As a wrap-up to the series “How to Support Missionaries,” I decided to ask my friend Vince to write what it looks like to support missionaries from his perspective – the perspective of one who does it, not just talks about it. He and his wife Sharon love, care for, encourage, support, and pray for missionaries just about better than anyone I know. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy the very poignant words of Mr. Vince Rice.
As I came out of the church where my grandmother’s funeral was held, I was wiped out. It had been a whirlwind weekend; Mimi had passed away Thursday night, and it had been nonstop since then for all of the immediate family. There had been eulogies to write for the paper, a funeral to plan, contacts to be made for said funeral, and so on. If you’ve lost a loved one, you know all that’s involved. In addition to the small part I had in the above, I had ended up speaking at the funeral.1
Coming out of the doors, I had a discombobulated moment as I ran into almost the entire ministry staff from our church. My first thought was, “Wait, we’re at her church, what are they doing here?” In my addled state, I probably indelicately asked them the same thing (“What are you doing here?”), and a dear friend on staff said they’d been in staff meeting close to Mimi’s church and just decided to come on over.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that very simple gesture. It was completely unexpected, and therefore all the more meaningful. It was unannounced, and therefore all the more touching. It was unnecessary, and therefore all the more memorable. If it wasn’t the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me, it’s in the running.
Which brings us to missionaries.
MacKenzie has been writing a series on “How To Support Missionaries”, found here, here, and here, and she asked me to write a guest post from the other side of the fence, as someone who supports missionaries2. She has talked about supporting missionaries with your money, with your prayers, and with your time. Let me sum it up for you in a different way.
American culture has had a horrible effect on our understanding of love. Rom com’s and bad pop songs and horrid teenage vampire novels have taught us that love is an emotion, that it comes and goes where it wills and we have no control over it, that when it comes to matters of the heart we have to ignore our head. Ironically, a great pop3 song reminds us of the reality — luv is a verb.
Remember what you learned about verbs back in middle school? They’re action words. If love (or luv) is a verb and a verb is an action word, the transitive property4 tells us love is an action word. Love isn’t feeling something, love is doing something.
So if your mental response to “We need to love them” was, “I do love them!” then my response is, “Great, what are you doing about it?”
“What can I do about it,” you ask? Well, MacKenzie’s already told you, but I’ll tell you again.
Send them money
Jesus told us a truth that is still overlooked, even (or especially) in churches. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That is, our heart follows our money, not the other way around. Do you want your heart to be somewhere? Send your money there. Do you want your heart to be with the poor and oppressed? Send your money to them, or to people helping them. Do you want your heart (or more of your heart) to be with your friends on the mission field? Send your money (or more of your money) there.
No excuses. “We don’t have…” Yes you do. “You haven’t seen…” Trust me, I have. And worse. Here’s something I’ve observed hundreds of times — if someone has a heart to give to others, God makes it possible for them to do so. Ask the Lord what you should give and then give it. Don’t do the math, He invented math and He can make two plus two equal eighteen if He wants to.
Send them prayers
This is another area where America has done Christandom a huge disservice. All of us Type-A’s5 are task-oriented. Praying’s not a task to us. Praying’s what we do when we don’t have any other tasks to do. Praying is the last resort. Praying is what happens in our down time. Praying is what the women do while the men are making things happen.
Praying is none of that. Prayer is the work. Without prayer, all the money doesn’t matter. “Apart from Me, you can do most anything.” “Apart from Me, you can do what you can raise money to do.” “Apart from Me, you can do what the committee allows you to do.”
Apart from Me, you can do N-O-T-H-I-N-G.
In addition to that, prayer works kind of like our money. We will care about the things we pray about. Want to care more about your missionary friends? Pray for them. Pray for the things they’re praying for. Pray for the people they’re praying for. You’ll find yourself communicating with them more often — you want to know what’s happening with the things you’re praying about. And they’ll feel more refreshed and more energized and more empowered.
Send them yourself
Go visit them. Get off your … derriere … and go see them. Get some first-hand experience of what their life looks like now. You’re never going to understand from letters and skypes and texts and photographs and blog posts. You think those give you understanding, but they don’t.
We don’t understand what it’s like to live life where a big church service is twenty people. We don’t understand what it’s like to live life where we have the language skills of a third-grader. We don’t understand what it’s like to live with unfamiliar food, with unfamiliar customs, with unfamiliar people. We don’t understand what it means to live every day as a complete outsider. Reading about it and hearing about it simply isn’t enough. We need to experience it, with them.
Trust me, I know first-hand how much you will learn that you would never have learned otherwise, things unsaid by them, things too overwhelming for words for them, things sometimes unknown by them. Go. Listen. Learn.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side… And together we’ll spread the news that God is in their land
But this isn’t all about the missionaries.6 There’s something in it for you, too. Joy. Wonder. Excitement. A greatly expanded world view. A deeper awareness of how God is at work everywhere. The opportunity to be involved in God’s kingdom expanding not just where you are, but where they are.
Ten years ago, my wife and I had never been on a short-term mission trip. Today, we’ve been on over a dozen between us. In addition, we’ve visited various of our “kids” in Italy and Cambodia and South Carolina, and hope to get hip in Portland in the not too distant future. We get updates from those kids and other missionary friends from literally around the world, including places I can’t tell you or I’d have to kill you. Reading those newsletters and blogs, videoing7 with them, praying for them — it brings an ineffable sense of … well, joy and wonder and excitement. And community. One of the miracles of the Interwebs is that we can be in community with someone on the other side of the world.
Back to them. I told you the story about Mimi’s funeral because that’s the feeling a missionary gets when they receive an unexpected letter, or a visit from a friend, or a series of prayers over an extended period of time. They remember it. They take courage from it. Their faith, and spirit, is enlarged by it. And that translates directly to their effectiveness in doing what God has called them to do.
There are two cliches about distant relationships: absence makes the heart grow fonder, and out of sight, out of mind. My experience is that the former is a cliche but the latter is true. 100% of the missionaries I know have experienced the latter, even by their closest friends and family.
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
- I’m not completely clear on how that happened. After I had volunteered the fifteenth thing while her pastor was talking to the family to prepare what he would share at the funeral, I suspect he thought asking me to speak there might shut me up in the short term. It worked, as far as I remember. ↩
- My wife and I have ten “kids” on the mission field, which include Paul and MacKenzie. We also know another half-dozen or so other singles/families on mission in various places around the world. ↩
- Rock? Hip-hop? All of the above? ↩
- Wow, english and math in one paragraph. And you thought all that schooling was wasted. ↩
- You think it’s a coincidence America starts with an A? ↩
- It is, but let’s pretend it’s not for a moment. ↩
- That’s a generic term, can include facetiming, skyping, etc. ↩