I love when missionaries tell me that they’ve just been visited by pastors from their sending church. In fact, I’m convinced every sending church should encourage—or, if possible, even require—that such overseas visits happen on a regular basis.
Why? I can think of at least three reasons.
1. These visits encourage missionaries and their families.
Being a missionary can be lonely. They’ve left behind family and friends to learn a new language in the midst of a new culture. Tasks that used to be so simple—renewing a license, paying an electricity bill, going to the doctor—can now take hours. Sure, they mention some of this in their monthly newsletter. But the complex difficulties of their new life aren’t easily communicated.
All of that changes, of course, when pastors visit and see their missionaries’ world up-close. They’ll get to meet the people they’ve read about, the friends who only recently heard the gospel for the first time. You can imagine how encouraging it would be for missionaries to watch the pastors who helped send them overseas interacting with the very people they’ve been sent to minister to.
These visits also encourage the children of missionaries. They realize they’ve not been left behind. It’s difficult being a “third-culture kid,” so a visit from “Pastor Joe”—who brings chocolates from home, who joins them on fun and exciting excursions—can easily encourage a child on the field.
2. These visits encourage the pastor.
Sending a missionary takes a lot of time. It requires enormous relational investment. Generally speaking, pastors lead the way on this. They’ve invested—happily!—the most amount of time and energy.
Remember the young and awkward college student who rolled into your church all those years ago? He’s now evangelizing and discipling new Christians overseas. He’s put in the hard work of learning a new language and culture. His ministry, by God’s grace, is bearing fruit.
How could a pastor not be encouraged by seeing this up close, even if only for a few days or a week? Alongside his fellow church members, he’s invested time, money, and other resources to send these missionaries overseas. Of course he should be encouraged when he sees the Lord grant a return on those investments!
Pastors should visit to be encouraged not only by their missionaries, but also by those who have been affected by their missionaries’ ministry. They’ll share a meal with that pastor they’ve heard about and prayed for. They’ll sip some tea as they hear the firsthand testimony of that neighbor who recently came to Christ. They’ll have the joy of worshipping with the local church that your missionary helped to plant or has joined.
3. These visits encourage the whole sending congregation.
I’ve heard quite a few sermon applications about missions. And to be honest, you can tell the difference between those that come from personal experience and those that come from a book. Of course an illustration doesn’t have to be firsthand to be effective. But firsthand experience brings clarity and specificity.
“Sacrifice” is abstract. Hearing missionary kids talk about how much they miss their grandparents is not abstract. “Lostness” is abstract. Spending some time in the teeming downtown cores of Delhi, Tokyo, or Bangkok is not. Visiting missionaries in the far reaches of Tanzania, Mongolia, or Chad will help any pastor’s preaching and teaching. When he opens up the Scriptures, the senses will flood back.
But these visits will help more than a pastor’s preaching. It will help his overall ministry. For example, he can help prospective missionaries understand what they might expect on the field. After all, missionary life is hard. There isn’t a ton of glamour in transporting a family of ten in a vehicle made for seven over a pothole-infested road for 18 hours in order to go get some supplies that used to be available at the local Target. Seeing these realities firsthand will help pastors to prepare others well. They’ll ask better questions and be more attuned to possible concerns because of their experience overseas, even though it’s limited in both time and in scope.
Sending churches are sacrificing churches. So you can imagine how encouraged they’ll be when they hear a report from their pastors about their missionaries whom they’ve sacrificed to send. Perhaps they’ll even be inclined to visit on their own!
So pastors, visit your missionaries, experience their lives up-close, and then bring back reports of God’s faithfulness to your congregation.