As a church member, I listened to many missionaries come to my church, talk about their ministry, and present the opportunity to sow a financial seed into the work they were doing. I would often feel drawn to them, engage in conversation with them after the service, and ask how I could help, only to be told that they were in need of monthly financial partners. I was young and not able to contribute much, if anything, and I always wondered what else I had to offer.
When I worked in Uganda myself, there were two gifts that blessed me as much as any financial gift: regular letters from dear friends back in the States, and a thoughtful care package full of hard-to-find little luxuries (like a non-stick cooking pan and band-aids!).
As I began working closely with other cross-cultural workers after I returned home, I knew there were options for people who were not in a position to contribute monthly, but these options are not often mentioned in a platform presentation.
Here are four non-financial ways to support a missionary:
1) Good, old-fashioned snail mail.
Ok, ok, an email will work, too. Really and truly, the power of a thoughtful, timely note of encouragement can do wonders for the soul. It’s so easy for missionaries to slip from the minds of church members; “out of sight, out of mind,” as they say. An unexpected letter, birthday card, or email not only communicates “I was thinking about you” but also “you matter to me.” While missionaries are assured frequently of their value to the global Church and to Christ’s kingdom, it just makes you feel good to know you matter to an individual, too.
(It’s important to mention that some missionaries work in sensitive countries where, for their safety and the safety of local believers, they cannot announce that they are a missionary. Please be mindful when writing letters to missionaries in these countries, making a point to avoid any particular words or phrases that they request. Your church may even have a screening process in place to ensure that any letters you send will not endanger them. Don’t be offended by this! The last thing you want when sending an encouraging note is for your missionary to be blacklisted from the country they serve as a result!)
2) Collect some favorite items and mail a care package.
I highly recommend that missions departments at churches keep a file for each of the missionaries they support, containing information such as birthdays, family details, and a list of favorites (snacks, hobbies, etc). If your church has this information, you can “adopt” a missionary or missionary family and periodically mail them a care package that includes a few of these items. Again, knowing someone was thinking about you and cared enough to send you something you love (especially if it’s tricky to obtain where they serve) really makes you feel special.
(Again, be mindful of sensitive countries and refrain from any wording your missionary requests.)
3) Lend an ear (and maybe a spare room) during the reentry period.
Before living abroad, I didn’t realize how huge this need truly is. Sometimes missionaries will be visiting on a temporary basis, but other times they will be around for a year or so. Not only will they be dealing with the emotional and mental stress of reverse culture shock (yes, even after reentering again and again- this is not something you ever truly get used to), but they are also working through the logistics of where they will stay long-term (a home base for this visit), where they will stay short-term (hotels or other temporary housing while they visit various churches), how they will get around (everything from the car they will drive to visit churches to who will pick them up from the airport when they reenter the country), and what they will eat (including normal grocery runs, scheduled meals with pastors, communicating allergies and other specifications to those who want to cook for them, etc). Feeling overwhelmed? So are our missionaries!
There are a lot of ways to help alleviate this stress. If you are in a position to donate gas or grocery gift cards, this is a blessing to any missionary regardless of their specific situation (although I suggest purchasing a gift card to a nation-wide chain to ensure they are able to use it). I did say this was a non-financial list, though, so in addition to donating gift cards, I recommend thinking through what assets you have that you are able and willing to offer. Do you have a rental home or mother-in-law suite you could offer to a visiting missionary? Do you have an unused vehicle in good condition you could loan? Are you in a position to help a missionary on a long-term visit find some short-term work? Do you have favor with a local school faculty to help a missionary family get their children enrolled?
It should go without saying, but the quality of your donation matters. Don’t offer a place to stay that is dirty or in disrepair, and of course don’t make promises you can’t keep. Remember that any “cup of cold water” you give in Jesus’ name is as if you are giving it to Jesus Himself; would you offer this home to Jesus? Would you offer this car to Jesus? If not, don’t offer it to a missionary.
4) Everyone knows someone.
Even if you are not in a position to do anything else on this list, you know people. Perhaps a missionary to Haiti has visited your church recently; if your friend remarks about current events in Haiti and their desire to make an impact, recommend they pray about supporting the missionary you just met! Not only does advocating cost you nothing, but it also presents your friend with an opportunity to act generously. It also strengthens that missionary’s network of prayer partners.
Little gestures such as letters and care packages, or the kindness of a church member during the tumultuous reentry period, and even advocacy can do so much to encourage a missionary. These acts of generosity bless missionaries far more than many of us will even know, even making the difference between giving up and sticking it out for the long haul. Even if you can’t commit to monthly financial donations, these practical displays of faith in your missionaries are an investment that will generate incredible returns, and both you and the missionary will be blessed.
Do you have other ideas for ways to be a blessing to a missionary or their family? Tell us in the comments!