A Hero's Welcome

In the past month, as many of us have been praying for Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol as they recover from Ebola, I have seen several comment on Kent's "risky faith." The likes of Ann Coulter and Donald Trump can't understand what would motivate a young man with a degree from medical school to "waste" it in service on the dark continent. Christians, however, understand that Kent was serving as a way of fulfilling God's call to go to all the world. As I have joined with thousands of others in praying for Kent, I have also been thinking about the church's other missionaries that (shall we be honest?) receive less attention than Kent has. All of our missionaries, state-side and abroad, make many sacrifices as they fulfill God's call to go to all the world (Mark 16:15). Their lives and examples require and demonstrate more self-denial and more sacrifice than the rest of us will ever be called to offer. So here's my question:

Do we, as the church, support these faithful men and women as we should?

From a financial perspective, it is difficult to answer this questions adequately. I know some churches that give nary a cent to missions, preferring instead to spend their budget on other things (I once served a church in East Texas that spent $1200 for TWO trash cans for their foyer). I'm in no way advocating that churches should be required to give a certain percentage of their budget to missions, but it should certainly be a budget priority.

But my greatest concern isn't about how we support missions financially. Historically, the American church has been faithful in this for the most part, and I'm proud that the church I serve currently makes missions a budget priority. No, my greatest concern is the level of SPIRITUAL and EMOTIONAL support we give to missions. Perhaps an embarrassing, personal anecdote will illustrate what I'm talking about.

Up until a year ago, my wife I and supported preachers in Ghana via a monthly donation, which I'm convinced was a worthwhile cause. The problem is that the donation was sent to a church in Florida via automatic bank draft. I never saw it or thought much about it. I can't ever remember praying for those ministers in Ghana, at least not regularly and consistently. And if one had shown up at my door one day wanting to tell me about his work and all that had been accomplished (partially) by my (far from sacrificial) generosity, I probably would have politely explained that I was very busy.

Therein, I believe, lies the problem with myself and maybe you.

In 3 John, the apostle commends his friend Gaius for sending missionaries on their way "in a manner worthy of God."

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

It is a fact that, in many of our churches and communities, our troops receive a greater welcome home than do our missionaries. Prayers for the troops are more passionately and regularly offered up from our pulpits than prayers for our missionaries. Are we supporting our missionaries EMOTIONALLY and SPIRITUALLY in the way they deserve? Do we understand that they have selflessly and sacrificially gone out for the sake of the Name? Are we showing them the same hospitality and warm welcome we would give the Lord himself? There is no question that missionaries are more critical to the advance of the Kingdom of Heaven than our men and women in the armed forces. Our missionaries deserve a hero's welcome home if anyone does.

Getting really specific, I have witnessed a very sad reality in the churches where I have served: when it is announced publicly that a missionary will be visiting and giving a report during an worship service (say, on a Sunday night), you can count on less than half the usual audience to show up. The crowd is much more sparse than normal. It's embarrassing. We'll support missions with our dollars, but don't expect us to do with with our prayers and presence.

In what ways can the church do a better job of supporting our spiritual warriors who have gone out for the sake of the Name? In a way that glorifies Christ, how can we show greater EMOTIONAL and SPIRITUAL support for our missionaries? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and let's start a conversation that brings positive change...

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