It’s Sunday morning. You’ve arrived at church. In the hustle and bustle, greeting friends, getting your kids where they need to go, you turn and there they are!
Surprise turns to excitement as you look straight into the face of your missionary.
At that critical moment, what do you say?
Do you ask the question on the tip of your tongue, “Why are you here?” Or do you confess your surprise, “Wow, I didn’t expect to see you here today.”
In this moment, a few words go a long way!
Here are five encouraging things that will make your missionaries really feel appreciated by you and your church.
1. Welcome back!
When you see missionaries, you might want to just say “Good morning!” or “Good to see you!” You might let your curiosity show with, “When did you arrive?”
The missionaries you meet at church have a lot going through their minds. If they are like me when I returned on furlough, they’re wondering if anyone remembers them. And will they remember anyone themselves!
So, when you greet them with “Welcome back,” you’re doing more than greeting them. You’re encouraging them with the fact that you remember them and know who they are. In that one line, they hear an affirmation of their hopes and a calming of their fears.
Now you may have forgotten their names, their ministry, or even where they serve overseas. You might feel like you should confess that, but don’t!
No, if all you say is “Welcome back,” that is great! You have encouraged the missionaries and started their visit at your church on the right foot.
But if you know them and what to say more, here’s what to say next.
2. We really appreciate your ministry.
As you see the glimmer in their eyes, remain focused and controlled. Just say five more words, “We really appreciate your ministry.”
This simple sentence will deepen the encouragement as the missionary basks in the thought that you not only know they are missionaries, but you know about their ministry! And you appreciate it! Wow!
Most people don’t even know what they do, but you know and appreciate it!
At this moment, unless you know their ministry really well, and even know their names and where they live overseas, you should not say any more.
Just move on and let them bask in the encouragement of these first two phrases. But there is one reason to say more.
If you have been praying for them, then you are ready to say a third and even more encouraging sentence.
3. We’ve been praying for you.
If you, your Bible study, or even your congregation on Sundays have been praying for the missionary you bumped into, then encourage them with a simple, “We’ve been praying for you.”
When your missionaries hear these words, they will be overwhelmed with a sensation of love and support. They will stand still in their tracks, savoring your words.
You probably haven’t stopped recently to consider all the times a missionary asks for prayer. Or how many prayer requests they write. You don’t hand out hundreds of prayer cards, wondering how many of them will spend their days in the back of a Bible or in a forgotten drawer.
Missionaries take great solace in knowing that God hears their prayers. But they also wonder if anyone else prays for them.
Too often, they hear, “We’ll be praying for you!” But they don’t hear often enough, “We’ve been praying for you.”
With this third encouragement, you have answered one of their deepest questions. Not just does anyone know them. Not just does anyone know what their ministry is. But does anyone care enough to pray for them. And you answered it with a clear, affirming, uncoerced, “Yes.”
Now it’s time to move along, before they fully recover from your wave of encouragement! But if you are ready to ask the following question, you might consider lingering.
4. Do you need help with anything?
If you have the time and a willingness to do more for the missionaries you bumped into, you might ask, “Do you need help with anything?”
Now it might be their first time at your church in a long time. They may have a bad tire and just made it to the parking lot before it went completely flat. They may be rushing to speak in a room in the furthest recesses of your church.
Or they might be completely at home, just on their way to get a seat for the main service.
As with the previous statements, keep it short and focused. Don’t suggest possible needs. Just ask and see what they say. If they say, “No, not really,” then just smile and say again, “Welcome back.”
But what if you have time to talk? What if you are standing with cups of coffee during a break? What if you are sitting next to each other in a pew?
Here’s a fifth question. It’s perhaps the most significant question you could ask, if you truly want to ministry at that moment.
5. How are you doing?
If you want to go even further, asking “How are you doing?” will open many doors. But before you ask it, you have to be prepared to listen. And only listen. And listen as long as they need.
Missionaries have years of experiences, countless testimonies to God’s grace, stories of answered prayers, and more. Yet, sadly, they have very few opportunities to share these.
To make it worse, they may have spent a few years getting accustomed to life in a culture where people spend a lot of time talking to each other. They may have left behind new friends and neighbors who take the time to listen, and they have grown themselves in their skills of listening and lending a listening ear.
But when they return home, they return to their own culture to realize, perhaps for the first time, theirs is a culture with little listening. Few are interested in their ministry and experiences for more than a few seconds.
So, when you ask about them and how they are doing, and then just listen, they will open up, share countless things, and leave incredibly blessed.
But don’t ask this last question if you don’t have time to listen!
You’ve done well with the first four. But if you can spend time just listening, it will be an unforgettable experience for the missionary. They may forget your name or the reason they visited your church, but they won’t forget how encouraged they were by their time with you.
Less is more
I hope you will greet every missionary with a warm smile and heart-felt “Welcome back!”
And remember that the more you say, the more you might detract from the warmth and focus of that simple statement. You’ll probably have other opportunities to say more, so focus on the most encouraging things first!
They will be blessed more than you could imagine!