Paul and Barnabas were great encouragers (according to Acts 4:36, the name Barnabas actually means “son of encouragement”). The missionaries themselves, however, also needed to be encouraged.
Believers should write to missionaries
Paul wrote to the Romans that he longed to meet them not only to help them, but also to receive encouragement from them (Rom 1:12). Missionaries today also need to be encouraged. Financial support (which I will address in a separate article) is an important part of this (Phil 1:5). However, there are many other ways to support missionary work.
Mission fields can be lonely places, not only for single workers, but also for missionary families. As assembly believers, we can lighten the load by writing letters or sending e-mails to the workers. A brief, encouraging e-mail to let a worker know that we are interested and are praying will give him a boost. Along with other topics, missionaries will appreciate gossip-free news from home about gospel series, baptisms, receptions, Bible readings, and helpful messages. Writing not only demonstrates friendship, but fellowship—”that the “senders” at home have not forgotten the “goers” in the field and appreciate their sacrifices.
Missionaries are encouraged to hear that we stand with them, and are still “striving together with one mind for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). We can affirm that their work glorifies God, and that it assures (as the Moravian Count Zinzendorf put it) that “the Lamb that was slain [will] receive the reward of His sufferings.” Modern multiculturalists in the post-Christian West place great value on indigenous religions and admire native “spirituality,” so they despise Christian missionaries. They accuse missionaries of cultural imperialism, and strongly oppose any attempt to convert aboriginal people to Christ. The governments of mission fields may also be hostile to missionaries, and its religious leaders certainly will be. We can therefore embolden our workers by reaffirming to them that there is no salvation apart from Christ (Acts 4:12), and that souls in the mission field will perish unless they hear the gospel. Although native people do not need to be westernized, they urgently need to be evangelized.
Assembly believers should visit missionaries
Missionaries appreciate visitors who come at a suitable time and with the proper intentions. Some tourism is fine, especially in warm climes during winter. However, effective visitors do not arrive to hit the beach, but to help the work. Your companionship and fellowship can give the missionary family a lift, and if you can handle a broom, paint brush, wrench, frying pan, keyboard, or Seedsower packet, your visit can really advance the work. The Philippi assembly sent Epaphroditus to visit Paul, and Paul warmly acknowledged that Epaphroditus was “your messenger and minister to my need” (Phil 2:25, ESV).
Visitors may also help in less obvious but equally important ways. They can learn about the work and transport this information back to the home assembly. They can set an example for new converts, and give them a sense of connection to assemblies worldwide; and they can help believers in the mission field learn more about where their missionary came from, and how he receives behind-the-scenes support.
Assemblies should pray for missionaries
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Brothers, pray for us” (1Thess 5:25). He told the Philippians what their prayers had accomplished for him (Phil 1:19). Prayer, both private home prayer and public assembly prayer, is the single most powerful means of helping missionary work. Sincere and persistent prayer from 2,000 miles away brings lasting spiritual results on the field. A Christian who can’t leave her home will nonetheless meet believers in heaven who got there because she invested time at the throne of grace (Heb 4:16).
We should pray specifically and regularly not only for the worker’s gospel activities but for the welfare of his wife and children. Many factors make keeping a home and raising children difficult in the mission field, including separation from friends and relatives, rejection by the local culture, and concerns about safety. We should pray not only for the temporal security and blessing of the family, but also for the eternal salvation and spiritual progress of the worker’s children.
See whether the missionaries you know write a newsletter or blog. You can also obtain missionary calendars and reports like Horizons. Your reading and research will uncover many specific needs in their work that you can take directly into the presence of God. Let us strive to be fellow laborers with God and with His missionaries (1Cor 3:9; Phil 4:3; Phm 24).