I appreciate that Tony Jones has shared lots of missionary prayer requests with us. As an emeritus IMB missionary (Latin for “has been”), let me share some suggestions about how to pray for missionaries. Missionary prayer requests are not new; in fact, they go back to the Apostle Paul. Here is his:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 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. (Col 4:2-4, ESV)
I can remember attending Wednesday night prayer meeting at the First Baptist Church in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The pastor would ask for prayer requests, and that marked the beginning of the “organ recital,” the listing of the all the members’ physical organs that needed prayer. When the organ recital wound down, Miss Nellie Stewart, the president of the WMU, would exclaim, “Don’t forget to pray for the missionaries.” Dutifully, the deacon who led in prayer would say, “And, Lord, bless all the missionaries.” I don’t recall that anyone ever called a missionary’s name. So, how can we pray better?
Pray for the Missionary’s Personal Needs
Paul asked, “pray for us.” Please, do mention missionaries by name. Probably, you know missionaries personally. If not, the IMB Prayer Office will be delighted to help you adopt a missionary to support in prayer. Pray for the missionary’s health. Missionaries are still exposed to many tropical diseases, so pray for their health. Pray for their safety. Travel by automobile is quite dangerous in many countries. Two dear friends of mine—Randy and Cathy Arnett—died in a crash in central Africa two years ago. Some missionaries serve in war-torn nations, and their lives are sometimes in danger. Young missionaries must adjust to home-schooling their children. Middle-aged missionaries often send their children off to boarding school for high school and then to college in the USA. These separations stress both parents and children. Older missionaries experience stress because of aging parents back in the USA. It is hard to care for an aging parent if you live 8,000 miles away.
Pray for the Missionary’s Peace
Paul requested prayers for open doors. When I studied missions at Southwestern Seminary in the 1970s, we did not dream that the IMB would be able to send missionaries to Russia and Eastern Europe. In those days all those countries were behind the “Iron Curtain,” and missionaries could not live there. Yet, God’s people prayed, and the Iron Curtain was torn down in 1989. We need to pray that God will tear down the religious and political walls that keep our missionaries from working openly in Muslim and Communist countries. We should pray for political stability in the countries where our missionaries work. Civil wars and tribal conflicts make evangelism and church planting difficult. We should also pray that our missionaries will find favor with government officials.
Pray for the Missionary’s Proclamation
Paul asked the believers in Colossae to pray that he would make the gospel clear. It is hard to communicate the gospel clearly in one’s mother tongue, but it is really hard to communicate spiritual truths in one’s adopted language. It is one thing to learn to buy bananas in the public market, using one’s new language; but it is challenging to communicate abstract spiritual concepts in a new language. For example, the Cebuano word for sanctification is pagpakigpabalaan. If you know new missionaries, pray that they will learn to speak their new language well. Some languages are not so hard. Our language course in the Philippines lasted seven months, and I could preach a simple sermon when I finished. However, that would NOT be true for missionaries learning Japanese or Chinese. Learning to preach in those languages takes several years. I asked a missionary friend in Taiwan how long I would have to study Chinese in order to deliver a seminary lecture. He replied, “Four years, if you were a fast learner.” Pray, too, that the new missionaries will adjust to the culture. Most new missionaries experience culture shock—the feeling of confusion and stress one feels in a new cultural setting. Pray that the new missionaries will work through culture shock quickly. Pray that the new missionaries will identify with the people in their new culture. The internet and social media are wonderful ways through which to maintain contact with family, friends, and supporters; however, some new missionaries spend too much time communicating with folks back home and not enough time relating to people in their new home. Pray that the Lord will open doors of opportunity for the gospel. Pray that the missionaries will be bold to witness for the Lord.
I remember when we served in Davao City, Philippines, my wife received a letter from a woman in Coos Bay, Oregon. Barbara responded to her, and that dear lady prayed for and corresponded with Barbara for many years. It encouraged Barbara to know that her friend prayed for her every day. Will you commit to supporting a missionary in prayer? Dave Miller posted an essay last week about the loneliness and discouragement that he and many pastors experience. That goes double for missionaries. I had a student who served in Asia, and the nearest IMB missionary was 500 miles away. Let’s be faithful to pray for our missionaries.