Gardner & Rebecca Kerin are missionaries to the Buryats
in Eastern Siberia. Gardner spoke at one of my classes last week. A couple of students, including myself, grew up in the mission field and had a productive time reflecting on ways that those of us who stay behind can support those who are sent.
The following is a peak at my philosophy of missions, formed partially by my childhood in Taiwan, but also by conversations with my lovely wife (who is more qualified to speak on the issue than I).
• Build a relationship between the church and the missionary; limit the number of relationships and strengthen the ones that exist.
• Every missionary needs a lay person to champion them, to maintain the attention of the congregation.
• Adoption allows for a sense of belonging and fellowship.
• Communication and continuity keep the missionary “in the loop” regarding changes affecting them.
The first thing that missionaries need is a connection to their sending church. One idea for maintaining such a connection would be to have fewer missionaries sent per church
. Having fewer missionaries per church would allow the missionary to have a centralized support base – this provides a continuity of identity for the missionary, as well as allows the church to be more invested in the effort of missions, as opposed to spreading out support to more missionaries but supporting each less. Well-supported missionaries have longer terms and more productive results. Well-supported missionary families with a minimum number of sending churches require less travel during furlough, allowing for a stabilizing of a missionary kid’s life. This also make is possible for better communication between the missionary and the sending partners.
A missionary needs communication
with their sending church. The church should publicize newsletters and update from the missionary and send church updates to the missionary. Methods and means of communication should be well documented and made available to the congregation to connect with the missionary. Such communication should be encouraged as well as organized by church leadership. When technically possible, set up congregational phone calls to the missionary during a worship service to maintain the community relationship.
A missionary needs continuity
with their sending church. Missionaries rely on their sending partners for financial support, but they also need spiritual support via prayer in addition to emotional support available only through relationships. Missions Chairs should remain incumbent for as many years as possible; the Chair should also maintain a strong relationship with each missionary. With the mobility and turnover of families, a missionary’s original supporters may move and change churches during the missionary’s terms. Missionaries need to be informed regarding turnover in the Missions Chairs and, if possible, their supporters. In this way, we can reduce the emotional shock that missionaries experience upon their return to the “home” church. Remember, this is difficult, not only for the missionaries, but also for the kids.
Another way to maintain a connection between the sending church and the missionary is to have a local “champion” for the cause of the missionaries
at the sending church. These “champions” would be people who stay in regular contact with the missionaries, get updates from the missionaries and update the missionaries on what is going on at the church and back home. The “champions” would represent the missionaries before the congregation with updates, prayer requests, ministry needs, and communication to/from the missionary.
Missionaries need to know their congregations have not forgotten them. Another way to maintain a connection it to have established small groups adopt a missionary
. The adopting group would commit to praying regularly for the missionary, organizing care packages, circulating birthday cards and holiday cards, as well as communicating with the missionary. The small group would proactively ask for the prayer requests of the missionary and follow up on requests. This also gives the missionaries somewhere to “belong” when they return to visit.
There was much more I would have like to write (perhaps some other time) regarding this matter. My wife & I support three missionaries right now, and we love them very much. It seems odd, to me, to when people exhibit a
This past Sunday, one of our church’s missionary families was home to visit. One pastor asked people to gather around them during the next song to pray for them. I went forward, expecting to join two dozen others… instead, I joined the pastor and two couples in praying for these missionaries from our
church. I prayed for them, looked them in the eye, and told them, “Thank you.” As I returned to my seat, I was shocked, amazed, and wondering, “Where were the others?”
Another couple friends of ours currently intend to go to Cambodia, and we had dinner with them. We discussed some of the things I have written here; my wife and I have decided to pray about getting involved on the missions board and, perhaps, help our church better support our missionaries.