Missionaries on home assignment have many responsibilities. They talk to their mission, report to churches, reconnect with their home church, contact supporters, deal with health issues, see family and maybe get some holiday. This article is not addressed to them!
But we all want to help the missionaries with whom we have contact. What can we do to help? Maybe our natural reserve holds us back. We knew that they were coming, but we have been busy. Now they are going back next week and we haven’t even spoken. Sounds familiar? If it does, but you don’t want it to happen again, here are some pointers.
1. Be prepared to pay
The missionary may have given up a lot to serve the Lord overseas — things that we can take for granted like a home of our own, our own car, a career, fellowship. If you want to help a missionary, it is going to cost you something: in time, money, effort, loss of something you value. So do count the cost before you offer, but do offer.
2. Think ahead
Put yourself in the shoes of the missionary and think what it must be like for them to come back to the UK. Ask yourself some questions. How long is it since they first left or last visited the UK? What is their personal situation (married, single, children…)? What is their family situation in the UK (parents, siblings, children…)? What kind of ministry do they do? Is it rewarding (humanly speaking) or challenging (or both)? Where do they live? How is it different from here? Your answers will show you what you can do. If you don’t know the answers then ask the missionary (email is wonderful)!
But do it ahead of the time they are coming home — ideally six months ahead, otherwise the missionary will have to be sorting things out for themselves.
3. Home and away
A place to live and transport are the hardest things for a missionary to arrange. If they are going to be home for a year it is possible to rent a place. But can they afford it? If they are serving in Tokyo, rents in Tonbridge may seem very cheap. If they are serving in Peru, the rents in Portsmouth may be unmanageable. Either way it’s hard to sort things out from abroad.
Increasingly missionaries come home for shorter periods. If they are coming for less than six months, then renting will be impractical. What else can you do? Does anyone in your fellowship have a holiday home they might offer to a missionary? Do you know of a church with an empty manse? Can you offer your home while you are away? If you lend your home then things will get broken. A family needs enough space. A single might prefer to live alone but might prefer to share with someone. If a number of moves are unavoidable in their time in the UK then will they need somewhere to store some of their things? Will they need help when they move from one place to another? Who will clean when they leave — perhaps you could offer.
What about getting around? Most missionaries will have to do a lot of travelling, and a lot of it to out-of-the-way places. Any missionary on home assignment really needs access to a car. Car hire is very expensive. Special car hire for missionaries is limited and gets booked up early. Are you a two-car family that could manage with one for a month or just for the weekends? Thinking of changing your car? Why not buy the new one and offer it to the missionary — you can drive the old one till they have finished with the new one! Do you have money in the bank that you could invest for the Lord’s work? Then offer to buy a car for the missionary and sell it when they depart. If you don’t buy too new a car, then it may not lose much value.
4. Be responsible
When you offer help be clear about what you are offering and stick to your offer. If you offer to help by lending a car, be clear about what you will pay for and what you expect the missionary to pay for (think about accidents and breakdowns!). If you offer the use of your home, don’t change your mind. It may be hard to stick to your offer, but it will be harder for the missionary to deal with things if you don’t. Also be prepared to take on responsibility. Don’t assume that it will be done by someone in the mission, or the home church, or the missionary committee. It may not and, if it is, two offers are better than one. Be prepared to take a personal risk: ‘I’ll find you a car somehow — and if not you can have mine!’
5. Fish out of water
They are removed from their normal life. It may be many years since they have lived in the UK for any length of time and they no longer know how things work. Even things that haven’t changed feel odd. Assume that they could need help with anything. Mundane things like choosing clothes will be hard if they have grown used to a different climate and culture. Any issues dealing with authority (local council, education authority, medical issues) may be very hard. Can you help by going shopping with someone, or making some phone calls for them before they get home?
6. Where to go
While on home assignment a missionary should have time off. Usually missionaries don’t have much money. Do you know of cheap offers for days out? Perhaps you can get brochures of things to do in the surrounding area. Can you offer to take a missionary (and their family) for a day out with you? That special thing that you have been wanting to do all year — maybe the missionary family might like to do that — are you prepared to give it up and offer to pay for them instead? Or maybe they would just like to be able to go for a nice walk in the country with company rather than on their own.
7. Offer and ask
Whatever you offer may not be the right thing. Anything that I have mentioned might not be the right thing. Don’t assume you are right. But offer and ask. Say, ‘Can I do this for you or is there something else I can help with?’, ‘Would you like to do something social, or do you need some time to yourself?’ If you want to help, but don’t know what to do, just say, ‘What can I do to help?’
8. Don’t get offended
Missionaries need love. Some missionaries work in places where they have warmth, in relationships and weather. Coming to the UK can feel cold both ways. Some missionaries work in places where they have no fellowship and live among an antagonistic people. They may be crying out for Christian love. Old friends in the UK have moved on and there is no place for the missionary in busy people’s lives. Make time for them. Make opportunities to show warmth. Be prepared to give up your favourite (or important) activity of the week to be with them. Offer hospitality. Offer to host a time when they can invite others. Give of yourself without being offended if the missionary doesn’t respond. Remember that it will often take the missionary a few weeks (or months) to get over their initial culture shock of being in the UK and in that time they need love, even if they are not very loveable!
9. Offer ahead
Think ahead and then offer ahead. Send that email! Think what it will mean to them to have offers of days out, walks in the country, fellowship and love, help with housing and transport and to know that people are thinking of them.
10. End of the assignment
What about the missionary leaving the field? Well it is ‘all of the above’ but more so, and for longer. The returning missionary usually steps off the plane with little money, few possessions and a broken heart. They will most likely have left behind either a rewarding ministry and people that they love or a ministry into which they have poured their lives and seen little fruit. In either case they will be coming to a place that no longer feels like home. Often a missionary comes home ‘honourably wounded’ — emotionally and spiritually. This is a time that a missionary especially needs love and support. Prayer support, financial support, loving support that keeps on going for as long as it is needed.
Can you do all of these things? Of course not! But can you do one of them?