I have often been asked, “How can our church, small group, or family better serve missionaries?” I get lots of churches that ask similar questions. They start with great intentions but have poor follow-through.
Missionaries, obviously, are human; we miss home, we sin, feel neglected, raise our kids poorly, have bad prayer lives, and so on. Just like we did when we weren’t missionaries. The hard-to-swallow truth is that we are out of sight and out of mind. Our friends, family, and brothers in Christ don’t see us every day, their lives move on without us, and we become forgotten by those who used to care for us and love us.
Most missionaries knew this would happen when we left for the mission field. People don’t sign up to be missionaries for the fame, glory, and additional friends. It is no surprise, but I am shocked at how much it hurts me. I am surprised how much it hurts to be forgotten.
If I could ask for one thing of a church or small group or a family it would be for them to show some interest in my family and me. Send a small care package of stuff we miss twice a year. Give me a call once every other month. Send my kid an electronic iTunes certificate on her birthday and Christmas so I can be reminded someone other than me cares a little about her. Ask me about my marriage and my spiritual life, because both are probably suffering. Send me an occasional e-mail and tell me you prayed for my family today.
That being said, my family and I would continue to do missions work even if we never heard from another person in the United States. And I know the same goes for all eight missionaries on my mission team. But we want to be loved, and we want to know people are thinking and praying for us. If my team members were reminded that others care and pray for them, they would have strength to endure the hard days.
As leader of a mission team and a former elder in my home church, I would love to see each missionary on my team have at least one church that loves them and shows interest in them. In my four years on the field, half a dozen churches have told me that their church has a new plan to better care for their missionaries. They explain, “I have been assigned to care for your family.” And few have followed through. I pray that each missionary serving on the field has one church, or small group, or pastor that shows interest in them, their lives, their faith, and their struggles.
When William Carey volunteered to be a missionary, he implored those who sent him, “Remember that you must hold the rope.” Missionaries must go, and senders of missionaries must remember to hold the rope.