5 Considerations for the Sending Church when Visiting a Missionary
In a recent article by The Gospel Coalition, Caleb Greggsen makes the case that “churches should consider taking mission trips where the sole purpose is to encourage missionaries.” We wholeheartedly agree. One of the greatest ways to encourage and bless your missionary is to visit them in their context. The time and money may be the best investment your church can make in the resiliency of your missionary.
So visit your missionaries. Here are five things to consider before you go.
Be clear on the purpose of your visit.
The focus of a missionary visit should be the missionaries’ spiritual health. So prepare by reading their newsletters or social media posts before you arrive. Know the basic facts about their country and ministry so you’re not asking questions to which you should already know the answer. Ask your missionary to set aside uninterrupted time so you can hear a full report of their life and work. Probe, listen, empathize, and offer wise counsel. Find out how they are really doing. The aim is for your missionary to feel loved, heard, and prayed for. Those are good goals. We see this play out in Scripture too. The Apostle Paul sent the faithful minister Tychicus to the Ephesians with one purpose: “that he may encourage your hearts” (Eph. 6:21–22).
Aim for their heart, not their fruit.
It can be tempting to want to see results in ministry; given the cost to make their ministry possible, missionaries perhaps feel that pressure more than most. While ministry evaluation is healthy, save that for another time. Instead, ask about the health of their relationships with coworkers. Inquire how their kids are doing as they acclimate to climate and culture. Celebrate wins and grieve losses, but refrain from probing for results. Some missionaries labor through much trial and suffering for many years before the Lord grants tangible fruit in their ministry. If you know the state of your missionaries heart, it will guard you from inspecting their fruit.
This is not the time to prove you’re the world’s lightest traveler. Instead, leverage your luggage capacity for their joy. Find out what the kids want from home and pack it. Ask grandparents what they want to send. Bring books, taco seasoning, homeschool curriculum, letters from loved ones, and their favorite flavor of chips. Make sure that square inch of luggage space is crammed full of encouragement and edification. This is an easy win.
I once dragged a pogo stick across three continents having to bounce it into action to convince customs officials it wasn’t a weapon of nefarious intent. It was well worth the effort to deliver a missionary kid his birthday wish.
Don’t be a tourist.
Speaking of packing, leave your safari gear at home. It’s an adventure to experience a different culture, but your missionary may have grown weary of it. A great way to show love is by NOT asking them to take yet another trip to the local tourist trap. Find out what their favorite restaurant is and treat them to dinner. Ask what their kids love to do for fun and do that together. Your trip is about serving them. Offer to cook a meal, do the dishes, and sit down and play a game with the kids. Better yet, send mom and dad out on a date while you babysit. Be a tourist of your missionary’s home first. Anything else they want to show you is a bonus.
On a recent trip, the highlight was being invited into family worship. It was more meaningful than any sight we saw or exotic food we ate. The pure beauty of a family singing and confessing sin to one another far eclipsed the flora and fauna of their country.
Don’t underestimate what the Lord might have for you and your church.
Pastor, it is good to get out of your routine. You should experience jet lag, traffic chaos, language barriers, and a church service in a different culture. We often realize things we normally overlook when we’re out of our comfort zone. So embrace it. The Lord just might be using your missionary visit to prepare you for your next sermon series or season in ministry.
After your trip, prepare to update your congregation in a service or prayer meeting. Give your church fuel for prayer and a snapshot of life on the mission field. Leverage your experience to bolster a burden for the nations and a zeal to reach the lost with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Could it be that while aiming to encourage your missionary the Lord also invigorates you and your church for reaching the lost? Go ahead and book the trip. It’s a kingdom win.