“So, how long are you home for?”
That’s a normal enough question, but it always gives me pause. Which home? How long has it been anyways? As a missionary back in the States, I often wonder what to make of this time of furlough or HMA (Home Mission Assignment). This year we have seen more missionaries “stuck” in America for longer than expected.
I’m often asked other questions too, like how does the church minister to missionaries during this odd season— when we are in town for longer than the mission’s conference? There is certainly a need to articulate how we can “mutually encourage one another.” Let me, as one of these stuck-wondering workers, provide five ways the church can love stateside missionaries.
5 Ways the Church Can Love Stateside Missionaries
Give them space. This may mean giving literal space to live in. Missionaries need a home! Different families have different spatial needs, as well as functional needs. Ask questions and work together to make a space a As a homemaker, a few house plants and pretty curtains really ministered to me in our Goodwill-like mission’s house. One church collected clothes to fill our closets with a winter wardrobe. And here’s something important: they did not send us the stuff no one wanted. When they realized slim fit sweaters were hard to come by (for my tall skinny husband), they didn’t give us grandpa’s size 44 suit and polyester pants. They gave a few gift cards instead.
Coming alongside missionaries in homemaking (however that may look; however temporal it might be) can remind all of us of our true eternal home. We can find beauty in the basic needs.
Invite them to the party. Remember missionaries are (mostly) normal people. We want to grill out, go for a hike, or help paint the guest room. We want to do everyday life with you. Stacey met me at a nearby nature center. Rachel brought her boys to celebrate my 11-year-old’s birthday. Tim ran with my husband each week. Stephanie encouraged me to wake before dawn for a neighborhood walk.
When we are stateside, we also miss our “everyday” routine. One church connected me with a piano teacher and gymnastics class for my kids. Adding those activities back into our week helped us gain a bit of normalcy. Now I know investing in people who aren’t going to be here very long (and who travel so often) can have many hurdles. Doing everyday life with missionaries requires selfless intentionality. It’s difficult, but incredibly loving.
Ask about money. This is the obvious one, right? Missionaries are usually very good at asking for funding, and we always seem to need it. It is lovely however, to be asked first. One friend simply emailed us, “We want to increase our giving. Tell me how to make that happen.” Some supporters want to give “an extra gift” and ask what would serve us best (give to the support account, tag it for a specific ministry, gift cards, or a personal check).
Whatever your ability to give more, you can always pray for financial needs to be met. One long-time supporter had to stop her financial giving for a time. Her own finances had taken a hit, and she sadly had to cut some parts of her budget. She let us know (rather than simply dropping off) and then told me she was praying for a new supporter to give in her stead. What a reminder to me that God is working in very specific ways! Talking about money can be awkward, but we all need to work hard to be generous givers, receivers, and money-conversationalists.
Let them work; let them rest. We do enjoy a break from the work on the field. HMA can be refreshing and a time to regroup, but it’s not a total vacation. For many, the work of support-raising, keeping up with the field, and administrative work can mean “furlough” is more like plowing. This can be especially frustrating when others assume you are “on vacation.” For others, ministry is put on hold and missionaries are looking for ways to use their gifts. It might feel like endless twiddling-of-thumbs!
How could you help missionaries navigate a work/life balance when work and life look totally different? Is there a family vacation or retreat scheduled or is every week full of visiting churches? Would she like to serve a Sunday or two on the music team or in the nursery? Could she use her gifts co-leading the Bible study or does she want to simply participate? Intentional questions help missionaries refigure rest and ministry in a new context.
Invite them to church. This is probably the most important, but the most overlooked way to serve missionaries. Yes, we have to present at a different church most Sundays, attend conferences, and connect with small groups. We love going to different churches, but we miss the regular rhythm of a local church body. For some, attending church in the States is a rare occasion to sing familiar songs, hear a sermon in our native language, and see old friends.
My family is living on the other side of town from our sending church, which also restricts our attendance. We didn’t always get a seat each Sunday! A closer (and more spacious) PCA church invited us to come “be normal church-goers” even outside of mission’s month or our given “presentation” Sunday. A women’s Bible study took me in. That invitation to be (temporarily) part of a community of grace is a balm to a tired soul. In a time when everyone is feeling an extra level of disconnection, “let us all not give up the habit of meeting together.”
My family and I still do not know how to answer that question, “How long are you home for?” But I can rejoice at the ways the church has sought to love us in our in-between, in the awkward prolonged season when we can’t return to our field. We have reminded each other that none of us are home yet; all of us are sojourners together.
About the Author:
Mandy and her family live and work in South Asia, in a city of 13 million. They are doing church-planting work with MTW, which includes much hospitality, discipleship and late night chai. She is a homemaker and is busy with her “little women’s ministry”: her three girls.