If you’re just joining us, we’re talking about how to better support missions and missionaries in a multi-part series. So far we’ve talked about Calling, Grief, and Defining Home, Raising Support and “Going”, and Being a Good Support.
Today I want to talk about the whole idea of care and what realistic expectations are for the missionaries you support and know.
Let’s start with the care side of things.
Did you know that you have a great opportunity to love and care for missionaries in some real, practical ways both while on home visits and while they’re in the field? I think we all know we can be praying for them regularly, which is a big part of things, and we can donate towards financial needs, but there are SO many ways that most missionaries would never mentioned that show them a kind of pastoral care, as well as care in the body. And you know what, sometimes they might not even think of these things but when they happen – major blessing to them.
Note: I do want to preface this with letting you know that I’m not sharing this in the hopes of gaining anything personally from it. No expectations here. Just a desire to give you ideas based on what has been a blessing to us or to others, and if you choose to use it as a jumping off point to bless ANY missionary, mission accomplished :)
Missionaries At “Home”
First off, lets talk about things that fall in the “home” category – things that can be done while a missionary or missionary family is on home assignment, visit or vacation – whatever you want to call it or best fits the situation.
From the outside, it may seem like we have cushy lives because we get a month or more of “vacation” when we come home. But, I can assure you that it’s not all vacation. And it’s not all restful. I’ll use the example of our last years summer vacation. We took 6 weeks back in the US and Canada.
We left mid-June. Before leaving we had to get everything ready for our departure, which meant wrapping up work, cleaning up, putting things away, locking up and making sure certain things were taken care of in our absence. When we’re away there is always a nagging thing in the back of our brains wondering if everything is okay in our absence, especially because if things aren’t we might not know right away because of limited communication options and if something has happened, we’re limited in what we can do about it. After all of this was accounted for we wrapped things up with a staff fun day because we like to let our workers know we appreciate them.
We spent a day and a half traveling between Haiti and Seattle, with an overnight in New York. Time differences mean that the first week or so in the West coast has us up around 3 am and ready for bed around dinner time. This wreaks havoc on our kids because they can’t mentally tell themselves to adjust. Our first few days and weekend were spent getting things ready to travel (sorting through clothes, preparing the van and loading up, shopping for anything like shampoo, diapers etc) and preparing for and attending our Annual General Meeting with our board of directors, which we schedule for our summer visits so we can attend in person. From there we started to drive up to Canada to go see Chris’ cousins who I had never met. They live in Northern British Columbia. Typically we like to spend about a week or so camping with the kids where we have a very loose schedule so we can keep driving to a couple of hours and then stay in one spot if we really like it. Last summer was all about driving. So much driving. Our camping trip was more about having a place to sleep and getting from point A to point B. We spent long days driving, then setting up camp, spending a few hours enjoying where we were, eating, sleeping, packing up and driving again. It literally took us about 4 days of traveling like this to get from Seattle to Chris’ cousins house. Once we arrived there we had a really good 5 day visit with them, and then we hit the road again, stopping for one night with friends and another with my cousins in Prince George. From there it was another few days of driving and camping to get to my parents house. We had a deadline because of some scheduled fundraisers. When we arrived I spent several long days working on preparing for the fundraisers while Chris tried to keep the kids busy. Once those were done and out of the way we tried to spend time with family and friends. Chris’ brother flew in from California to spend a few days with us which was great. After all of that we hit the road again and headed back down to Bellingham. There aren’t many places to camp for free between my parents place and Bellingham, so we do the trip in a straight 8 hour day trip. We have friends there that we love to see who let us camp in their back yard and come and go as we please. Chris went to university in B’ham so we always spend a few days in town, maybe longer, because there’s so much to do with the kids and we love it. Our friends planned a wonderful evening get together for us with other friends and we sat around the fire chatting until late. It was great. From there we headed back to Seattle, then shot down to see Chris’ parents for a night and did a presentation at the same time, then back up to Seattle to spend a couple days visiting with people, then preparing to head back to Haiti. Packing is no fun and often means hours of sorting and organizing and weighing and shuffling. Another day and a half of traveling and we arrived back in Haiti tired.
We didn’t keep track of the number of miles we did last summer, mostly because we probably would have cried. Yes, it was SO wonderful to see so many people that we normally wouldn’t get to and totally worth it, it was just a lot of traveling. Also, if you know anything about northern Canada in the summer, you probably know that the days are very long. Our kids, especially Alex, had a really hard time with the daylight and sleeping. It was exhausting for me because his sleep schedule was all over the map. Camping is really fun with the kids, but the very act of setting up and cooking can still feel like work.
What I just shared is a very normal run down for a missionary family on “vacation” and yet not because our family has worked hard at balancing our time to be mostly vacation and not so much “work” related stuff while we’re away. Thankfully our board of directors is very supportive of this and makes sure that we know we should be resting while home. It can be fun, but it can also be exhausting to be moving around so much, to be guests so often and to not have any real routine – especially with kids. Please know that we love all of it, but it’s also nice to come home and sleep in our own beds and get back to our routine. I think we all know of a vacation or two where we got back feeling more tired than when we went, but know that the change of scenery was what did us good. For a missionary that’s probably almost every “vacation” that they take.
As a supporter of missionaries, there are so many ways that you can love on them and help give care and rest while they’re on home visit. These are just some fun ideas based on things that have been special to us and others we know, things that we get stunned to receive but are sweet and such a blessing:
- Letting a missionary/missionary family use your vacation home or even time shares if available while they’re on vacation/home visit, recognizing that having time away like that it is often out of their budget.
- If you’re friends or family and are able to babysit, offer to do things with their kids to give Mom and Dad time to go on a date (something that’s often hard in the field), or take care of errands without the kids. There are often a lot of business matters and appointments to take care of while home.
- Find out what supplies the family will need while home, things like diapers, shampoo etc, and collect coupons that will be useable when they’re there to help them save some money. We had friends do this with diapers and pull ups and it was really sweet!
- To take that a step further, stock up on some of those items for them to use while there and even take back with them if needed. Things like diapers are often expensive abroad and of lower quality.
- If you use or have access to activity coupon books or free passes to things, save things that might be fun for their family to do while in the area so they can do them at a reduced cost or for free and give them to the family when they arrive.
- Make a list of community events or attractions with dates and times for them so they know what’s going on, when and where, and do something as easy as email it to them so they have it handy. We’ve loved being able to go to community festivals and things like that while home. It’s often cheap or free entertainment and helps us feel part of things.
- Gift certificates or gift cards to eat out at a local restaurant can be a big treat as most missionaries don’t eat out a lot. It might mean a date night or a time to do something special as a family. And don’t worry about feeling like you need to cover the whole meal. Even a $20-25 certificate or card is a big deal because it might offset half the cost of the meal. We’ve had people do this for us and it meant Chris and I could go out for a nice dinner at a place we would never normally consider, and we were fine covering the rest of the cost of our meal because it was less than what we would have had to pay for two. Even a $5-10 Starbucks card might mean a coffee date for Mom and Dad while running errands :)
- Gift cards for local stores where you know the family might be able to purchase needed items for their stay or to take back with them. When we come home we have lists of everything we might need to stock up on that is either hard to find or too expensive to buy in Haiti. I might spend $500 at Walmart in a week before we head back. Could you imagine how much you could bless a missionary by getting a group of people together and buying several gift cards? Even 10 people who chose to contribute $15 each would make a considerable difference for the family or missionary
- In that same vein, what if you offered to do the shopping for them? Not only would you be blessing them by taking care of the expense, but also by doing the work. It could be a fun women’s or missions project. Maybe you fundraise, then ask for a specific list from the missionary and purchase as many items as possible, taking care to focus on asking how specific they need items to be (see later in this post for more on this).
- Gas cards! Remember all that traveling I mentioned? Yep. We have a rewards Visa that we use for purchasing plane tickets and things like that, and we usually save those points and exchange them for gas cards. It’s so nice to pull up to the pump and know that we don’t have to pay for the gas with cash in our wallets, but that it’s essentially free to us.
- Share your rewards. If you collect things like frequent flier miles or Airmiles you can often transfer those to other people if you know you might not use them. You can also often use these rewards towards gift cards that might help with some of the above ideas.
Pastoral Care & Counselling:
You might be surprised to see this in here, but hear me out.
The mission field can be a complicated and intense place to be. Many of the experiences we have in the day to day are hard to describe at best. Over time we learn to cope, but sometimes those experiences can be traumatic.
Our family went through a really difficult, intense period starting in late 2008 that spanned about 3 years. I had come home in April of 2010 for my brothers wedding, and while home spent a bit of time talking to a counselor friend. She gave me the contact info for a counselor trained in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) counseling and suggested that whenever we were able to come home as a family that Chris and I see her.
That was one of the best decisions we’ve made.
We were so broken and worn out from everything. We felt like we’d lived 5 lifetimes in a couple years time and any time we tried to talk about it couldn’t find the words to fully describe things. I’ll admit, we went reluctantly because we were sure this woman would never be able to speak into the stuff we’d gone through, but we told ourselves we would do one session, then decide. We literally sat in the car just before going in saying, “Just one session, then we’ll decide from there.” We sat in her cozy office. The fact that she wasn’t Canadian by birth and was from a country known for violence was a huge help. She listened, we shared the nutshell version, and then I remember her taking a few minutes to share her story – things we could identify with. Horrible losses and pain. And we relaxed a bit. I could literally feel us both exhale. She “got” us in a way most people would never be able to. And I think we saw a glimmer of hope for the first time in a long time. Over the period of a few months we saw her weekly and started processing through things and learning tools. Tools that we’ve put into use many times since then in our day to day life here.
Sometimes missionaries need specialized care and counseling. Marriages can get incredibly strained from trying to balance ministry and life and culture and everything. Family life can take a toll, especially when kids are trying to figure out how to fit in when they may never ever fit in. Traumatic events can happen in our adopted countries that even the most well intended people back home will never be able to relate to.
In these situations it’s not just care that is needed, it might mean specialized care. That care might have a cost, and I know so many people that might not have the funds to cover that, so they might not get it. Being willing to either offer these services pro bono or at a significantly reduced fee, as a way of supporting missionaries is such a gift if you’re skilled in these areas. Helping to provide the funding for a missionary to get this care is also a major blessing when budgets are tight. Even helping to connect them to these resources is a major blessing because we’re not around, and word of mouth is often the best resource of all.
Offering your skills, whether is cutting hair, medical, mechanical,etc at a reduced rate or for free – all of it can be a big blessing to missionaries while on home visits.
Missionaries In the Field
Now that we’ve talked extensively about practical things to do while a missionary is visiting, lets throw out some things that you can do while they’re in the field.
- Offer to help print, stuff and mail any newsletters or mailings that the missionary or organization needs to send – and then be reliable and follow through. Again, we can’t be there to do it ourselves so this is often something that can be so necessary, but difficult to do. Much needed!
- If feasible and cost effective, be willing to gather or shop for supplies that the missionary might need personally or for their organization, and send them on to someone who will be coming in, or to a designated shipping company to be shipped to the country of service. Many of us will gladly reimburse people for any expenses, we just need the hands and feet to go and do the work!
- In the same vein as the previous idea ask how the missionary gets needed items. If they do like we do, and order things online to be sent to visitors and brought in luggage, ask for a needs list and order those things for them and have them sent to the designated address. Or perhaps there’s a specific need that can be purchased in country and you want to give towards that item and can do so through their support. Let them know you’ve chosen to cover that need.
- Send care packages. I know this sounds like something a college student might say, but it’s seriously a treat when we have visitors to the mission that arrive with gifts from home. I have one friend who, when she’s able to, asks when people are coming in and then puts together the best care packages for me and mails them to the visitor to bring in their luggage. She always has fun and sends little things that might not be the most practical or needed, but that bring me joy and are fun for me. Such a gift!
- Be in touch! As I mentioned in a previous post, we send out monthly emails to our support base, both as a family and as an organization. We love it when people take a few minutes to quickly fire an email back to encourage us and just say Hi. It doesn’t need to be long or anything special. Just a note to let us know you’re thinking of us helps us feel connected.
Again, this list is not exhaustive by any means, just suggestions and ideas.
We’ve talked about the care side of things, and now I want to once again tread into what might be uncomfortable territory for some. Again, just to reiterate – my intention is to not be judgmental or critical, but rather to start conversations. Some of these things are hard to talk about. I feel kind of vulnerable being the one to say some of this stuff. But, I think it needs to be said because hard things can bring good things. And, as the body of Christ, I think God wants our best, especially when it comes to loving one another.
I think any time we’re in the position of offering support and giving there is some small part of us that has expectations of what that should look like or what the response will be. On some level we want to have our actions and intentions appreciated.
Please hear me when I say this – we, as missionaries APPRECIATE YOU.
We do. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to serve the way God has called us to. You become his hands and feet and help meet our needs.
One thing that can be hard when you’re in the position of the receiver is feeling like there is an obligation to accept everything that people want to give or do at the risk of offending them if you don’t. But, what happens when that offered gift is not needed, or is needed in a slightly different form? What if it’s close, but not quite what will meet the specific need? It can be very hard to say thank you, but no thank you when you’re in our shoes.
Let’s flush this out a bit so you can understand more of where I’m coming from.
As an individual or a family you know there are things that your family needs. Some of these needs may be met with resources where there are really no specifics, as in a variety of things would work or you’re not that particular, for whatever reason, about well, the specifics. Maybe you need a baby stroller and for your family it’s not something that you have a lot of strong feelings around, so when a friend offers up a good condition one you jump on the chance. For other things, you may have reasons why a specific item or resource would be better for your family. Perhaps you need a new couch and after a lot of deliberation you decide that it would be a good investment for your family to purchase a new one rather than a used one, for whatever reason.
As individuals and families, missionaries are just like you. While there are some things that we don’t have strong feelings about, there are others that we do, for whatever reason.
For example, with our kids being the age that they are, we’re happy with hand me downs and used clothing. When we go home we often go to thrift stores to stock up on certain things. I buy a lot of their clothes used on Ebay too. That said, I am particular about what kinds of clothes I get for them, or accept from people. What kind of fabric is it? Will it breath well? How will it hold up? Will they actually have anywhere to where this? Alex hardly wears anything but a diaper right now, and I try to make sure Olivia’s clothes mix and match well so when she dresses herself I know she’s not going to look like she got dressed in the dark. It means less work for me in the long run.
For some things, we’re thinking about how an item will get used and other factors that come into play when we’re not living in first world conditions. Over time we’ve realized that while there might be a more economical option for some things, in some cases it is worth it over the long term to invest in particular items. Maybe it’s a good, comfortable pair of sandals because we wear them every day, or a more expensive, good quality blender because our power fluctuations burn out less expensive models, which we then have to spend more money on replacing.
My point is, there are always so many factors involved in accepting some of your gifts. We love your generosity, but maybe it just isn’t the best fit for our family. In other situations, sometimes, like you, we just want certain things that might be more in line to our personal taste or want to take care of certain things ourselves because there’s a sense of normalcy in picking certain things out. When Olivia was a baby we were given so many gifts of clothing for her that it was literally impossible for her to wear or use it all. They were all great items, beautiful, and such a blessing. You know what was hard for me though? As a new mom I just wanted to pick out a few things on my own for my baby girl, and not feel guilty about it. The generosity was overwhelming, but I just wanted the chance to pick something out myself.
I think sometimes it’s easy to offer up solutions or things for a need, and then get offended quickly if they’re refused, when the place we maybe need to start from is asking for specifics on the best way to meet that need and choose to listen, then do what we can to meet that according to what the person in need offers as guidelines. I think in the case of a missionary it actually helps us feel more cared for when people take the time to ask us for specifics. It means that people really want to do something that is going to meet the need to the fullest, rather than just getting by. It can also cause undo burden and extra work for the missionary when they have to deal with things that are either broken, or don’t work to the fullest extent that might be needed.
In that same vein, asking for specifics can also help alleviate other burdens. Will that gift cause cultural issues? Will the gift be something that is used, or something that the missionary needs to find a new home for, causing them more work? What about values and principles, does it cause any issues there?
We love having visitors come to the mission, and when they come they will often use most of their luggage space to bring in supplies for the mission. Over the years we’ve chosen to use most of that space to order items online and have them sent to their homes to be packed and brought in for us. At times there are items that visitors can bring in that they get themselves or that people donate through them. In that though, we’ve learned that certain things work better than others. Work gloves are an example. While work gloves in general are appreciated by our staff, certain kinds don’t do well when used in water, and we work with a lot of water. We’ve chosen to get really specific with which types of gloves people bring because they’re the best for what we do. Are the others an option? Yes. But, they aren’t the best suited for what we need. People often want to bring gifts for our kids, and while we appreciate the gesture, we’ve actually asked that they pre-approve any gifts with us first because we noticed our kids were starting to develop an attitude of entitlement whenever we had guests, and it took the specialness of getting gifts away. We want gifts from family and close friends, as well as ourselves, to mean something and we don’t want our kids to think that it’s something people are obligated to do. Sometimes we have people ask us if they can send things back with us, or bring items in, because they think it will be a nice gift for our staff or someone else. Often we say thank you, but refuse, simply because we’re aware of the cultural issues that can arise and we’ve worked to establish relationships on different terms than what might be initially obvious.
In all of these situations the intentions are good, but they might not be the best for what is needed. This goes back to what I shared in a previous post about loving our neighbors. If we want to love well, I think that involves taking into consideration what might be the best, most honoring, and in line with how we would want to be treated. If we’re truly giving because our motivation is right we should be okay with hearing “thank you but no thank you”, trusting that there are good reasons that go beyond, “I guess they just aren’t grateful when people try to help”. If our motivation is right it doesn’t matter what they think, it matters what God thinks. God knows our hearts, he knows our intentions. Maybe he has other plans for filling that need, and maybe he needs to do some heart work on the recipient.
I guess what I’m saying is, in the same way that you would want it, please allow missionaries the grace to refuse the offer of help and ask how you CAN be involved in a way that they need. Choose to not be offended. If you let them know that you are open to trying to help in any way that is most helpful to them it gives the freedom to get specific, and in turn, find the best way to meet that need. You may also enter into a wonderful opportunity for conversation and to learn more about the specifics of their ministry, cultural issues and things that they may have little opportunity to really delve into – and frankly, what can be more loving than that?
- Just pray. Easiest way to support us right there :)
- Pray for God to show you practical ways to support a missionary in the field. It doesn’t need to be any big gesture. Sometimes the small things are the ones that mean the most – an email, card or something like that can be a big deal.
- Ask God to show you who to share these posts with, in the hopes that it might help you raise up more support for a missionary that you love and support already.
- Ask God to show you a specific need that a missionary might have, even if they haven’t shared it with you, and how you might be able to help meet that need. Be creative and active.
Would love to hear thoughts and feedback on any of the things we’re talking about this week, so please leave comments!