What Would You Want From a Church Visit?

by Amy Young on March 14, 2016

ALOS March 2016

I have been given an exciting opportunity and I would like to extend it to you. A friend of mine is the missions director for his church and he sent me the following email:

“One of my goals is to help our pastoral staff and elders be better contributors in the lives of our missionaries. From July 2016- June 2017 I want to begin sending these people (pastors and elders) on missionary visits. Some of them would do a fine job, others have some great areas of opportunity, but all of us could learn something about connecting below the surface with our missionaries. Do you do training for this?”

First of all, doesn’t it stir a part of you deep down that a church would be willing to not only visit you, but invest in professional training before sending staff out to visit you? If you haven’t yet seen Dave Lewis’ interesting discussion on Partnership versus Sponsorship, his article is helpful in having this discussion.

I could also like to add that I believe many churches are well-intentioned but do not know what to do or how to move from sponsorship to partnership. This is why I’m excited we have been given this opportunity. By brainstorming together, we can create resources for both parties (the missionary and the church) to foster more partnerships.

Do you view your sending and supporting churches as partners or sponsors? What would you like for them to be? What would that look like to you?

I have to admit, when I reflect back over the more than two decade relationship I’ve had with my sending churches, I have mixed feelings about someone coming to visit me. I have good relationships with all and know they care for me.  The main criteria as I served overseas was that I was with an agency for accountability (one church had been quite burnt in two cases by people sent out without an agency). Beyond that, not much was required of me. I will also say I wrote frequent updates and believe my supporters knew I took their support seriously.

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Given this opportunity, let’s help these pastors and elders (and the other churches reading this) by casting a vision of what a visit could look like, why it matters to you and to them, and practical ideas for visits. We will also assume that some people from their church will only get one visit because they will be on the field for three or less years and others will have multiple visits over the years.

Prior to a visit:

In the months and weeks prior to a visit from your church, what would you hope for communication and expectations to look like? What are your concerns at this phase?

What training would you like for your pastor or elder to receive prior to visiting you?

 

A first visit:

A variety of factors come into play here: how well do you know the person visiting you? Assuming this will be their one and only visit to you, what would be an encouragement? What would help for you to feel the investment and overall support (not just financial) of the church? Are there ways you could help set them up to partner with you better?

What is do you hope to accomplish with this visit? How do you hope to feel at the end of it? What types of questions do you hope the person visits you asks? What questions concern or—let’s be honest—scare you?

How could both sides (you and the pastor) help this to feel less like an inspection and more relational?

 

Visit follow-up:

For this type of relationship to have long-term value and benefits, the visit is, in my opinion, not the most important part. Without follow-up, it’s really been more of a vacation or cool experience for the person visiting and another hosting of a tourist for you. So, what kind of follow-up would be beneficial? How would you like their visit to make a difference when they return how to their church? What are ideas for both sides to continue to invest in the relationship?

Subsequent visits:

In the years that follow, how could subsequent visits be of value? When you have been visited by people multiple times, what made those visits helpful? What made them more of an item on a checklist to be checked off?

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This article has a lot of questions, doesn’t it? (Ha!, there’s one more.) Feel no pressure to answer all of them. How about if you pick one or two that caught your eye and start with them. The beautiful part of a post is that as ideas come to you, you can return and answer them.

I already have several ideas I’d like to incorporate, but I don’t want to miss out on including your suggestions, examples, and desires for this kind of visit.

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About Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. Often the only words needed in life, right?! She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at The Messy Middle. The tag is “where grace and truth reside.” People tend to be drawn to grace, grace, grace OR truth, truth, truth. Either side doesn’t require much discipline, do they? Instead they foster auto-pilot living. But real life happens … in the messy middle, with both. It can be maddening, right? But also exhilarating! She also works extensively with Velvet Ashes as content creator and curator, book club host, and connection group coordinator. Her book Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service was written with you in mind. It also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook.
  • Prtroutman

    One of our greatest disappointments while on the field is a lack of correspondence/interest from our “home church”. We Are members, our tithe goes in every month and our newsletter goes out once or twice a month, but as far as we can tell we do not belong or at least are not a part of the church. A visit? Not likely!

    • So, what would you advise a church who would be interested in visiting? I’m really sorry to hear about the lack of interest in you as people!

  • I think mostly I just want those visits. I’ve said so many times when people have asked how they can get more involved or support us better: “Come visit!” I do understand that it’s difficult and expensive, but I still want them to come.

    Mostly, I would just want the time together, so that they could see what our life is like. It would also really help if they could take photos and/or video, or make notes, or… whatever, so that they could clearly share with the rest of the church. I saw another missionary who had a small team visit her, just to get to know what she’s doing and prepare to present it, before they did a fundraiser for her project. That was so neat!

    • That does sound neat . . . and thank you for specific suggestions.

  • Dave Lewis

    We’ve heard of small groups going to visit “their” missionary just to encourage them. Some have had teams come just to give them an opportunity to have communion with other English speakers. We would have loved visits for any reason, but the reason is pretty important in the end.

    • Dave, what would you say are “bad” or not very helpful reasons?

      • Dave Lewis

        People who want to “help evangelize,” when they have no clue about cultural appropriateness. People who are coming to “check up” on your work when they have little or no idea what it takes to see fruit in your country. Parallel would be people who come to determine whether you are worthy of continued support, no matter what guise it is under. People who come as tourists and want a private tour guide. (I don’t mind showing people around, but not at the dictates of someone else’s agenda/schedule.) People who are primarily interested in appeasing their own conscience by being able to say they went overseas and “got involved” in some way. Sorry if all this sounds too negative or cynical; just trying to keep it succinct.

        • It doesn’t! If we can’t have frank discussions, I’m afraid the “dog and pony show” will continue. Instead, it doesn’t have to be a “show” or a source of clean-up afterwards. There IS potential for real blessing, connection, and understand to occur. But we need to advocate for it and help equip visitors :)!

  • Alicia

    I love this question! I have lots of opinions but I’ll start here–our sending church kindly sent a group every year to visit us. A couple who led this team each year was administratively gifted which always helped with the details of short-term trips. We loved their consistency–coming every year–but because they lacked some shepherding gifts, their heart ministry to us only went so deep. We treasured visitors that pursued our children, joked with them, tried to understand more of their life AND followed through after going back through emails. Visits are good and boosts to the soul, but it’s often hard for the visitors to continue friendly follow-through after they get back to the states because they are back to their own world.

    OK, I’ll sum up–visitors who love on your kids are important. When churches send a person to check up on the welfare of the missionaries, make sure they send someone with shepherding gifts (this ccef class http://www.ccef.org/courses/helping-relationships is a wonderful one to boost listening and question-asking skills) AND a woman to minister to the wife/wives. Please! May these folks want to walk through life with you in your daily routine, not wanting to be the tourist. Follow-through after the visit is important, not a business-like check-off list, but a faithful friend who continues to be concerned and to pray for the missionaries’ welfare. (I’ll stop my ramble here! This is a topic close to my heart!)

    • No need to stop :)! Those subjects are near to are hearts are important to share on! (I love the tip “please don’t be a tourist.”)

  • Brazil Nut

    Hi. I’m a long-term missionary working with at-risk youth Brazil (over 20 years so far). Your questions about church visits got me thinking – maybe not the least because I’m so far from my home country that I’ve actually had very few visits over the decades, and none from church leadership.

    As I live and work in a Rio de Janeiro slum, where shootouts sometimes occur and all sorts of things can go wrong, there are some specific safety and security issues here which maybe wouldn’t apply to the majority of missionaries.

    Anyway, here are my answers to most of the questions (sorry that this turned out to be such a long post).

    1. In the months and weeks prior to a visit from your church, what would you hope for communication and expectations to look like? What are your concerns at this phase? What training would you like for your pastor or elder to receive prior to visiting you?

    First off, communication is everything.

    It’s important to settle on dates that will work for both sides and then stay with them (I remember years ago when a member of my church decided to visit while I was away on a ministry trip, and had to go to another ministry instead!).

    Also, logistics can be a major issue, especially in a slum, and it’s important to not bring more people than the missionaries can feed and house (which also happened to me).

    The visitors also need to understand the importance of the specific safety and security issues, whether that’s the rules about where not to take photos because they may be filming gang members or why they can’t wander around alone at night, or the need to swamp oneself in insect repellent while we’re in the middle of a dengue epidemic.

    It would also be important for them to understand what equipment they need to bring, and what would just be extra weight (like the team that walked around with desert-survival water bottles, which attracted considerable comments from the locals!). They also need to understand the costs and practicalities of transportation, such as why they shouldn’t hire a luxury tourist bus which is too big for the streets in the slum (true story!) or to expect me to pick them all up at the airport in my car (both due to the expense and the danger of driving in Rio, especially at night).

    I’d also want to encourage them to stay long enough to make the trip worthwhile, as both the best-laid-plans, and any other sort of plan, usually do go awry here in Brazil. Also, I would to try to tactfully see if it would be possible for them to not come with any expectations as to what ministry opportunities they would get while here (although these can usually be arranged, they are often a distraction from the real work of the mission base).

    2. Assuming this will be their one and only visit to you, what would be an encouragement?

    The most important thing that a visitor could do would be to simply “hang out”.

    I don’t know if I’m a very normal missionary (and often suspect that maybe I’m not), but the vast proportion of my activity with the young people here in the slum is unstructured. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything all day (although, with so much of my time spent on things that are simple but never straightforward, like shopping, banking, and base maintenance, I’ve often felt that way), but rather that I’ll never how many kids will drop by our base, and just what they’ll end up doing (although I can guarantee that they’ll be hungry and want to eat), or when specific needs or emergencies will arise.

    It’s often so hard to try to explain to those who live overseas just what I do, and I usually look for one or two “missionary moments” to put in my monthly (i.e. bimonthly) newsletter, to make it sound like something is happening! If the visitors could stay for at least a week or two, they would start to get a feel for what actually goes on, and how we’re able to impact the kids with the presence of the Kingdom.

    The other thing that they could do, which would be very encouraging to any long-term missionary, would be to spoil them a little bit, to get them away from the work (or the slum), the needs, and the ministry opportunities. Brazil, like so many other mission fields, is a country with incredible social disparity, and while I live, minister, and try to relax in the slum, there is another side of our city that I rarely see (except as an outsider). Take them to classy restaurants, treat them to gifts or clothes that they would normally never consider purchasing, maybe pay for them to spend a few days away at a decent resort or hotel.

    And, please, be normal! Laugh, joke, eat, watch some silly series on Netflix, and please leave the super-spirituality behind. Just as the missionaries can feel intimidated by receiving a visit from their “spiritual overseers”, church leadership, especially lay leadership, could feel likewise intimidated by being around “full-time missionaries”. The best antidote for this is just being normal – chill out, goof off, relax – and you’ll all be surprised at how the real issues will come to light, and be ministered to, in a “naturally-supernatural” way.

    One final point that visitors often overlook is to find out what are the every-day products and items that your missionaries can’t get in their host country, either due to cost or availability. Here in Brazil, it’s things like peanut butter, zip-lock bags, and shaving cream which are either as scarce as hen’s teeth or ridiculously expensive. Find out what your missionary is needing or missing from home, and fill your bags up with those items, even if they seem to be such common, everyday things, and you’ll really bless their socks off!

    3. What would help for you to feel the investment and overall support (not just financial) of the church? Are there ways you could help set them up to partner with you better?

    Once again, I am convinced that communication is the key. Your missionaries need to hear from the church – not just the videos of the preaching, but the news, the notices, and, yes, (in the right sense), the gossip too!

    Like many missionaries, so much has changed for me since I got reliable internet access and a Facebook account, which allows for regular, two-way communication. I remember how it used to be when I would fire out my email newsletters and would almost never get any feedback. I understand that now, especially when somebody told me recently that my newsletter sound so “awesome” (the good ol’ “missionary moments”) that they just didn’t know what to say in reply! At least with Facebook now, people can comment on the jokes or memes that I post, and I can get much more of a normal conversation going (although I’ve probably shocked a few people with my lack of “spirituality” on Facebook at times!).

    So, I guess, if your missionary doesn’t have regular internet access, it is important the church leaders bring them up-to-date with the normal goings-on of church life, and maybe take them little notes, cards, or other expressions of interest from church members.

    If security conditions permit, and always with the orientation of the missionaries, the visitors can also help by taking photos and videos which can then be shown to the church. Despite over twenty years on the mission field, I have very few photos of myself actually doing anything, as I’m either the one taking the photos, or I’ve copied photos taken by visitors, who, for obvious reason, want to get themselves in the photos that they take back home.

    Finally, the church leaders’ visit could be a great opportunity to investigate together the practicality – and logistics – of the church sending further short-term missions teams, and to define the roles and expectations of such visits.

    4. What do you hope to accomplish with this visit?

    I think that such a visit, from the missionary’s point of view, offers the opportunity for their supporting church to start to see what they actually do, and for the leaders to catch something of their heart and vision for those people and that place.

    My experience of cross-cultural missions has been that it is so difficult to communicate what daily reality is actually like, and, in the brief moments of contact that I have with the churches when I’m back home on furlough, it is very easy to inadvertently exaggerate either the positive or the negative experiences, and give a somewhat biased picture of what life is like on the mission field. It is only as the church leaders or representatives spend time in the environment, overcoming the initial culture shock and then accompanying the daily rhythm of life and ministry, that they can truly get a feel for what really happens, which can then be communicated to supporters and intercessors back home.

    5. What types of questions do you hope the person visits you asks? What questions concern or—let’s be honest—scare you?

    I’d like to be asked questions such as: what can we do to help you, what are your specific prayer requests, and, of course, what is your bank account number for us to send more financial support, specifically for your own personal needs!

    The questions that I don’t want to hear are the ones that ask about how many kids are coming to our activities or how many “decisions for Christ” I’ve seen in the last x months, and other “church growth metrics”, which are usually totally irrelevant in our context! Also, questions as to why I’m not working with unreached people groups as Brazil is obviously in revival, are probably best left at home!

    6. How could both sides (you and the pastor) help this to feel less like an inspection and more relational?

    I think I’ve already covered this one, but it’s basically just chill-out, hang-out, and relax. True accountability is always about relationship; it is never hierarchical or positional. Hint: if your accountability structure fits neatly into an organizational chart, it’s probably not true, functional accountability!

    7. So, what kind of follow-up would be beneficial? How would you like their visit to make a difference when they return how to their church? What are ideas for both sides to continue to invest in the relationship?

    Communication, communication, communication! And, if any one promised to send photos (or, God forbid, an IPhone) to any of the kids, that they really make sure that they do it (kids have long memories). On second thoughts, forget the IPhone – even it managed to get here, I’d have to pay a fortune in taxes just to receive it (yes, even an old, second-hand, donated one).

    Also, that they really do show the photos and videos to the church, and continue the advocacy role once they arrive back home (sometimes these things seem to get forgotten upon returning to normal life).

    8. When you have been visited by people multiple times, what made those visits helpful?

    In my experience, the great teams are the ones that come without an agenda, just to serve and to help. And that remember to bless the missionaries as well as the kids, whether that’s financially or in practical ways. Teams that open their hearts and their luggage to bring out those rarely-seen but sorely missed items from home are a special blessing!

    9. What made them more of an item on a checklist to be checked off?

    The difficult teams are the ones that have their own preconceived ideas about what they will be doing, which often means that the full-time missions get dragged away from the real ministry to act as interpreters and baby-sitters for the visitors.

    Also, teams often forget the financial realities (i.e. hardships) that many long-term missionaries face, and the impact that the visit can have on their often limited funding, such as the cost of transporting them in their own cars, or being expected to take the teams to restaurants (which the missionary would not normally dine at) and to pay “their part” of the check.

    Anyway, that’s just my ramblings. Thanks for reading them!

  • Brazil Nut

    Hi. I’m a long-term missionary working with at-risk youth Brazil (over 20 years so far). Your questions about church visits got me thinking – maybe not the least because I’m so far from my home country that I’ve actually had very few visits over the decades, and none from church leadership.

    As I live and work in a Rio de Janeiro slum, where shootouts sometimes occur and all sorts of things can go wrong, there are some specific safety and security issues here which maybe wouldn’t apply to the majority of missionaries.

    Anyway, here are my answers to most of the questions (sorry that this turned out to be such a long post).

    1. In the months and weeks prior to a visit from your church, what would you hope for communication and expectations to look like? What are your concerns at this phase? What training would you like for your pastor or elder to receive prior to visiting you?

    First off, communication is everything.

    It’s important to settle on dates that will work for both sides and then stay with them (I remember years ago when a member of my church decided to visit while I was away on a ministry trip, and had to go to another ministry instead!).

    Also, logistics can be a major issue, especially in a slum, and it’s important to not bring more people than the missionaries can feed and house (which also happened to me).

    The visitors also need to understand the importance of the specific safety and security issues, whether that’s the rules about where not to take photos because they may be filming gang members or why they can’t wander around alone at night, or the need to swamp oneself in insect repellent while we’re in the middle of a dengue epidemic.

    It would also be important for them to understand what equipment they need to bring, and what would just be extra weight (like the team that walked around with desert-survival water bottles, which attracted considerable comments from the locals!). They also need to understand the costs and practicalities of transportation, such as why they shouldn’t hire a luxury tourist bus which is too big for the streets in the slum (true story!) or to expect me to pick them all up at the airport in my car (both due to the expense and the danger of driving in Rio, especially at night).

    I’d also want to encourage them to stay long enough to make the trip worthwhile, as both the best-laid-plans, and any other sort of plan, usually do go awry here in Brazil. Also, I would to try to tactfully see if it would be possible for them to not come with any expectations as to what ministry opportunities they would get while here (although these can usually be arranged, they are often a distraction from the real work of the mission base).

    2. Assuming this will be their one and only visit to you, what would be an encouragement?

    The most important thing that a visitor could do would be to simply “hang out”.

    I don’t know if I’m a very normal missionary (and often suspect that maybe I’m not), but the vast proportion of my activity with the young people here in the slum is unstructured. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything all day (although, with so much of my time spent on things that are simple but never straightforward, like shopping, banking, and base maintenance, I’ve often felt that way), but rather that I’ll never how many kids will drop by our base, and just what they’ll end up doing (although I can guarantee that they’ll be hungry and want to eat), or when specific needs or emergencies will arise.

    It’s often so hard to try to explain to those who live overseas just what I do, and I usually look for one or two “missionary moments” to put in my monthly (i.e. bimonthly) newsletter, to make it sound like something is happening! If the visitors could stay for at least a week or two, they would start to get a feel for what actually goes on, and how we’re able to impact the kids with the presence of the Kingdom.

    The other thing that they could do, which would be very encouraging to any long-term missionary, would be to spoil them a little bit, to get them away from the work (or the slum), the needs, and the ministry opportunities. Brazil, like so many other mission fields, is a country with incredible social disparity, and while I live, minister, and try to relax in the slum, there is another side of our city that I rarely see (except as an outsider). Take them to classy restaurants, treat them to gifts or clothes that they would normally never consider purchasing, maybe pay for them to spend a few days away at a decent resort or hotel.

    And, please, be normal! Laugh, joke, eat, watch some silly series on Netflix, and please leave the super-spirituality behind. Just as the missionaries can feel intimidated by receiving a visit from their “spiritual overseers”, church leadership, especially lay leadership, could feel likewise intimidated by being around “full-time missionaries”. The best antidote for this is just being normal – chill out, goof off, relax – and you’ll all be surprised at how the real issues will come to light, and be ministered to, in a “naturally-supernatural” way.

    One final point that visitors often overlook is to find out what are the every-day products and items that your missionaries can’t get in their host country, either due to cost or availability. Here in Brazil, it’s things like peanut butter, zip-lock bags, and shaving cream which are either as scarce as hen’s teeth or ridiculously expensive. Find out what your missionary is needing or missing from home, and fill your bags up with those items, even if they seem to be such common, everyday things, and you’ll really bless their socks off!

    3. What would help for you to feel the investment and overall support (not just financial) of the church? Are there ways you could help set them up to partner with you better?

    Once again, I am convinced that communication is the key. Your missionaries need to hear from the church – not just the videos of the preaching, but the news, the notices, and, yes, (in the right sense), the gossip too!

    Like many missionaries, so much has changed for me since I got reliable internet access and a Facebook account, which allows for regular, two-way communication. I remember how it used to be when I would fire out my email newsletters and would almost never get any feedback. I understand that now, especially when somebody told me recently that my newsletter sound so “awesome” (the good ol’ “missionary moments”) that they just didn’t know what to say in reply! At least with Facebook now, people can comment on the jokes or memes that I post, and I can get much more of a normal conversation going (although I’ve probably shocked a few people with my lack of “spirituality” on Facebook at times!).

    So, I guess, if your missionary doesn’t have regular internet access, it is important the church leaders bring them up-to-date with the normal goings-on of church life, and maybe take them little notes, cards, or other expressions of interest from church members.

    If security conditions permit, and always with the orientation of the missionaries, the visitors can also help by taking photos and videos which can then be shown to the church. Despite over twenty years on the mission field, I have very few photos of myself actually doing anything, as I’m either the one taking the photos, or I’ve copied photos taken by visitors, who, for obvious reason, want to get themselves in the photos that they take back home.

    Finally, the church leaders’ visit could be a great opportunity to investigate together the practicality – and logistics – of the church sending further short-term missions teams, and to define the roles and expectations of such visits.

    4. What do you hope to accomplish with this visit?

    I think that such a visit, from the missionary’s point of view, offers the opportunity for their supporting church to start to see what they actually do, and for the leaders to catch something of their heart and vision for those people and that place.

    My experience of cross-cultural missions has been that it is so difficult to communicate what daily reality is actually like, and, in the brief moments of contact that I have with the churches when I’m back home on furlough, it is very easy to inadvertently exaggerate either the positive or the negative experiences, and give a somewhat biased picture of what life is like on the mission field. It is only as the church leaders or representatives spend time in the environment, overcoming the initial culture shock and then accompanying the daily rhythm of life and ministry, that they can truly get a feel for what really happens, which can then be communicated to supporters and intercessors back home.

    5. What types of questions do you hope the person visits you asks? What questions concern or—let’s be honest—scare you?

    I’d like to be asked questions such as: what can we do to help you, what are your specific prayer requests, and, of course, what is your bank account number for us to send more financial support, specifically for your own personal needs!

    The questions that I don’t want to hear are the ones that ask about how many kids are coming to our activities or how many “decisions for Christ” I’ve seen in the last x months, and other “church growth metrics”, which are usually totally irrelevant in our context! Also, questions as to why I’m not working with unreached people groups as Brazil is obviously in revival, are probably best left at home!

    6. How could both sides (you and the pastor) help this to feel less like an inspection and more relational?

    I think I’ve already covered this one, but it’s basically just chill-out, hang-out, and relax. True accountability is always about relationship; it is never hierarchical or positional. Hint: if your accountability structure fits neatly into an organizational chart, it’s probably not true, functional accountability!

    7. So, what kind of follow-up would be beneficial? How would you like their visit to make a difference when they return how to their church? What are ideas for both sides to continue to invest in the relationship?

    Communication, communication, communication! And, if any one promised to send photos (or, God forbid, an IPhone) to any of the kids, that they really make sure that they do it (kids have long memories). On second thoughts, forget the IPhone – even it managed to get here, I’d have to pay a fortune in taxes just to receive it (yes, even an old, second-hand, donated one).

    Also, that they really do show the photos and videos to the church, and continue the advocacy role once they arrive back home (sometimes these things seem to get forgotten upon returning to normal life).

    8. When you have been visited by people multiple times, what made those visits helpful?

    In my experience, the great teams are the ones that come without an agenda, just to serve and to help. And that remember to bless the missionaries as well as the kids, whether that’s financially or in practical ways. Teams that open their hearts and their luggage to bring out those rarely-seen but sorely missed items from home are a special blessing!

    9. What made them more of an item on a checklist to be checked off?

    The difficult teams are the ones that have their own preconceived ideas about what they will be doing, which often means that the full-time missions get dragged away from the real ministry to act as interpreters and baby-sitters for the visitors.

    Also, teams often forget the financial realities (i.e. hardships) that many long-term missionaries face, and the impact that the visit can have on their often limited funding, such as the cost of transporting them in their own cars, or being expected to take the teams to restaurants (which the missionary would not normally dine at) and to pay “their part” of the check.

    Anyway, that’s just my ramblings. Thanks for reading them!

    • Brazil Nut, your name should be Brazil Jewel! Thank you for really investing in this project and helping to flesh out what a visit in a specific context (yours!) could look like. I will definitely be sharing this!

      • Brazil Nut

        Thanks. It was a fun exercise to put down some of my ideas.

  • Anisha Hopkinson

    I’m so glad you’re putting together a resource for churches and missionaries! Very helpful idea. Ok, here’s what I think…
    About a year and a half into our first term, the pastor and an elder from one of our sending churches came to visit us. They had no other agenda other than to sit with us and ask, “How are you doing? What can we do better to support you?” It was a tremendously encouraging visit because they came with very humble/serving hearts. They gave us the floor, listened well, validated our thoughts/feelings, and prayed with us. I think they did three things well –
    1) They let us set the agenda. Right from the outset they made it clear that they were coming because they love us and want to support us well. They asked if there was anything specific they wanted us to bring or prepare ahead of time, and took our requests seriously.
    2) They came with humble/servant hearts. Recognising that at about a year and a half into our first term we would be likely be struggling, they listened well and we came away feeling supported rather than judged. We got the message that they weren’t afraid of the hard time we were having and saw us as family and co-labourers (not an investment to check up on).
    3)They sent people we already knew and had been mentored/shepherded by, and these were leaders. We knew that the church took their role in “holding the ropes” seriously – they sent the Pastor! A huge bonus was that we already had relationships with these men. They’ve known and walked with us a long time.

    So yes, we loved their visit and look forward to the next time!

    • Anisha! These are three great tips! Thank you — they will be shared!

  • Lynn Pottenger

    I’ve had a couple of different groups come to visit over my 20 years here in Kenya. The best groups are those that come knowing they are learners. They come asking questions and not judging the answers they get. That last part is really hard for all of us, but so important to make missionaries want to keep having visitors. Those who judge me and the work I am doing (not knowing the culture I work in or the time demands it sometimes takes to get even simple things done) make me leery of visitors. Of they are coming on a fact finding mission to decide if they will continue to support the missionary, then be up front about that with them. Fortunately, I have had some wonderful visitors who help make up for those that are more difficult.

    The reason for the visit is very important. Did they come to encourage the missionary? Then don’t expect to be doing a lot of ministry – although a wise missionary will have them have some involvement with the ministry. Did they come to get to know the ministry? Then expect to do a variety of things that are involved with the people in their culture. One of the best groups I had came to help in a part of my ministry and they did that during the day. Throughout the day and evening, they helped with meal preparation and just spent time being real with me. We laughed together, we prayed together, they asked questions about the hard things and cried with me when it was appropriate. It might have helped if I had known them before they came, but God knit our hearts together all the same and I felt safe to share the real struggles, cultural annoyances as well as the joys and uniqueness of the culture. After the time spent in my ministry area and home, they invited me to go on a break with them before they headed home. They didn’t spring that invitation on me the week they were here, they asked before they even came if they could bless me in that way and paid not only for the place we stayed but also for my transport back home. I was able to plan to be away and was so blessed by their consideration.

    Did they come to do a project? Was it a project that the missionary or team really needed or does it promote dependence on the part of the people who receive it? Maybe it isn’t a good project. Some groups want to come and have something tangible to show for their time here and force the missionary to come up with something for them to do. Building a church or a house or holding a VBS or making desks for a school may not really be what is needed. It forces the missionary to come up with something tangible for them to do so they can be satisfied, but doesn’t really help the people or the missionary. Part of being a missionary is often not having tangible things to show supporters – maybe coming and seeing that first hand would be more beneficial than being able to go home and show people what you did. It is much harder to quantify, but is more what life is like on the mission field and I suspect also in offices and everyday life in the sending country as well. Maybe instead of tangible projects, suggest (if appropriate in the culture) that maybe they could visit some people and pray with them in their home or just spend time with some leaders in the ministry getting to know them and encouraging them. The smiles in the pictures could be the tangible thing they take back to report.

    Remind the visitors that having visitors in their home is disruptive even if it is family that you love. The same is true for missionaries. I love being hospitable and will do my best to make sure the visitors have a good time while here, but it does disrupt the normal (or abnormal yet normal) flow of my days and my ministry. When I have visitors, there aren’t hotels I can put them up in. Restaurants are not exactly available either. So, I am spending a lot of time and effort preparing for their arrival. I clean my house more than normal before they come wanting to make a good impression. I have to shop for the food that I might need to feed them sometimes 2-3 months before they come. So, when I ask if there are food allergies and no one tells me there is someone who can’t eat gluten until they get here, I can’t just run to the store and make something different for them to eat. So, let me know well in advance.

    While they are here, I must play host, tour guide, doctor, cook, cultural advisor and try to be myself and do the ministry for which I am here. I’m single so my issues might be different from those of married couples, but be aware of all the missionary/ missionaries are doing for you both before you come and while you are here. Make sure you offer to pay a per diem per person for the time you are here not just for the food you eat or the place you stay (for extra utility costs even if not in a hotel). Make sure you fully pay for the project and pay for fuel expended or translators or extra house help work that must be done while you are here. It is discouraging to the missionary to have a good time with visitors, but then be faced with how to pay for all the extra expenses that the group didn’t think about offering to pay for. Be sensitive! I have to cook a lot of things from scratch. Yes, I can produce a good American style dinner, but it took way longer to make it than it does in the West. I often make food ahead of the group and freeze it so that the preparation doesn’t take so much time. Even so, help if at all possible. Don’t wait to be asked. If you see something that needs to be done just do it or ask if you can do it.

    Remember the work of ministry is about relationship not results. Calling people into relationship with our heavenly Father and helping them as they faithfully try to follow him. When you come, focus on the relationship with your missionary/ missionaries and the people they work with. Yes, do the work or participate in the ministry, but focus on the relationships. If after you leave, you still don’t know much about them personally, then maybe you didn’t do the work of ministry very well. Spend time asking questions but also just hanging out with people. Find some time to play with them – yes even the adults. It is in relaxing and enjoying one another’s company that we get to really know people. Make time to pray with them too. Ask the tough questions and commit to praying for them even after you leave. Follow up with them. Remind them you are praying for them in specific areas. Use the knowledge you have gained about their life to pray specifically for them. Remember the culture stresses they may have mentioned or the difficult things and pray for them to see with new eyes or to experience God’s joy and peace even in the midst of the hard.

    Okay, didn’t mean to write a book, but I hope these ideas help and maybe spark other ideas in others.

    • They do!! You have voiced what probably many others have thought. I know this will help with people I’ll be working with!! This is a gift, thank you so much!

  • Disappointed

    I was on the field for 20 years and got one visitor. I would have loved to have someone just come because they love me! And to see what I do. (And it didn’t have to be church staff. Why couldn’t the church pay for someone to come who I already have a close relationship with?) I wanted them to come in the role of a learner. I wanted them to bring their curiosity (not judgment) and take pictures and then bring a report back to the church and share about what God was doing. I was deeply disappointed when the visit became more about them than about what I was involved in. Looking back, I think I was starving for connection and they seemed more interested in connecting with the children where I served than with me. It cut me to the quick. I also wanted them to bring gifts and messages from home. I wanted a connection with the church at home. I wanted to know that people were thinking of me and praying for me. That didn’t happen. After that, I thought maybe it was better not to have visitors.

    • Disappointed, I am sitting here disappointed too as I read of your experience. This is why we can and need to do better. Thank you for sharing and reminding us (ME) why this matters so very much.

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