Leverage technology. The world is much smaller today. Fast, inexpensive, and pervasive telecommunications make keeping in touch with missionaries an everyday possibility. Because of the revolution the internet was brought about, even missionaries living in remote areas are no longer relegated to living in the far-flung corners of the world. Technologies built on top of the internet, such as VOIP (voice over internet protocol), Skype, Facebook and Twitter, provide unprecedented opportunities to connect to them.
Remember, however, that while some places are ahead of Canada with internet availability, some lag behind. You might not be able to video chat. Also, if your missionary is working in a sensitive area, their conversation with you may not be as open as if you were talking face to face. The greater problem that we faced as missionaries was the psychological distance that accompanies geographical distance. During our last term in Trinidad we had VOIP phone service. For the price of a call to London, Ontario, anyone could call us. Yet few other than family did. Why? Out of sight, out of mind perhaps.
Some missionaries will dislike me for this. I hesitate to mention it. Yet with a clear purpose and the right people this might work. Visit the field. The theme of the Stoney Creek missions conference was “I will never leave you, nor forsake you”. That’s not what a missionary needs from a visitor.
Perhaps the most revered professor at my alma mater Heritage Seminary is David Barker. He has been the most influential man in my life (other than my Dad). I was elated when he agreed to teach at our school in Trinidad. However, all of our usual housing for visiting lecturers was unavailable. Dr. Barker was going to stay at my house for two weeks. Not only would he see the school I was running, he would see my family life up close and personal. If I was concerned, Jane was agitated. Yet, David was a great guest. Not only did he fulfill his ministry responsibility, he cared for us. After dinner he pushed Jane out of the kitchen and washed dishes. He played with Luke (2 years old then) while Jane and I went on a date. His pledge was also very important to us. “Everything I see and everything you say to me will be completely confidential,” he told us. “When I’m back in Canada, I will be your biggest cheerleader. I will say nothing negative about you or your ministry.” I think that most missionaries would welcome that kind of field visit.
Welcome them “home”. Re-entry is more difficult than going. It’s not coming home, particularly for missionary kids (MKs) but also for parents. Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” It is the same of missionaries coming home, they have changed and so has the place once called “home”. Aside from all the logistical issues of an international move, the cultural stress of returning “home” is a significant challenge for missionaries. Caring for them requires trying to understand this and making every effort smooth the transition.