The last three weeks I have been taking a look at how different groups can help new missionaries be comfortable, feel loved and want to stay on the mission field. I started by looking at how people “from home” could help, then I turned the attention to the field and other missionaries on the field with them. In the last installment I looked back at “home” and focused on how mission’s committees can help out and now this week I look back to the field at the leaders within the organizations the missionaries are working. As I have said in the other installments of this series, while it is geared mostly to new missionaries, most of this works for missionaries of all levels of experience. In my experience here are some ways that leaders within organizations can help their new missionaries:
- Celebrate their arrival – Can you imagine a better way to start your life as an on-the-field missionary then to come off the plane to a welcome committee? That won’t always be possible and in fact will probably not be super feasible, but within the first few days of their arrival, celebrate. It doesn’t have to be anything major, but let them know you are excited they are here, because you are…or at least you should be.
- Establish clear guidelines – These will change from field to field, but no matter where the new missionary is working they are going to need to know what is expected of them. Do you work 40 hrs a week, can they attend an international church, can they run errands during the day (because the stores close early). What do you expect from them? Tell them. This will help them not stress over something they shouldn’t have to stress about when they get there. The clearer you are the better, but not every situation will lend itself to perfect clarity and that is ok. Be clear about what you can be clear about and let them know.
- Give flexibility and grace – Every new missionary is going to make mistakes and probably a lot of them so be patient with them and extend grace. Allow them to make mistakes and be flexible when it takes them a bit longer to do things than you thought it would.
- Introduce them to people with similar likes – You know people and you should at least partially know your new missionary so introducing them to people you know (inside and outside of your mission) who have similar likes and dislikes. This will allow them to establish friends faster and at a time when friends will be a major need for them. They will need people who are not their direct supervisor to talk to and yes, maybe even vent to, so help them find those people.
- Celebrate successes and milestones – This is something that can easily be missed and forgotten, but when valued and done well it can impact the new missionary in ways you might not even imagine. The trick to this is celebrating in appropriate ways for the new missionary. The easiest way to figure out what would impact your new missionary the most is to ask them what they would like. Maybe they would like to have some cake and coffee or maybe a meal, or maybe a game night with the whole team. Celebrate their successes and milestones in a way they respond to and you will have a much more joyful missionary.
- Guide them and give them time in their adjustment – When any new missionary gets on the field they are faced with a lot of adjustments, no matter where they came from or where they are serving. When they first get to the field, help them through the adjustment by taking them to the grocery store, on a city tour, to the registration office and any other place they will need to go. Beyond that though, be considerate of how much time they may need for their adjustment. If they need to learn a new language that should be prioritized and it will take longer than other adjustments, so give them the time they need before putting them to work. Everyone will need a different amount of time to adjust to their new location and having supportive leaders walk beside them during that time will help them reach a level of comfort that may be stunted if they feel rushed.
- Share knowledge of the locale and for hosting – As a leader on the field, you will know about places because you have been to those places. Your new missionary will not, so share your knowledge with them. This can be about the best gas stations, grocery stores, fun day trips or any number of other things. This will help your new missionary in general, but especially when it comes to hosting visitors. Give them tips and tricks to help them enjoy their new area and show others as well.
- Regular check-ins – This one had the greatest impact for me personally. When I started meeting with one of my supervisors on a weekly basis to discuss things with no judgement, I felt cared for. We don’t always have the deepest conversations, but it is nice to have that safe place to say, “This stuff sucks,” or “I really need help here.” Check in with your new missionary yourself, or find someone they connect with on the team, but no matter what, check in with them.
Over the last couple weeks I have written about how people “from home” and people “from the field” can help new missionaries and as I continue this series I will be taking a look back home again, but not to individuals, instead the churches themselves. While a lot of what I suggested people “from home” do in order to help new missionaries can be applied to churches as well, this list will be a bit more centered on mission’s committees. So, without further ado, here are some things missions committees can do to help out new (and old) missionaries:
- Give time – for requests – Mission’s committees are going to have requests of the missionary, and quite frankly, that’s ok and expected. My suggestion is to give them time and grace to complete said request. It’s ok to send them requests and reminders for those things to be completed, but keep in mind that they have their own job to do and won’t always have a lot of extra time. This is especially the case for new missionaries as it is a full-time job adjusting to the new culture.
- Give time – for speaking – When your new missionaries are preparing to leave or returning for a visit, consider giving them time to speak. This doesn’t have to be a sermon, or even be in front of the whole church, but you should give them dedicated time to speak with people and tell them about what is going on with their mission. If you really want to help them out, be proactive and set things up for them (more on that in the next one) as they may not know all that would be available to them otherwise.
- Plan events – with consultation – As I stated in the previous point, help your new missionary by planning events for them. This could be as simple as getting a few small groups to host them to as elaborate as you want. Maybe a nice reception after church so the missionary can mingle and strike up casual conversations with people who may not have otherwise stayed after church if there wasn’t some delicious cookies and snacks. I do need to say this though, please, please, please talk with the missionary before you set anything up. Their schedule could be extremely packed and they may not have time to do anything beyond what they have already set up on their own. Offering to help is huge though!
- Give a good send off – Whether your church is the new missionaries only supporting church or you are one of many, send them off well. Make it a party! After all, they are going to do the Lord’s work and you are helping them do that, so celebrate with them! (Again, talk to them first, not everyone wants a party).
- Communicate changes – Things change all the time in churches and that is normal. What is super awkward, though, is when the new missionary attempts to contact a specific person at the church and they are no longer there or Sunday school isn’t happening anymore, or… There are a huge number of things that could change and letting the new missionary know is a good idea. Of course, this especially goes with your financial support of them. If you have to decrease your giving, let them know. That happens, it isn’t fun to hear, but it happens, so let them know.
- Ask questions – A lot of times people in the church don’t know what the plans of the missionary are, what their job is, how long they will be “home” or any number of other things. I have a simple solution to that…ask them. Get to know your missionary by asking the questions you want to know.
- Learn what they do – Again, this goes with the previous point, but understanding what your missionary does will not only help you, it will make them feel loved because of how much you care. An easy way to do this, beyond asking questions, is to follow them on their social media of choice. Let them share their life with you in the way they choose and participate with them.
- Send trips – If your church and the missionary are both able, why not send a group to serve with them periodically. This won’t always work, for a multitude of different reasons, but it’s worth a shot to ask.
The second installment in this “helping new missionaries” series takes a look at how “veteran” missionaries can help out “new” missionaries. I can tell you from experience, the more people involved me in their lives, the more I felt comfortable in Germany. It has allowed me to concentrate more on how I can impact others for God instead of wondering how I would make it through 2/3/4 more years.
- Dinner – Ok, this is an obvious one, but invite new missionaries into your home for a home cooked meal. One of the hardest adjustments for me was getting used to knowing what I could cook, what things are called and quite frankly going into a grocery store full of items in a different language can be a wee bit stressful. Providing a home cooked meal, no matter how talented you are in the kitchen, can provide a huge amount of stress relief.
- Invite them to places – This covers a huge range of options. If you are headed to the grocery store, invite someone along. If you are going to go for a walk, invite someone along. Honestly, if you are going anywhere, no matter how small or undesirable you think it might be, invite someone. Even the invitation may be enough to help them feel loved.
- Tell them about places nearby – After 3 years here in Germany there are still a bunch of places I did not know even existed, or at least, how to get there. Partially this was my fault, but some of the places I was never told about or shown how to get there. Take the time to show new missionaries your favorite places, and shoot, even your least favorite places!
- Introduce them to missionaries and non-missionaries – You have friends, they don’t, need I say more? Probably not, but I am going to anyway. A great way to introduce new missionaries to new people is to combine this with #1 or #2. Don’t make it weird or anything, but if you notice they have something in common with someone you know, set up a time for them to meet and maybe that will provide them with the friends they need.
- Celebrate with them – Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and anything else that deserves celebration should be celebrated in community. I doubt anyone wants to be home alone on any major holiday, so invite them over. If you have a family, you might not be able or want to invite them over for the whole day, but why not for a couple of hours? Being away from family on days when family are normally together is difficult, so help ease the loneliness and invite them over.
- Let them do nothing – There will be days when new missionaries need to literally do nothing. Their brain will be filled with a truck load of stuff and if they are forced to do anything, talk to anyone or even look at “foreign” things they might break. So give them the space they need to take a day and recover, to watch their favorite show, read a book or stare at the wall. Who cares what they do, just let them take a break every now and then.
- Listen – don’t fix or judge – New missionaries are going to have problems. Their pains and struggles may be similar to some that us “veteran” missionaries experienced, but they may also be different. The key is, they need a safe place to talk out their issues, with no fear of judgement, but also without feeling like they need to be fixed. Yes, you can certainly give suggestions, but let them ask instead of assuming they want them. They may need to talk about their problems and nothing else. Let them adjust and let them vent.
- Love them – Don’t think about when they may leave – This is a tricky one here. It is well know that missionaries come and go and in the back of most people’s head is the natural thought that they may not know these people for long and so, why would they pour a large amount of time into someone who is only going to be around for a couple of years. It’s tough, I know, but suck it up! No matter where you are you don’t know how long someone will be there, but we aren’t called to love people who will be in our lives for a long time, we are called to love people…period!
As I approach 3 years as a missionary in Germany I’ve begun reflecting on what has been good and what has helped me make it this far. The sad truth of the matter is that 3 years as a missionary makes you a veteran. That doesn’t mean that you’ve adapted to the new culture, that you’ve mastered the language, that you never dream about living a “normal” life back home (wherever that is) without having to raise support or even that you don’t long for (insert your favorite food item here, for me it’s definitely hamburgers) every now and then. What it does mean is that you have been on the field longer than some and that’s about it.
That being said, most likely, people did things that helped you stay where you are despite the food cravings, the longing for home and the dislike of the people/culture/language (yes, that is normal). What they did and who they are will vary from person to person, but I think there are some things that are universal.
In Matthew 9:37-38 Jesus said to his disciples, “‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'”
I’m no Bible scholar, but I’m pretty decent at Math and I can tell you that if missionaries don’t stay on the field very long then we have to keep sending more and more missionaries to make up for the loss while still trying to play catch-up to how many are needed. Over the next couple weeks I want to look at a few different angles to how we can help new missionaries stay on the field.
This week I want to look at some ways that people back “home” can support their favorite missionaries.
Those at home and those on the field are a partnership, supporting each other, so let’s walk arm in arm together, serving God and helping others see His love through us.
8 Ways to Support Your Favorite Missionaries:
- Prayer – Obviously missionaries need prayer for all aspects of their life just like anyone else, but receiving a note letting them know you are praying for them can be a huge help on tough days. A simple e-mail saying I’m praying can mean a lot, but praying without sending a note is also greatly appreciated.
- Care packages – Care packages don’t have to be anything amazing. They don’t have to cost a lot of money or any money outside of the shipping itself. Sending some artwork done by young family members or recent pictures of friends/family will also brighten the day of your favorite missionary. Some place are really difficult/expensive to send packages to, so make sure you discuss the best way to send something with the person to which you are sending the package. Care packages also do not have to be physical items. Consider sending a digital code for iTunes/Google Play or Amazon so they can treat themselves to music/movies/books. Trust me, they will love that too!
- Letters – This isn’t so different from care packages, but letters are easier to send and can be way more personal than a care package. Sending cards for birthdays or holidays are great, but also consider sending a random letter on a random day. I bet you God will use it to bless the missionary who receives it and it might just come on the exact day he or she needed a boost.
- Freedom to travel – This is a tricky one. Missionaries who live on financial support are given a salary just like any other job, but unlike any other job that salary comes from individuals who have chosen to partner with them for a specific ministry. It has been known to happen that some people get upset when they see their missionary traveling to “exotic” locations and doing things that for most people would be a once in a lifetime thing. What I’m saying though, is wherever your missionaries are, they can travel places where you may never go, but just because they are taking a vacation it doesn’t mean they are being poor stewards of your gifts. Give them the freedom to travel and let them enjoy the location where God has sent them to work.
- Respond to newsletters – In addition to the day to day tasks that come with their ministry, missionaries have to send newsletters on a regular basis. Some missionaries love writing them and others struggle with them. Either way, one of the toughest things is taking the time to create and send a newsletter regularly and then hearing nothing back. Send your missionary a little virtual love and send them an e-mail saying…well saying really anything at all.
- Visit – This one may or may not be tough depending on your financial situation, their location, etc. but if you are able to visit your missionaries when they are on the field or when they are “home” then I highly recommend it. Talk to your missionaries first though…please! Oh and if you do visit them, ask them what you can bring from “home,” they will love a few treats to make it into your suitcase.
- Get excited – This is simple. Show enthusiasm when your missionary shows enthusiasm. Nothing stinks more than when you are excited and all you hear back are a bunch of crickets. Don’t fake enthusiasm, but if you are excited by something they say or do, then let them know!
- Financial – I’m not even going to apologize ending with this one. A good chunk of, but not all, missionaries raise their own financial support. This means that most of their lives depends on the financial contributions by individuals. When those contributions don’t come in, they take a pay cut which might mean they have to get creative in how they squeeze a few extra dollars out of their budget. Even if you can’t contribute on a monthly/annual basis, contributing special gifts may help them out more than you even know. This is a part of the life we decided to live when we followed God’s calling and we accept that, but it doesn’t make it less of a need. Any financial gift is greatly appreciated and will help keep your favorite missionary on the field for as long as possible.
Let’s be honest, while this will help new missionaries, all of these things are great for any of your missionaries. Think about how you can brighten the day of missionaries you care about.