COVID-19 has upended many plans. From vacations to graduations and everything in between, the global pandemic has left few events or lives intact. One group of people whom COVID-19 has profoundly impacted is missionaries. Many missionaries have had to shelter in place and quarantine in their host countries. Their lives were put on pause, and missionaries tried to find creative means to continue ministry.
As more time passes, many missionaries find themselves unexpectedly back in their countries of origin. While many might assume “coming home” is nothing but fun, many, if not most, missionaries are standing in a now unfamiliar place without the blessing of goodbyes to friends or much time to pack. Many of these missionaries also had to make this return without knowing when, if ever, they would be able to return to their home and place of service.
My family went through something similar when we had to leave the field abruptly due to health issues in our family. A quick return to the states helped us address our son’s health, but also took us away from a country and people whom we love. Having walked through similar circumstances, here is how I would suggest we pray for missionaries who have been unexpectedly displaced:
Pray that they feel the freedom to grieve.
Praying for someone to grieve might seem morbid, but being ripped out of your life and ministry is traumatic and hurtful. Pray that these missionaries would give themselves the freedom to feel and express their grief.
It is easy to shut down emotions like grief in the name of moving on or “trusting the Lord.” Grief is not a denial of faith in the Lord; instead, expressing our grief to the Lord says that we acknowledge He is big enough to handle it. If we do not acknowledge our weakness, we rob ourselves the opportunity to see His strength.
Pray for trusted listeners.
Returning missionaries often feel out of place in their home country. This home country is not really home anymore! The missionary is changed, and her old friends have changed. Everything is different.
On top of this reverse culture shock, missionaries have already undergone trauma and pain — pandemics and forced relocations aside — that are hard to express to someone who has not walked in those shoes. Ask God to provide safe friends, church members, even counselors, who will listen, mourn with those who mourn, and point towards Christ — the incarnate One who shares in our sufferings.
Pray for peace.
Missionary life is uncertain by nature. However, the complete chaos caused by COVID-19 means many missionaries have no idea when they will be able to return to their place of service. Pray that the Lord would give them peace that passes understanding. Ask also that the Lord would make clear the next good works He has prepared for them.
Pray for spiritual intimacy and growth.
Unexpected changes often leave us open to stagnancy or aimlessness in our walks with the Lord. Removed from ministry that can give meaning and identity (and not always in healthy ways), missionaries can feel far from God’s presence. Ask that the Lord would fill these missionaries with knowledge of His steadfast love. Ask that this time would be the beginning of a deeper walk with the Lord.
We know that the sudden displacement of missionaries did not surprise the Lord. Even where grief springs up, the Lord is at work. Missionaries being displaced does not mean disciples are not being made and churches are not starting. Many missionaries remain on the field.
Around the world, local churches and believers are faithfully meeting needs and sharing hope. Displaced missionaries and the Southern Baptists who sent them also find the peoples of the world all around us. In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, for example, there are more than 400 people groups, of which more than 100 are unreached with the Gospel.
As we pray for these missionaries, let’s also pray that the Lord would use us to make disciples of the nations around us. Also, consider asking if your church or association knows of any missionaries who have returned to your area. Consider writing them a note or dropping off a meal to let them know you are praying for them.
As it is safe and permissible to do so, ask some of these missionaries to teach you about their people and go with them to share the Gospel with internationals. Let’s pray with our brothers and sisters and join them in making disciples of all peoples!
—Samuel Brittain, who previously served in South Asia, is associate director of the World Missions Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.