Over the years I have had the pleasure of knowing lots and lots of people, young and old, single and married, male and female who are or have been missionaries. When their hair was down and they were talking shop, they talked about you, the folks at home. Sometimes they talked so gratefully about the cards you sent, the love you showed, the hospitality and kindness you showered them with while they were in America. But other times they talked to me frankly about things that people say, things that were often meant in the kindest spirit but that nonetheless frustrated or hurt them. So on their behalf, I'd like to share these statements with you so you have a chance to encourage them better.
7. When are you coming home?
This was mentioned many times. Each missionary understood that the speakers were trying to say that they were loved and missed. Yet what they longed for was encouragement. Where were the cheerleaders? Who could understand that in many ways they were making a new home?
6. When are you going to come back to your real life?
The missionaries I spoke to were baffled by this question. They lived for months, years, decades in their host countries. They married, had children, and made friends they'd never forget. They had worked, sometimes two jobs, a secular one and a religious one. They had taught Bible classes, hosted one on one Bible studies, prayed, cried and rejoiced. It hurt to have others minimize their "real life."
5. How can you take your kids into... situation?
There's no good answer to this question. The missionary who mentioned this told me that he met with a lot of ignorance, but informing people about the realistic dangers in his host country didn't help. Every missionary parent has the same concerns about their kids that you do about yours. Every missionary parent entrusts them into God's hands just like you do. If you're genuinely curious, ask genuinely; it won't be hurtful. But if you're thinking, "I don't care what God wants, I wouldn't do that to MY kids," don't say it out loud and discourage others!
4. I could never do what you're doing. Never.
This statement, the missionaries I interviewed told me, came from one of two kinds of hearts. Sometimes the speaker thought he was talking to a super-Christian. However missionaries are ordinary Christians called to an unusual lifestyle. They don't think of themselves as any different from you, spiritually speaking. No matter how flattering, life on a pedestal is life separated from your fellowship. The other people who say this sentence seem to fear the idea of going abroad (especially to a dangerous or underdeveloped country). They really DO think that they couldn't do it.
3. We have lost people here too. I don't know why you have to go all the way to...
Once again there's no good answer. I talked with missionaries who tried to explain exactly why they felt that they were being called by God, missionaries who tried to explain the statistics and the weight of people who would die without the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus, missionaries who tried to talk about the great commission and how they were trying to fulfill it. However, it seems none of the answers was particularly successful. Each missionary felt frustrated because they couldn't communicate the power and burden of their call. While the people in America had Bibles, local churches and people just like the one asking the questions, the people in their host country might have no chance to hear the gospel if the missionary didn't go.
2. When are you going to get a real job?
See number 6. Being a full time missionary is a real job. Missionaries are responsible to two congregations not one. They have administrative, teaching, studying, evangelistic and other duties. It's a real job.
1. Well over there...
Whether its true or not, no one likes to hear criticism of a place or a people they love. Finding reasons to complain about their host country's politics, policies, economics, crime or culture is likely to upset them. Although they may well agree with you about the problem, as they identify more and more with their host culture it hurts to hear outsiders comment negatively. It's like hearing a stranger say something bad about your child. You can say what you like, you're his or her mom but when a stranger does, it hurts! If you want to talk about it, ask what they think instead of repeating what the talking heads on TV said.
I'm not suggesting that you should start treating your missionary with kid gloves. Just take a minute and think about how your comments sound. Make sure that you tell them that you're proud of them, acknowledge that they have a tough but blessed job, and find out what they'd like to be prayed for. And I can't emphasize enough, ask. Missionaries home on furlough often would like to tell about their host home but feel that they are boring others. They'd love to share their victories, terrors and defeats; they'd love to tell you what they've learned. They'd love to encourage and be encouraged by you.
See more of Helene’s writings at www.maidservantsofChrist.com