Supporting Missions Well: Being a Good Support

This week I’m writing a series of posts about supporting missions well. The first post talked about Calling, Grief and Defining Home, and yesterdays post talked about Raising Support.

I ended yesterdays post with a segue of sorts into what I want to talk about today, which is the “sending” side of things. Yes, there’s a lot involved for a missionary when they’re getting ready to go to the field in the area of raising support, as well as maintaining that over the long term. But, there’s also a lot that I want to say to those of you who support missions. Again, know that these things are coming from the heart and in a way of lovingly sharing, not with criticism or judgement, but with the intention of getting us all talking and thinking about this thing we call missions.

I think it’s safe to say that every person that supports a missionary is doing so because they care about no less than 3 things. First, they care about being obedient to God’s directives to support those that are called into the mission field. Secondly, they care about the missionary themselves, whether it’s someone they know personally or someone their church supports faithfully. Lastly, they believe in and want to support the actual work that the missionary is doing.

So, if we can all start off with those basic assumptions we’ll move forward from there. Before I do that though, I want to say THANK YOU. To those of you who support missions in any capacity – THANK YOU! You will probably never know how much your support has meant or what it’s been able to help accomplish, because most of the time those of us in the field won’t ever see the full reach of what God has called us to do because so much of it is relational.

My hope with this post is to take some of the things that we’ve already talked about and spring board from there to talk about practical things that will help “senders” well, send better! Again, this list isn’t exhaustive, and if there are missionaries reading this that want to contribute I hope you’ll do so in the comments so we can all benefit.

If we can start from the place of recognizing that the process of getting ready to move to the mission field is not just hard logistically in so many ways, but also very emotional, you can have and idea about how to better walk alongside your missionaries through that transition. Also knowing that it can be really hard to put ones needs out there can help all of us know that sometimes we need to ask. Yes, it is absolutely okay to ask specific questions, letting your missionary know that nothing they say is going to offend you, but that you’re asking because you really care and want to help. Maybe you aren’t the one that can financially meet a specific need, but you might know others who can that just need to know there is a need, and you might be the person that can present that.

I think one of the hardest things for missionaries in the big picture is raising support, whether it’s through the ways they stay connected with supporters back home or whether it’s when they’re on home visit/assignment/vacation, and needing to connect with people or do specific fundraising. I want to give you some practical ideas that would be SO helpful for the people you want to support. These are not just things our own family has needed or been blessed by, but also gathered from conversations with other missionaries. And again, maybe you aren’t the person that can do these things, but you might know someone who is.

1. Creating opportunities to share.

One of the HARDEST things any missionary has to do is set up and coordinate speaking and sharing times to let others know what they’re doing or what the ministry that they’re working with does. Why is it hard? Because we aren’t THERE. It’s incredibly difficult to not only contact people, but have those that we are in contact with feel any sense of importance for what we’re asking because we aren’t physically present. Add in other logistical issues like time zone differences, patchy internet or phone lines, or just not even having a specific relationship with the leadership of the church or organization and it’s almost impossible for a missionary to find new venues to share, let alone maintain previous opportunities. People like presence.

This is where you come in. Be an advocate. Be that person that can be the coordinator for a missionary or organization in your area. When you know that a missionary will be on home visit, ask them if they want you to try and set up opportunities to share in your area. I will guarantee you that if you are able to set up even one opportunity to share that would be effective, as in a reasonable sized group, the missionary will be there! And this is why…

People support what they connect with. And people connect when they can be there in person. The majority of our supporters, whether it’s for our family or for the mission in general, are supporters because they’ve heard Chris and I speak or have met us at some point. We become the people that they identify with when they think about the organization, and no matter how many different ways others can share about Clean Water for Haiti, when we do it they see our personal passion for it and hear our stories and heart, and that’s what they connect with.

Churches and Church Groups:

Sharing in a church that isn’t your home church is hard. It’s almost impossible to connect with anyone there, unless someone that attends there is a supporter. Talking to your church Missions Committee or leadership to see what kinds of opportunities might be available is a HUGE thing for us because we can’t do it on our own. It’s the equivalent of doing a cold sales call. But, someone on the inside who is invested in their church and in missions can do a ton for a missionary with setting up opportunities at a church, whether it’s time in the service or presentation times afterwards or through the week.

I do want to add that this is one area where the face of missions is changing. Did you know that one of the HARDEST places for missionaries to get sharing time now is in churches? Yep. Time and time again we hear how hard it is to even get a few minutes in the service to let people know you’re there. Many churches are so focused on programs and reaching out to their communities that missions have take a back seat in what they put before the congregation, and that’s hard and sad. We are blessed that both of the churches our family is most closely connected to because of our parents are very supportive of our family and Clean Water for Haiti and are often looking for opportunities for us to share. Such a blessing. But, it can be SO frustrating when you’re looking for opportunities.

Community or Private Events:

Maybe you aren’t connected with a church, but someone you care about is on the mission field and you want to support what they’re doing. You too can play an active role in setting up presentation times, whether it’s something as simple as inviting them to coffee with a few friends that might be interested, or doing something bigger at a community level. Here are a few ideas:

  • Coffee with friends that might be interested.
  • A dessert evening in your home with a small group of friends.
  • Wine and cheese party with a chance to mingle and talk to the group for a few minutes.
  • School groups.
  • Socially minded community groups like Rotary are fabulous opportunities for humanitarian focused missions like ours.

Just a few suggestions, but a lot of people like us really enjoy smaller events where we can get to know people and chat a bit to get that connection time with people.

2. Help with practical needs.

This is really a big one. Often missionaries don’t have a “home” that is theirs to come back to, so vacation and home times can feel disjointed and much like “couch surfing” a lot of the time. Some practical suggestions that are SO helpful for missionaries and missionary families:

Housing/Accommodation:

Many will stay with friends and family, which are great opportunities but sometimes there might not be room for a family and they need a place to stay where they can be comfortable and relax a bit without being in “guest” mode all the time. I think this is especially important for families. Having a bit of time on their own can be a great opportunity for rest and regrouping in the midst of traveling around. Maybe you or someone you know has a house needing a house sitter. Most missionary families would be glad to watch over things for you and benefit from the personal space. Or maybe you have a basement suit or something like that available while they’ll be in the area. This rings true especially for families with young kids who really need some sort of routine in the midst of the traveling.

Vehicles:

Most missionaries sell all major possessions before going into the field, not only to make funding available, but also so they don’t have to worry about storing or maintaining these things from a distance. So, when they go on home visits they don’t have things like cars.

As a family we’re really blessed in this department. We DO have a vehicle – a 1969 camperized Volkswagen van. We just call it “the van”. And, as much as our parents would like to see us move on to something else, we won’t. Chris and I spent our honeymoon traveling around and camping in the van, and now when we go home with the kids we can get away for a really inexpensive holiday with them by spending a week or two at a time camping wherever we want because we have a stove and beds and everything self contained. If we need to overnight with friends or family that don’t have the room, we can sleep in the van. We LOVE it! But, that said, it’s not a winter vehicle because it’s a “pre-heater” model. Chris has a good friend who rigged up a “Franken-heater” for us one winter, but… :) So, when we go home in the winter months for any reason, like holidays or fundraising trips like Chris just did, we have friends in the Seattle area who have a car that they will let us use. HUGE blessing!

For our family, a big part of this is having a place to park our van, and we are again very blessed to have friends that have a garage bay that they let us use (Hi Barb & Paul!). We can park the van in there, and store several plastic totes of things like winter clothes and anything we might only need on vacation times in a corner of the garage. When we come home we fly into Seattle, they pick us up at the airport and we stay at their house as long as we need to, and then come and go from there. Seattle is less expensive for us to fly into than where either of our families live, and neither of our parents have the means to store our van and other stuff, so this works out wonderfully for our family and we’re so thankful for it. Things like this can be a HUGE blessing to people like us. (Wow, I’m really into the HUGE thing right now…)

Clothing:

If your missionaries are coming from a warm climate to a cold one, this can be a big thing. We don’t keep more than one or two changes of “cold” clothes in Haiti, and by that I mean jeans, and sweaters that we can layer. Most people we know will have what they need for their travel days, and then rely on sufficient clothing meeting them at their destination.

It can be a really big blessing to find out what your missionary might need in advance, especially if they have kids. Kids grow so fast, that even if they had clothes put away the previous visit, they might not fit by the time they come again. Asking what they need specifically and then working to gather those things to have washed and ready for their arrival is a huge help.

Piggy backing off this, if you plan enough in advance, you could really help a missionary family out by gathering items while they’re in season that might be needed for them to take back. Wouldn’t it make for a fun way to bless a missionary mom by gathering a group of ladies from the church or community, and having them work together to find items that the missionary mom indicates as needs, then having a “shopping” time where mom can come, visit with the ladies and choose what she knows her family will use? Whatever she doesn’t need can then be returned to the donor or passed on to the community in some way decided by the group.

3. Open House Gatherings:

This is something that I want to encourage people to think about. When missionaries come on home visits much of their time back is spent doing fundraising and the rest is spent cramming in visits with everyone that they want to see. No matter how hard they work at scheduling in advance, there’s always a sense that there isn’t enough time, and people get missed. This can result in feelings of not being included or important enough to “make the cut” in the missionary’s calendar of events.

Last summer while we were home we had a fundraiser that we set up. It was a Jewelry Party that we did as an open house type thing in my parents back yard. We had set hours where people could come and buy handmade jewelry from Haiti, with the proceeds going to Clean Water for Haiti. Yes, we raised a good amount of money, but you know what Chris and I loved? SO MANY PEOPLE CAME TO SEE US. Because it was an open house people could come when it worked for them. Some came during the afternoon, and others came after supper. We saw people we hadn’t seen since I left for the mission field. We had family who all planned to be there at the same time. There were refreshments out so people could come and hang out. We got to meet friends of friends who came for the jewelry, but got to meet us and connect that way. It was such a great day. We saw so many people, it was relaxed, everyone got to visit with us to some extent and we did it all in one day without feeling pulled in a billion directions or that we were missing someone.

If you want to bless a missionary ask if you can help pull together and Open House for them. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just a place big enough to host a gathering of people, whether it’s a private residence, park or some other venue. Refreshments could be as simple as cookies and juice provided by a group of people, or do a potluck meal. Once you have the basics figured out let the missionary invite friends, family and supporters, and invite anyone else that you think they would enjoy connecting with. It’s a great opportunity to have a low key gathering that might interest people who wouldn’t come to a typical church style gathering.

4. Fundraising:

Trying to set up fundraisers that we can be present at while home is a great help. As I mentioned, trying to work the logistics of these while in the field is next to impossible. Many times these events, to be successful, require several planning meetings and face to fact communication. We can’t do that. They may require tracking down resources. We can’t do that. They may require set up. When we’re traveling and on vacation, that gets difficult. On top of all of this we have a calling and a full time job of being present where God has placed us, and to be effective doing that we need to be focusing our time and attention on those things God has set before us. We need others to help on the home front to be supporting what we’re doing by allowing us to focus on those things, and taking care of setting fundraisers up for us to attend and present at. Not only is this effective, but it’s also a nurturing thing – caring for your missionary by allowing them to relax on their rest time, and do the bare minimum of what they would normally do while in the field.

And this, friends, is a great way to segue into the next section of ideas – care and expectations. 

Before I leave you hanging though, let’s get back to those points to be praying for…

  • Pray for God to show you how to use your time, gifts, abilities and connections to actively help a missionary that you know in the ways mentioned.
  • Pray that God brings others into your circle that can help you in your efforts. These things are always more effective with more hands.
  • If your church isn’t very missions minded, pray for God to change that and provide opportunities for that to become a reality.

Thanks for sticking with me on all this!

~Leslie

 

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One thought on “Supporting Missions Well: Being a Good Support

  1. Your words are always an encouragement to me and really open the door into the reality that is missionary work. Thank you for saying the things that many of us missionaries think but often can’t find the words to express.

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