So far, I have suggested that visiting the mission field does wonderful things for a pastor’s knowledge about missions and his zeal for missions, and both of these help him be a better leader in the local church’s missionary efforts. Learning and leadership are great reasons to go to the field. I’d like to add a third reason that I also believe is very important. Visiting the mission field provides a wonderful opportunity to minister to God’s servants on the frontlines of the global harvest.
Of course, visiting missionaries on the field is a valuable aspect of ministry accountability, but a visit by a sending or supporting pastor goes way beyond this. Missionaries face all of the normal challenges of ministry, plus loads of additional challenges that come with cross-cultural ministry. Having guests from “back home” can be a breath of fresh air in terms of fellowship and encouragement. Certainly, modern technology has provided many incredible ways to stay in touch, but a computer screen can’t really match personal interaction.
This was driven home to me on my first visit to the mission field. We had the privilege of staying in the home of a young missionary couple for a few nights as we traveled through the country on a survey trip. It was a great visit, but what amazed me was how simply sitting around the table playing games late into the night was so encouraging to them. Those kinds of opportunities only happened once in a while when someone was passing through their area. We laughed and enjoyed one another’s company. I learned a lesson about how just showing up can be a blessing to folks who live on the other side of the world for the sake of the gospel.
More importantly, I’ve learned through the years that one of the great struggles for missionaries is the feeling that people back home just don’t understand what life on the field is like. And they’re right. As I said in the first post of this series, it is a dangerous thing for anybody to think they understand the foreign field from a quick visit. But visiting does start the task of understanding, and that really helps the communication process. Too many times, the only communication a missionary hears from churches back home is related to money or problems. That has to be frustrating. Visiting missionaries on the field helps build relationships based on understanding what the missionary is facing. It communicates to the missionary that the church really cares about the work and workers.
I’ll confess that my task orientation was the biggest hurdle in terms of getting me to visit the mission field. I reasoned that there wasn’t anything I could do on the field that the missionary couldn’t do, so why travel all that distance to add nothing significant to the process? But I was wrong. The missionary can’t visit himself! I could though. I could show up with a simple desire to encourage these wonderful servants of Jesus Christ, whether that meant long, profound talks about ministry, playing table games late into the night, or simply watching their children so they could go out for a dinner alone.
Brush up on your monopoly skills and head out to the field to do some encouraging!