Years ago, I was visiting my grandparent’s home in South Texas when I came across something unexpected. I found several three-inch binders packed full of papers. As I opened them, I combed through what appeared to be letters. I quickly became engrossed. The correspondence told a story that was familiar to me, yet one I had never read on paper. I had stumbled upon hundreds of letters that my mother handwrote my grandparents twenty-five years ago when we first moved to Brazil as a missionary family.
Currently, my husband and I are in our second year of serving overseas. To say that communication between missionaries and their families is different than it was twenty-five years ago is an understatement. In the early 1990s, when my family moved overseas, my father was one of the few who brought a computer with him to our country. Though we owned a computer, it was a few years before email became widely used. My mother wrote letters that sometimes took months to arrive in America from across the ocean. It was very expensive to call our family back home until calling cards made the occasional call more affordable.
“All believers are called to die to themselves, take up their cross, and follow Christ. For missionaries this may mean getting off Facebook and stepping out of the comfort of one’s home culture, that God might receive all praise.”
As though twenty-five years is not already a big enough gap in technology and time, we know from Adoniram Judson—one of the first Baptist missionaries who moved to Burma in the 1800s—in a letter to his future father-in-law that communication woes were even more extreme in his time. Judson wrote that if his father-in-law allowed him to marry his daughter, he would have to consent to never seeing her again, to hardships, persecution, and even her possible violent death. Back then, moving overseas meant never seeing family again. It was a complete, lifelong separation from loved ones, a familiar way of life, and all that was once known.
Communication Made Easy
Today, connection to one’s home country looks vastly different in terms of communication and technology. While there are still places that are extremely remote, most have access to the internet. This means that families are simply a free video call away. Texting, FaceTime, and social media connect missionaries to their family and friends in ways that were once incomprehensible. Even outlets such as Netflix, the news, and the internet can keep missionaries much more in tune with fashion trends, politics, and social changes in America than ever before.
While a connection to family, a sending church, and friends is extremely beneficial and needed, we all know the saying, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Let us consider how this accessible connection to home might affect workers negatively.
Easy Communication: A Double-Edged Sword
All missionaries are familiar with culture shock and culture stress. When leaving one’s home culture, it is inevitable that a new environment, where so much is unfamiliar, will lead to times of frustration and stress. It is what missionaries choose to do with this stress that can be beneficial or detrimental. The response of the missionary might be to withdraw from the culture to the safe environment of their house where they can eat familiar food, watch Netflix, or call family.
While this may be okay every once in a while, one of the greatest cures for culture shock is to find things about the new culture to appreciate and to find ways to be in the culture that day. After all, the goal is to live and be among the people. In the words of Paul, it often requires being all things to all people, that some might be saved (1 Cor. 9:22). Consequently, missionaries must put healthy habits and boundaries into place when dealing with culture stress in order to be effective on a long-term scale, to stay in the race, and to reach the peoples of the world for God’s glory.
At the end of the day, all believers are called to die to themselves, take up their cross, and follow Christ. For missionaries, this may mean getting off Facebook, stepping out of the comfort of one’s home culture, and stepping into the often unpleasant and frustrating situations of cross-cultural work, that God might receive all praise.
While too much connection back home can certainly be detrimental at times, when done right it also has positive effects. Workers are sent out by their local church at home. As 1 Corinthians 12:12 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (ESV).
“At a moment’s notice, missionaries can send out an email or text message to their partners to fervently pray for a meeting or divine appointment minutes before or after it takes place.”
Missionaries are sent out, but we are all a part of the same body. 1 Corinthians 12:26 goes on to say, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (ESV). Because of advanced communication tools, we are in an unprecedented time in history. At a moment’s notice, missionaries can send out an email or text message to their partners to fervently pray for a meeting or divine appointment minutes before or after it takes place.
Prayer is essential to the work. Accountability is necessary. Encouragement is indispensable. Paul, Adoniram Judson, and countless others in history did not have these opportunities. May we use what we have been given to work together to see God’s kingdom come.
Aim for Healthy and Beneficial Communication
There is a healthy balance to strike when communicating with missionaries. While there is certainly the possibility of too much connection, the reality is that this is rarely the case. As they spend more time on the field, many missionaries begin to feel somewhat isolated from family, friends, and the church body back home. Despite great connection at the beginning of a missionary’s time on the field, as time goes on, many long-term missionaries express the struggle with feeling somewhat forgotten.
However, missionaries are a part of the body of Christ, and they cannot operate without the church. Local churches must find ways to encourage, pray, and support missionaries, whether it is through a quarterly video call, sending a package a few times a year, or simply sending an email to pray for and encourage them. May we work together, “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other (1 Kings 8:60 NIV).”
Allison Watts grew up in Brazil as a missionary kid. She and her husband now live in North Africa and the Middle East. Every day is an adventure.