Helping Returning Missionaries

Helping Returning Missionaries are my thoughts and suggestions for missionaries returning on furlough to the States.

Helping Returning Missionaries

Helping Returning Missionaries
By Missionary David Cox

I recently saw a post on LinkedIn about helping missionaries returning from the field. I felt it was pretty poor and scarce as far as information and material, so I am making a similar post, and trying to fill it out more.

How are we helping returning missionaries?

Let’s get a focus on this from the get-go. Missionaries are disenchanted people. Since the time that the church at Antioch “divorced” Paul and Barnabas, ministers for the missionary ministry, missionaries have journeyed in a lonely path. That is the word, separated, divorced, or completely broke all formal relationships with them so that they could be totally free to ministry in the missionary ministry.

This is both good and bad. It is good, because missionaries have few to no duties in the sending churches. They basically receive prayers and income monthly from that church, and they return every furlough to give work updates, but other than that, they really don’t do much more towards those churches.

It should be a whole different post here, but missionaries need to pray for their supporting churches. It is a difficult thing when the people they met and knew in these supporting churches die, more on to other works, or just retire. The problem is not getting to know the new people at a supporting church, but that the entire atmosphere at that particular supporting church changes, and the church no longer supports missions, or its earnestness for missions and even for their own evangelistic work in their city is damped.

Let me put forth my mindset.

I believe that the only true biblical New Testament missions are evangelism and church planting missions. That is where I am coming from. I greatly disagree with missionaries who do other types of missionary work, because if their primary focus is not spreading the gospel from a direct presentation, they are diluting their effect and what they can do (if properly oriented with the Bible on missions). I am not God, and they will have to answer to God for their ministry, but after studying Missions in College and on my own for many years, the only successful work or ministry to me is a local church. That is what God has blessed, what God has ordained, and what really works. We do not see other kinds of ministries officially commended by God in the New Testament. Church work is where it all was at in the New Testament.

Christian camps, Christian radio stations, medical centers, seminaries, etc. all may have some limited appearance of success, but in the end analysis, they do not reproduce themselves, but they drain churches of missions funds, and they do not start churches, and their evangelism efforts do not make lasting Christians. Some may accept Christ, but they are not cannot grow into mature Christians without local churches, and if there already are local churches there, they should be paying for these things and not foreign missions funds.

Helping Returning Missionaries are my thoughts and suggestions for missionaries returning on furlough to the States.

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Coming Home and Culture Shock

A successful missionary adapts to his culture, wherever he finds himself. Although his zeal for the Lord may help him do that, oftentimes his wife lags behind (or vice versa). Almost always, his children lag way behind.

Going to the field causes culture shock, and if the child cannot speak the language, then it is worse. If they do adjust, just when they are “comfortable” with friends, family, school, and church on the field, they pack up and come home. A reverse culture shock is in effect.

Our American culture is also changing greatly over the years, and with the advent of cell phones, social media, the Internet, websites, and many other things as well as limited funds in churches, all of this causes great change. One furlough it may be MySpace (now dead), and the next Facebook, TikTok, etc. and the next who knows. (I admit I am probably dating myself by even mentioning these that are probably 3 generations behind.)

The Problems of Cyber Space and Missionaries

While most missionaries somewhat know what is happening in the cyber space area, even around the world, it is difficult to handle these things really. When I went to the mission field in 1984, we had letters and phone calls. That was all there was as far as means of communication, and phone calls were expensive.

Today I am finding pastors who only use Facebook. I don’t do Facebook. It is fraught with security problems and from that stand point, nobody should go on Facebook (not their own page, nor viewing others), nor should they communicate with missionaries via Facebook, and never have services on Facebook. I am against Facebook. I don’t log on because of these issues. I do know something about websites and website security (I run 32 websites and have had probably 10 or 12 hacked with viruses over the years.) Just say no to Facebook.

But now there is instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and a world of ways people communicate. It is extremely disheartening when I try to communicate to a supporter with emails, and the pastor checks his emails about once every week to two weeks, but if I post something on his Facebook, he answers me in minutes. Whatsup is another one. It is not any better than just a simple phone message. But you have to have it to answer and communicate with pastors.

Stick to Standard Forms of Communication

One of the things that we need to standardize in the ministry is that whatever you and your church decides to do for communicating between them, do not assume that everybody else in the world is doing going to be on your favorite social media app. Some people out here have to work, and we do not social media except when necessary.

Stick to emails, phone text messages, and letters as a last resort.

You can Help Returning Missionaries by understanding their lifestyle

One of the most important issues in really helping returning missionaries is to understand their lifestyle as a missionary on deputation. They need BOTH to rest, and to travel, and socially mix with your people. Furlough should be about recuperating some of their sanity, and by this, I mean simply rest up. Do not think that your missionary is available to cut your grass, and do other simple cores around the church. Personally, I love to cut grass especially with a riding lawn mower and big spaces of grass. It soothes my mind doing that. But missionary life is extremely stressful, and there are a number of missionaries that “fail” and have to come home because the stress is too much for them. If they walk into a big church fight in their home church, that is not good. Keep them distant from that kind of stuff.

Likewise, missionaries live by preaching and teaching. When they don’t have meetings somewhere, let them preach or teach a regular Bible class or sermon, and give them a good offering. Many times, love offerings in churches don’t pay the bills for missionaries, so these little extra love offerings in your church help your missionaries greatly. Most missionaries have to “keep up” a house on the field when they are back in the states, and they have to live while in the states. It is extremely stressing for their kids (and mom and dad as teachers) to study in a strange new place every week. Talk about distraction.

A missionary is simply “no good” as a missionary if he isn’t witnessing to build up his work on the field. So it is a normal thing to expect that your missionary should go out witnessing the church evangelism program. You do have a church-wide evangelism program, right? Missionaries (and pastors of US churches) that don’t go out weekly witnessing have serious problems in not fulfilling the Great Commission, and this will only fester and cause problems both on the field and in the US church. The solution is to make it integral in your church life. Expect support of your program from your missionary. What your church does in praying and sacrificing for missions is directly reflected in their burden and zeal for evangelism in their local church.

More Lifestyle Differences

It is normal for missionaries that work in countries where they speak other languages to take time to get their feet on solid ground in speaking English again. Yes, they can, but thinking in English takes a little time sometimes with some people. Don’t schedule anything for your missionary (speaking-wise) for a few weeks after he has returned. Receptions and fellowships are okay, and they actually help this transition in their minds.

Helping Missionaries with Dental, Eyecare, Medical Care

Many times there are things that they aren’t getting good attention on in their field, like medical checkups, dental, and eye matters. These things need to be addressed financially by churches helping them with these expenses. It takes a big chunk of money to pack up a family and fly them back to the states, and then pay for rent down payment, getting a vehicle, deposit for lights, water, etc. Churches can help by asking their missionary if they have extra expenses, what are they, and how much are they. If the church doesn’t have funds for these things, pray is always helpful.

While all these kinds of expenses should be taken care of from their regular support, not all missionaries have a good income. Some have an excessive income, but most are just regular folks, and many are laboring on for the Lord with things however they can do to make it. Help would be highly appreciative. Especially quiet, humble, and non-boasting, non-talkive missionaries usually don’t mention their needs, and they are the very ones you should help the most. When a missionary says, “We have 5,000 members of our church on the mission field.” then in my mind, why aren’t they giving him $5/month in salary ($25,000 US dollars/month salary)? Most people around the world can afford 2 cans of Coca-Cola or coffee per month. Why is he even in the states raising more money? Sacrificing deeply for people who are rich already seems like a questionable way to do things. While I have met missionaries like this, I have also met American missionaries who were getting by in South America with around $500-$1000 dollars/month. My heart goes out to them, because they are doing a work for God, and money (or the lack of it) is not going to stop them.

[“apostle” basically means missionary. Revelation 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: Meditate on that verse and try to understand what is the exhortation there. The Apostle John was instructing us to investigate those who present themselves to us as ministers of God, and they “speak evangelistically” stretching the truth. I am not attacking anybody here, but it is an exemplary conduct of churches which God is upholding for us here to copy, to emulate. We are talking addressing missionary’s needs, and this point needs to be taking into consideration in your heart to guide you.]

Churches can help Returning missionaries – Housing

So what do missionaries need? First of all, understand that most missionaries are not really set up to purchase a new vehicle and rent a house somewhere in the states when they come back. Churches that have prophet’s chambers are great, but missionaries normally need something more permanent, where they can set up house and visit churches and come back to that without having to pack and unpack furniture etc.

So the first thing is to supply missionaries with a cheap housing solution. Even a trailer on church property is extremely helpful. The churches can help returning missionaries also by taking a proactive stance in looking at their expenses and then trying to resolve them, or at least help what they can in resolving them.

Small stuff

Perhaps the small stuff needs to be mentioned. Tell your missionary when you see them that you are praying for them, and ask them how specific prayer requests from their prayer letter are going. Also, invite them out to eat, or give them small gifts. Most everybody likes cookies and bread. Also being a missionary is an expensive undertaking. Rolls or books of stamps are always useful. Also buy thank you cards of various types and fronts, and give them that. That is consumed quickly between thanks yous for monthly support and when they are staying in housing/hotels on furlough or deputation. If they have kids, think about toys, travel snacks, juice boxes, etc. DVDs for kids are always great. Helping Returning Missionaries

Get expert Advice

There is a very simple point here. Get expert advice. Look at your family’s needs, especially when traveling, and consider the missionary. There is nothing like driving 2 days sick with the flu to make a meeting that was arranged 3 months before, and when you get there, you are giving 10 minutes during a service, no meal afterward, no love offering, and you have to find your own housing for the night. Think. When the missionary’s next service is about 30 minutes away, is a week until that service, what is he supposed to do? He has to stay in hotel of course, and at his own expense. Even staying a couple of extra nights with people in your church is helpful.

Write to missionaries before they come, and ask them what their needs are, what you can help them with. Talking with missionaries doing deputation and on furlough is the best way to get expert advice. Tell them ahead of time that not everything that they tell the pastor, that the church can do for them, but some of it maybe, and all of it will be prayed for. Take this burden on yourself as a church that is interested in missions.

My Best Experiences with Visiting a Church as a Missionary Speaker

In my travels, I visited a church which was having a missionary conference. I have been in many missionary conferences, and most are very good. Probably the best missions conferences that I have been in is when the missionaries were given ample time to present their ministries, but also there was “down time”, like when we ate a meal in the church, and afterward, the missionary could talk to members in the church, and just get to know them. Personally, I enjoyed these times when I could sit with other missionaries and talk long with them about their works and their problems, so we can pray for them.

But this one I have in mind was excellent. They took us out for meals in restaurants for supper, breakfast was an excellent buffet in the hotel, and lunch was in the church. But the little things are what you really remember. That was back before I was diagnosed as diabetic, and before I was married with kids. But somebody from the church entered my hotel room (it was reserved), and they laid out on the counter an agenda of all the meetings for the 4 day conference, pens, pencils, and notepads (back in the day before cell phones), and most special of all, a basket of fruit and candy. I mean like 20 candy bars, breakfast bars, beefy jerky, dozens of pieces of candy, apples, oranges, etc. I was overwhelmed it was so good. There were also 2 cassette tapes (back in the day again) of sermons from the Pastor.

While you may smile at that and say that you don’t think that is so great, yes it was. It was because they fed us so well that we didn’t need to eat it during the conference, and I ate off of that stuff for 2 weeks afterward while I was traveling. In another case, I stayed with an elderly lady, and she fed me well. She lived alone. Monday morning after I presented the work on Sunday, she fed me a hearty breakfast, but again I was touched by her heart. She made me two ham sandwiches, a packet of potato chips, an apple, and a can of pop all in a paper sack. As I drove away, I almost cried from just thinking about how heart for missions. She was poor, but her heart and spirit were excellent.

Other such memorial actions by good hearted brothers and sisters were a gas card with $20 of credit for gasoline, coloring books for the kids, skin care and creams, shampoos, etc for my family and wife, and even 3 or 4 home made cookies wrapped up in cellophane. Also a small baggie filled with candy, and doing that baggie stuff with nuts, baby carrots, celery, and other stuff from a big giant bag was well received by us.

P.S. Always make sure you get good directions to your missionary before they leave their house (a week or two before the meeting). Always give a cell phone number of somebody to call if they get lost. If you church is one a road and that is clear, no problem. But sometimes that doesn’t work so well. Church addresses can be hard to get find. Make sure you get them the information they need. One time a church moved into their new building about 3 miles away, and between when I last called the pastor and the meeting, they moved, and I couldn’t find the church. Since it was within 1 hour of where I was staying with family, I drove up 1.5 hours before the meeting, and couldn’t find the place nor was there anybody at the pastor’s home. It was like the third deputation I had had, just starting off. I had to run to a gas station and call my mom and dad to see if the rapture had taken place, and I got left behind! (Actually no, I didn’t call home, but I was very relieved when I say my mom and dad. They were both good Christians.)

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