We tend to assign missionaries very extraordinary reputations—like “Varsity Christians” or “Gospel-centered Special Forces.” But, of course, they are just ordinary people. And while we may think of them solely as missionaries, they are not missionaries first. They are people first; ordinary believers who just happen to be missionaries.
Their role in the Great Commission is to go and take the gospel to other nations. For the rest of us, our role is to send them. They go, we send. And as John the Apostle says in 3 John 6-8, we are to “send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.” John continues, “For they have gone out for the sake of the name…Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.”
As fellow workers, there are two key ways we can help send and sustain missionaries: by caring for the person and by supporting their work.
Caring for the Person
Because missionaries are ordinary people, we can care for them just like we do any other person. We can encourage them, love them, pray for them, spend time with them, contribute to their needs, celebrate with them and weep with them.
But, while their identity may be ordinary, the context of their life is not. The extraordinary call on their life to leave the comforts and close community of home and move to a spiritually neutral or even spiritually unwelcoming people for the sake of the gospel means their ordinary day is not like any ordinary day in the Metroplex. This means we’ll be extending very ordinary care to people in very extraordinary environments. We will constantly need to ask, “How do we love and support someone in a high-pressure environment 10,000 miles away?”
Here are a few suggestions:
- Get acquainted. Use Skype or Google Hangouts to get to know them. If you’re caring for a missionary as a Home Group, have each member of your group make a short video introducing themselves, quickly sharing about their life and praying for the missionary. Share the videos with them through Dropbox or send them with the next care package.
- Ask. Ask them how you can best care for them. Sometimes what we think would be helpful may not fit their context.
- Communicate often. Typically, two or three quick texts or emails a week are much better than one long email each month. These can be a quick prayer or a quick hello. Consistent little gestures of care and love tend to be much better than one rare, big one.
- Respond to their newsletters. It’s tremendously encouraging. Your response doesn’t have to be long, just respond.
- Pray with them and encourage them. Pray for their strength, for their affections and for fearless love for those they’re ministering to. Pray for God to move mightily. If you’re among their closest community, give them the opportunity to join your group in grace-filled confession and repentance and then Spirit-filled worship. Encourage them in the Word. Remind them of God’s faithfulness.
- Remember security. Check with the missionary or church to be sure your communication doesn’t endanger missionaries working in countries actively opposed to Christianity.
- Send care packages. Send some encouragement and some fun. Send things that would bless them based on your interactions with them.
- Visit. Few things are more loving and encouraging than face-to-face. Consider a short-term mission trip to see and support their ministry firsthand.
- Get creative. Do you write? Scrapbook? Make videos? Consider collecting pictures, prayers and stories of God’s movement in their life and ministry and recording them. On key anniversaries or during difficult seasons for your missionary, pull out the stories and remember with them God’s faithfulness (Ps. 66).
Supporting Their Work
We can support the work of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances by two essential practices: praying and giving. Prayer is essential, as only God can bring people from death to life (Ezek. 36:26-27). Finances are essential, as sending a missionary to live in another country and providing for their ministry costs money. And while both the provision for the work and fruit of it belong to God, God tells us to ask Him to provide it (John 15:16).
- Support them with prayer. Pray for the missionary. Pray for their people. Get to know the people they’re ministering to by name. Consider assigning each one to a member of your Home Group to intentionally pray for that person’s salvation and sanctification (John 15:16; Jas. 5:13-18).
- Support them with finances. Search your budget. Give monthly. Sacrifice. Give prayerfully. Ask God to use your money to make disciples. When bigger needs or projects arise for your missionary, consider fundraising for it as a group.
John the Apostle goes so far as to call missionary supporters “fellow workers in the truth” (3 John 6-8). The apostle Paul calls them, “partners in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5, 4:15-20). Be encouraged that your role among the nations as a missionary supporter is never second-class. Support your missionary well, in a manner worthy of God. Finally, remember that a happy, healthy missionary is not the only goal of missionary care. A well-cared for and fully supplied missionary is our hope, but our greater hope is that by partnering with our missionaries as fellow workers, we will make more disciples together than either of us could on our own. May God use our ordinary efforts to build an extraordinary partnership between those who send and those who go.