"As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him." - Psalm 18:30

Communication In Missions

By Roger Leonard

When Jesus gave the great commission, His intention was for it to be carried out “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Mark’s record indicates that the Lord desires “every creature” in “all the world” to hear the gospel at least once. (Mk. 16:15.) There are currently more than six and one half billion people on this earth, most of whom do not know the saving plan of God for salvation. This makes mission work one of the most needful activities for the Lord’s church today.

In our efforts to reach the lost of this world, clearly communicating with missionaries is one of the most important, but often neglected, tasks in foreign outreach. It is fairly easy for those responsible for missions in the local congregation to send financial support to missionaries in the field. Someone writes a check, puts it in an envelope, affixes a stamp, and off it goes. The senders have a sense of satisfaction that they are carrying out the great commission. And they are! But all too often this is basically the extent of the effort. Is this enough?

On the other end – in the field – faithful men and women of God work to seek and save the lost, strengthen new converts, care for benevolence needs, and keep congregations going in a good spiritual direction. Many good works may be being done; however, those who are sending support may be totally unaware of any of this.

The aim of this article is not to be critical, but to help both those who are “sent”, and those who are “senders”, do a better job of communication in missions.

Communication Responsibilities of the “Sent”

It is legitimate for missionaries to be “sent” (Rom. 10:15). By a command from the Holy Spirit, the church in Antioch of Syria was a missionary base for Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 13:1-3). At the return from the first missionary journey, they arrived in Antioch and the divine record says: “And when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). We have here an inspired example of communication between the “sent” and the “senders.” It is a divine example of responsibility from each party.

Quite often there is too little communication from those in the mission field and from those who support their work. I have heard of missionaries not being heard from for extended periods of time, yet the support continues. At times reports are regularly sent but there is a legitimate problem with the mail system; consequently, reports are not being received. At other times there are simply no reports being sent. Either way, there is a breakdown in communication.

Men and women of God who are being supported to do the Lord’s work in distant places have an obligation to report regularly to their supporters. Missionaries have made statements such as, “If I have to send reports, then my supporters do not trust me. God knows what I am doing.” God knew what Barnabas and Saul were doing, but they still reported to the church, and the Holy Spirit had Luke to write it down. There is something wrong with a missionary who refuses or neglects to send activities reports.

What some missionaries may not realize, especially foreign nationals who are not exposed to the way many North American Christians think, is that if reports do not come, then questions are raised. “What are they doing?” asks one. Another answers, “No one knows. We haven’t heard anything for several months.” If reports are being sent, it is important to make some other form of contact to be sure they are being received. Since foreign nationals do not think as we do, we should make the first move. A phone call can often solve the problem. While the Internet is not available or affordable to all missionaries, e-mail is an excellent way to communicate.

Reports should be detailed to specific points, including such data as attendance averages, evangelistic and other activities, contribution figures, conversions, etc. It is always good to include pictures whenever possible. This way the supporting leadership feels confident about how God’s money is being used. It also can keep the congregation informed and help them feel good about “their missionaries.”

To further emphasize the importance of communication from the field, like it or not, there is strong competition for mission funding. Those who communicate regularly are most likely to keep their support active. The opposite is also often true. Sending regular reports can build confidence between the missionary and the supporters, and can bolster a long-term effort.

Communication Responsibilities of the “Senders”

Is simply sending a check to some individual(s) who came by with a good work plan enough? Are they being heard from? What is being accomplished in the field? What are future plans? Naturally, several factors must be considered about what should actually be taking place in mission point(s). These would be determined by the specific needs for the Lord’s work in the area.

Whenever a congregation decides to take on a missionary, the expectations from the church and the individual(s) in the field need to be made clear. What does the supporting church leadership expect to be done? Are these expectations realistic and based on Scripture and not just what supporters expect? How often are reports expected and what is to be included in the reports? How long is the support going to be supplied? Compose a clearly stated agreement that both parties can work with.

What if the supporting church or individual determines that support is to be dropped due to lack of reports? What must be realized is that there are often problems in communication from foreign countries. Unknown to the missionary who sends regular reports by mail, the mail may not go through. Certainly what Jesus taught in the “Golden Rule” (Mt. 7:12) must apply. The men and women on the mission field are just as much our brethren as are those in the local congregation. An effort must be made to communicate to see what is going on. All too often supporters expect the missionaries to do all the correspondence and men and women in the field never hear anything unless it is a “you’re being dropped” letter. Sometimes support is dropped without any communication.

A suggestion for maintaining good communication would be to monitor reports and activities of missionaries and make notes and/or a file of the reports received throughout the year. If a breakdown in communication is evident, some form of contact should made to see what is wrong. In this age of communication with e-mail, faxes, and telephone calls, surely messages can be passed both ways. One of the best means of contact is going where the missionaries are! A face-to-face discussion, visiting with and worshiping with the local church, etc., is most informative. Many more questions can be asked and answered. The trip may reveal that the mission effort has been less fruitful than expected or a pleasant surprise, but at least there is first-hand knowledge.

Ceasing Support

What if the supporting church or individual determines that support is to be terminated due to lack of financial ability, shift in mission emphasis, disappointment, etc.? Again, treating others the way we wish to be treated is Christian love.

Mission support is typically raised in the fall of the year when budgets are being examined. Support then usually begins in January. If it is determined that support is to be discontinued, it is only fair to give the Lord’s laborer(s) sufficient time to know of the decision. To be as helpful as possible, even when support must cease, missionaries at least should be told early enough to seek some means of support while others are making budget decisions. Receiving a letter in January stating that support has been cut for that year is unfair and places an additional burden on the work of God’s servants. In many cases it may be too late to re-coop that money for that year.

The Evangelistic Value of Good Communication

Not only is good communication essential in a practical way, it also builds good will. Those who live in foreign lands often get discouraged. When this happens, their performance may suffer, which also means that the Lord’s work suffers and fewer souls are reached. One way to enhance the mission effort is by keeping the supporting congregation informed and involved. This may be done by reading summaries of reports to the church and/or posting them in the bulletin or on bulletin boards. Sending cards, pictures of local activities, and letters of appreciation is also encouraging. If there is a language barrier, take the time to get information accurately translated. These things can go far in making burdens lighter for those in the field.

Conclusion

When men and women of God decide to go into the field to make His will known to the lost, they are doing some of the greatest work in the world! Souls are taught! Souls hear and obey! Souls are saved! Congregations are planted! In a business as important as this, we must do our best in communication so that the most good can be accomplished in spreading the borders of the kingdom of God!