An open letter to the Church concerning missionary care

As missionaries embark on journeys that can be financially, emotionally and spiritually distressing, it is important for the Church to love and care for them.
A woman reads a book on a lake shore in Bangkok, Thailand.
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An open letter to the Church concerning missionary care

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the first of three articles on the importance of missionary care. 

By Marianne Colee
Somerville, Alabama

I have been pondering the importance of missionary care and the reality of compassion fatigue for a while now. We were on the missions field just under three years. I can see why you might think my thoughts probably do not carry as much weight as friends who have been on the field for five, eight, 12, 17, and 30 years, but I heard their stories and experienced the field in a small way as well.

First, let’s talk about missionary care. Earlier this year, I wanted our organization to host a missionary care day for our community with the help of a missions team that was coming from the States. I knew what I wanted to happen.

Most of the missionaries in our community were running on fumes. I wanted my friends who were worn out, exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged, burnt out, tired of thinking so much, tired of thoughts that what they were doing wasn’t enough, tired of culture, tired of the hard, tired of poverty, tired of solo parenting because one parent is gone a lot for ministry, tired of being single and having to do everything themselves, tired of their kids missing out or not fitting in.

I wanted them to be filled. I wanted them to have their strength renewed. I wanted them to walk in confidence and have joy restored in their hearts. I wanted their fellowship to be life-giving to each other. I wanted them to feel heard, seen, protected and spoken to.

God’s compassion

I laid down to take a rest one afternoon, thinking/praying about the care day and a verse came to mind. Isaiah 42:3.

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out….”  

It was like the stars exploded. God’s compassion for those who are worn out, exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged, burnt out is on full display in that verse. God has compassion on people who are experiencing compassion fatigue. What a beautiful picture. That verse was exactly what I needed to articulate my hope for this missionary care day! But my hopes played out differently than I imagined. I wasn’t even there for the last two weeks of planning, and I missed out on the day altogether. Our family had to leave unexpectedly for the States, not sure when (or if) we would return.

Honestly, I was a little embarrassed — had I heard God wrong? Was this desire in my heart off? Was what I was trying to do of me and not of Him? Was it not needed? Was I out of my lane? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. Our team on the ground and the missions team that was visiting planned a wonderful day for our missionary community. That day was what was needed.

Words of life

I still feel very strongly about missionary care. I hope I always do. I hope that I can do something about it. I feel very unqualified, very uneducated and have no credentials. Only a strong desire to provide space for my friends to be heard, seen, protected and to have words of life spoken to them.

This need of missionary care is not a one person, one organization, one church show. It takes many, many men and women, churches and organizations to meet this deep need.

In Part 2, we’ll talk about compassion fatigue and how to combat it.