This the Week of Prayer for International Missions, sponsored by the Woman’s Missionary Union. I join with all our missionaries in thanking the WMU for supporting our foreign missions work with prayer and financial support. The announcement of the Week of Prayer prompted me to think about effective praying for missionaries. We all agree that prayer support is essential, but what form should it take? I remember well growing up in the First Baptist Church of Siloam Springs, Arkansas. During the Wednesday night prayer meeting, the pastor would solicit prayer requests, and the members would mention members in grief or illness. Miss Nellie Stewart, the President of our WMU, would always remind the one leading in prayer—“Don’t forget the missionaries.” So, the deacon who led the prayer would dutifully pray, “God bless all the missionaries.” Well, that kind of prayer is better than nothing, but we can do better than that, for sure. How? Here are my suggestions.
Pray for missionaries by name. If you know missionaries by name, pray for them by name. If you don’t know a missionary, the Prayer Office at the International Mission Board will help you connect with a missionary. Just go to imb.org, and contact the Prayer Office.
Pray with understanding. Learn about the missionaries and their assignment. Learn about the People Group with whom they work. Ask to be placed on their newsletter mailing list. In this way you’ll know how and for what to pray.
Pray that the missionary will learn language and culture. Missionaries must communicate abstract spiritual truth to folks who speak a different language and possess a different culture. This reality presents a great challenge. Some languages are really hard to learn—like Chinese and Japanese. Beyond that, different cultures operate according to different world views. For example, I heard Dr. Robertson McQuilkin tell about his missionary service in Japan. He said, “I preached eternal life in Christ to Japanese Buddhists for ten years and made no converts. Then I realized that for a Japanese Buddhist eternal life means eternal suffering. So, I began to preach accept Jesus Christ and you will have abundant life, and Japanese Buddhists began to come to Christ.” (A basic belief of Buddhism is that life is suffering. So, eternal life would mean eternal suffering.) The Apostle Paul also felt the same need. Notice what he wrote in Colossians 4:3-4:
3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (ESV)
Pray for the missionary’s safety. In recent years terrorists have killed several of our missionaries. Earlier this year two dear missionary friends of mine—Randy and Kathy Arnett—died in a car crash in southern Africa. Many of our missionaries live and minister in dangerous environments. We should pray for their safety.
Pray for the missionary’s health. When the Foreign Mission Board began its work in West Africa in 1850, the life expectancy of a missionary in that region was three years. The missionaries packed their belongings in coffins, so their bodies could be shipped home to their families in America. Thankfully, the situation is better now, but tropical diseases are still a menace. When I went to teach for a semester at the Nigerian Baptist Seminary in 2000, I had to get eleven inoculations. That was no fun; but when I arrived in Ogbomosho and saw the missionary tombstones, I was glad for all the shots I received.
Pray for open doors. The Apostle Paul mentioned this in his letter to the Colossians. There are still many countries, mainly Muslim and Communist, that try to prevent their people from hearing the gospel. We should pray that God will break down the wall of Islam just as He tore down the Iron Curtain between western and eastern Europe.
Good response. Pray that people will respond to the gospel. Missionaries long to see their people group come to Christ. Pray for a great harvest among their people.
So, yes, give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, but also pray for our missionaries. They need both kinds of support.
Mark Terry is a former missionary with our IMB and professor of missions. His regular contributions here are appreciated.