Missionaries and Counting the Cost at the Holidays
In Luke 14, Jesus warned those who would follow Him that they must first count the cost. “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) Often, when I think of counting the cost, my mind immediately goes to our missionaries. They have left home and comforts behind that those who have never heard the Gospel may hear and believe. From missing birthdays and weddings to facing illness and persecution, our missionaries have become poor in this life, that they might become rich in the life to come. For missionaries, the pains of loss and loneliness can be heavily felt around the holidays. Some have exchanged the neon lights of Christmas trees and homes full of family for the dull light of minarets and the sound of the call to prayer. They are an example of the spirit of Saint Nicholas, who used his means to serve the least and lowly. More importantly they honor the character of Christ, their Lord, who came not to be served, but to serve.
So, my encouragement would be that churches take intentional time and concerted effort to care for their missionaries this holiday season. Here are three practical ways churches can give the gift of encouragement to their missionaries this Christmas.
Gifts of Money
Like any other resource, money is a tool given to us by God, sometimes in great measure, to be stewarded as a blessing to others. In the case of Saint Nicholas, he leveraged his great wealth to bless others. Most of our missionaries are support-funded. They live without many of the luxuries we enjoy daily, like a comfortable bed or that golden-brown sauce we all love from our favorite Christian chicken establishment. A way that you might bless your missionaries is through a small financial gift to be used at their discretion. Some mission agencies allow for these “love-offering” gifts and do not require them to go through the agency itself. You might encourage a group of benevolent church members to oversee the financial collection for your missionary, or the collection may be initiated by a pastor. Either way, get the congregation involved. It also may be a good opportunity to get your missionary before your congregation and remind the congregation of the importance of missions.
Gifts of Fellowship
Though monetary gifts can be a tangible blessing to your missionaries, there is an intangible gift that your church could send them as well. Most missionaries do not hear from church members throughout the year. Think about how much changes in 12 months. Children are born, jobs change, kids go off to college, you grow physically as well as spiritually. These are all things that your missionary likely longs to know about in their own physical absence, so having church members send family updates and special prayers could be a gift much greater than a bag of gold coins. Whether families send emails, letters, or videos with life updates or prayers, missionaries miss their families, churches, and traditions. Hearing from back home means more to a missionary than we might expect.
Gifts of Presence
Though not all missionaries are alone, many are away from their closest friends and family. These are the people who know them best, watched them grow up, and have walked with them on the highest peaks and in the darkest valleys. Likewise, many frontier missionaries have not had the comfort of counsel by a pastor as there are no churches in their region. Though it may be a logistical challenge and a high financial commitment, you might consider (if possible) sending a group of families, friends, or pastors to visit your missionaries this Christmas. If access to your missionaries is not possible, a visit to a neighboring country may be a good solution. Often, when he was apart from the various churches and individuals he ministered to, Paul expressed his deep desire to be with them (see Rom. 1:11-12 and 2 Tim. 1:4). There is a unique encouragement and Gospel joy that comes with seeing those you love face-to-face.
One of my favorite Christmas hymns says:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appears.”
The longing is almost palpable, but in a world of misery and death, Christ, the true light of the world shown forth. He is the great gift we have received at Christmas. He has granted us peace with God, forgiveness of iniquities, and relief from the misery of sin. The gift we have received in Christ makes us a lavishly generous and sacrificial people. So, may we leverage our time and resources to care for our missionaries this Christmas. As Saint Nicholas said, “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”