I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… missionaries need your support. Yes, they need your financial support, but it is really so much more than that.
1) They need you to check in with them regularly (especially since they often feel guilty about asking for yet another thing… so really press them on what they need, even if it is just someone to listen). Obviously missionaries cannot have deep connections with all of their friends and supporters (just as none of us can really maintain relationships with every one of our Facebook friends), but they do need to have a select few with whom they can have regular contact about the nitty gritty of life. So be purposeful about asking them if they are maintaining some close, genuine friendships while serving abroad. If they aren’t, encourage and pray with them about seeking out such relationships, so as to avoid the pit of loneliness that is so prevalent when away from home.
In addition, if you were a part of each others’ lives on a regular basis before they left, do find ways to continue that connection through Facetime, Skype, or some other creative use of technology. Don’t blindly believe that seeing each other randomly in social media is enough. A little eye-contact goes along way toward making someone feel valued and loved.
2) They need you to understand that they often live amidst polar opposites, from the wealth and extravagance seen in their Facebook feed, to the extreme poverty of their neighborhood streets… which causes them to sometimes find it difficult to navigate “normal” conversations about seemingly benign stuff like what you had for dinner, the weather, or family updates. Be gentle, kind, and understanding, as you each learn more about the others’ daily lives.
3) They need you to not put them on a pedestal, or make them out to be some sort of hero, just because they sold a bunch of stuff and left home in obedience to Christ. The thing is: when you put them up high, it can sometimes just make the potential fall feel that much taller… and no one wants to feel like that. They need to feel like they are regular people who have regular ups and downs worth sharing with a community of supporters.
4) They need you to ask how they are doing and not accept “fine” as an answer. And when they confess their weaknesses, they need you to appreciate their transparency, offer grace (endless grace!), pour out mercy, and continue your support! Because missionaries — and all Christian workers for that matter — are humans just like the rest of us. They aren’t A+ Christians or superheros. They are just messed up believers, saved by grace, seeking to follow God’s will for their lives. We need to support one another along that path.
5) They need you pray about their mental and physical health as much as you pray about their ministry (and they do need you to pray about their ministry!). Recognize that missionaries often deal with many of the same things other people do: depression, loneliness, anxiety, worry, insomnia, addictions, fear, heartache, physical pain, even cancer… But these problems don’t make them any less capable of serving! To the contrary, I believe God uses our struggles to uniquely prepare us to connect with specific people on a very deep personal level. He makes no mistakes, so chances are pretty good that if you or your missionary friend are working through a particular “thorn” right now, He wants to use it for His glory.
These are just a few ways you can support missionaries. But don’t stop there. Check out this great post from the Wallace family that expands on these ideas a bit, to offer: 10 concrete ways you can support the missionaries in your life.