VISITING YOUR MISSIONARIES:
In her article Four Reasons Churches Should Visit Their Missionaries on the blog A Life Overseas, Beth Barthelemy does a fantastic job explaining the reasons why it is so important for the health of missionaries to be visited by members of their home church not to check up on them, evaluate their ministry, or lead a short-term missions team, but to connect with them, be a part of their lives for a short time, and encourage them.
A Life Overseas also has the article What to Do About Short Term Missions by Sarita Hartz on how to do short-term missions well. Much of what she recommends would be applicable to visits from a pastor or leader as well.
HOW TO BLESS MISSIONARIES WHEN VISITING THEM:
If you are going to go to all the effort and expense to make an international trip to visit the missionaries that your church supports, you want to make the most of your visit. Here are some ways you can do that. But remember, these are just ideas; what is a treat to one person would not be welcome by another, so ask the missionaries and listen to their answers!
1) Go with the right heart - to encourage and support, to be a blessing to the missionaries you are visiting. Be open to what their individual needs are and leave at home any preconceptions about what you think is best or most helpful.
2) Plan your visit for a time that is most convenient for them - whether that is when the kids are off school or when their ministry has a slow period.
3) Before you go, ask what supplies you can bring, whether for ministry or personal use, practical or just treats they miss from "home." Plan to bring an extra suitcase with you (a duffel is a good idea because when you travel home, you can fold it up and put it in your suitcase) to hold the supplies. You may want to also bring along any newly released Christian books, films, or music as the missionaries will most likely not have access to them where they are.
4) Give them an opportunity to share freely about what is going on in their lives and ministries. Often it can take several evenings of conversation for them to feel comfortable and open up. Ask informed questions that show you read their newsletters. Listen well. Try not to give advice quickly or fix what you see as a problem. Often listening without judgement and praying is most helpful.
5) But remember, not every conversation needs to be deep and meaningful. Sometimes a missionary just wants to enjoy light-hearted banter in their own language!
6) You may want to be trained in missionary debriefing before you go. Organizations which offer training can be found on the Member Care Websites page.
7) Recognise that the missionary has responsibilities and cannot be a tour guide for you. Come alongside them in their day-to-day activities, helping in any way you can whether it's attending Bible studies or prayer meetings, getting involved in outreaches they are doing or evangelism, or going grocery shopping and running errands. But be prepared to keep yourself occupied exploring their neighbourhood (if it's safe to do so) or reading a good book if they are busy with something you can't be involved in. Don't let them feel that they have to find things to do to keep you busy.
8) Do NOT treat their home as a free crash-pad while you travel around the area seeing all the sights. If you stay in their home, leave some money to cover the extra cost of food, fuel, and utilities while you are there. Missionaries are usually on an extremely tight budget, and if an extra $50 is spent on food one month, then they have that much less to spend to feed themselves the next month.
9) If you do any tourist activities while you are there, plan around the missionaries' schedule and pay for them to go along with you if they are available. Often Americans will visit a missionary and go to expensive tourist attractions that the missionaries are unable to afford. It can be a bit disheartening when all of your friends who visit go to a nearby safari park while they are in Africa, and you have lived there for years and never been able to afford the luxury. On the other hand, don't be offended if they don't want to go along to the tourist activities. They may have already been to the local tourist attraction umpteen times.
10) If they have children and they are comfortable with it, offer to babysit for the kids and pay for them to have a "date night," or offer to take the kids for a day out, so they can have a quiet, peaceful home for a day.
11) If taking the kids out or babysitting isn't an option, offer to do something special with the kids at home while the parents are there. Maybe you can keep the kids occupied with a special game, art project, science experiment, building project, or baking project to give mom and dad a bit of a break and create a special memory for the kids. Plan ahead because you may think that it would be fun to share a particular hobby, but they may not have ready access to the supplies where they are. You may need to bring any required tools or supplies with you.
12) Help out around their house - make home repairs if you are able or give their house a deep clean if they would like it.
13) Finally, consider sending one of the missionary's best friends or a family member who can't afford the trip. They may be homesick for family that they haven't seen in years, and the biggest blessing for them may be reunion with a close friend, a sibling, or an adult child who was left behind.
* A huge "thank you" to Rachel Lakatos, Jen Birkey, and all the missionaries who contributed ideas from their own experiences on the field.