A big, brown box sat on the floor with my name on it. It traveled all the way from the United States to Vienna, Austria, where I was living for five months to do youth ministry. My roommates and I busily arranged the last of the Christmas decorations before dinner, but when the box arrived everything stopped. This had to be something good, I thought.
I tore into the box, as carefully as my excitement would allow. Finally the tape was gone and the contents of the box were visible. “Wow! Tortilla chips, salsa, Mexican seasonings, tortillas,” I said. My family had packaged up a Mexican meal, with the exception of the meat, and put it in the mail.
Finding a good Mexican restaurant or the ingredients to cook the cuisine didn’t come easily in Austria. There is maybe half of a shelf set aside for tortilla chips, salsa and taco shells in the local grocery store. When my family heard that my roommates and I weren’t successful in cooking enchiladas (they tasted like chicken wrapped in tortillas covered in tomato sauce), they decided to step in and offer love and generosity in the form of chips, salsa and more.
They knew how much Mexican food I eat when I’m in the States, especially at this great restaurant in Colorado Springs, Jose Muldoon’s. Even though the food they sent didn’t last long, I enjoyed eating something that reminded me of home. That night my roommates and I had a fun Mexican dinner we’ll always remember. It didn’t matter how big the box or how much my parents sent, it really was about how personal they were.
Nowadays it’s probably common that you know someone serving overseas in missions. You may not connect with the culture they are in, their new daily routine or what they are learning, but you know them.
Relationships change when you put an ocean between people, but there are still creative ways you can support and encourage your friends, whether they are preparing to serve or already there.
Before You Take Off
I’ve found that there’s so much to think about when you’re preparing to go: How much time do I spend gathering a prayer and financial support team? When should I quit my job? Where will I live and what will I live on when I quit my job? I wish I could have a night to relax and not have the thought of letters, phone calls, appointments and finances on my mind.
My time preparing involved a long to-do list, and it was hard to live in the now. That’s where faithful friends came in. They’ve helped me be in the moment.
Here are a few ideas to support your friends in the field even before they get on the plane.
Work it out. If you have the extra funds or a contact at the local gym, then get your friend a temporary gym membership while he or she is still in the States. One of the best ways to relieve stress and stay healthy is to get exercise. Maybe a local gym is out of the question, but you could join your friend for outside exercise or use someone’s home gym a few evenings a week. Show your friend that you care about his or her health during this transition by helping to make this happen.
Fold and lick. Letters and more letters will be produced at your friend’s house. You may have never seen so many envelopes. Offer to help fold letters, address envelopes and even lick them. It can be a fun time with lots of laughs. And it’s a huge help. If you’re ever buying stamps and can pick up an extra book, I can guarantee your friend can always use them.
Ask, listen and pray. One of the best ways you can support someone heading into missions is to ask questions and listen. Some people need to process change and transition more than others. But who doesn’t like to talk about themselves? Offer a listening ear for your friend to share joys, fears, frustrations and needs. Take this conversation and lift this person up in prayer as often as they come to mind.
This time before leaving for another country to serve God is such an unpredictable season. Everything begins to change and take shape, while your heart is being molded, refined and readied for the next step. Take advantage of the opportunity you still have with your friend in the country to support, encourage and help as you can.
Keep In Touch
Once your missionary friend has landed in his or her new “home” country there will be many adjustments. This may mean you don’t hear from her as often as you did when she was in the States. She may be encouraged to immerse herself in the culture and limit time and contact with the U.S. It can be hard to know how to support her when you don’t know exactly what is going on in her world. Most important is to remember that even through all the changes, you do still know this person and probably have a good idea what would make her smile. Here are a few ways you can support to get you thinking:
Missing American radio? He may be tired of the music on his computer or the CDs he shipped and all he can get on the local radio is in a language he’s beginning to learn. Make a mix CD of music he might hear on one of his favorite radio stations. Create your own artwork and list the song titles.
One subscription, please. For families you might know heading overseas, a great way to support and encourage them is to offer a magazine subscription. Maybe go in with a group of people to get each member in the family a year’s subscription to a magazine of his or her choice.
Here are some encouraging words. Before I left for Austria for five months, a friend handed me a bag of cards she had ready for me. There was one for each day. Some of them were just index-sized-cards that had an inspiring quote or verse. You may not be able to send your friend with a bag of cards for every day, but you could send a package with cards to open for a week.
Discover the culture. Find out how your friend is adjusting to the culture and what she’s growing to love. Try to engage in conversation about what she’s involved in and how life is different. Encourage the positive, because it won’t be hard to point out the negative things about a country, culture or the way things are there. We know it’s hard to connect when life can be so different across the ocean, but we want to try and hope you will too.
Connect online. Technology can bring people many miles apart close together for even a few moments. Find times to connect online, maybe it’s even to listen to a sports team play on an online radio station. The conversations might not be in depth, but they will be appreciated.
I’ve been through the transition, preparation and change of moving to Austria for five months, and now I’m in the U.S. preparing to go back for four years. When I question where home is, wonder exactly when I’ll be moving (again) or how I’d ever learn German, I can be hard to love. There are pressures and stresses that sometimes I can’t even articulate to my friends. But Jesus deeply loves me right where I’m at; He loves all of us that way. As brothers and sisters in Christ we’re called to the same standard. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth, so that you have sincere love for you brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
As we fill up with God’s deep love for us, we can then give out of that abundance. Make sure that as you serve those who are called to serve in another culture, that you love sincerely and from what God has given you. Love deeply from the heart by adding a personal touch to the ways you support, encourage and give to your friends overseas.
Copyright 2008 Krishana Kraft. All rights reserved. Internat