Being a missionary can be fun, interesting, exciting, scary, challenging. You name it. Sometimes one of the challenges I face is being away from friends and family in my home country. When I do get the opportunity to go back, I can feel disconnected. I know people care, but we’ve had different experiences that leave us at different parts of our lives. Sometimes one of the hardest things is to share about my experiences, because I don’t want to repeat myself. I also don’t want to come across as if I thought what I have experienced is more interesting than another. I’m sure some people are interested in hearing more, but it can be difficult at times. I don’t always know who wants to hear more, or who is just asking to be polite.
A few questions I have struggled with are:
1. Do you like it?
For me, this is a no brainer. As a volunteer missionary, if I didn’t mostly like it, I could quit, and find something I do like, or at least pays better. It’s not that every single experience is great – some days I’d rather forget – but we know the positive impact we have, which is why we like to keep going. Asking closed ended questions, leading to one word answers, doesn’t encourage the flow of conversation, especially not for an introvert.
2. How are you? or How’s it going?
These questions, whilst not technically closed, are commonly answered with one word answers – good/great/ok…you get the idea. Unless there is someone particularly close to me, who I know I can, and should, open up to, asking how I am, isn’t going to get an extended response.
How else can we get a missionary to talk?
If you have a friend or family member who is a missionary, or are praying for a missionary, and you genuinely want to know how they are going, make time to share and listen to them, perhaps these questions below could be a good starting point.
Asking about Positive Experiences
What is the cutest/best/funniest/etc thing that has happened?
Alternatively you could ask about their highlights, get the conversation rolling as they can share about specific experiences and memories. I appreciate when someone is genuinely interested in hearing about my experiences with specific memories I have.
What are some changes that you have seen since starting?
In my situation, you can ask this in a twofold way. You can ask specifically about the children’s educational development, or you can ask how their character has changed and matured being with us. This relates to my area of missions, but you can get the idea.
What changes have you brought to your mission field, and how have these helped the people you work with?
Ask this with tact. Remember the purpose is to encourage the missionary to self reflect that their time and efforts are worthwhile and valuable. Sometimes being in the nitty-gritty day-in, day-out leaves little time for reflection. Encourage your missionary to see their own work.
What can we pray for in the mission field this month?
Pray for a Missionary
What is something we can pray for, for you personally, this month?
These two are very different. In general if someone asks me about what they can pray for, I will likely mention something about the mission work, kids or needs for our centre. If someone asks how they can pray for me personally, it would not be the centre needs. I might need some encouragement, something practical for my home or finances, or something along the lines of personal relationships or something in my church.
What are some benefits you have with working with some of the other volunteers/staff?
When a missionary has a good team to work with, it is always encouraging. Asking your missionary this can be a positive reinforcement. Also, remember to pass on the positive gossip to the rest of the team, if you know them well.
Do you have many friends? Do you have mentors/support network?
Whilst these questions are technically closed ended, they can lead to more conversation. It also encourages the missionary to know the importance of friends and leaders. In the first part of my missions, I would mostly just hang out with people in my mission field, which is great, but as I became more connected with my local church I have been able to connect with more people. I am able to take time out and be refreshed and energised for getting back into the mission week. My friends and leaders motivate and encourage me. If your missionary doesn’t have mentors, pray for one to arise for them.
How often do you have contact with your family/friends in your home country?
Giving the missionary an opportunity to share about their support networks back home can be a positive reflection for them. Alternatively, if the missionary does not have regular contact, it could be a sensitive topic, which leads me to…
Asking about Challenges or Negative Experiences
Everyone likes to talk about and hear the positives. If you are close to the missionary, he or she may need a listening ear. Someone they can trust to share some of the not so positive things, not to complain, but having someone listen and give some words of wisdom, can help them get a different perspective, or even just release some stress, knowing someone cares.
What are some challenges you face being in another country?
This could extend to refer to cultural differences, or immigration and visa roles. It could be working with different staff, volunteers or teams that come and help out. Being in another country is fun, but especially for recent missionaries, it can be a challenge.
What are some challenges you have in your mission field?
What is a challenge you are currently facing – in your personal life?
These questions, like the question above about praying are different. One focuses on the mission work, itself, and the other is something personal. Again, asking about the personal life needs to be done with wisdom, considering your own relationship with the missionary. Remember, always use this time as a chance to pray over these areas the missionary shares with you.
Can I bring something for you from your home country that you miss?
For those planning to make a trip to visit the missionary. When someone offers to bring something from home, even if I don’t need or miss something right at that moment, it’s nice to know when someone considers me.
I hope these questions can be a good starting point for helping you connect with missionaries you know and are praying for, and also help missionaries feel more connected when they return home. Remember, the missionary has been away with different experiences, make the time for them, listen and be part of their life, allow them to share their experiences. And pray with them whenever you can. You can find more stories of missionaries here and find someone your family can pray for together.