Being a missionary in a foreign culture can be exciting. But it also comes with challenges — raising kids, staying healthy, and doing ministry in unfamiliar territory can be daunting. Add the feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, discouragement, and fear, and you have a recipe for missionary life.
If you’re passionate about supporting missionaries in their ministry, you’re already on the right track by praying for them regularly. But sometimes people ask—what more can I do to help?
It’s no secret that being a missionary is challenging. In fact, missionaries are one of the most vulnerable populations in the church as they confront some of the most profound brokenness in the world and in their own lives and hearts.
That’s why your care is so important. With a team of people like you backing them up, missionaries can focus on sharing the love of Jesus with those around them, even during difficult circumstances.
As a vital partner in their ministry, coming alongside your missionary is one of the most important investments you can make in God’s Kingdom. But you may be wondering how to do that effectively.
What exactly do your missionaries really need?
How can you provide practical care and support, even from a distance?
We reached out to some of our workers on the field to get their input, and some of their ideas might surprise you!
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Allow your missionary to be a real sinner.
Missionaries are saints who struggle with sin. It’s easy to think of them as theoretical sinners. But when their sin comes to light, we can tend toward shock, disappointment, and disillusionment. Your missionary needs you to know that their struggle with sin is as real as your own. They need the freedom to be known as real sinners with a real need for Jesus every day.
2. Educate yourself about life on the field.
You may have a general sense of what life on the field is like for your missionary. But there are lesser-known realities: exhaustion with everyday rhythms; the immense effort required to communicate; the slow progression of ministry; perpetual transition. And here are some of the most profound challenges: the reality of extreme poverty; repeated exposure to disease, death, and loss; unexpected crises; and the weight of stakeholder expectations (real or imagined). Having a keener sense of the realities will inform your way of pastoral and practical care.
3. Stand in the spiritual gap for them.
Pray. Your missionary needs prayer for so many things — but primarily for their application of the gospel. Pray they’ll remember that they are the beloved of God. Remind them that their life with Jesus is by His grace, not their performance. Pray that they will remember the goodness of God in Christ. Pray for their practical and ministry needs, and pray for their belief. And share inspiring resources with them — a song, book, podcast, or website. It’s not always possible to stay on top of the latest resource trends while on the field. Sharing these resources with your missionary can help them find quality materials more easily and be very encouraging. And it can also help them know what’s going on with you.
4. Communicate regularly and personally with them.
Respond to their prayer updates. If they plan Zoom prayer meet-ups, sign up and attend. Cultivate awareness of how you should and should not interact with them to protect them, their ministry, and those they serve. Allow space for mutual encouragement by sharing about your life and struggles.
5. When they return for home assignment, care for them in tangible and intangible ways.
Re-entry is TOUGH; try to suspend expectations and give grace. Help them with travel and living needs by providing gift cards, lending them a vehicle, donating frequent flier miles, or gifting them nights at an Airbnb. Invite them to events to help them acclimate socially and culturally. But also allow them space to process or not attend those events. Champion their vision and network on their behalf. Ask them what else they might need, want, or especially appreciate.
6. Care for their children (those living with them and those separated from them).
Send care packages (including packages to college students or kids at boarding schools). Have your child (or Sunday School/Vacation Bible School/Classroom) send letters or video messages to their kids. Engage with their kids when they visit on home assignment.
7. Love them as a whole person.
It’s tempting to think of your missionary as a super-spiritual Christian and forget that they’re also emotional, intellectual, social, and physical. Strive for person-centered rather than ministry-centered conversations. Ask them personally — about their interests, how they spend their free time, and how they decompress from the demands of ministry. Ask how they’re doing spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, and relationally.
8. Allow for the tension between sacrifice and sustainability.
Sacrifice is part of the call of a sent one, and your missionary experiences it in personal and specific ways: separation from family; tight budgets; potential threats to safety; lack of certain comforts. For flourishing to occur, sustainability needs to have an equal focus in their life: sufficient income, space for rest and recreation, and education options allowing for their children to thrive. These things are vital to longevity in the vice of cross-cultural life.
9. Take a short-term trip to visit them.
Set aside your summer vacation for one year and take a trip to visit your missionaries. If the cost of an overseas trip seems daunting to you, ask your missionaries if they can help provide room and board, either with them or with someone in their city. Use a flight tracker app to notify you of price drops and special deals before purchasing your flights. Ask your missionary if there is a specific week you could go and serve in their ministry. Then ask friends and family to support your trip financially. Visiting your missionary will be an encouragement to both you and them!
10. Partner with their sending agency.
Effective missionary fieldwork requires a whole team of workers back home. One of the best ways to care for your missionary is to support their agency’s Missionary Care team. This team equips missionaries with cross-cultural training; language skills; spiritual renewal; crisis management and emergency assistance; third-culture kid support; mental and emotional care; team-building; conflict-management skills; and much more. When missionaries have help with the consuming details of cross-cultural living, they are freed up to focus on sharing the love of Jesus with those around them. And that builds long-term ministry and a deeper impact for the gospel.
You are a vital part of your missionary’s work and care. Thank you for your heart to care for that missionary and to see the gospel go forth in nations around the world.