This article was originally published on A Life Overseas. You can read it here.
When we were on home assignment and giving presentations about our ministry as ReachGlobal missionaries, we always ended with, “Does anyone have any questions?”
A hand would go up. And the question was inevitable.
“How can we pray for you?” Every. Single. Time.
Sometimes someone would ask to know more about our ministry. Or a person we were investing in. Or maybe, “What has God been teaching you?”
The questions, almost always, were spiritual.
This is not a bad thing. Of course, we were always thrilled people wanted to pray for us. We were excited if they were excited about our ministry. But you know what we longed to be asked?
The non-spiritual questions.
Other important things
Sure, every missionary’s ministry is extremely important to them. But that’s only part of the picture of life overseas.
We moved to the other side of the world. We landed in a country that most people only see on the news. We had to learn new ways of shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping, educating, traveling, parenting and talking. It was not easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
We became different people. And it was bursting out of us. We might have looked the same on the outside, but we were totally different on the inside and we longed to talk about it. Missionaries desperately want the people they meet to be interested in all of their new life, not just the spiritual parts.
My husband and I were missionaries for 16 years. And I must admit: The people back home who asked us non-spiritual questions are few and far between. In fact, they are so rare that they stand out in my memory by name.
Christin was one of them. She was from our home church, and every time we were in the States, she would invite our family to dinner. If asking questions was a talent, Christin would get first place. She wanted to know about our house, our food, our modes of transportation. She asked about medical care and what we did for fun and what we loved and hated about our lives overseas. Her curiosity was a gift. We felt seen. We felt validated.
Want to bless the socks off your missionaries? Ask the non-spiritual questions.
Where to begin
Not sure where to start? That’s easy: start with what you are interested in.
Are you into technology? Then ask about the part that technology plays in a missionary’s country. Ask about internet speed. Ask about cell phones. Ask how technology is shaping the culture.
Are you into fashion? Then ask about styles and fabric and cultural modesty standards in a missionary’s country. Ask how they manage to blend their own sense of fashion into a new culture.
Are you a foodie? Then ask about grocery shopping and cooking. Ask about whole food options, if you are into that. Ask about the struggles your missionary has faced in adapting to a new diet.
Are you a mom? Then ask about what it’s like to raise kids overseas. Ask about what their kids have struggled with and how this new life has changed them.
Are you fascinated by politics? Then ask about the government of your missionary’s country. Ask how America’s politics has affected your missionary’s country.
I think you get the idea. The sky is the limit with questions to ask someone about their new life in a new country. You will learn something new, and you will delight your missionary just by being interested.
When to ask the question
Obviously, not all these questions would be appropriate during a group presentation. But when you are one-on-one with someone or responding by email to their newsletters, get creative with your questions.
And if you know your particular missionary really well, don’t be afraid to go deeper. All missionaries need someone in their lives who ask about their marriage, their emotional state, the needs of their kids and their walk with God.
Just keep in mind: Don’t ask the deep questions if you are not ready to be a safe place. Don’t ask these questions unless you are prepared to be entirely confidential. Most people don’t have their job on the line if they confess to marriage problems or depression—but missionaries often do. This makes them terrified to share openly about the hard issues. Be a safe place—and work together with your friend if you think someone else needs to be brought into the conversation.
So yes—if it’s the right time and place and you are the right person—then go deep. But asking about the everyday stuff is just as important. Being interested in someone’s life overseas is one of the absolute best ways of showing your love.
Our favorite groups to talk to when we would come home from the field were children. They have no inhibitions! We would frequently get asked: “Do you ride elephants? Do you eat bugs?” We absolutely loved it. Sometimes we wonder, Do the adults think these things too, but are too afraid to ask? If that’s the case, then today I give you full permission: Ask about elephants and bugs. You might just make a missionary’s day.
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