5 Ways to Support the Missionary in Your Life this Christmas
It was dry season in Africa, the sunflower heads wilting in the heat, thirsty for drops of rain. Somehow it felt strange to be celebrating Christmas in near 100 degree heat.
We bought a miniature plastic tree and put it in the corner, but it looked kind of pitiful, like it was trying to pretend to be something it wasn’t. There were no presents or care packages that year. I found myself daydreaming about cold things. Wintry cabins tucked in the mountains with icicles hanging from their roofs, being cozied up next to a blazing fire with a big cup of hot chocolate, my knees touching my sisters’ as we watched Love Actually or The Holiday, our standard Christmas movie selections. But we wouldn’t make it “home” that year.
And even if we had, I imagined a Christmas that came with it’s own set of difficulties. Cringing at the massive displays of wealth and uneaten food on the table of a holiday party, having a panic attack at a mall not used to the crowds and materialism, being displaced on someone’s couch trying to find what I was looking for in my suitcase, arguing with relatives I hadn’t seen in months and feeling like I no longer understood their lives, nor they mine, missing the big, bright smiles of our women and kids back in Uganda as they sang worship songs in our compound.
Suffice to say, the holidays can be a tough time for missionaries.
We are always caught somewhere between multiple worlds. Displaced. We long for the nostalgia of times past, yet we don’t belong in that world anymore. We long to invite others into the lessons we are learning from suffering and joy, beauty and pain, having little but having everything, the extremes of living in a poverty stricken world.
But we know our world doesn’t really make sense to outsiders.
This post is for the weary sojourner, the overseas worker trying to feel cheerful at your sparse Christmas, the missionary feeling lost in the home of your birth. I feel you and I see you.
This post is for the churches and supporters and donors and families, who want to understand and want to help, but don’t know how.
Missionaries should be treated like heroes, like special guests. They’ve given up a lot to serve in difficult places.
Here are 5 Ways to Support the Missionary in Your Life:
1. Be non-judgmental
Most missionaries have been through a lot on the field. There may be hurts and griefs they haven’t had a chance to process yet. They are probably exhausted from their rigorous schedule. Reverse culture shock can be debilitating, ranging from feelings of guilt to enjoying the vast pleasures of the developed world, to not knowing how to handle themselves in crowds, to feeling like family and friends have moved on without them. If they’re burned out they might experience outbursts of uncontrollable anger. Shopping malls can be terrifying. Even family dinners can be full of land mines as missionaries often have a global perspective. Comments are made about the work they do, or why there are still there, or when they’re going to “come home.” This can lead to feelings of loneliness and feeling misunderstood. Have grace with them. Really listen to them. Give them space to be and do what they need to without feeling they have to commit to too much. And try not to relate your 1 week service trip to Mexico to their current experiences. Also try not to place too many expectations on their time. Don’t just care about their ministry, but care about them as a person.
2. Send a care package
If your missionary friend/family is overseas, one of the best ways you can support them is to let them know you are thinking about them. On the front lines, we often feel forgotten, like lives have progressed without us and we don’t know where we fit anymore. Send a special donation at holidays for them to spend just on themselves. Send an encouraging card or word to them. Send your Christmas family photo to them. Better yet, fill a whole care package with their favorite goodies like chocolate, peanut butter, and cheese! (I’ve heard people can do this!) and treats they can’t often get and send it over to them. Send them books and DVD’s and sermons they miss. Those items and the thought behind it, will be treasured, I can promise you. Don’t forget to ask them if you can send anything for the communities they serve.
3. Plan the logistics around their support raising
It’s a fact most missionaries hate, but we need resources to survive on the field, to keep our projects sustainable, to be able to live with the costs in a foreign country like visas, insurance, and expensive plane tickets. Oftentimes when we’re home, we’d rather be resting, but we’re forced to do a speaking engagement or do support raising in order to fulfill the mission in the communities we serve. We bear the heavy responsibility of providing for many children and families who have no other support. There are so many ways you can help this process. The easiest is just to cut them a check! But plan ahead and have your church invite them to speak, or do a dinner party, help them with a small fundraiser selling items, run a 5K and donate the funds, arrange for them to have transportation and a place to stay. Handle all the details and simply have them show up. Honor them like you would a special guest. Be proactive about asking them how you can help! Babysit their kids or buy them a massage. Rent a hotel room for them so they can sleep. Offer to pay for a doctor visit. Send a married couple out for a date night. They will seriously appreciate this!
4. Host them and invite them into your celebrations
Missionaries lives change a lot. Every year they may not be sure where they’ll be or for how long. Most don’t own homes and are used to sleeping on couches. This makes it difficult to build traditions or feel settled. Honoring them and hosting them as a special guest around important holidays is one way you can show your love for them. Wait for them at the airport with signs. Give them the best room. Invite them to share in your families traditions, especially around the holidays. Ask them what traditions they’d like to be a part of. Make them feel special and included. Ask them about local cultural traditions in their host countries. Pray for them and ask about their needs. Even if they have to turn down an invitation, let them know they are always welcome and reach out regularly during the year.
5. Purchase a counseling/coaching session for them
Most missionaries do not receive regular, encouraging contact from someone they can trust. They often don’t have someone they can process the difficulties of life with or the suffering they witness on a daily basis. They face many challenges, responsibilities, griefs, and traumas like watching infants die of preventable diseases, and yet they often face them feeling alone and feel like they have to hide from the world. Because many people put missionaries up on a pedestal to be more “spiritual” or more “perfect” they can buckle under the weight of other’s expectations and turn into people pleasing. Often, they feel they have to hide their fears and their weaknesses for fear of being judged or losing support. They put on a “good show” meanwhile feeling stressed, depressed, and overwhelmed. One way you can help is to offer to pay for them to get the help they need. I love what I get to do because every day I can help a missionary feel less lonely and more understood. Every day, they don’t have to go through what I did, instead they can get the healing and support they need.
Check out my new website and Donate this Christmas to subsidize the costs of these very important therapeutic services for a missionary/global worker in your life.
For missionaries, I hope you share this with the people in your life so they know how they can support you!