The care and feeding of your missionary

October 24, 2014
The care and feeding of your missionary
Yes, your missionary. We work for you. You support us financially, spiritually and emotionally. However mission work isn’t something to which you can drop a few coins in the plate and forget. Missionaries live this life seven days a week. We live far away from our homes and family. Many of us live in dangerous or politically unstable counties. Yes. I’m having a pity party today.
Stress Reducers: Missionaries don’t enjoy the stress releasors commonly available at home. For example, in my past life, going for a walk or a run was a great stress reducer. In my current setting, running is hot and dangerous. It’s a dangerous practice to establish a regular running pattern; possibly inviting attack. Then there are the leg-breaking pot holes deceptively filled with water and the distasteful but less dangerous mountains riddled with horse droppings. I have a dear friend, a missionary, who was raped on her daily run. These things weigh heavy.
Another stress reducer is chatting with a friend. This is problematic due to the high cost of international calls and slow internet connection. In addition, it’s difficult to find a friend who truly understands why one would choose this life. (See my upcoming article in In Good Company magazine entitled, “Why would anyone want to live there?”) I am in the process of developing a local network of friends. However, due to language and cultural barriers it takes time to develop comfortable, trusted relationships let alone enjoy an intimate conversation. I used to enjoy singing in choir, ringing in bell choir and playing piano. Those activities are lost to me now. That leaves knitting (difficult because I must bring supplies to last a year), reading, watching movies (I wish Amazon had a missionary rate), drinking (not a good idea), aerobics with Richard Simmons (yawn) and playing my guitar. (I really suck at it.)
I haven’t seen a therapist in twenty years or so, unless you count the psychiatrist who evaluated our readiness for ministry before our first and second appointments. (He said we were normal. Take THAT, children!) Given the stressors of life abroad, it would be nice to have a therapist at hand. I’ve investigated on-line therapy and can see the advantages for missionaries, however, on-line therapy cost $100 per hour and they don’t take insurance. Not in a missionary budget. So, instead, I use the good will of my friends, some of whom are therapists. Some are even willing to read long, dry emails and respond with helpful words.
OK, I’ll end the pity party now. (Maybe)
What’s your point? Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between how mission personnel are treated by the home office and their longevity in the field. There is a huge upfront investment in interviewing, orientating, training and sending mission personnel overseas. The majority of mission personnel are deeply invested and don’t take their assignments lightly. Don and I originally intended to volunteer for one year, however, we recently completed our fifth year in the field. We enjoy a great deal of support and kind words from people in our congregation and people we have met while on intineration. We used to get occasional emails from a board member of our home agency, reminding us of her love, prayers and support. (I believe that person is no longer on the board. Dang, I miss those!) Those kind words and prayers from the people who are invested in us mean so much.
It has been said that it takes ten kind words to erase one harsh word. In my experience, that number is under reported. My less than scientific research shows the number closer to 100. One hundred kind words needed to erase one harsh word and, for especially sensitive people, the very sort of people we want in the mission field, after the erasing the word, a jagged scar remains. When a harsh word come from someone you trust to care for you or a person in a position of authority, the healing words needed are closer to 1,000. The concept is similar to the amount of healing needed when someone is abused by a trusted caregiver verses a stranger.
Back on topic, the care and feeding of your missionary.
Friends and family: Missionaries, and I think I can speak for all of us, love e-mail. Long, newsy chatty e-mails. You don’t have to tell us how wonderful, brave or faithful we are. Just tell us about your life, the weather, your grandkids and what you had for dinner. Truly, I’m interested. Let us live vicariously. In my setting (I can’t speak for everyone) it is dangerous to go out at night, so we have plenty of time to read and write long, mindless e-mails. Remind us that you think of us and pray for us.
Consider a small donation to Global Ministries to celebrate your birthday, our birthdays, Christmas, cleaning the garage, any reason to celebrate. The amount doesn’t matter. Nothing says support like cash.
Board members of Global Ministries. We’d sure like to hear from you! You can get a mass email list of mission personnel from Cathy Nichols. We work for you.
We can SKYPE. We’d love to talk to you in person.
Home office personnel. Respond to our e-mails. I realize you are frequently on the road and away from your desk, but an acknowledgement makes us feel affirmed and listened to. Ask your assistant to do the same. A little small talk is always nice. We are lonely!
Email is the primary method of communication between the missionary and the home office. Basic email courtesy should be practiced by all. For example, ALL CAPS are the email equivalent of yelling. Bullet lists are the equivalent of lecturing. Emoticons are a nice way express warm feelings. 🙂 😉 {{{{{hugs}}}}}
Misunderstandings and conflict are bound to come up. We are humans. So are you. Conflict and negative information should be done with a phone call or SKYPE call and should be prefaced and suffixed with kind words. (I know several missionaries who were fired by email.) Seek understanding. Seek resolution, rather than victory. Ask the missionary their point of view and listen. Focus on the relationship. The relationship is your tool.
I understand you are busy people. I know a lot is expected of you. I know you put out many fires in a single day. (And leap tall buildings….) But the people in the field are your eyes and ears, hands and feet, heart and soul.

Drum lesson from Mrs. Bandama

Drum lesson from Mrs. Bandama

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