Beyond the Missionary Refrigerator Magnet
By Melissa Meyers
“Mom, why is our picture on everyone’s refrigerator?” asked my five year old son. We were on home assignment from Central Asia, and had been visiting many homes, having lunch or dinner with people who supported us in some way. Indeed, almost every home we entered had our picture stuck to their refrigerator. His innocent question stuck in my mind. After trying to explain it to him, I had a nice chuckle and realized for my son, these visits probably felt like causal visits with friends and not formal updates. This in my opinion is exactly what it should be. I’d like to give you some ideas and equip you with some hints to move a relationship that usually feels formal to an organic and natural one.
In our media driven lives we are connected with hundreds of worthy causes to get involved in. So why is it important as Christians to connect with missionary families? Missionaries were present shortly after the birth of the early church. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, everyone. The apostles are strongly proclaiming the word of God, people are being saved, miracles are happening, and people are meeting together daily. There is this beautiful picture described, where new believers bring their possessions together so that their daily needs can be met and they can focus on the spiritual side of life (Acts 2: 42-47).
Continuing on, a man named Stephen proclaims the gospel message in front of the Jewish authorities of the day. He has been accused of blasphemy. After one of the most powerful testimonies in the book of Acts, he becomes the first Martyr. The church that had been meeting daily scatters, and the gospel begins to spread. Who is there to witness this? A man named Saul. Later on, this man, Saul, has a divine encounter with God, and he is given a new name, Paul. He eventually becomes one of the first missionaries as he is sent later throughout the region. Now I am skipping over a lot of little details, but you see Paul was an extension of this new church. Paul and Barnabas went not proclaiming their own gospel, but they went proclaiming the truth of Jesus that impacted many.
Growing up in individualistic societies we are inundated with stories of the hero who rises above everyone else. These stories inspire and perhaps challenge us to be better people, but to a default they focus on super women and super men to do extraordinary things. When in fact, Biblically we have the opposite; Jesus poured into the lives of twelve men, and sent them out in pairs to work together. Saul and Barnabas were sent off together and reported back to authorities in Jerusalem on what was happening in the Gentile churches. So when we look at why it is important for you to connect with missionaries and their families, it is simply because they need you. They were not meant to do it alone.
So what are some practical ways for you to support and connect with missionaries? There are books written about this, but I will personally share what impacted us over the years. First, I’d encourage you to focus on one to two missionaries in your church. Some very well-meaning people might think, they can pray for one missionary a day and cover them all. Realistically, if I were to do this I know only failure would be in sight. Look for organic relationships. Who have you met that you connected with? Is there a particular ministry or country that you felt like you wanted to know about? Otherwise, you will be so overloaded you will do nothing. Melissa Meyers and family served as missionaries in Central Asia.
#1. Read their newsletter or blog
Did you just groan? I understand. In our tech-savvy lives we are overloaded with information. The amount of words we filter through daily leaves even one more thing to read a burden. Let’s be honest, the latest article on pop culture is probably more interesting than the latest missionary update. Try to first read what is important before the extra stuff. It was wonderful when someone repeated back to me a story they read in our update. In that short exchange, I moved from feeling alone in my journey of learning a new language, and struggling to raise my young children far from home to feeling connected. So follow their blogs, updates, and other ways they are sharing their lives and let them know you are listening.
#2. Invite them out for a meal or into your home
We loved these informal/formal ways to connect with our supporters or people at church. It allowed us to share in a more personal way then a formal talk. At these meetings, I usually felt like something spiritually important happened. Not only did they connect with what God was doing in our lives, we connected with what God was doing in their lives. Sometimes, missionaries have a narrow window of time to meet. If it doesn’t work out this time around, it may be a couple of years, but yes, ask again. They really will keep it in mind for the next home assignment and make it a priority to meet with you.
#3. Ask specific questions about what they do
Does your child ever come home from school and you ask them, “How did your day go?” They reply, “Great!” You are dying for information, and they may be excited to share something with you, but essentially you asked a dead end question. People sometimes asked me, “How was it?” This is such a broad question, only panic set in when I was asked this. How was what? The food, the culture, the church? The missionary is left with not knowing where to begin and both parties leave the conversation frustrated. So here are ten questions to ask. Feel free to add to them, but ask questions that are specific and open-ended.
Ten Questions to Ask Missionaries
1.What kind of food do you usually eat in _________?
2.Do you have to dress differently than you do in America?
3.What do you find most challenging about living in _______?
4.What do you enjoy about living and working in ________?
5.Where do you feel God has used you the most in the past year?
6.Tell me about the local church in your country? What do you do for church?
7.What has changed for you in America since you last visited?
8.When your children visit America, what is the most challenging thing for them/you?
9.When you think about returning, what are you looking forward to for your next term?
10.What is one thing I can pray for you about?
Next steps: Why not look up your church’s missionaries and start connecting.