Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I'm so glad you've joined me for episode 116 of Missions on Point. Today we're starting a relatively short series on special church missions issues. This first one of the series is going to be about visiting your missionary on the field.
So let's start at the beginning and talk about some of the early issues in deciding to visit your missionary on the field. The first one is who gets to visit? If your missionary lives on a tropical island and is near a beach, probably everybody wants to visit. It may be that they live in or near a historic or romantic city of the world, or maybe they're close to picturesque mountains. You want to make sure that whoever is visiting, it's not just because of the tourism value. In fact, I've had to counsel missionaries in the past to create a policy to prevent visitors from taking too much of their time away from the ministry to which they are called and supported.
There is something like a hierarchy of visitors in my mind, having to do with the mission's leadership of the church, perhaps the senior pastor on occasion, and those who may be family members or have a special ministry to the missionary on the field, whether that be encouragement, counseling or support in some other way.
So connected with the who question is how many and how often? Of course, unless there is a specific purpose, like a short term mission's project or outreach connected with the visit, you want to limit the number to be logistically possible and the missionary can be hospitable. I do highly recommend that if it is possible, the missionary house, the visitors in their own home or at least very nearby. That way the visitor can observe the family dynamic, the neighborhood setting, and the culture that the missionary is interacting with much better.
Also note that my recommendation is that whoever is visiting is not going primarily for the purpose of ministry themselves. In other words, they're going to learn about the missionary, the missionary setting to minister to them and not be in the spotlight and the focal attention of the trip with few exceptions.
Let's talk about some timing issues. First of all, more and more countries around the world have visas that have to be granted before you enter the country, so it's not simply like a tourist visit somewhere where you're automatically granted a tourist visa or an allowance to be a tourist for a certain number of days in the region. The visitors will probably have to apply to that nation's embassy or consulate in the United States, and there is a process that takes time. It could take a few days if you appear in person, it might take a couple of months.
Along with permission with a visa granted, you may also have to have inoculations in order to enter that country. Those also take time and expense to accomplish before you fly. There are even subtleties to the application process. For instance, if you're going into a largely strict Muslim or Hindu nation, you might not be able to put your exact occupation and employment data the way you normally would. For example, a pastor is generally accepted as a teacher and not as a pastor.
The duration of your visit is important. You don't want to stay too long, but you also don't want to stay too short. You want to have enough time with the missionary and the missionary's family to be able to interact with the whole family and see them in a variety of circumstances as well as get a really good sense of their whole situation and their living conditions. If possible, and if they have teammates, it's great to have opportunity to meet the teammates in at least a casual atmosphere so that you can get to know them and the people that your missionary is working with.
Remember that part of the purpose of the visit from the sending church particularly is so that an accurate report can be given back to the mission leaders, the shepherding leaders of the church, so that they have a good understanding of how best to minister to and encourage that missionary and enable them to stay long term on the field.
Trying to think through and construct whatever itinerary you have and opportunities you have to experience in your missionary's country to do it with the missionary so that even as you're traveling to see some site or landmark perhaps, you're talking about them, the work, what's going on, and how the church interacts with that.
Another aspect of timing has to do with the missionary's timing on the field. It's not wise to visit a missionary just one or two months into their arrival on the field unless there's some special reason to do so. Usually at six months and one year, there are some critical moments in which the missionary may feel particularly stressed or depressed even and need some encouragement. There may be a particular juncture at which they are finishing language school and ready to move on to the next step. That would be really great to have a friendly visit from someone in their sending church.
For a moment just turn the tables on the trip and imagine you are the missionary in their shoes and they're coming to visit you or someone is coming to visit you on the field. What would you want them to do? What kinds of questions would you want them to ask? How deep would you want them to pry? How many kids' games should they bring in their suitcase for them?
Yes, wisely using your baggage allowance to enhance the life and resources of your missionary is a really good thing to do, but make sure you consult with them first because there may be things that are simply not allowed and would cause greater trouble for you or for them if you don't bring it through in a wise way.
Make sure you understand the process of arrival at the destination airport so that you don't make any big mistakes there as well. Usually there are immigration forms to fill out and you need to fill them out in the most accurate, best scenario kind of way.
What should you do when you get there? Well, you're going to be dealing with jet lag, that's for sure. You're going to be a little bit fuzzed because of the time difference and the culture difference and just the difference of being in a different place. The food may affect your digestive tract. If you can choose which season of year to arrive that's best for climate and for casual visiting. Make sure that the visit falls in a good place in the missionary's calendar so it doesn't come at a time when they're not able to spend time with you or may be away or too pressured or stressed from other things going on in their life and ministry and the duration of your stay may be impacted by your own work and responsibilities back home. So three days is probably too short. One full week with seven or eight days on the ground is maybe ideal. Two weeks could be a little bit long unless you have specific things to do with them.
Try to make sure that your visit has specific spiritual related impact in their life. You don't want it to just be a nice friendly visit with hugs and coffee and all warm fuzzy stuff without actually getting to the heart of why they're there and the spiritual nature of their work.
It's okay to ask those kinds of questions, so now I'll kind of guide you how to think about areas of questions to ask on your visit. As we just mentioned, spiritual condition is a big deal. These are spiritual workers. There's being sent for a spiritual purpose, so they need to be on their game, so to speak. How is their personal devotion life? What is their spiritual relationship in terms of leading their wife and family in spiritual things? Are they wrestling with any sinful tendencies or circumstances? How frequently is the Gospel in their conversation with friends and neighbors locally?
Do they have the means to be spiritually fed by others either in a local fellowship even if it's just with other missionaries or a local national church where there's a good Bible teaching pastor or perhaps because they hook up to or link into or have brought downloads of digital sermons from great preachers that they can listen to and be spiritually fed? Do they have books and other resources that are printed or digital format that can continue to nourish them, challenge them and encourage them and train them even in Bible theology, ministry?
Physical health is another big issue. You should ask about how is their physical health? How has the difference in where they're living make a difference in their physical health? Do they have adequate nutrition? Are they in touch with the right kinds of doctoring that they may need for their family? Does the local climate and housing and sanitation and general culture have an impact on their health? Are they taking care to get enough sleep and exercise? In general live a healthy life where they are?
Language and language proficiency we have spoken of in other episodes of Missions on Point, you just need to ask how are they doing, you need to observe how are they doing. Ask them where they are in the process and how far they've progressed, how difficult or how easy it is. Certainly encourage them to press on to higher proficiency and better understanding of the language to communicate the truths of the Bible to their friends and neighbors.
How were their relationships all around? Relationships to their immediate neighbors relationships, to others in their neighborhood relationships, to the missionary team, if they have a missionary team, and to their facilitating agency and leadership. How are they handing their relationships with their family back home? And how are they handling their relationships with their home church?
Are they communicating properly and with enough frequency to satisfy the people at homes, need for prayer requests and understanding and tracking along with them in the ministry? How is the dynamic in their family, husband-wife relationships? Husband and wife with the children? How are the children responding to being cross-cultural kids? What kind of options and what's going on with the children's education? Do they need additional resources for that? What is their financial condition? Are they properly budgeting? Do they have enough support as missionaries? Do they have good plans to set aside regular time to get away, to have a break or a vacation as a family? Then do they actually do the plan?
Now, all of these things that we're concerned about aren't necessarily done when you sit down and have an intensive interview and just pepper them with all of these kinds of questions. No, normally it's best done just in the course of life in walking to the nearby grocery store or going to a restaurant. Certainly treating them well while you're there so that you're not so much a burden but a blessing to them in your visit.
All of these questions don't have to be answered in your first trip in depth. You are building a foundation for future trips and maybe other people picking up where you left off in order to address whatever concerns and issues and praiseworthy things going on in your missionary's ministry.
Visiting your missionary is both a great opportunity and a solemn responsibility to fulfill on behalf of all of the supporters of your missionary and your sending church.
A couple of footnotes here at the end. It's possible that the field administration may require that you have permission from the field administration before you visit your missionary. Don't automatically assume that the missionary has total freedom to welcome anybody that comes at any time.
There's also the question of finances. Who pays for it? Typically, if it is the family of the missionary, they're going to have at least some of the burden, but if it is an official visit from the sending church for the benefit of the sending church to find out more about the missionary and how they can care for them and to actually care for those missionaries, then the sending church should have the biggest part of that burden. Even if the individuals visiting the missionary can handle the finances on their own, they still should coordinate with the leadership in missions or in pastoral leadership so that they get the best possible visit on behalf of the sending church, as well as satisfying their own desires.
I've got to tell you, one of my favorite things to do is visiting missionaries on the field. I love being able to come alongside them, encourage them, point them to the purpose of their being there, help them to focus on the long-term vision. Doing it because of the joy of Jesus Christ, because Jesus is worth it. Helping them over the pitfalls and potholes and turns in the road to see the bigger picture and to rejoice in their small part in God's big plan to see his glory in Christ Jesus through local churches in every nation of the Earth.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, propempo.com. Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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