“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…
If you happen to be an investor, 2020 was a scary year. March sent millions into a panic as the stock market took a huge dive in reaction to the first wave of COVID-19 on US soil. Unlike risky monetary investments, Jesus directs us in the gospel of Luke to an investment that has no risk and a guaranteed payoff at the resurrection.
We’re not told the particularities of what our reward might be. But imagine how the maker of the sunset, sea animals, and sesame seeds might reward you. I would guess it will be more satisfying and delightful than any list we might make or parameters we could define. God wants to offer us rewards for making certain choices and putting our energy toward specific people while living here on earth. What actions bring such pleasure to the heart of Jesus that he would promise a reward for doing them?
Honor Those Who Cannot Repay
Jesus’s words to a Pharisee who invited him for a meal are helpful to us:
Then Jesus said to the man who had invited Him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Since they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12b-14)
Jesus told the man who invited him what really makes God happy: giving honor to those who can’t possibly repay it. Give it away, in big spoonfuls— in buckets, even. Give to those who have absolutely no way of returning in kind. Because that’s what God has done for you. Dignify them not only with a meal, but with your presence. Table fellowship was all about status in Jesus’s day. Sharing a meal signified acceptance, and even equal social capital. Jesus is directing this likely rich and powerful Pharisee to open his home to those who would never usually make it onto the guest list, because they weren’t in his same social circle. He is not shaming them for inviting friends; he is simply encouraging them to also invite the outcasts, the poor, and anyone who has no status.
Because those are the kinds of people God loves to love lavishly— the needy. He knows they cannot pay…