By Jennifer Thomsen
When overseas missionaries return from their fields of service, you can help meet a number of needs in their lives. Sometimes, missionaries are too embarrassed (or too shy) to admit they need help. Other times, they are unaware they need assistance. Some of the following ideas may apply for missionaries living in your area. Others are for those who visit your church.
When missionaries return for stateside assignment, one of their first, and favorite, stops is the Steward Provision Closet located in the Women Nationally Active for Christ office in Antioch, Tennessee. I have watched missionaries stand and gaze around at all the goodies with tears streaming down their cheeks.
Thanks to the generosity of ladies across the Free Will Baptist denomination, missionaries receive a variety of items for their home, from bedding and kitchen items to bathroom accessories. The provision closet is a wonderful ministry that blesses missionaries. If you give to the provision closet already, whether by donated items, gift cards, or money, please continue to do so. You are making a difference.
However, missionaries also need less familiar items—provisions for their pantry, medical necessities, and cleaning supplies. Missionaries do not bring these things home in their suitcases, and it is expensive to stock them. If your church or ladies’ group can help provide these staples, or provide gift cards for the missionary to purchase the items, it will be an incredible blessing.
Most missionaries do not own homes in the States. When they return, they rent a house or apartment. Sometimes, areas change while they are away, and missionaries may be unaware of the extent of the changes. It is helpful to advise a missionary regarding places that might be dangerous or provide information about high-achieving school districts. You are an expert on your area. You know the grocery stores with the best prices, which restaurants serve the tastiest food, and the stores, restaurants, and other merchants that should be avoided. Sharing your knowledge in a friendly way will be greatly appreciated.
A Listening Ear
You never know what a missionary has faced while he or she has been serving in another country. Missionaries have stories they would love to tell, but the stories may not come immediately. Give missionaries time to process their most recent term on the field. Whether the stories are good or sad, they are heartfelt and need to be shared. Missionaries long for people to show genuine interest in their ministry as well as them personally. Providing a listening ear and an open heart means a world of difference to a person who has been immersed in another culture.
Whether your church serves as a missionary’s home base or hosts a missionary for a single Sunday, you can do several things to make their visit easier. Show them around your church. If their children are interested in attending a class designed for their age group, help them find the right classroom. Go one step further and introduce them to students their age. It can be extremely awkward for missionary kids (and even adult missionaries) to introduce themselves, so make introductions for them. And leave them with someone you know will be friendly and welcoming.
If the church furnishes lunch, invite the missionary family to sit with you. If lunch isn’t provided, invite them to lunch, either at a local restaurant or in your home. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to get to know them better. If a missionary family has visited your church before, don’t expect them to remember you after meeting thousands of other people. This can prove embarrassing for both parties.
Missionary kids sometimes feel like fish out of water. Accustomed to a different culture, they sometimes feel as though they don’t fit in either culture. Compliment them and do all you can to bring them “out of their shells.” They long for friendship, so make sure they feel included. Whatever you can do to make these children feel loved and special will not only encourage them but also their parents.
The last and most important thing you can do for missionaries is to pray. They need your prayer in many areas—traveling mercies, readjustment to the States, ministry needs, family issues, and more. Sometimes, they are unaware of their needs, and need someone to go to the throne of God on their behalf.
This list of suggestions may not seem like much, but when adjusting to a different culture, even simple things mean a world of difference. Sometimes,
the smallest encouragement will go a long way. You may never know how much difference
your simple act of kindness made in a missionary’s life.
About the Writer: Jennifer Thomsen joined the International Missions team in August 2012. She and her husband Eric
attend Bethel FWB Church in Ashland City, Tennessee, and have one daughter, Victoria.