Serving as Senders
Chapter Six: Communication Support
"Lord willing, I plan to send Timothy to you soon so that I may be comforted when I know how you are doing.
"I had zilch knowledge of missions and no preparation, whatsoever! I knew God wanted me to go to Paris, but even that was only confirmed in my heart after I arrived there. My home church’s ’policy’ was to lay hands on you, say a prayer and wave, ’Goodbye!’ My home fellowship group said they would write to me and pray for me. I wrote to them faithfully about every five weeks. I received one letter from them the first year and one the second!
"Lack of communication further hit me when I arrived. I was to work with another missionary from my church who was helping equip lay leaders in a new church near the Latin Quarter. When I got there, I found out that he had moved to another city!
"A local national church took me in. I began learning servanthood in a cross-cultural setting. Sweeping, cleaning toilets, dusting, sorting clothes and running errands were my first assignments. After I regained my ability in the language, I began teaching in their day school for children.
"Lack of communication also hit my pocketbook! I arrived in Paris with $15 and a promise of a temporary place to stay. (Remember, I had had no training.) I was never taught how to raise financial support. I had not communicated my needs before I left, nor in my letters once I was gone. I thought it was ’bad’ to talk about money. Now I know I should give full information and allow others to share in His ministry that way.
"I got a small check from a friend through my church the first month. Well into the second month I called my brother to call my church to see if any money had come in for me and if they had mailed it. Only $45 had come in and it had been mailed, returned for postage, and mailed again! Anyway, I moved ten times that first year because I had to live wherever I could without paying rent.
"By then I had come to accept it: This is missionary lifeuntil I met Bill and Louise. It began when they offered to help me financially. I felt bad because their church was supporting them and they were using some of it to help me. Yet, my church was doing nothing to help me,
"As I got to know them better, I saw that not only were their finances in order, but a whole communication network was in place. Regular mail. Frequent ’care’ packages. Phone calls of friendship (not of desperation, like mine).
"But I really saw how it could be when their church’s cross-cultural coordinator, John, came to visit them. It was just a one-day visit as he was in Europe on other business, but I saw real caring. He had prepared a special Bible study that he said the Lord had given him just for them. He brought a computer banner saying, "We really do miss you!" It had personal notes scribbled all over it. There were special goodies for their children.
"I came to realize that to the extent the communication, prayer and financial support was strong from their sending churchto that extent their ministry was strong. John said I could call on them any time there was a need. He didn’t know the extent of my hurting. (Or did he?) I received a form letter once a year from my church telling me what they were doing (Yes, I was even listed as one of their ’accomplishments’!), but they never once asked me how I was doing! I had a lot of anger and hurt inside towards my church before coming back because I felt they didn’t care.
"After two years I did come home. And I realized the misunderstanding was as much a lack of my communication as theirs. I was open with my home fellowship. I learned that they thought the church was supporting me and I thought they knew of my condition and need! We just hadn’t communicated!
"I got some good training in communication skills. I learned to be open in sharing my needs for communication as well as for prayer, finances and the other areas of support.
"I am back in Paris, now. No, I don’t expect a visit from anyone from my church with banners and goodies. But I do have an established foundation of a strong and growing support team from my home fellowship and other individuals in my church and family. And we’re communicating! May God be praised!"
It is hard to imagine the importance of communication from home until you have "been there." When a person or family arrives on the field to establish their new routine, real loneliness can set ina feeling of isolation, of being out of it. A new missionary can feel, "They have forgotten me!" "They aren’t writing" might be interpreted: "They dont care! I’m out of their sightand therefore out of their mind! And I am going out of mine!"
One family recently returned to Israel, this time with two children. The wife recalls, "The first two weeks I was filled with guilt for doing this to my children. I had taken them away from the grandparents who cherish them and whom they adore. I had taken them away from Sesame Street, a wonderful library, swimming lessons and food they love. I had taken them away from carpeted floors to fall on, trashless parks with grass instead of broken glass, cool weather, Sunday schoolfrom friends, drinkable water that doesn’t make them sick, a familiar doctor I can trust, a car instead of a bus or having to walk in the blazing sun and a mommy with lots of energy, patience and joy!
"Well," she says, "a phone call from Amy back in my home town revealed that she had felt the same way when she first went to Greece. I still wasn’t completely convinced that I was doing the best for my boys; but if Amy got through itand her kids are great ... and I do trust God Who is my Father and theirs, Who only wants the best for us....
"After the call, I began to think, ’To tell the truth, David and Daniel seem to be adapting more quickly than I am!’ Two-year-old David even reminded me of a Hebrew word that I couldn’t think of the other day. And Daniel has learned how to fall on these hard floors with-out getting a big bump on his head.
The missionary concludes, "Even my mother is handling this well. She recently encouraged me in a letter: ’God wants you there, Mary. Your kids could get sick here, too. C’mon, toughen up!’ It seems every time we get discouraged, some bit of communication comes through to encourage us!"
Communicating Through Letters
Though Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer, did not have access to the telephone, postal system, fax machines or a computer electronic bulletin board, he knew the importance of personal communication. His letters are shot through with bits of personal comments:
· Requests for his support team to "bring his cloak when they come to him and especially the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:13).
· An earnest appeal to "prepare your guest room for me" (Philemon 1:22).
· In his powerful letter to the Christians in Romethat great treatise on gracehe devotes almost all of chapter 16 to personal messages. No less than 41 people are specifically mentioned. Tertius, who has been writing the Roman letter for Paul, might have gotten so excited about all this exchange of greetings that he leaned over and nudged Paul: "Paul, may I say ’Hi,’ too?" 16:22 reads, "I, Tertius, send my Christian greetings also!"
James personalized his short letter 17 times by referring to the dispersed tribes as "my brothers." John, when writing to his friend Gaius and again to "the elect lady," found it difficult to put into words all he wanted to say (2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13). Yet in writing his Gospel he wanted a scroll the size of the whole world to write everything on his heart (John 21:25). Luke, for the sake of his friend Theophilus, "searched out diligently ... from the highest to the minutest detail," to set in order the record of the Gospel of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles (Luke 1:1-4).
Peter and Paul found it not burdensome to remind their readers again and again of especially important things ( 2 Peter 1:12; Philippians 3:1). Jude, as he sat to write his brief letter, intended to make it a light, happy rejoicing in their common salvation. But as he took pen in hand, the Spirit of God compelled him to exhort them to "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 1:3).
Whether on papyrus, parchment, linen or recycled paper, letter writing is the easiest, most common way of keeping in touch; it is the mainstay of communication.
What to Communicate
The content of your communication is vital. Say things that really matter. Not just "How are you? I am fine. Went to the store today. Had meat loaf for dinner." (Of course, they’ll read anything from home! But....)
Rather, share your thoughts and feelingswhat is really going on in your life. How is God working in you? Be realistic and honest but don’t use them as your counselor. Remember, you are their support.
Get involved in their lives on the field as much as you can. Express interest in the concerns of their hearts. Ask questions about their lives there and respond to what they have said in their previous letters to you. This is especially encouraging because it shows that you really read their letters and are interested enough for some follow-up conversation about It.
One sending team member says, "My wife and I am on the communication support team of over 80 missionaries. We receive 40 to 50 letters every month. When I read their letters, I have a pen in hand to jot down notes or circle specific thoughts I want to respond to. This is the only way we can answer that many letters! And it will work for you, as well."
Share how God is leading you to pray for them. Ask for their specific and personal prayer requests and updates on things about which you previously prayed.
Share a particularly meaningful sermon you just heard, church news or news about a mutual friendedifying news, of course!
When communicating with missionaries serving in restricted-access countries where their ministry may be considered illegal, be sure to check with your church or mission agency for guidelines when writing about Christian matters and ministries.
Don’t forget to have your kids write to the children in your missionary family. This is good training for them to become aware of and involved in missions! Also, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles: Keep in contact with your grandkids, nieces and nephews. They need to hear from you.
Let’s look back at the biblical writers referred to for some patterns for you to follow in your letters to your cross-cultural workers:
Paul to the Romans: Use names to make the stories real. Instead of, "The whole church says ’Hi’!" give the names of specific people they know who said "Hi."
James to the dispersed tribes: Make it a friendly letter, personalized with terms of endearment. Even though (or maybe, because) James had some tough things to say, he reminded them of the personal relationship uniting them. "Though miles separate us, we are still friends; you are not forgotten" is the feeling communicated when you make the letter personal.
John to Galas and the "elect lady": The time will come when it is tough to sit down and write. You don’t know what to say or how to say it. Probably the single greatest hindrance to letter writing is waiting for a big block of time. Don’t waitit will probably never come!
It is not so important to be organized or have nice paper or be able to write pages and pages. What is important is to just do it! Jot down a thought or two on any piece of paper. A day or so later when you have another thought, write it down! When you have accumulated a "letter’s worth," mail it! Of course, it would help to at least number the pieces of paper!
A missionary recalls, "One of my favorite letters came on. John F. Kennedy Airport tissue paper, written while a support team friend was waiting for an international flight! The novelty of it assured me of the instant inspiration of the words written!"
John to readers of his Gospel: Don’t feel that you have to write every word of every conversation of every friend of theirs for every day they are gone! Allow the Spirit to guide you to share those incidents and stories that would be uplifting, informative and motivating.
How you say things also has its impact. Consider the following contrast:
"Well, Jerry has taken your place and is doing such a great job with your home fellowship group that everything is just fine without you" vs. "Wow! God’s timing is so perfect. Just as He called you to Alma Ata, He has raised up Jerry to continue the good work you were doing with the home fellowship group."
Luke to Theophilus: Be accurate in your reporting to your friends. Distance and time and cultures already have their way of distorting facts. Memory blurs.. You want to communicate a true report of what’s going on among the people back home.
Peter and Paul to readers of their epistles: Sometimes with Peter and Paul you will say. "I do not tire of reminding you again and again to be diligent in your personal devotion to God." Don’t be afraid to encourage and encourage with the same themes and reminders oftenas the Spirit directs you.
Jude to those called of God: As you get in the habit of regular letter writing, you will begin anticipating what you want to say. As you listen to the words of a new song on the radio, you will realize how that would minister to your friend. You jot them down. As you return to a familiar recreation site or a favorite restaurant, a pleasant memory inspires you to relate an incident. So you sit down to write, just wanting to rejoice about the good things of life. But then don’t be surprised if there is also a stirring in your soul as the Holy Spirit says, "I have an important message for you to share. Warn him to be on his guard for ’ungodly men who are bent on thwarting the grace of God’" (Jude 1:4).
Other Ways of Communicating
This need for contact with "home" is nothing new. You remember the story of David, away from his home in Bethlehem. In the heat of battle, he longed for a drink of water from his favorite well over by the city gate (2 Samuel 23:15). His son, Solomon, said, "As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far land" (Proverbs 25:25). The need for news from back home isn’t new at all, but our world has certainly advanced in its methods of communication.
The telephone, for example, lets you call anywhere in the world for under $10! You wouldn’t use this method as regularly as a letter, but even just once can be a really special treat. You can be led by the Spirit to call at a needy time in your missionary’s life.
A communicating sender says, "One time I was reading a letter from our cross-cultural worker. It wasn’t so much what the letter said (since it had been written two weeks before) as it was the Spirit quickening my mind to understand her present need. I checked the time. It should be about 7 a.m. in Israel. She should still be at home. I dialed. On the second ring, I heard her voice. And we talked for a few minutes. What did we say? I don’t remember! But she still talks about that phone call that came at just the right time!"
Faxed messages and telexes can communicate with your cross-cultural worker who may have access to a fax or telex machine. The work of communicating is still there. But these devices make the exchange of ideas more rapid and convenient.
Ham radio is an exciting communication channel. If your worker is in a more remote part of the world, he may know a ham radio operator. If so, have him give you the call letters and the times he is usually on the air. Then find an operator in your area. These people are usually happy to set up a "phone patch" for you to talk with your friendoften free! Around the world!
Communicate through photos. Enclose a photo now and then with your letter. A missionary recalls, "When we were on the field, we had a wall of pictures of friends and family. After all, it was the only place we saw their smiling faces. It was a lingering point for memories and prayer."
One of the missionary’s sending team adds, "We have our own wall of cork arranged as the continents of the world. Over a hundred pictures (updated as they send new ones) place our missionary friends in their respective countries. It is for us, too, a location for prayer and memories in our house."
Videotaping is inexpensive and offers endless communication possibilities. Videotape your home fellowship meeting. Update your worker with a traveling tour of what’s going on in your town. Tape a family gathering. Interview people he knows as they come out of church, and introduce him to the new comers. Send tapes of special programs, ceremonies and sermons.
Have a video recorder at your next potluck dinner. Conduct a survey of any ridiculous thing, such as: "In your opinion, if a Hotentot tot is taught to talk ’ere the tot can totter, ought the Hotentot tot be taught to say; aught or not, or what ought to be taught her?" If that isn’t enough for a few laughs for your missionary family, you might want to give them the second verse: "If, to hoot and to toot be taught to a Hotentot tot by a Hoten-tot tutor, ought the Hotentot tutor get hot if the Hoten-tot tot hoots and toots at the Hotentot tutor?"
There are excellent Christian videos for kids. What you send may be the only viewing your workers’ children can watch since in many countries television is far more explicit than in North America. There are, of course, good entertaining and training videos for adults, as well.
One organization has dedicated itself to providing cassettes, compact discs and video selections for missionaries at greatly reduced prices. The catalog is called For Missionaries Only from Mount Cannel, PO Box 243, Leavenworth WA 98826 USA (1-800-272-2442).
Be sure to check with your missionary for the type of videos his tape player uses: different operating systems for video are used in different countries.
Send audiotape letters. Just begin talking into the cassette recorder as if you are talking to your friend in person. It is hard at first because there is no feedback. But that barrier of one-way communication can be overcome. And it is refreshing to hear each other’s voices as you develop this method of sharing. They can record over the same tape in their response to you.
Send a group audiotape made at a family gathering or an impromptu interview with people as they come out of church: "Hey, in 20 words or less, what do you want to say to --?" (Name your missionary.) Have the "roving mike" catch their first words! Let your field worker rejoin the home fellowship meeting by recording services and get-togethers. Fill their ears with the sounds of the kids choir or crickets chirping and frogs croaking or the freewayif that’s what they miss.
A "care" package is a great idea. Of course, check first with the post office and with your missionary or agency on what may be sent. Find out how to label packages properly. It is amazing what you can put even in a letter envelope, thus making the shipping easier. Determine what your shipping costs plus their duty costs will be: otherwise you might send a package that costs double or triple what it is worth.
There are many items that will communicate your love: new books, music tapes, Bible study tapes. One cross-cultural worker once mentioned that he really enjoys the Sunday sports section of his local newspaper. A loyal friend now mails it to him every week! Sometimes even the little things that seem like nothing to usa package of salad dressing mix or chili powderare a delightful surprise if your missionaries live where those items are not available.
But don’t be surprised if their tastes have changed. Ask them what their needs and their wants are now. No matter how mundane the request, if it will minister to them, send it!
Personal visits, of course, are the ultimate in communication. How Paul longed to see his support team. And he thanked them profusely when they sent a representative to minister to his needs (see Philippians 4:15-18, for example).
One church takes a tour to Israel each year. Their missionaries in Greece and Turkey have the opportunity every other year to spend this time with their friends from back homein Israel! The church pays the missionaries’ fares to come from their place of ministry to Israel for these ten days of fellowship and vacation.
The missions pastor of one church regularly travels to the locations of the church’s missionaries to put "new heart" in them and to encourage them in the Lord.
Even if you or one from your fellowship cannot make the visit, if you know of someone going to your worker’s location or nearby, you can encourage that traveler to visit your missionary, to hand-carry a message or package of love and concern. On the other hand, if your worker lives in a major crossroads of world travelers, you might need to "protect" him from being a perpetual host and tour guide!
Communication support is caring and expressing it; caring is communication!
A Case Study in Communication Support
Lou and Sandy’s support team makes a special effort to communicate with them:
Since my husband and I moved into the duplex that Lou and Sandy moved out of, we take care of their mail. Most people send personal mail directly to the Philippines, so we basically collect Lou’s magazines, newsletters and other third class mail and a few personal letters that may not be mailed directly to them. We mail all of this in a manila envelope once or twice a month, depending on the accumulation. Bank statements, tax papers, bills and other legal papers we hand over to Tim, who is in charge of Logistics Support.
We also send the Sunday sermon tape in that envelope. Often we include an interesting front page of our local newspaper or Lou’s favorite comics! Lou keeps asking us about developments in world affairs. We try to keep him aware of what’s going on. He recently got a shortwave radio, though, so his requests in this area have slowed down.
We have also sent care packages. We try to send special treats for each of themthings that they cannot buy where they live. In each one we include a treat or gift for their host family or the national staff with whom they work.
Because communication is two-way, on one Sunday each month we put up a Philippines Mission table. There is an attractive display with updated information about Lou and Sandy and the mission with which they work. At this table we hand out pre-addressed aerograms to people who will write that month to Lou and Sandy.
Apparently there has been no lack of letter communication. In one six-week period, they reported, they had gone only three days without at least one letter, and one day they had received seven!
One month Lou (who is interested in statistical analysis) kept tract of the postmarks on the mail they received. (That, in itself, is telling us they are getting a good amount of mail!)
Lou reported, "In checking the postmarks from our supporters to see how long it took for the mail to get to us, we noticed a bell curve based on the arrival of our prayer letter to them. Forty-seven per cent of our communication support team sent their letters to us within a week of their receiving our letter! It pays to write and to personalize our letters!"
The ultimate in communication support was afforded Lou and Sandy last summer. Our mission pastor and his family took part of their vacation to visit them in the Philippines. We sent our love along with them in a hundred tangible ways. And they returned our love with thankful hearts.
"Reach out and touch someone," the Bell telephone system used to say. You can still do it through soul-satisfying communication support. But the full circle of supporting your missionary is completed as you receive him back home through re-entry support.
(In addition to the individual study below, see the Group Leader’s Guide for session six beginning on page 193.)
For Your Personal Involvement
· Read one of Paul’s letters and highlight all references to personal messages and comments. You may be surprised how much of his letters dealt with personal communication, logistics and the desire to just relate his friendship.
· Select one of the other letter-writers in the Bible. Identify what kinds of "homey" things he talked about.
· Check with the mission groups of other churches to discover what specific ideas they use in their communication support.
· Talk with your (or other) missionaries who are on furlough. Find out from them the kinds of communication support they receive, which are appreciated most and why.
· Review the different methods of communication suggested in this chapter. Which are you particularly interested in? Do you have the necessary equipment for that or those methods?
By the time you have read Chapter Six, completed the For Your Personal Involvement section and participated in a discussion group, you should...
· Be able to decide if this is the area of support the Lord is directing you into. If so, get out pen and paper now! Write to that missionary God has put on your heart and mail it today!
· Prepare a form for father, mother, and children to be completed before they go, telling of their needs and wants. Be sure to include a place for their birthdays and anniversaries, types of books they like, music or study tapes they enjoy. If your missionaries are already on the field, mail the form to them. When they return it, be sure to follow through regularly with at least some of their requests.
· If your worker is overseas, find out what types of things survive through the mail and what things to avoid sending. Determine costs of packages of various weights and the approximate time it takes between sending and receiving a package.
· Multiply yourself. Actively share what you are doing and look for others who might get involved.