Last week I shared Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz’s tips on how to start a local Parents of Missionaries group. This week, here’s something else you can do to honor and encourage parents—and other family members—of missionaries whom you know.
Why not set aside a day each year as Families of Missionaries Sunday?
On that day your church could recognize those living Stateside who have sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, sisters and brothers, and mothers and fathers who are serving abroad. It would be a time to honor them, show your appreciation for their sacrifices, pray for them, and give legitimacy to the grief and concern that naturally comes with having family members live far away, sometimes in non-secure areas.
Not only would this be a time set aside for FOMs in your congregation, but you could also acknowledge family members of missionaries whom you support, regardless of where those families live. And with only a little tweaking, you could include the families of other cross-cultural workers and those of military personnel serving overseas, too.
So what could you do beyond recognition and prayer? Give them a copy of Savageau and Stortz’s Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected When Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally. Give them gift certificates for a nice meal out. Help them put together and ship care packages for their family members abroad. Give grandparents recordable books to send to grandchildren (and cover the shipping, too). Have a card shower for them. (Get the children’s Sunday-school classes involved in this one.) Invite the missionaries to send notes of appreciation that you can present, or have them share by video chat. Sponsor their attendance to a POM retreat, such as the one organized by the Missions Resource Network, or hold your own retreat. Bring in a guest speaker to encourage them and educate others on what they’re experiencing.
The rest is up to your imagination, but I would offer one caveat: Don’t put the family members on stage (or on a pedestal) to share wonderful stories of faith and joy. This is a day to bless them, not the other way around. FOMs already deal with the weight of unrealistic expectations—from others and from themselves— of how they should deal with their emotions. This is not a time to add to that pressure.
And finally, I even have a suggestion for when to have Families of Missionaries Sunday. How about next month? October is Clergy Appreciation Month, and while FOMs aren’t necessarily clergy, that wouldn’t be a bad fit, especially when you understand that honoring their families honors the missionaries, as well . October also presents a great opportunity to rally around FOMs before the arrival of the holidays, a time that can be extremely difficult for them. That’s why Savageau and Stortz include a chapter in their book titled “Happy Holidays? Coping with Holiday Stress.”
Of course, October is just around the corner and maybe you need more time to prepare. Not a problem. The when isn’t so important. The how isn’t so important either. What is important is the who and the why.
(Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz, Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected when Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008)
[photo: “Eiffel Thanks,” by Lauren Manning, used under a Creative Commons license]