The question that came up in several conversations as I talked about Caring for Missionaries at the Stoney Creek Missions Conference was “Do missionaries want care?”
I’m sure that there are some missionaries who would say an unqualified “No way!!” Some may have received used tea bags from well-meaning “supporters” while on the field. (For me, the verdict is still out on whether that’s an “urban legend” or something that really happened. Unfortunately it wouldn’t surprise me if it did, besides it makes for great MK jokes.)
What I get from most missionaries is “Yes, but…” As aptly put by a missionary friend, “Sometimes it’s hard work to let someone care for you as a missionary.” While “lone ranger” missionaries are frowned upon these days, being self-reliant is sometimes an important trait, particularly for pioneering missionaries. Living in a foreign culture far from the support network of family and friends requires a great deal of resilience.
The church’s tendency to put missionaries on pedestals also works against ready acceptance of some forms of care. Stepping off a pedestal makes for greater vulnerability. Openness and transparency are considered virtues in our society, but they are difficult to enact when distance separates us. No one wants to pour their heart and soul into a ministry with meager results, only to have a missions committee member ask, “How many dollars per soul?”, as I heard one ask many years ago. The discouragement would have been bad enough without that!
Further, caring for missionaries requires understanding and engagement by those doing the caring. Care ought not to be simply flung at a missionary expecting that they will receive it with gratitude. Missionaries face enormous obstacles to get to the field, to stay on the field and to return “home”. If there isn’t an effort to understand those, the care given may not be the care that the missionary needs.
Do missionaries want care? Yes, but save your used tea bags for the compost heap.
Update: Another skeptic about used tea bags here.