In more than 32 years of navigating within the world of global missions and missionaries, I can honestly say that I’ve never met a missionary who wouldn’t eagerly set apart the time to meet face to face with someone who wanted to get to know them and hear about their ministry.
During the years my family and I served on the mission field, my guess is that around 80 different people took the initiative to invite me alone–or my wife and I together, to meet with them.
Every one of them told me that they wanted to get to know to us and to hear about our life and ministry on the mission field.
Having someone show that level of interest in us and our ministry was incredibly encouraging and we went in to each meeting eager to get to know the people who invited us and to share our story with them.
And yet, although we felt blessed in a variety of ways at the time we said good-bye and began the drive back to where we were staying, in many cases, we experienced the paradox of feeling blessed and discouraged at the same time.
Because more than half of the people who told us they wanted to get to know us and hear our story, would begin by asking us a great question that we were eager to answer.
But at the first pause in our answer or description of something, they would spring board from a word or phrase we used and launch in to a lengthy description of what was going on in their lives.
INTERACTIVE LISTENING PRACTICED AND RECEIVED
And because we had honed our interactive listening skills to be more like Jesus and more effective cross-cultural workers, those listening habits we had develeoped automatically kicked in.
Without consciously thinking about it, we listened intently and asked questions based on something they just said, and before all of us knew it, two hours had passed and it was time for us to leave.
Our hosts seemed starved for someone to listen to them, (because the pace of life and American culture doesn’t value), and responded very positively to our genuine interest in hearing them.
But we left having listened to them for an hour and a half, having shared about ourselves and our ministry for about thirty minutes total, and having been told by our hosts at the end of our time together how blessed and encouraged they were to get to know us.
A FURTHER DOSE OF PARADOX
And just like that, we were once again launched once again into the realm of paradox.
On the one hand, we were totally blessed to get to know them and to see the obvious source of encouragement that our interest and willingness to listen was to them.
But at the same time, although we were thankful for what we were able to share with them about our story, the short amount of time we actually had for doing so, was truthfully–less than encouraging.
Fast-forward to today.
Within the scope of the ministry God has given me these past few years, I have had a number of people ask me to describe the kind of Christian that every missionary would love to spend time with.
CHARACTERISTICS OF MISSIONARY ENCOURAGERS
Based on my own experience as a missionary, having spent hundreds of hours trying to encourage missionaries, and asking many of those missionaries to describe the type of people they love spending time with, here’s what that person is like:
1–Someone who makes them not only feel comfortable in their presence, but makes being with them so enjoyable that they can’t wait to hang out with them again.
2–Someone who demonstrates a genuine interest in the missionary through the questions they ask, the diligence with which they listen to the missionary’s responses, and who asks follow up questions that are based on what the missionary’s previous answers to their questions were.
3–Someone who doesn’t try to communicate that they know or understand what the missionary experience is like–and doesn’t bring in their own life experiences or stories in order to try and relate to the missionary.
4–Yet someone who thoughtfully and succinctly shares from their own life experiences or knowledge in response to the missionary’s inquiries.
5–And if not prompted by the missionary, knows just the right time and uses just the right length of time, to reveal their own thoughts, experiences, struggles, or victories in a way that makes them real and vulnerable, and that demonstrates a desire for a heart to heart connection with the missionary.
6–Someone who doesn’t give the missionary the impression or the “vibe” that they are spending time with them for any reason other than just to get to know them in order to deepen the relationship and be a source of encouragement.
7–Someone who takes the initiative to stay connected with the missionary in some way after their initial face to face time together.
If you’re a follower of Jesus and you love missionaries, just ask our Missionary God and He will empower you to be one of those people that missionaries LOVE to spend time with.