When we’re on furlough and giving presentations about our ministry as missionaries, we always end with, “Does anyone have any questions?”
A hand goes up. And the question is inevitable.
“How can we pray for you?” Every. Single. Time.
Sometimes someone will ask to know more about our ministry. Or a person we are investing in. Or maybe, “What has God been teaching you?”
The questions, almost always, are spiritual.
This is not a bad thing. Of course, we’re thrilled people want to pray for us. We are excited if they are excited about our ministry. But do you know what we long to be asked?
The non-spiritual questions.
Sure, our ministry is extremely important to us. But that’s only part of the picture of our lives overseas. We moved to the other side of the world. We landed in a country that most people only see on the news. We had to learn new ways of shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping, educating, traveling, parenting, and talking. It was not easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
We are different people now. And it is bursting out of us. We might look the same on the outside, but we are totally different on the inside. And you know what? We long to talk about it with you. We desperately want you to be interested in all of our other life, not just the spiritual parts.
My husband and I have been missionaries for 13 years now. And I must admit: The people back home who ask us the non-spiritual questions are few and far between. In fact, they are so rare that they stand out in my memory by name.
I’m not sure why there are so few people who ask the non-spiritual questions. I think that sometimes, folks just don’t know where to start. Or maybe they think that they already should know all those things and they don’t want to look stupid. Or maybe they just assume that we don’t really want to talk about such mundane things. (After all, we’re super spiritual…right?)
So let me just re-iterate: Please, ask us the non-spiritual questions. We missionaries would love to answer them.
Not sure where to start?
That’s easy. Start with what you are interested in.
Are you into technology? Then ask about the part that technology plays in your missionary’s country. Ask about internet speed. Ask about cell phones. Ask how technology is shaping the culture.
Are you into fashion? Then ask about styles and fabric and cultural modesty standards in your missionary’s country. Ask how your missionary manages to blend her own sense of fashion into her new culture.
Are you a foodie? Then ask about grocery shopping and cooking. Ask about whole food options, if you are into that. Ask about the struggles your missionary has faced in adapting to a new diet.
Are you a mom? Then ask your (mom) missionary about what it’s like to raise kids overseas. Ask about what her kids have struggled with and how this new life has changed them.
Are you fascinated by politics? Then ask about the government of your missionary’s country. Ask how America’s politics (or your home country) has affected your missionary’s country.
I think you get the idea. How about health care? Transportation? Housing? Architecture? Language? The sky is the limit. You will learn something new, and you will make your missionary friend’s day just by being interested.
Now, it is true that not all these questions will be appropriate during a group presentation. But when you are one-on-one with your friend, or you have her family over for dinner, or when you are responding by email to their newsletters, please, ask the non-spiritual questions!
And if you know your particular missionary really well? Then don’t be afraid to go deeper. All missionaries need someone in their lives who is asking them about their marriage, their emotional state, the needs of their kids, and their walk with God. Just keep in mind: Don’t ask the deep questions if you are not ready to be a safe place. Don’t ask these questions unless you are prepared to be entirely confidential. Most people don’t have their job on the line if they confess to marriage problems or depression—but missionaries often do. This makes them terrified to share openly about the hard issues. Be a safe place—and work together with your friend if you think someone else needs to be brought into the conversation.
So yes—if it’s the right time and place and you are the right person—then go deep. But asking about the everyday stuff can be just as important. Being interested in your friend’s life overseas is one of the absolute best ways of showing your love.
You know who are our favorite groups to talk to back home? Children. They have no inhibitions! We get asked: “Do you ride elephants? Do you eat bugs?” We absolutely love it. Sometimes we wonder, Do the adults think these things too, but are too afraid to ask? If that’s the case, then today I give you full permission: Ask about elephants and bugs. You will make your missionary friend’s day.