Last month I laid out some principles of our philosophy of missions support here at MVC.  My goal is to achieve a high-percentage of support for each missionary; I’d rather support a few missionaries at a high percentage of support than throw nickels and dimes at twenty different missionaries.
    When you go onto the mission field, you’re away from home. You’re with people who are different from you – they think differently, speak differently, act differently.  Everything truly is foreign, and “foreign” can’t help but translate into uncomfortable.  I was only in the Pacific Islands teaching for three weeks, but I had no access to phones or computers, and I missed my way of life; I missed my family and friends.  I missed the personal comforts that those familiar to me could give to my soul.  I realized that I drew a lot of inner strength from my fellow Christians and the things that were comfortable to me.  That got me thinking about the needs of long term missionaries – people who faced the “foreign” every day for three or four years at a pop and had to try to get comfortable with it.  And it made me think about how easy it is for the church to send money every month, but to not really be personally involved with its own missionaries.  They come home on furlough and are guests of honor for a Sunday – but they live here every day for a year while they’re home.  What an opportunity to BLESS them – and to be blessed by them – if we’ll only take advantage of it and connect personally with those who represent Christ in our behalf around the world.
   I want to get our church – and that means our people, not our “institution” – more in touch with our missionaries.  One of the things that I’d like to see started is “circles of support” for each missionary – a small cluster of people interested in each missionary – a cluster of people that will pray regularly for a missionary and will use the technology that we have to communicate with our missionaries.  You can IM and e-mail just about anywhere in the world (Chuuk was one of the few exceptions!).  You can send pictures and videos.  You can take (and demonstrate) personal interest and care.  Can you imagine what a blessing this would be to a missionary?  Rather than feeling alone and abandoned, he’d know – not just by a few words scattered occasionally here and there – but by more regular interaction that people really do care about what he’s doing on the field, and that they care about him – and I use the masculine pronouns editorially – but missionary wives and single female missionaries need the same thing!  If we surround every missionary with ten people – say five families each – we can develop relationships by regular friendly and informal contact; not the cold, stiff contact of a letter on church stationery, but of casual and true caring from “regular folks.”  Through this we can build our own understanding of missions and our own connection to missions; we can become liaisons for that missionary to the rest of the church, conveying his needs, his successes, his struggles.  Such relationships also mean that when the missionary comes home from furlough he can feel he’s a part of us; he’s already got a circle of friends that really care.  He doesn’t have to be assigned by the “hospitality committee” to some random person’s home for a meal when he’s here preaching during furlough (or worse, be sent out to dinner at a local restaurant with the pastor).  Instead he’ll have friends familiar with his work, people that he can talk to, people he can let his hair down with.  I think that’s good for our church and for the missionary.  (Anybody interested in heading up these circles of support?  Get in touch with me!)
   That brings me to one final thought.  I think our people would be more prone to get involved with missionaries at these more significant levels if they knew that missionary (or does Jesus’ statement about a prophet being without honor in his own country apply here too?)  Many missionaries that contact me got my name off of a Christian mailing list; they don’t know me or our church from “Adam;”  they’re just looking for Christians that will pray and send money so they can get on with their work.  They all have worthy missions, and I don’t mind inviting them to come.  But we have a number of local people – friends and family members of our own congregation, and even a few from our own congregation – who serve the Lord in various mission fields, and some of them are looking for support.  And I’m thinking that perhaps seeking to support them first will do more to build our connections and our care about missions than if we bring in total strangers.  Any thoughts on that?
   I’d appreciate any response to these ideas as the elders continue to develop our missions program here at MVC…