Missionary care should always be a priority. The Christmas season represents unique needs and opportunities for missionary care. So, although it's a little late, it's timely to think about effective missionary care in this special season.
The first key is to plan early. Simple logistics and group dynamics within your church present obstacles of time, transit, and transport to the delivery of care to your missionaries on the field. I've known several churches that had an old-fashioned idea of "Christmas in October." They encouraged the whole congregation to give small gifts and special funds in the month of October which then they would try to deliver to missionaries on the field in time for Christmas. When we were on the field we routinely got Christmas presents which had been sent in early December but only arrived in our hands some months later. So we would have Christmas in February sometimes.
The second key is to communicate with your missionaries. This seems pretty obvious, but it is rare to communicate well with field missionaries about their special needs, concerns, and circumstances around the Christmas season. It's a lot more complicated than asking them to share their Amazon wish list. The logistics of sending packages, including transit times and cost and size of packages, may be prohibitive. Not only that but in certain countries and locations it would not be advisable at all to send a box of Christmas gifts for a variety of reasons. Communicating with your missionaries will help clarify what is possible and doable. Of course, if you have someone visiting them from your church anytime within a couple of months of Christmas, you would be able to hand-deliver special gifts brought along with the luggage. Just ask them what they would like or need most! Providing special funds for them to purchase specific local items is always a valid option. You may need to find out from their mission sending agency the best way to remit personal funds for Christmas use differently than you would for regular support funds.
The third key is to be sensitive.
Many missionaries work in an area where the dominant population or culture is resistant to Christianity if not downright adversarial. Blatant references to Christmas, the Christ child, and the Incarnation may be offensive to people around them. You must not jeopardize their relationships and channels of ministry by your lack of care.
Appropriate sensitivity extends to the emotional needs of the specific family to whom you're providing special Christmas care. Children of all ages are affected in different ways by living overseas. They love a long way away from relatives and fellow countrymen and your own local church family during the Christmas season. What about their college-aged children who are away from home and cannot get back to the field to be with their family for Christmas? Some missionary families, for whatever reasons whether personal or strategic, observe the Christmas season in their host country in very different ways than we (and they) do at home. They may not be free to decorate for Christmas or display a big mound of gifts. On the other hand, it is an amazingly opportune time to share their relationship with Jesus Christ and his uniqueness as the perfect God-man-Savior. You may have to get beneath the surface a little bit with your missionary family in order to determine the scope and appropriateness of your wonderful desire to serve them in a special way at Christmas time.
The fourth key is to be creative. The best gifts are not always physical things. The best gift may be a gesture of kindness, thoughtfulness, something made for them (whether by your church family or by a source local to them). Experience related events or opportunities can be a great blessing and a wonderful memory for a family to build on, e.g. - funds for a quick retreat or holiday away from their usual place of service; membership in an annual museum or a park pass for the family; a surprise visit from one or the other of the missionary couple's parents or other special family member paid for/arranged by the church; or, an Internet-based media subscription for the year (if it is accessible in their country) that would be a joy to the whole family.
The Extensive Exclusivity of the Gospel at Christmastime
At the same time, the Gospel is exclusive. There really is only one pathway to a restored relationship with God. I love what Miguel Nuñez said, in effect, "All roads do lead to God, but not in the way you'd like to think. Every person will stand before God in judgment unless they come to God through faith in Christ." This is the hard part. "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12, ESV)" No one, apart from the proclamation of the Gospel producing repentance and faith in Christ, gets a free pass. Generations of resistance to the Gospel and our own neglect in personally proclaiming the message do not change that outcome. We are both chastised by this and fueled by a passion to complete the Task for the glory of Christ.
The joy of Christmas is the joy of knowing and embracing the Christ of Christmas. We dare not fail to herald the Gospel of Jesus Christ extensively. Shame on us if we neglect to unreservedly explain and expound on the real message of Christmas in this season. It's not about warm-fuzzy moments or sweet movie endings. It's not about US. It's about HIM! We do well to recommit, at Christmastime, to the priority of seeing that exclusive Gospel message of salvation delivered and proclaimed personally to every language group of every nation.
Weak Ecclesiology Yields Weak Missions
Huge problems develop when Christian leaders (and churches) fail to focus on what this means in practical terms. In a moment, I'll share with you an article, written by a friend, that explains some of the bad repercussions of this.
Right now, though, I'll try to capture some of the crazy wayward things that happen when there is a basic disconnect with sound biblical ecclesiology.
Near-sighted pastors think that, because the local church is so important to God, their own local church (and by extension, their personal pastoral ministry) is the most important thing to God. Everything in their thinking revolves around their own church's health and growth and attendance and programs. Weak missions vision there.
Far-sighted missions agencies think that, because the local church is so important to God, their own goals and self-made strategies for "planting" the most local churches the fastest possible way should obviously produce great results, bring in more recruits and donations, etc. Everything in their thinking revolves around their "vision" for statistically fulfilling the Great Commission. Also, weak missions vision there -- leaving the local sending church behind, a strategy based more on pragmatism than biblical realism, weak definition of a biblical local church and of biblically qualified church leadership, ... building a house (church) of cards.
Well-intentioned missionary candidates think that, because they "feel called," everyone ought to bow to their wishes to get to the mission field ASAP. "Time's a-wasting!" they think. "I'm here, available, committed. Send me!" These candidates are ripe for preventable attrition (leaving the field permanently). Most of them are not biblically qualified for church leadership at home, much less in a foreign language and culture. They have an inadequate grasp of a call to ministry, tested, affirmed, and verified in the context of local church ministry and body life. Weak missions effectiveness and longevity there. Poor building materials for long-term missions results.
There is so much more that could be written about this yarn-ball of issues. So, we will probably write more another time.
Meanwhile, here's the link to the article which explains this from another fresh field perspective.
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