For the past two years, since stepping down as Senior Pastor of Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh, Peter Grainger, along with his wife, has been ‘pastor at large’, visiting some of the Chapel’s 40-strong missionary family — in North Africa, India, Bolivia, Romania, Malawi and the UK.
It took eight months from leaving Britain in March 1871 for journalist Henry Stanley to reach the town of Ujiji near Lake Tangyanika and to utter the immortal words, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ on meeting the famous missionary. It took my wife and me 18 hours to reach the city of Blantyre (named after Livingstone’s Scottish birthplace) in Malawi to meet our missionaries, David and Kirsty Kanyumi, serving at the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi.
Yes, visiting your missionary is a lot easier these days! So why not consider it? Here are a few helps and hints on how to visit your missionary, based not only on our experiences in these past two years, but also on 20 years as missionaries ourselves in the Indian subcontinent and Nigeria.
Discuss your intentions well in advance with the leaders of your church (are they happy for you to represent them?) and with your missionaries (are they happy for you to visit them?). Distinguish between faith and foolishness. If you suffer from high blood pressure, then flying into La Paz in Bolivia, the highest international airport in the world at over 13,000 feet, may not be a good idea! Is staying in the jungle in north India, in a place where two people were recently taken by a tiger, the best plan if you suffer from a nervous disposition!
Check with your health centre what inoculations you need and what tablets you need to take (take it from me, malaria is not a pleasant experience!). Have you got adequate travel and health insurance (you will never complain about the NHS again!)? What would your missionaries like you to take them (ranging from Marmite to good Christian books)? What weight allowance do you have (some airlines will give extra for ‘charitable’ trips)? Do you need a visa? On arrival, what do you write on the immigration card under ‘purpose of visit’ (‘visiting friends’ in North Africa — not ‘visiting our missionaries’!)? Study what you can about your destination country and, if possible, learn a couple of greetings in the language. Liaise closely with your missionary well in advance.
Not many missionaries are in it for the large salary! Is it possible/convenient for you to stay with your missionary? If so, offer to contribute towards your board and keep. If not, find somewhere close by where you can stay. Either way, offer to take your missionary out for a nice meal in a good local restaurant (if there is one). In the Amazonian region of Bolivia, we enjoyed the best steak meal ever — at less than £20 all inclusive for six people!
Be guided by your missionary in what to do, wear and eat! In Romania, I was strictly warned, ‘Whatever you do, don’t take your jacket off in the pulpit!’ Speaking to 100 Malawian pastors in suits and ties, I felt (and looked on the photos) the odd one out in a coloured shirt! Instructions for what my wife should wear were even more specific! Don’t search out the nearest McDonalds (they’re everywhere!), but try the local food. We ate llama, guinea pig and piranha in Bolivia (though baulked at ‘mice on a stick’ in Malawi!). In Romania I just ate too much (four sermons interspersed with three huge meals one Sunday)! In India, we ate with our hands (but only the right one — not the left, which is used for other purposes!).
Don’t make assumptions but ask questions. We spent 25 hours in a four-wheel drive vehicle in north India with Andrew McCabe, our oldest missionary (sent out by our church in 1950, now 86 years young!). It was an incredibly interesting and informative experience and I only wish we had recorded what he shared about his life and ministry born in British India to living in independent India (he was awarded an MBE for his services to the country). Your missionary will not only be encouraged by your interest. but you will learn from someone who knows.
Be an encourager to your missionaries. Many of them face enormous pressures and challenges — not least women living in a Muslim context, where they face restrictions on what they can do and where they can go. Many missionaries/tent-makers live with an insecure future — in the country we visited in North Africa, people who had invested over 20 years of their lives were given 48 hours to leave. Serving with and under the local church brings particular challenges and needs grace and wisdom. Ask the Lord to give you particular Scriptures and words of encouragement for your missionaries and pray with them while you are there.
When you return, share what you can (in the right context — maybe not in written form) about the missionaries you visited — the challenges they face and the needs they have. After visiting a clinic we had funded in the jungle in north India, we shared with the congregation the need to pay the salaries of the staff for several years until they became self-financing, and the members pledged £800 per month. We shared the story of a young Indian evangelist who had baptised 60 people in the last two years but whose Indian mission had run out of money, and someone offered to pay his salary (£30 a month!).
Your visit may establish a long-lasting relationship with your missionary in which he or she feels able to share with someone who has been there and can understand. It can be a partnership that grows and develops over the years — on return visits of the missionary back home — and maybe you back there.
Yes, visiting your missionary is a lot easier these days! So, why not give your Caribbean cruise next year a miss and invest your time and money in something far more worthwhile — for you, your church — and your missionary.
Peter Grainger also directs 2 Timothy 4, a trust established in 2009 with the aim of ‘strengthening Scottish preaching’ (http://www.2Tim4.org).