One of the things that I love about being on home assignment is the questions that people ask. When we are thousands of miles away on the mission field, there are some questions that people wonder about but wouldn’t email us or call us to ask. But when you see people face to face, questions come up that would otherwise remain unspoken.
We were recently asked, in so many words, “Is it really cost effective to send American missionaries? It would seem to be better stewardship of God’s money to support many native workers for the same amount that it costs to send you.” The woman who asked was very concerned that she didn’t hurt us as she knows that our missionary call is very close to our heart. But it was a nagging question that she had been thinking about and she wants to be a good steward of the resources that God has given to her.
It was admittedly an uncomfortable and awkward question. But it was a good question. It is the kind of question that we want people to be bold enough to ask. But “Why?” Why would we want people to question our ministry, and the how and why of what we do? Because if people never ask, then we never have a chance to give them an explanation. Lingering doubts would remain in their minds, and we would blissfully and ignorantly carry on, thinking that we are all on the same page.
The mission field is a strange place where the dynamics of life and ministry are not quite the same as they are at home. So often times missionaries do things that just wouldn’t happen at home. And when those different things show up in prayer letters, people may wonder about them, and even doubt whether their missionaries are on the right track. But most people will not send an email or pick up the telephone to call halfway around the world to say, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I read your prayer letter and was wondering why on earth you would do ministry that way?”
I wonder if one of the reasons that churches and other supporters suddenly drop a particular missionary (or type of ministry) is because they did not not ask the awkward questions. They didn’t ask, and the missionaries thus had no opportunity to reply or explain themselves. And then one day the missionaries notice that so-and-so or such-and-such church has stopped giving. “Did we do something wrong? Do they not like us anymore?” It is hard to know and even more awkward, even inappropriate, to ask, “So, uh, why did you stop supporting us?”
But with awkward questions, there is great opportunity. An opportunity to build mutual understanding and greater trust. People are generally more supportive and enthusiastic for people and things that they understand. When we and our supporters (and friends and family) can talk together about what we do as missionaries and why we do it, then there is great potential for a closer relationship between us. Of course, there is always the possibility that our supporters won’t agree with our explanation and we eventually part ways. But on the other hand, we may be able to satisfactorily answer their doubts and questions, and a closer friendship and partnership in mission may result.
If you support a missionary, either prayerfully or in financial giving, and you have questions or doubts about their ministry or what it is “really like” “out there”, please ask them. Be kind. Be gracious. But do ask. Both you and they may learn a lot in the process and grow closer because of it.