Helping Returning Missionaries
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 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.
Let me set 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. 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 is a local church. That is what God has blessed, what God has ordained, and what really works.
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 get 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 visa 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, and the next who knows. (I admit I am probably dating myself by even mentioning these that are probably 3 generations behind.)
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. Furlough should be about recuperating some of their sanity, and by this, I mean simply rest up. 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, 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.
A missionary is simply “no good” as a missionary if he isn’t witnessing to build up his work on the field. 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.
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.
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. 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, 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.
The Faithless Lifestyle
Back many years ago, people did not have insurance, and they did not have a lot of money saved up for things like medical bills, and other kinds of expenses. Over time, the concept of insurance came into play, and now everybody thinks that health insurance will cover your medical bills. That helps if (1) it is a good policy, (2) if the medical expenses are great, (3) if the expenses are covered. These things are not necessarily so today. So don’t think that missionaries are different in that respect, the money from health insurance doesn’t cover stuff fully, and sometimes not at all.
I really get disgusted with the concept back in the late 80s and early 90s, where churches expressed their disdain for missionaries mentioning needs, especially financial needs. In those days of mission boards, the churches pressured the boards to tell their missionaries not to express those needs. The church gave their monthly donation, and the missionary should be saving part out each month for emergencies. Boards made missionaries set aside money monthly for an emergency fund, etc.
Folks, today many churches are giving under $50 a month, and that coupled with the overall lack of churches causes a financial crisis in missionaries’ lives. To not to be able to mention it is ridiculous. My churches personally like it when I share our financial crises and burdens with them. Depending on the amount and the times, they may or may not help us. Sometimes a church will be generous with this, and sometimes they will not give anything. But they will pray.
Understand that missionaries live by faith, and trying to force them not to is counterproductive.
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 go 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.
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