So, now we have the missionaries, how do we help them?…
One good way to help missionaries is to “make a big fuss about missions,” such as by organizing short-term mission visits to missionaries. These are time-consuming and big efforts, likely more helpful to our own church, and especially our young people to be inspired for future missions, than to be directly helpful to missionaries. But it strengthens the awareness of missions efforts, and might specifically improve the linkage of specific missionaries to the sending church. So please also read URS: Starting Young in Missions, which reflects my passionate love of this effort.
为宣道士的事工“发声造势”就是一个很好的方法，例如我们投入时间和精力去筹划短宣团去实地接触宣道士们的事工。虽然我们看到短宣通常对教会，特别是我们憧憬事工的年轻弟兄姐妹们，的直接帮助多过对宣道士的帮助，这些短宣还是能增强教会对宣道事工的认识也能加强宣道士和母会的联系。我在“与曽叔叔闲聊：传道使命在教会的重心 – 從小开始”（URS: Starting Young in Missions）另外讲述我对年轻人宣道事工的热情。
Short-term missions could be the start of many long-term relationships, especially for our young people. That is something that the spirit of God does, working mysteriously in lives of believers, and especially to call some into the field. Mark, one of the youths who answered the call into full time ministry, and who has become himself an enthusiastic champion of missions, was first touched in this way by the Lord, in his initial short-term mission encounter with “real-live” missionaries in the field.
One negative of short-term missions, however, that we need to be aware of, is that we often see only more exciting things during a short-term visit, and might come away with a superficial understanding. We usually don’t see long-term struggles, the daily grind, disappointments, floods and fires, and arguments and tensions inevitably among field workers. So, we might still have only a simplistic, glorified image of missions. Just take this as a first of many steps.
Another way to help support missionaries is to encourage regular reports from missionaries in the field, so that the church can be informed to pray for them. This sounds simple, but, in reality, can be often stressful for the average very busy missionary. He has to write a report that reaches probably hundreds of supporters from different backgrounds, and more than 10 or 15 different churches. Reports are usually best understood in the native languages of the specific church member, for example, traditional or simplified Chinese, or English. So, the wording of the report can be challenging, as the missionary may feel he has to write a “good” report. Maybe he has to translate it, or get it translated, which multiplies his efforts. And some missionaries are better writers than others: some definitely have “writer’s cramp” when it comes time for writing, and could “freeze” when the pressure is on to produce timely reports.
So, mission committees need to be sensitive about not “harassing” the usually already overwhelmed missionary. I have heard some missionaries spend 4 to 7 stressful days just preparing a report, which takes away from normal ministry. My advice is to be sensible, by asking missionaries directly what a good frequency might be, and to expect a brief simple report, and not necessarily a detailed one.
As supporters, we really don’t need to know every single detail anyway. Plus, if the missionary begins to really tell us about pains and trials, unfortunately, many supporters do not really want to read it, and some might even be “turned off,” interpreting that as “just complaining.” For the missionary, trying to figure out who would like details, versus who would like just a rough idea, is actually impossible. Plus, in this very busy world, nobody seems to have time for anything, so writing a report that people actually read is another challenge! Finally, the art of composing a short good report of course is actually often more difficult than a long one!
For the last few years, we urged missionaries to send video clips of their activities, and give us 3 or 4 prayer items as highlights. Some missionaries (particularly young ones) seemed to like this, while others felt it was too stressful, and I am sure it was an additional stress to all. Plus, this required someone in the supporting church editing the video clips, and in our situation, also providing bilingual subtitles.
So, videos were not easy, even though very interesting and informative. I suppose that having some videos is better than nothing, but trying to schedule video clips inside a busy Sunday service schedule is easier said than done. The ministers have to agree, and there is quite a bit of coordination among mission video coordinator, ministers, and AV group.
Some missionaries like to have a coordinator help with email distributions in the home country or church. At other times, printed updates distributed on Sunday for the congregation are helpful, but need to be organized, whether for small groups or entire congregation. The most efficient distribution today might be to give emails, or wechat or whatsapp groups of all interested people to the missionary, who will have the name lists to directly send out. I think this is the simplest, without need for go-betweens, who might change, or get sick or move. Of course, managing the large data base, and changes in addresses, is time consuming also, whether by the missionary or his representative.
In practice, people probably tend to respond more to mailing directly from the missionary, which implies a more intimate relationship. But a coordinator might still be needed for sensitive areas, to screen out inappropriate words from church supporters in their correspondence. At the minimum, the missionary could give the coordinator his entire mailing list, just in case he falls ill, or electronic systems fail, or some other crisis happens.
One of the best ideas from years of experience is the importance of small groups willing to pray for each missionary. If we divide up the entire congregation into many of these, so that nearly everyone is involved in missions, even in small ways, that would be the ideal. Getting involved at this basic level is truly energizing, driving the entire church towards the overarching Great Commission.
Because of small groups, it should be possible to have regular contact, and to really keep in touch, with missionaries. In that way we can get real prayers about difficult issues, even sensitive areas, that normally are not discussed with a big group, thus minimizing the stresses to missionary and church. Each small group should remember to be a “support,” and not “supervisory” group, which will help foster a healthy relationship between missionary and church.
A lot of the above is driven by a good missions committee, which needs to select mature people to serve together as mobilizers of mission support. Those who have been previously on short-term mission teams might be helpful, except that if the mission groups are mostly teenagers, they are usually a bit too young, and have many youth activities already. Younger members will provide new energy, and so should be involved whenever possible after their return from the mission, in mission related activities, like training or helping the next team. And in sharing the mission vision. They will definitely be in training as future mission committee co-workers.
In particular, having a senior person with long-term missionary experience on the missions committee, would be really helpful. We had the privilege and help of a retired missionary, who had served 30 years in the field. John’s advice and expertise were invaluable, and obviously much more insightful of the “real world of missions.” For those of us who sit in USA armchairs, trying to empathize with jungle missionaries was nearly impossible, so we needed much help.
Also, even though the senior minister is ever so busy, try to involve him in the missions committee whenever possible, even part time: this is vital if missions is to survive, and his likely broad experience will be very valuable. Frankly, unless we have a committed elder or minister responsible for missions, the volunteer committee is easily overwhelmed by the complex task. One helpful measure is to have a staff level missions secretary, even if part time, for all the complicated executive functions, which can easily thwart the good intentions and decisions of the committee.
The official name of the missions committee should be thought through, and likely made neutral, since “missionaries” are not officially allowed in many sensitive, including atheistic or Islamic, countries. It could even be physically dangerous for workers to receive emails from the “missions committee.” All Nations, or Great Commission Committee are alternatives, or omit any committee names altogether. And calling mission workers as, simply, “workers” or some neutral term is definitely safer, on church bulletins, announcement boards, or internet pages. In fact, most workers in sensitive areas should not be identified on church internet announcements, except maybe with nicknames.
It’s really great fun thinking through all these issues, which are different for each church, while developing strategies for best approaches. I believe each church can develop its own style, while following biblical principles, and the church would all be the better for struggling through these efforts together.