How to Help Your Foreign Missionary Friend

Having been here over a year, I’m now qualified to speak on the subject, right? [Heh, heh] I don’t consider myself an expert, but I have discovered a few things. Maybe you’ll find them interesting.

I’ve thought of several points, and I will talk about them in no particular order. I’ve gathered some of these ideas from my experiences, but I’m including experiences shared with me by veterans from the field. Those of you who have served in places other than your mother country may have more things to add. Please share them with me.

And this writing is just my thoughts. There are some connections made to the Bible, but no direct commands. You can search the Scripture for yourself.

1. Communication

This is a big one. Your brother and sister need to hear from you. The Apostles all mentioned how much joy it brought them in their missionary journeys to hear from home. The epistles ended with salutations to their friends, and those weren’t the only letters they exchanged, of course.

Something I’ve heard from a number of people is, “I thought about talking to you, but I didn’t want you to get homesick.” I understand the sentiment, and I think it can be a problem if the conversation is the Oh-I-wish-you-were-here sort all the time. But if you are simply sharing life, recounting victories, and admitting defeats, you can be a great encouragement.

Your missionary friend is possibly starving to hear from a friend. The enemy can take the days that go by and bring the tally as an attack against the mind: See? You’re not loved. You weren’t valued there; you won’t be valued here. You can’t do this.

You can help your friend cast those imaginations aside by even a short exchange of messages, an email, or a phone call. Put it in your calendar to do it again; otherwise, it won’t happen. And don’t worry that your friend is overwhelmed with communication. The opposite is likely to be true.

Two things to consider: 1) If your friend seems distant or uninterested in communicating, that is not a good sign. Keep reaching out to him, and specifically pray about it. Possibly you’ll have a chance to bring it up to the friend, too. 2) If you don’t feel like communicating with your missionary friend, take a good look at why. Maybe there’s room for improvement in yourself. But it could be the enemy is inhibiting you from being the encouragement and blessing God wants you to be.

2. Accountability

This is tied into communication, but it’s more focused. Believers are strongest when they are tied into a local body in an intimate and open way. Folks who find themselves starting a new church work will have less of that–or none at all!

When you are the only believing family or only one of a very small group, it is easier to become lax in your commitments. Yes, one’s devotion should be primarily to the Lord Jesus and be driven by that personal relationship with Him, but there is a reason He designed the church to be the structure we operate within.

We need each other–NEED. It’s not just a pleasant idea or a nice perk. We cannot fully realize the heart of Jesus outside of the body. It is unhealthy and dangerous for any length of time. We need to be encouraged and edified and exhorted.

You can provide a supplement for that in the absence of the real thing, as it were. We do know that the Apostles were various times away from their home congregations for extended periods. They expressed the heart-longing they had for brotherhood and taught strongly on the necessity of it. They knew better than anyone.

And if they needed it, they who walked and talked with Jesus face-to-face, how much more might we? So don’t be ashamed to ask your brother in another land how things are between him and the Lord. Be real with him. He needs it.

Two things to consider: 1) Your missionary friend may be tempted to feel threatened by your accountability. So be gentle and open about it. You’re not trying to be a policeman, you are just showing Christian love. 2) You may find this extra difficult to do if you are being fake and/or superficial with your local brotherhood. Put it to practice there first.

3. Support

Jesus talked about giving up stuff and going into new areas of the Vineyard with very little extra. He said there may be times when we won’t even have a place to lay our heads and that we may be hated by others.

Paul found this to be true. He was various times destitute. He didn’t always have an income. He wouldn’t have been considered a wise investor or smart with finances. Yet the Macedonians shared with him; though, they happened to be in poverty themselves.

If your missionary friend has left a paying job to go into an area without income to share the gospel, and you are in less poverty than the Macedonians, I encourage you to share. And the Bible gives some commands on giving that should help guide you in that.

In the early days here before we had sold the house in the States, things were a little tight. I wanted some financial help and went to a few different sources to ask for help. I was told by a few brothers that if I had been smart with my money, I’d have what I needed, and that if I was going to choose to run off to Latin America, I needed to be willing to deal with the consequences of my decisions.

As it turned out, we didn’t become destitute. We found someone willing to help (there are still Macedonians today). But I was rather shocked at that response and had to wonder how the Lord might feel about attitudes like those.

We are blessed to have some income at last from the farm, and we’re building that up. We also have friends who have given through the board, anonymously, and through the blog. I’m also able to do some writing on the side to bring in a little.

But your missionary friend may not be in that situation. You may not be able to give much, but a little bit from the Macedonians in poverty was more than the zero Paul had otherwise.

Support your friend financially. And support his vision for sharing the gospel. Don’t make him feel stupid for trying to do something for the Lord. Your friend may not get it all right, but bless him for trying and help him along.

Two things to consider: 1) When it comes to support, both financial and emotional, try to empathize. Walk in their shoes. How would it feel to be them? Then support like you’d wish to be supported. 2) If you give money to a missionary, don’t then treat him like an employee or a borrower, demanding to know where each penny went. Feel free to be interested in his life (See both Communication and Accountability), but if you give a gift, forget it ever was yours.

4. Visit

Long-distance travel was something that was incredibly difficult in Paul’s day. Making a trip to see Paul in Rome, for instance, was no simple task, yet some people did it. And we get a glimpse from Paul (and from other writers) as to what a great encouragement visitors were. These visits were so important that they ended up as part of our Scripture. I suspect that was neither accidental nor incidental.

I think it’s safe to say that the greater majority of people won’t be able to or won’t choose to visit someone serving in another country. Because of that, those who do visit have an even greater opportunity to be a blessing.

Before I came here, I’d visited only one missionary friend in another country in all my life. I’m sure I could have afforded to do it more, but it was never a priority for me. I had my own pleasure traveling to do in that time.

Don’t feel guilted into traveling to Peru. The borders are closed to international travel anyway, so it’s impossible. But perhaps you have a friend in another country with open borders. Ask God if your travel budget for 2021 should include a visit there.

Two things to consider: 1) When you go to visit, don’t expect (or maybe accept) your missionary friend to be a tour guide and entertainer. Go to share regular life with them, and go to share their burdens in some way. 2) Some visits recorded in the Bible are coupled with the idea of, “I can’t wait to see you again.” Be that sort of visitor. Don’t be a drag or a discouragement. Make them sorry to see you go.

5. Prayer

I intentionally left the most important for last. Prayer changes things. The effectual, fervent prayers of the righteous make a tremendous impact.

I read a quote by C. J. Vaughn this week that made me stop short: “If I wish to humble anyone, I should question him about his prayers. I know nothing to compare with the topic for its sorrowful confessions.”

The devil works hard against me when it comes to prayer. I can sense his efforts in making it difficult for me to get prayer time in. On top of that, I have my own selfishness to deal with. It is sometimes a true physical fight to make prayer happen.

And no surprise, when you see what great things prayer can do. If all of Jesus’ followers prayed the way Jesus did, what would this world look like? If you prayed that way, how would your life change?

So pray for your missionary friend. You don’t know how to pray for him? Well, then try implementing some of the earlier points, and see if it comes more easily. Your intercession is a real tool in the work on the kingdom.

Two things to consider: 1) Pray specifically. Please don’t simply say, “Lord, bless him,” and be done. Pray for specific problems to have specific outcomes. 2) Tell him you’re praying. Pray with him if you can. Or write your prayer out in a letter or email and send it to him. It will not only bless the Lord, it will greatly encourage your friend.

Now, if you made it this far, I have some thanks to share. My most faithful communicator has been my Aunt Sue. Nearly every day she has sent me a message to let me know she’s praying, that she loves me, or that she sympathizes. That has been so precious and encouraging. And I’m genuinely impressed with her constancy. Thanks for being my prayer warrior, Aunt Sue.

My second most faithful communicator is my friend Maurice. From the first we arrived here, he has regularly kept me informed with the everyday things going on in his life and at home in church. I don’t always match his length of messages in reply, but I deeply appreciate his connection. I don’t think he’s let a single week go by where we didn’t have a conversation, even if it was just a few minutes. Thanks for being a faithful friend, Maurice.

Coming in a close third is James. He’s the one who pushes hard to make sure we can schedule a deep talk. And he’s able to keep me accountable in a frank way I’ve come to admire. And out of the blue, he will send messages just to say he wants me to know I’m on his mind. Thanks for sticking with me, James.

The next category of thanks goes to my mom and Steph’s mom for keeping us connected to the families. We appreciate your regular connection and your prayers. We definitely need them.

And to you other friends and family who touch base once in awhile, thanks so much. You have been cups of cool water in a desert land.

There are many of you who pray for us, and many of you who let us know. A deep thanks to each of you. But I want to especially bless Glenn who periodically emails his prayers. That has been powerful for me.

And our gratitude to all those who’ve supported us through financial gifts. We have not had to suffer in any real way, and that is due to your compassion and selflessness. We feel your love.

And congratulations for making it to the end of this post. You deserve a sticker for reading this far. May the Lord bless you richly.