In an effort to learn how we can best encourage missionaries, I emailed some and asked how they would most like to be served and encouraged. This list is drawn from their responses, including many direct quotes.
1. Pray for them and let them know that you are doing so frequently.
"One of the most encouraging/inspiring things we receive from people is a quick note via email to say that they are 'thinking' of us."
2. Send "real mail."
"Send a small care package. Some little fun food items that we can't get where we serve is a good idea."
"One idea is to send a special package before an American holiday (like Thanksgiving) filled with things that we can use to decorate for that holiday."
"Send us a birthday card. This doesn't have to be some long handwritten note, just a little card - maybe even printed at home."
"Real mail is always special. Really, the thing with real mail is more than just getting some nice stuff from home (which is nice), but it seems a more tangible reminder that the people I love and miss love and miss me too and are thinking of me."
3. Pray for the people the missionaries serve and not only for the missionaries and their families.
4. Recruit others to pray for the missionary's area of service (city, people group, etc.) or for the missionaries themselves.
"This can be an amazing thing to have a person or group of people actively supporting the work that we are doing overseas - becoming an advocate for our city/work. It really encourages us to know that there are people going to bat for us and raising more prayer support for the work."
"Become an arm of our work in the United States. Some ideas include handling our newsletter distribution, website hosting (i.e., hosting a virtual website for the city), logistical arrangements, or short term team orientation."
5. Go visit them with the purpose of serving and encouraging them in their work.
"Have a group of your people come to minister to us as we are seeking to pour out our lives to others. This could be hosting a small retreat in country for our team or something similar, or coming to prayer walk the city we live in."
6. Send them updates and pictures of you and your family (by mail or email).
"It would especially be nice to receive end of the year updates or Christmas card pics. We want to stay connected to you! We love hearing from friends and family and enjoy keeping up to date on what's happening in your life!"
"If you have a friend overseas, stay in touch with them. Don't let cautions about being careful with spiritual language keep you from talking about the day to day "un-spiritual" things you would talk about if you met up for lunch one day. Sometimes the least spiritual emails are the most helpful, because somehow I feel less distant when friends talk to me like they always did before I left. Share updates on family, school, work, life, sports—whatever it is that you used to talk about with them."
7. Ask questions about their work.
"Ask not only how we are doing, but ask about our work and try to learn all you can about the people or city where we are serving."
"I know that this has been said, but truly CARING about the work is the best way to encourage us."
8. Continue to be a Christian friend and continue to minister to them.
"Don't stop being the church to us when we leave. Whenever security allows, spiritual conversations are good for our hearts. Missionaries struggle with the same sinful attitudes that plague Christians everywhere. Leaving home to live among unreached peoples, may be a step of faith in the process of sanctification, but it is not a step that roots out all sin. It is likely to lead to and expose all kinds of previously unnoticed and unexpected sin. Having friends that know me, are patient with me, and expect me to be the same struggling sinner I was when I left helps me stay humble when tempted toward arrogance, and hopeful when tempted toward despair."
"Even for us with strong member care, it is helpful to receive pastoral care from the stateside church's pastor who many times will know the missionary personally and have the history with them to be able to invest and mentor them and their family and marriage."
"Ask us those hard questions. Do a little pastoral counseling with us."
"Please don't elevate us onto some false pedestal. We are normal people too who have been forgiven much and for some reason God called to live and minister overseas."
9. Support them financially.
"Finding out if we have any specific needs and meeting those needs is great."
10. Seek to encourage them when they are on stateside assignment.
"Let us talk to you and your congregations, and small groups. We want to share what God has been doing and would love the opportunity to talk about it, raise awareness and hopefully gain more prayer support."
"Invite us out to lunch or dinner. Nothing fancy is needed. Remember we've just been in places where we may not have been able to even enjoy a little Mexican food."
No missionary mentioned this to me in emails, but I know it is a blessing when someone shares their summer home or cabin for a missionary family to get away and relax for a few days.
"Let us know about any good books that are must reads. Tell us about any good resources that may benefit our personal growth or ministry work: things like conferences, training for ministry/leadership, and so forth."