Commentary: We must remember to care for those we send out as missionaries


What happens to missionaries once they leave our churches?

We should all be asking this question when we launch missionaries from our congregations. However, for too many churches, the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” rules the day. We still care about those we send. We probably pray for them, and, if their parents are in our churches, we get periodic updates. But eventually, the busyness of life and the pressing needs of our local community push out all thoughts of missionaries.

In the meantime, our missionaries are swimming in a raging world of language learning, cultural adaptation, new schooling for kids, identity crises, and the pressing needs of those around them.

Over the years, I’ve had the great honor of working with hundreds of missionaries. I have seen their highs and their lows. I’ve had the opportunity to celebrate great wins, but I have also watched great collapses when team conflict, life pressures, or burnout takes these godly men and women out of the game.

How can your church remember its missionaries and continue to care for them as they serve?

First, it’s important to remember missionaries are normal people who face normal problems. You struggle with physical health, family stress, sick kids, financial pressure, and job pressures. Missionaries face these same problems. However, whereas you jump in a car and visit your family or best friends to get some help, missionaries are usually forced to face these challenges without a similar support structure.

It’s also important to remember missionaries face unique pressures. Daily life in a developing country is stressful, especially when you’re new and are accustomed to modern conveniences. I remember spending hours paying a single bill or taking care of simple paperwork.

Beyond this, learning a foreign language and culture is stressful. Consider how “off balance” you feel when you shop in a different grocery store or drive in a different part of town. You can compound this stress for missionaries in a new culture—the rules are different, the language is different, and sometimes they endure extra scrutiny because they are foreigners. Additionally, missionary work is a spiritual endeavor. Because of this, missionaries usually live on the cutting edge of spiritual warfare. This battle may show up as ongoing temptations, depression, and even overwhelming cultural stress. The enemy has a plan for missionaries too. If he can sideline them, that’s one less evangelist seeking to lead souls from darkness into light.

In light of these realities, what can we do to help those we send endure and even thrive on the mission field?

When we pray, we talk to the Lord of the harvest about the workers He has sent into the field. In many ways, our missionaries are serving as an answer to someone’s prayers. Now, they can be sustained through prayer as well.

Determine to pray specifically and persistently for missionaries.

PRO TIP: Take a few minutes to respond to any prayer update or newsletter. This one simple act makes more of a difference than you can imagine.

Sometimes our questions betray a misunderstanding of the work and may lead to greater frustration. When we send missionaries, we focus on the glory of the work, people coming to faith, and new churches being planted. However, these miracles are often slow coming. If our questions focus on these metrics, they may be demotivating.

Good questions should concentrate as much on real life and basic prayer requests as they do on these monumental metrics. Sure, we all want to rejoice when the Lord saves and starts a new work. But we also need to remember that our missionaries need life-sustaining prayer support as well.

Everyone likes to be remembered. But our missionaries are often serving in places where familiar holidays are not celebrated, and their birthdays are but a minor blip on a small radar.

Our simple acts of celebration remind those we send we have not forgotten them. It also gives us an opportunity to show love and ongoing support.

With modern travel and technology, missionaries should not feel forgotten by our fellowships. Take time to include missionaries in worship services, small groups, and other special events. You can also plan to take regular trips to visit. Some of these trips can be ministry-focused and others can be missionary-focused.

Presence, whether in person or virtually, can help missionaries endure difficult times. Your ministry to these men and women is an investment in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

God may not call all of us to serve Him on the mission field, but this doesn’t mean we don’t have missionary responsibilities. When your church, or our convention, commissions missionaries, you are committing to be their partner in the work. Let’s take our calling and responsibility as seriously as they do.


Scott Hildreth serves as Associate Professor of Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Together on God’s Mission and the co-author of Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out.