I spent the summer of 2016 in the island country of Papua New Guinea, located above Australia. It was an intense time of cultural immersion while doing a tribal church-planting internship. My teammates and I spent hours and hours learning about the culture, language, church-planting, and Bible Translation. We were immersed in the world of Papua New Guinea that was so different from our lives in the western world, but our team leaders were well equipped to help us deal with culture stress and shock while we were there.
Though diving head-first into a new culture was very difficult and confusing, what I found to be even more difficult was coming back to the States. Reverse culture shock hit me hard.
I thank the Lord that I had a few very insightful friends who cared for me during the days of getting re-adjusted to life in the USA in ways that I did not realize I needed
Here are some ways that you can help a missionary while adjusting from another culture:
- Ask Real Questions
Take the time to ask missionaries real, thought-out questions. Asking about the coolest animals they’ve seen, or the craziest experience they have had is okay, but don’t be nervous to ask them more meaningful questions. One of the most helpful things that friends have done for me in the past has been to ask deep, meaningful questions about my time on the field. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the spiritual difficulties of being on the field, about their response to new culture, about what they found most challenging, how they saw the Lord’s hand at work, and many other questions that give the missionary a chance to share beyond the generic surface level of their life on the field. It shows a desire to understand what they have been through and how much you truly care.
- Give Them a Time and Space to Really Answer
If you are going to give them the gift of asking meaningful questions, give them the curtesy of taking the time to listen and trying to understand their answers. Take them out to coffee, invite them over for supper, whatever. Just give them a space with minimal distractions and ample time to talk to you about their time on the field. Providing an environment that encourages unhurried conversation and answering of questions can be a HUGE blessing to a missionary. You might be surprised how much you could learn, and how much a missionary is willing to share with you that you would never hear them talk about from a stage. Giving a patient and listening ear is a giant part in genuinely caring for a missionary.
- Ask to See Artifacts or Pictures from Their Mission
Asking to see pictures and souvenirs from their life on the field, and then taking the time to look at and appreciate them, shows an attitude of genuine caring. Letting a missionary show you pieces of their life allows them to talk you through some of their experiences, that you otherwise might understand nothing about. It also allows the missionary to verbally process their time spent on the field.
- Acknowledge Their Emotions
Any missionary who has spent time on the field is going to have seen and experienced things that you will likely never be able to fully understand, and that’s okay. Just please be gentle with their emotions, and recognize to the missionary, that even though you can’t fully understand or feel what they are going through, that you still care very much about them. Do not disregard their emotions. Chances are, they are dealing with many deep and intense emotions like confusion, doubt, grief, loneliness, desire, homesickness, and other emotions. One way to help a missionary handle their emotions well, and help them to not become bitter, is to acknowledge and respect their emotions, while being willing to walk beside them through those feelings and confusion.
- Pray for Them—Right There on the Spot.
Praying for a missionary on the spot can bring them loads of encouragement and fuel to carry on. Plus, because we all know that the chances of forgetting to pray for them later are pretty high. Yeah, it might be kind of awkward to do, but I can guarantee you that it will be a gift to that missionary. If you cannot pray for them in person, send them a text or a letter with a written prayer or a passage of Scripture. It only takes a couple of minutes to uplift a missionary in this way. Your faithful and earnest prayers are the greatest gift you can give to a missionary, whether they realize it or not.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
1 John 4:7-8