Here are some suggestions synthesized from this post which I found very instructive:
- Prayer. That has to be number one.
- Communication. When I go back to visit my church in August I’ll probably know about half or a third of the number of people I knew there when I left. But still the blow can be softened by hearing a bit more of what’s going on in church. What’s the teaching on at the moment? What challenges are you facing, and what new stuff are you doing? Are there any projects starting? What’s going on?
- Challenge. Most of us are providing the teaching in our churches. If we get off track, our church gets off track. So we need some contradictory and thought-provoking stuff thrown at us to keep us real.
- Encouragement. Out of sight can mean out of mind; we know this, and so it’s not a huge problem. But that’s precisely why just the occasional note every so often to let us know that we’re still remembered and we haven’t dropped off the radar is a huge, huge encouragement. Replying to the prayer letters we send is a good one, even if it’s just a few words, it stops us thinking we’re talking into a vacuum.
- Participation. In these days of Skype and high-speed Internet access, I can “virtually” turn up at your events. You don’t actually need to make a big thing of me being there. I did a couple of Skype interviews with my church groups recently, but actually one of the nicest bits was just sitting there and listening to the service like everyone else. Give me an AV feed and I’ll be happy. It helps with the whole catching-up thing I mentioned above, and it keeps that connection between us going.
- Places to stay. Organising hospitality for me when I visit is one of the most practical and powerful ways you can show that you care. Nothing amazing, just a bed for the night; but someone on location is much better placed to ask around and find people who can offer than trying to do it from five thousand miles away, and it takes all the stress out of it.
- Care packages. I’m in two minds about this one. I love my life here in Japan, and I’m happy living like a Japanese. But I hope that even those who are into radical contextualization would be prepared to turn a blind eye to the odd jar of Marmite or Fray Bentos pie every six months or so, and of course it’s the thought that counts more than the pie.
- Briefing and debriefing. When we come back to our home countries, or set off again, we’re going to be in a whirl. Maybe those missionaries in troubled countries are going to have seen some disturbing stuff – now mostly the mission agencies will help them deal with that or put them in touch with professionals who can – but everyone will come back to reverse culture shock, disorientation and above all change. And as Marjory Foyle puts it, you can have stress without change but you can’t have change without stress. Getting us in for a debriefing will (a) help us adjust to what’s changed so we can expect it, and (b) show us that you are prepared to invest some time and organisation into helping us. (b) is probably more important than (a), when it comes down to it. Similarly for briefings when we go again. Having some sensible questions prepared to talk through with us can help identify any areas where you can help us more or we can help you more. (Oh yes, that reminds me: this isn’t a one-way thing, and it actually helps maintain that connection between us if it’s not one-way. If there is anything we can do to help serve you better, we want to know about it.)
- Money. It would be a bit insane to pretend that this isn’t a consideration but honestly, it’s got to appear at the bottom of the list because it’s often the least of our problems. I would honestly much rather be supported a church which couldn’t offer me much money but which loved me than one which gave me all the cash I needed and just left me to get on with it.