Dear Missionary (or “Believer Actively Working Toward Building the Kingdom,” for those of you who don’t like or use the word, “missionary”),
Although I like to think that my entire blog is written with you as its intended audience, I realize that my thoughts here can sometimes come across as talking about you rather than to you. With this post, I offer a word of warning, and I’d like to be clear that it is intended for you.
A broad base of spiritual, financial, and emotional support is vital to any missions endeavor. If you don’t have that support, you’re left alone, discouraged, and in potentially dangerous spiritual territory. I imagine that all of you know this, and most of you put the necessary time and energy into building and fostering such a support base.
Nevertheless, you must do more to communicate what God is doing in, through, and among you on the mission field.
In times past, most churchgoers only knew (or, at least knew of) one missionary. There simply weren’t that many people leaving home to live in intentional, incarnational ministry in a foreign context. If a Christian was thinking about missions, odds were that he was thinking about you.
But things have changed. The shrinking of the world, combined with a renewed emphasis on volunteerism and short-term service, means that many believers know many different missionaries personally. It’s likely that you aren’t the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of international missions. Sure, you’ve faithfully sent out your prayer newsletter each month, but there are hundreds of other people/organizations with beautiful websites, custom graphics, and full-time content writers.
The truth is, there are just too many voices out there calling for the attention of the people in the pews for you to keep up with. Charities. Youth programs. Political causes. Social issues. Physical needs. The newest Bible translation and accompanying study guide. You’re just another voice, asking for prayer, money, and a mention in the church bulletin on your birthday.
So what can you do about it? How can you possibly compete with powerful videos, gimmicky gifts, and flashy four-color brochures? Here are some ideas:
- Be personal. I want to read about how hard it is, how you feel, and how you interact with people. If you only write about random people I don’t know, it’s hard for me to care. Tell us about your struggle to meet people, your doubt, and your loneliness. Chronicle your family’s adventures, your host culture’s traditions, and your personal interactions with God. (I know many of you are concerned about security, but this might be the motivation you need to work out your access platform.)
- Use social media. Letters were okay when everyone communicated via letters. Now, a letter only serves to remind us that you’re not connected to “real life.” Real life for us is instant, interactive, and short. You really need to be using using tools like Twitter, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If you want us to remember you and your work often, communicate often, and in ways that remind us that what you’re doing there isn’t disconnected from what we’re doing here.
- Be creative in your communication. Post photos. Upload videos. Record a podcast. Publish a comic book. Produce a weekly online radio show. Make an iTunes music mix, print t-shirts, put together a desktop widget. Do something to insure that your relationship to the people who support you is interesting, relevant, informative, and encouraging.
- Ask for input. If your communication with people back home is limited to sermonic Bible study notes and pictures of your kids, it’s hard to know what to say back to you. But if you ask for opinions, insight, ideas, or critiques, I’m more likely to respond and interact. If I respond and interact, I’m more likely to think about you every once in a while.
- Speak prophetically into what’s happening Stateside. There is a broad conversation among churches and church leaders about being missional. (Missional, in case you’re not familiar with the term, refers to an intentional Christian lifestyle that incarnates the gospel into one’s cultural context. It’s the opposite of “attractional” ministry and “forays into the world” mission trips.) Of all the voices in the missional conversation, few (if any) belong to missionaries. If you’re not participating in the conversation, you’re missing a huge opportunity to speak into a massive and influential Christian movement. And the movement desperately needs the influence of those who are planting churches cross-culturally.
Also, the church needs to learn missiology. Where do they learn about missions? From you. But if you’re neglecting your duty as a teacher and advocate, they’re left with Joel Osteen, Mark Driscoll, and Al Mohler (none of whom are/were/think like missionaries.) In order to participate in what God is doing around the world, they need to hear what you’ve experienced.
Please, consider your strategy for communication with your supporting churches. You need them, they need you, and we’re all missing out on what God is doing when we aren’t unified. It doesn’t take a lot, but you have access to the tools that can connect you in real ways to the body of believers that sends you.
Thanks for reading. Please send me links to your streams of communication. I’d love to follow you!