My earliest memories of missionaries all come along with those of white-gloved church ladies, potluck casserole suppers, and a noisy slide projector streaming foreign wonders on a crooked Silver Flyer screen! My six-year-old mind reeled as I soaked in the photos of men holding spears and ladies modeling fascinating beaded jewelry. I marveled at the men and women describing each slide, sharing their stories and making another country come alive right there in our fellowship hall.
When I became a parent, I knew I wanted my own children to have the valuable exposure to foreign missions I had experienced. Our bookshelves were filled with missionary biographies and the large atlas on our coffee table was rarely closed. We volunteered to help with the missions conferences in our church and I wrote a series of skits based on some of our favorite characters from missionary history for them to dramatize. I will never forget my 12-year-old son dressed as Hudson Taylor and my daughter as Rosalind Goforth, both knowing much more about China than I had ever learned in any geography class!
However, our greatest experience was hosting missionary families in our home and having the privilege of getting to know many people whose life stories enriched our lives in ways book studies alone would never have done! Though the thought of welcoming a family of strangers into your home for a meal or even an extended period of time might initially seem daunting, it will leave a lasting impression on your children and build everyone’s faith!
Here are a few tips for making your missionary hosting experience a great one:
Learn as much as possible about the country where your missionaries serve and encourage your children to ask lots of questions! I recently chatted with a homeschooling mom whose family just returned after 8 years as missionaries in Burma. She told me one thing she really loves is when people ask them real questions about their work and she assured me it ever gets old! Be sure to ask thoughtful questions yourself. Not long ago I asked a missionary stationed in a fairly primitive area how they find the balance between making Bible translation and Gospel preaching a priority and addressing physical needs. It opened up a great discussion and we all learned so much.
Get other families involved! Invite another family or two for dessert in your home and ask your missionary to share more informally and personally. One afternoon a lovely older retired missionary set out a display of carved animals and jewelry she had brought home from Kenya, allowing our group to touch everything and she even gave each child small treasures to keep. Another time we participated in a School of Missions where each family studied a particular country, prepared native foods, wore authentic clothing, and shared what they learned with each other. We quickly found out that the best way to learn something is to teach it!
Encourage your missionaries to tell as many real life stories as possible while in your home! Missionary stories are the best stories! One of our favorite missionaries is Tom Randall, the best man at our wedding and long time missionary to the Philippines with World Harvest. I will never forget the wide-eyed expressions on our children’s faces as he told them hair-raising tales of God’s provision for him through both natural calamities and at the hands of evil men. His life story continues to build our faith to this day and my thirty-something children still vividly remember his amazing stories!
Remember that your missionaries may come to you with very real physical, emotional, and spiritual needs! One time, we were asked to host a missionary family who, unbeknownst to anyone else, was really struggling with whether or not to return overseas. I soon learned that their financial support had dwindled and the wife, especially, was struggling with fear and bitterness. Since they came from a hot, arid climate to the Midwest at the end of October, they had no cold weather clothes. We were able to find some things for them to wear until they could unpack their stored boxes but I didn’t realize how truly needy they were until I discovered the man had left a terribly threadbare t-shirt in the guest room. My heart ached at how much more I could have done for them and I was much better prepared in the future.
Keep in touch with your missionaries once they are gone and plan to see them again! Encourage your children to become pen pals with missionary children. Send care packages, letters, and emails and plan to Skype when possible. Pray specifically for missionaries by name and keep a prayer journal to record how God is working! Become missionaries to your missionaries and bring the whole world home!
This article was written by me and was originally published in Family Magazine, Issue 3, 2015