One of my favorite things about coming back to the US from the mission field is the opportunity to spend time with local churches. Although it’s a unique and enriching experience to be in a local church overseas, it’s also special to gather with believers who speak my language, worship in familiar styles, and know the art of a good potluck.
When my family comes home on a furlough—or stateside assignment, as the IMB calls it—we enjoy our opportunities to visit churches all over the US. Many invite us to share our experience overseas, and it’s our joy to do so. My husband and I love speaking to large and small groups, showing photos of our national partners, and telling stories about what God is doing in tough places.
Typically, as we conclude our presentation, we invite questions from church members, knowing there are usually many aspects of our work that may pique their curiosity. Hands down, the top two questions we get are
How dangerous is it sharing the gospel where you live?
How has it been adjusting to the food?
Those are definitely legitimate questions. And we love the opportunity to speak into their safety concerns and answer cuisine queries (it’s going OK, by the way). After those questions, however, our time to share comes to a close. In side conversations afterward, people often express regret that they couldn’t think of anything else to ask. They want to know more, but perhaps they didn’t know what to ask or weren’t confident in asking about how we struggle personally or what they could do to get involved.
I totally understand. I’ve been in their shoes, having a genuine interest in the life and work of a missionary but blanking on what to ask them. But we love the church and are honored to spend time with brothers and sisters. Furthermore, we are not offended or frustrated by questions of a more personal nature.
“Churches and missionaries can collaborate before a missionary speaks to tailor their time to a church’s specific interests or needs.”
Now, being on this side of the conversation as a missionary, I’ve learned a few things about how to help people ask questions that get to the heart of what they truly want to know. I’ve also found that churches and missionaries can collaborate before a missionary speaks to tailor their time to a church’s specific interests or needs. Here, I want to share pointers on how you can get the most out of a missionary speaker before, during, and after their visit with your church.
There are a few things you can do to help a missionary share effectively with your church and satisfy some curiosities in the course of their presentation.
- If possible, offer more than one setting for the missionary to speak. Each opportunity at a church has its advantages and disadvantages. A Sunday morning message will reach more people but is less intimate and detailed. A Wednesday night visit with a small group may allow a missionary to customize their presentation, which can be more compelling but then will necessarily leave out aspects of their work.
- Give your missionary guest some direction. Sometimes when my family receives an invitation to speak, we’re simply told, “Tell us about your life on mission.” That’s a really broad question, and we can share about our life on mission a million different ways.
- When you invite a missionary to speak, give them information about your church’s general knowledge of international missions and different worldviews. For instance, if your church is already familiar with the majority religion in a missionary’s country, then the missionary knows it’s not necessary to spend a lot of time explaining that religion. Or if your church is new in their missions involvement, then a missionary can spend more time on their overarching goal as opposed to the nitty-gritty details of their work.
Let your congregation know it’s OK to ask questions. These are three of my husband’s and my favorite prompts to address and why.
- “Describe how God led you to a life overseas.”
God is actively calling his people to mission at home and abroad. When we share what God used in our life to move us overseas for the gospel, the Holy Spirit may remind or illuminate for others that God has them on a similar path.
- “How can we specifically pray for you and those you work with?”
A missionary will likely share general ways you can pray for their work, but most will shy away from sharing the tough stuff. When people ask this question with genuine interest, we know they care about a deeper partnership and will follow through in their commitment to pray.
- “What are some current obstacles to your work that could have a practical solution?”
Sometimes missionaries need extra manpower, resources, or funds. Maybe they are raising money for a motorbike so their national partner can take the gospel to rural villages. Perhaps they are trying to get a business platform off the ground, and they could use advice from an accountant. Maybe they are trying to reach medical students, and an in-country visit from a US physician would help create inroads with the local medical community. Whatever their obstacles, there’s a good chance people in your church have the resources to provide a solution—and, in turn, give your church the chance get involved in missions.
“Whatever their obstacles, there’s a good chance people in your church have the resources to provide a solution—and, in turn, give your church the chance get involved in missions.”
After a missionary visit, your church can continue to learn from, partner with, and serve those missionaries in myriad ways. Though it’s best to ask each missionary how you can best serve and keep in touch with them, here are a few potential options for following up with the missionary later.
- Most missionaries send periodic newsletters or prayer calendars. Ask if you can join their mailing list.
- If you desire a deeper level of involvement, ask if it would be appropriate to text or call them occasionally once they are back on the field. There are plenty of secure phone apps that enable a missionary to share exciting news or important prayer requests securely.
- Consider partnering long-term by sending short-term missions teams or even long-term missionaries out of your congregation.
IMB missionaries usually spend a few months back in the US after three or more years overseas. If you are interested in hosting a missionary, you can invite them to speak at your church. Together, you can open an opportunity for God to stir your church’s affections for his global mission. Ask questions of and encourage these missionaries while they are at your church. And don’t forget the potluck.
Rachel Cohen is a content editor for imb.org and a media specialist for IMB. She lives with her husband and daughter in South Asia.