Helping your missionary need not be difficult
By Barbara Shoun
January 24, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY – If you want to know how to best minister to missionaries, just ask one.
That’s what David Ketchum, pastor, Pilot Knob Baptist Church, Belle, did on behalf of the Dixon Baptist Association in Bland. He received some creative, outside-the-box ideas from Missouri Missionary-in-Residence Tim Kunkel.
Kunkel said he tries to go beyond the obvious – prayer, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and Cooperative Program offerings. He encourages associations, churches and individuals to establish personal relationships with missionaries in order to make them feel really supported.
“Adopt a missionary family. Go deep with them. Find out their needs and likes,” Kunkel said.
When missionaries are on the field, it might take the form of calling or writing them on special days like anniversaries and birthdays.
Since family separations are a way of life for missionaries, Kunkel suggested supplying missionaries with phone cards. For instance, some Latin-directed food stores and restaurants sell phone cards for calling between the States and South America.
Kunkel observed that family separations get more complicated as missionaries age. The children grow up and move away to start their own homes and careers. Getting the family together is an expensive venture.
For missionaries whose children are in college, churches might enter into an “aunt and uncle” relationship, sending them care packages, inviting them for the holidays, flying them to share with the local youth group, or even giving them a trip to the field to visit mom and dad.
He suggested banking frequent flyer miles for use by missionaries. United Airlines and American Airlines, among others, have arrangements with credit card companies to credit air miles for dollars charged to the cards, and the miles are transferable. Individuals and businesses can apply for the cards, use them for their regular purchases, pay them off each month, and not incur an annual fee. Some credit card companies award 15,000 airline miles just for signing up. Obtaining a business card and a personal card will put 30,000 miles in the bank.
Frequent flyer miles were particularly helpful when Kunkel’s father-in-law died and his mother-in-law was taken ill. His wife, Iracema, was able to use frequent flyer miles to go care for her mother at a cost of $65 in fees and taxes instead of the usual $1,200.
Having your parents and children so far away “makes you feel vulnerable,” Kunkel said. With that in mind, he suggested that churches consider “filling in the gap” with missionaries’ parents.
“I have elderly parents in California, and my mother is not in good health,” Kunkel said. He said churches might be responsible for checking on parents, and doing small jobs for them, like cleaning rain gutters or taking them to the grocery store.
In fact, Kunkel’s dad fell and broke his hip while cleaning gutters and he lay on the ground for four hours until he was able to drag himself inside. “It made me feel guilty,” he said.
On another occasion, he called to check on his mother. She asked him to call 911 because his grandmother had fallen and his mother had fallen while trying to help her up. He had to call 911 from Uruguay.
“Just talking about that, I get choked up,” he said.
Just as other couples feel the stress of coping with older and younger generations at the same time, so do missionaries struggle with filial obligations. A lot of missionaries at the 20-year point derail and come home for that reason, he says.
Remembering the parents’ special days is also appreciated. Taking birthday flowers in the missionary’s name, for instance, costs about one-tenth of what it costs to send them from overseas. It would relieve missionaries’ mind if they knew their parents were being well cared for.
When a missionary comes home, there is a whole new set of needs. “One of the main needs is a car,” Kunkel said.
The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) has a list of homes across the nation where missionaries can stay. In some cases (not all), these houses also provide transportation. Kunkel said churches or associations that want to be personally involved with missionaries might think about leasing or otherwise furnishing a car and insurance, which is hard for missionaries to get. One association might provide a house and another might provide a car.
A car is provided for missionaries on the field, but when they come back home, they have to find their own transportation. Kunkel and his wife have the use of a car as Missouri Missionaries-in-Residence. That’s one reason they chose to spend the year in Missouri instead of another state.
They also bought a $600 “clunker” for Iracema to use as a second car, but they would not feel safe taking it on long trips.
Kunkel has high praise for the sensitivity the WMU has for missionary needs. For instance, the WMU of California and Northwest Baptist Convention paid for the Kunkels’ son to come home for Thanksgiving.
Individual churches have also supported the Kunkels in other thoughtful ways. They were pleasantly surprised by an overture by Tenth Street Baptist Church in Trenton.
“We had never been there, but all of a sudden we started getting checks from their VBS offerings. Recently, they voted to adopt us,” Kunkel said.
“They’re going to have an official adoption ceremony. They plan to call us on our birthdays, call our kids on their birthdays, and call from Sunday morning service occasionally for an update. We’re looking forward to establishing the relationship.”