches don’t have any idea what they’re communicating with unintentional slights. It helps to hear your perspectives!

    Please feel free to post more as it occurs to you.

  11. In my humble (and entirely unsolicited) opinion, Chris, TCBC provides a good example for churches to follow if they want to improve with the way they participate in missions. Thanks for asking for our input!

  12. I have appreciated all the comments posted. Hosaflook hit it on the button. Here is my perspective.

    When people begin to talk to me about things I wrote in a prayer letter several years ago it really encourages me. I get asked all the time about my personal health concerning my motorcycle accident two years ago. Since I still am bothered a bit by that accident it means so much that people are still praying. People ask about our childrens health and tell me they are praying we will have a better second term concerning our health. Prayer matters the most!

    I appreciate conferences that keep me busy. When I am at a missions conference I want to be doing something. The down time is a killer. When the schedule has each missionary doing something every night that is a real blessing. When they give free time for us to see the sights in the area that is also wonderful. We like seeing the light houses in Maine or the mountains in Colorado.

    Several of my supporting pastors write us notes of encouragement on occasion. That is a real boost to know they really care and are concerned about us.

    When the church family has a potluck dinner and we are able to converse in a non formal setting that is a real blessing. This happens during a coffee social as well. We mix a whole lot better in this type of format then just by standing at our display table. Though both are excellent tools. Church socials allow me to make personal contact with real people who have real problems. It gives me a chance to hear their story. Everyone has one. I want to know the people who are supporting and praying for me. That connect is awesome.

    Discouraging: (Do you really want to hear this?)
    Often I get a letter from a pastor telling me what a great prayer letter. Then two weeks later the same pastor writes me telling me the church has not heard from us in a while and the last prayer letter on record was six months ago. This happens all the time.

    I see my prayer letter in the lobby of the church, but the pastor has no idea what has been happening in my life for the last four years. Makes me wonder if they really care or if it is about mailing in a check each month.

    The pastor makes a big deal of making sure my entire family comes to the conference that lasts 5 days and then there is nothing for my wife and kids the entire time. It often seems that everyone has to go to school but the missionary kids. When I tell them my children need to be in school there is a pause on the phone, and then I am told that the church family has been planning all year for this conference and it is the highlight of the year. My family has just been to 5 conferences in a row. But the family is trotted out for show only to have nothing for them to do during those five days. I appreciate the churches and pastors that are accomodating and really have a concern for my familys interests. If my family is taking part in the conference then we would gladly go to 10 in a row like that. It is when we are given a guilt trip and there is nothing for the family that it is discouraging. My kids then have to go back to school and play catchup. I do not want my children to despise meetings. That should be the highlight of furlough. Renewing friendships and making new ones is awesome.

    Several times during our first term pastors contacted me saying that they were taking a special love offering for us. This happened during difficult financial times. Then they never took the offering. In the mean time churches contacted me asking if there was something they could do and I told them that God had already met that financial need, only to find out later that the church did not take the offering promised. I would rather not be told or asked until after the fact. If someone wants to do something special they should just do it. As Dave Hosaflook stated, “never ask, is their anything I can do for you?” If God lays it on your heart then do it. We will be thankful!! No missionary will ever be disappointed. We know God is faithful and has promised to meet our needs. The devil often gets in the details. If something comes up and the church cannot take the love offerering promised just let us know. We understand. It is the unknown that hurts and causes a chain reaction of problems.

    Hopefully this is helpful.

    For the sake of His name,

    Todd Beaman

  13. I think a lot of the comments above are exactly right and cover most of the major areas. Here are a couple more.

    Discouraging: when you arrive at a church to update the church on your ministry or, worse, just before you go up to the platform, and the pastor gets that wry smile on his face and asks, “Now, where are you all ministering?” I’ve had it happen to me and to other missionaries. That is very discouraging. When I was on deputation, it really discouraged me that pastors rarely took the time to reply to a phone call or an email. Sometimes this was true even after calling a particular church many times. Though I realize that they get many new missionary requests, it came across as unprofessional and a bit uncaring. Even if the secretary could just shoot off an email, that is enough to cross that church off the list and quit wasting your time calling them.

    Encouraging: we have a church that periodically asks all their missionaries if there are any special projects they are needing funds for. At times, the church sends some extra money to help with that project. We also had a church that sent us money every year that we could only spend on books/resources. They have discontinued doing that, but I absolutely loved that. One encouraging thing happened when a church helped us when our van broke down while on furlough. We actually ended up having to buy a new van, and the church responded generously (through voluntary offerings) and actually paid for about half the cost of our newer vehicle. However, the most encouraging thing for us is when people from the church, especially the pastor or someone on pastoral staff, visits us on the mission field. Perhaps that is the greatest indication that we are on the church’s radar and they consider us part of their ministry.

    Thanks for asking, Chris!

    Matthew Bixby

  14. I only have limited insight on the deputation side since we have only been raising support for a few months, but one thing that was a particular blessing was having a pastor take the time while we were on the phone to pray for us and our ministry. I didn’t even know the guy, and he was in not position to even offer us a meeting but he could pray. Also when scheduling meetings I value a blunt honest assessment if that church is able to partner with any more missionaries. I would rather you tell me up front to not waste my time than let me find out six months later. I am going to be a missionary, I can handle rejection or I would not be in this line of work

  15. Sorry I missed out on the comments, Chris. Been especially busy with travel and lack of write and reflection time. Looks like you received some good feedback from many. Maybe next time. Grace to you. Dan

  16. Right Heart, Wrong Questions.

    You can’t ask several missionaries “what should we start or keep doing to energize you?” or “what should we avoid doing so we don’t deflate you?” and get a practical solution. The questions are too broad and each missionary family is too different. Churches need to stop trying a make a cookie cutter missions program that fits every missionary into the same pattern. Each family and ministry is different with different needs and different likes. What one missionary hates, another loves. Stop looking for generic answers and simple ask the missionary that you want to be a blessing to, be specific and give the missionary freedom to be honest (though he probably won’t).

    Now, not to completely discount the two questions that were asked, you can abstract broad themes that missionaries seem to have in common and then use those themes so you “know what to ask” the missionary (specifically about how to bless them). For example, a few common themes in the comments are:

    -Caring – We want to know you care. How do you do that? How would your missionary like you to do that?

    -Communication – We want you to stay connected. How would your missionary like you to do that?

    -Investment – Our ministry and lives take money. How would your missionary like you to do that?

    The discouraging factor plays in when you don’t do those things in the way that the missionary receives them.

    It’s hard to really know your missionaries and missionaries to know their churches when the support level for churches are low and missionaries have dozens of supporters. Also, a missionary shouldn’t expect every church/pastor to know about their ministry if they don’t know about all their supporters (we think of this as one-sided most of the time).

    Some post that might be of a help:

    5 Part Series on Missions Conferences:

    2 Part Series on how UNTHANKFUL we missionaries are:·thank·ful/·thank·ful-2-of-2/

    Hope that helps! :)

  17. Chris, I’m not sure I qualify for this, but want to share a few thoughts. I’m a grown-up MK, and I’ve now moved back to the country where I grew up to minister, but I’m not a missionary. For a lot of reasons (some positive, some similar to the negative experiences described in the previous comments) I moved back up here and got a job and have no US funding. There are tradeoffs to both approaches, but that is something to discuss another day. We do send out prayer letters, though, to keep in touch with our friends back in the US.

    – Read our letters and pray, and click reply now and then with specifics about how you are praying. That does a lot for me. Thanks to some analytics software embedded in my email list management software, I know that approximately 70% of those who receive our letters read them. I have nothing against the other 30%… they are probably busy or just happen to miss one of our updates now and then. Someday I might send the 30% a targeted message inviting them to unsubscribe if they’re not interested… I certainly won’t be hurt if they choose to go, and if that starts a better relationship between us then so much the better!

    – Interact with our daily lives. This week I was encouraged when friends from the states put substantial comments on a little facebook video that I put up mostly for people in my family. We haven’t been forgotten.

    – Don’t ever say “I could support 5 missionaries in [insert 3rd world country here] for the amount you need to live where you are.” My Dad got that once when I was growing up. He’s mentioned it a few times. I understand that churches have to make decisions with their missions dollars, and if that third world country is that church’s burden then that is completely acceptable. But don’t say that to a missionary.

  18. […] Missionary answers. Great posts soliciting answers from missionaries about how churches can minister to them. Many helpful answers in the contents. […]

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