Missionaries and other Christian workers serving overseas work diligently while in the field. They face cultural challenges and professional difficulties, all while rejoicing as they see the Kingdom of God expanded around the world. Mid- to long-term missionaries live the majority of their lives away from their home culture, seeking to thrive in occasionally adverse situations.
In the normal course of their work, the time comes for them to return to their home culture for rest, debriefing, additional training, or other personal reasons. Churches and personal supporters welcome workers home with excitement, longing to spend time together and get first-hand ministry updates. However, although people from the home culture have the best of intentions when interacting with overseas workers, sometimes they don’t excel in understanding all that at-home missionaries really need. In addition, due to the relative inexpensive nature of travel and an ever-“shrinking” global scene, missionaries come back to their home countries more often, and the need to care for them becomes a greater concern.
Church leaders can be a blessing to overseas workers and missionaries who are visiting home. Following are Do’s and Don’t’s that might be helpful in your interaction.
Engage with your overseas partners as whole people. Remember that they are real people who are more than just the work they do while in the field. Ask about their hobbies, passions, and interests. Learn about their families and traditions around things like holidays or other special events. You might be surprised at the kinds of things you learn about them aside from the work and ministry that they do. They may have skills and backgrounds that can contribute in a positive way to your church family and overall ministry vision.
Assume overseas workers feel at “home” while in their home culture. Often they have made a new home, new friends, and new memories in their overseas culture. They can feel like visitors and strangers while in the culture in which they were born. Often they miss their overseas working culture and normal life there, as well as feeling out of sorts when returning to the West. Even being aware that these feelings may exist will help church leaders and others process through these feelings with the overseas workers and show them that their church family cares for them.
Seek to provide important experiences for them. Often missionaries spend most of their time giving of themselves for the sake of others. Offering the kinds of experiences that feed back in to the lives of those overseas workers can be meaningful and holistically beneficial. These opportunities and experiences could differ depending on the personalities and giftings of the overseas workers. Some might like time at a cabin or a beach , while others might want activities with groups. Some may need or want to engage in a training, conference, or seminar opportunity. Others might seek out some counseling in specific areas. Be intentional and direct, and ask them what kinds of things would be the most helpful.
Assume they have everything they need while at home and are completely self-sufficient. Depending on the situation, they may need help with practical things like appropriate clothing for local weather, finding suitable transportation while home or other practical daily needs. Sometimes these needs can be met with gift cards for places they can go and choose the things they need on their own. Other times, cash gifts are appropriate. Plus, suitable assistance may come from people within the church loaning, donating, or giving from their own abundance. A clear and intentional conversation about these needs and a little generosity can be meaningful.
Recognize that they likely are keeping up with their work, ministry, and overseas life while visiting. At the same time, they try to maximize their time with you. They are not always on vacation while in their home culture. They may not have unlimited free time. Schedules may be flexible, but they often have a significant amount of work to do, even when at home. Balancing all of those things while trying to rest can be a challenge. Again, a clear conversation about this can help set reasonable expectations of their time with you.
Assume they still know how things work in their home culture. Depending on how long they have been overseas, they may need help learning to navigate local systems and networks. This could include how to setup things like insurance, housing, or shopping, as well as learning how things work within the local church. Having someone they know they can go to for information like this can prove to be of great help to visiting families.
A good rule of thumb is to simply be direct and intentional. Talk to your overseas partners openly and set expectations together. Ask them what would be most helpful, and then try to find ways to meet those needs. Be creative and generous in how you engage with them. Your efforts in these areas will pay dividends in not only the relationship with them, but also in preparing them to go back to the work you sent them out to do.