“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” — Max Lucado
It can be hard to know how to support our missionary friends. We understand life on the mission field is challenging, but sometimes we aren’t quite sure how to help. Sure, you read their updates letters and emails, but isn’t there something more practical you can do? In this concern, we often overlook our most practical resource. The best way to support the missionaries we know is through prayer.
When it comes to praying for missionaries, what do we need to keep in mind? Personally, I benefit a lot by making a list that helps me to be specific and get less distracted. Dave and Irene Lewis, former missionaries with Ethnos360 and founders of Paracletos, INC., help answer these questions with a few ideas.
Below is a suggested list of things to keep in mind during your prayers.
- Daily Struggles
- Rest & Relief
Be specific and be in touch with the missionaries you’re praying for. Once you’ve finished, it can be good to email them and let them know they have been in your prayers.
According to the Lewis’, there are three main reasons missionaries get burned out and tend to leave the field: their relationship with God, their relationships with their co-workers, and their relationship with the people to whom they’re ministering.
Something that’s easy to forget about our missionaries is their need for a strong relationship with the Lord. We focus so much on what they’re there to do that we forget that the atmosphere where they’re ministering is exhausting. Especially in cross-cultural missions, where their surroundings are completely different and they have to find a new normal. In this setting, relationships of any kind are easy to be put aside, neglected, and strained. A strong relationship with Christ is always necessary, especially when serving in another country. On the field, without the plethora of fellow believers, it’s easy to get deprived of the fellowship that we get in our church circles in America. In your prayers, pray specifically for the missionaries’ relationships with Christ and with each other as fellow believers.
Remember to pray for the relationships between missionaries and their co-workers. The need for a healthy relationship between coworkers is part of what makes both of their ministries successful. Just like anybody living in close quarters with each other, tension will occasionally rise and cause issues so be in prayer for the families who deal with these stress issues. Keeping their family in mind, pray for husbands and wives, their children, and the singles on the field.
And of course, keep in mind the relationships that the missionaries have with the people group they’re in. New culture and experiences can cause tension and confusion, both of which can bring negative impacts on the people involved. When said conflict arise, pray that the missionaries will be wise and gentle in the midst of it and for the patience required to handle the tough situations when they arrive.
Three things Irene and Dave mentioned that missionaries need prayer for during transition are relationships, language learning, and cultural sensitivity. Irene talked about how we know how to live in America but life is different “there”, meaning out on the field. She said the more different, the more difficult. Everything changes, from climate to shopping to how you pay bills to who you can talk to. Needless to say, the transition from the states to overseas is extreme, as we are so used our own way of doing things. Being set on the “American way” makes handling different and new situations frustrating at the beginning. So in your prayers recognize the difficulty of the transitions they are facing, as they adjust to their new life. Finding a new normal is tough and prayer during that transition will be a huge encouragement.
Speaking of encouragement, that’s the next thing you can pray for. The feeling of isolation is a difficult burden for missionaries to bear. Aside from prayer, the Lewis’ mentioned that sending missionaries a text or an email to let them know you are thinking of them can be very encouraging. They suggest that you share what you have prayed for, specifically, and share a verse that God has recently used to encourage you. In addition to a text or an email, sending letters is also nice – handwritten notes show that you have taken the time to think of them and offer a personalized touch that gives extra comfort to those who are far from home.
You can also ask them for specific prayer requests and let them “talk” instead of giving advice. Sometimes just listening to a missionary talk about their struggles can be a huge encouragement to them. Have open ears to hear what is going on in their lives on the field and what they’re struggling with.
Pray for the daily struggles of missionaries. Day to day life as a missionary has its own challenges. Be praying for day-to-day language learning, cultural experiences, and relationships. Each day brings new challenges, some good and some bad – remember to be praying for the discouraging days and thanking God for the good days filled with progress.
Rest & Relief
Being a missionary is not an easy task. There are so many contributing factors that contribute to exhaustion for missionaries: sickness, difficulties in relationships, various setbacks, and more. Pray for the restoration of their spirits. Being a missionary is draining and is often an overwhelming task. If breaks are not taken, it’s easy for the missionary to get worn out and leave the field prematurely. Obviously, the goal is to keep missionaries healthy on the field, so prayer for their relief and restoration is crucial.
The Impact of Prayer: A Story from the Mission Field
Thomas and Laura Scherer are Asia-Pacific missionaries with Ethnos360. They shared how prayer has impacted and encouraged them during their time serving on the field.
“When people pray for our family and the work HE is doing here in Asia-Pacific, it gives me confidence knowing that God is with me in the work and in the doing, because the way I see it, God is the initiator. You see, God, knowing all my needs before I even know my needs, then moves in the hearts of His people to pray for me and the work here, so that He would hear these prayers, answer these prayers, then move on my behalf.
“So if someone lets me know they’ve taken time to pray for our family and ministry here, it reminds and encourages me that God is actively working on my behalf and on the behalf of those He is bringing into His kingdom. How do I know He is working on my behalf? Because he has moved in His people’s hearts to intercede for me.
“It’s almost as if His blessing or encouragement is twofold. One, I become a direct recipient of others answered prayers. Secondly, just the knowledge that people are praying causes me to be expectant of God’s blessing and favor in the midst of the work.
“We are beyond grateful for our many co-laborers who have partnered with us in the work God is doing here in Asia-Pacific through their faithful prayers.”
Why is Prayer for Missionaries So Important?
Missionaries are ordinary people. It’s easy to get the idea they are invincible Christians, without doubts or struggles. But the truth is that they’re just like you and me – there’s nothing about them that makes them a superior Christian. Missionaries are simply living out their relationship with God in a different language and culture, and that’s why it’s so important to pray for our missionaries. They struggle with the same things as we do here: sickness, stress, strained relationships, exhaustion, and so much more. All these negative factors can build-up and, for a missionary on the field, it can be a recipe for discouragement – sometimes so much so that missionaries decide to pack up and head home. Dave and Irene Lewis founded their ministry for that particular reason, and focus on giving rest to missionaries who need it through their non-profit organization: Paracletos.
“Over the course of our seven and a half years in Thailand, we watched 98 coworkers leave. Some for legitimate reasons, but most not. So depleted in their souls that spiritual suicide seemed like their only option.” -Dave and Irene Lewis, Paracletos, INC.
Dave and Irene Lewis advocate for the need to relieve missionaries who are tired from the field. They emphasize the need for maintaining good spiritual health and recognize the need for relief in order to be refreshed. The Lewis’ are the faces behind Paracletos ministry, located in Aurora, Indiana. Paracletos is a ministry dedicated to caring for worn-out missionaries. Too often missionaries return home from the field before their job is completed. Together, they answered my questions on how best to pray for missionaries out on the field.
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