As the summer travel season creeps up, perhaps you plan to use your hard-earned vacation days to visit a missionary. Thank you so much! Whomever you visit will probably delight in showing off their new culture, giving you a first-hand look at their ministry and catching up on news from home.
I’m sure you want to be — and will be! — a delightful houseguest. Here are some tips that hopefully will help you deliver encouragement (not embarrassment) and joy during your stay (not joy once you’ve gone).
1. Ask if there’s anything you can bring
Missionaries often keep a running list of “things I need from back home” going in their heads (or, in my case, on my refrigerator). Some items — certain medications, new ATM cards, packages of pepperoni — are best carried over by hand. Baggage restrictions are brutal these days, but do try to carve out a little space for needed items that will bless the missionary.
2. Dress appropriately
I once heard about a visitor who dressed to the nines. She accessorized her glamorous clothes with shiny necklaces and rings on most of her fingers. She looked lovely — but she spent her day complaining because so many beggars approached her, seeking a handout. Finally her husband burst out: “Well, look at how you’re dressed!”
Different cultures have different modesty standards, and you’ll want to ask your host about those. But don’t neglect to ask about socio-economic standards, too. If you hostess doesn’t wear her diamond ring because none of her national friends have one, perhaps you could slip yours off during your visit, too?
3. Expect kids to be kids
You’ve perhaps only seen your host’s children on home service, when they’re on their best behavior during church events. But now you’re in their world, and you might witness a meltdown or a sibling spat or some disrespectful speech during your visit. Changes — even little changes, like sharing their parents with a houseguest — can be emotional for little guys and gals, and they might just show their stress through not-so-stellar behavior. Give the family time and space to work through such incidents.
4. Laugh at yourself
Our pastor and his wife came to visit us, and she made the effort to pick up a few words of Russian. That was awesome! Until she kicked a gentleman on the bus, then looked him straight in the eye and very sincerely said, “Thank you.” (She meant to say, “Sorry.”) She could have died of embarrassment and felt shy and uncomfortable for the rest of her visit, but instead she laughed about it. In fact, we’re all still laughing about it, 10 years later.
5. Pay attention
We once rode a crowded bus with an English-speaking couple that couldn’t find seats near each other. The rest of the bus was silent — but they carried on their conversation, yelling to be heard from opposite ends of the bus.
Are you at a soccer game, with a roaring crowd surrounding you? Great. Feel free to turn your vocal volume up. But chances are, the people around you aren’t talking loudly. So be prepared to turn your vocal volume down — or even to endure long stints of silence in public places like buses or subways.
Paying attention extends beyond public places. When you walk into a house, does everyone else take their shoes off? Kick off your kicks, too — and hope that you wore your good socks. If you’re at church, notice where people are placing their Bibles. If no one else’s Bible is on the ground, make sure yours isn’t, either.
Basically, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Or, as the Russians say, “Don’t go to another monastery with your own rules.” Or, in Polish: “When among the crows, caw as the crows do.” Or, in Czech: “If you want to live with wolves, you must howl like them.” You get the picture.
6. Make your food preferences clear
I once made a very sweet guest stuffed peppers and fresh-baked bread for dinner. Good thing she wasn’t gluten intolerant, because she couldn’t eat peppers.
Even if food is plentiful in the place you’re visiting, it might be harder to come by than it is back home. We carried all our food home from the market by hand, and our daily trips to the store meant that we did not have a lot of options in our fridge at any one time. Of course, I’d always be happy to cook around a guest’s likes/dislikes/allergies, but I did need to know them a day or two early.
7. Realize that you’re not seeing real life
We once had a guest claim that we were on “a four-year vacation.” I about cried. Actually, after they left, I did cry. It was so discouraging! But, in retrospect, I can understand how we gave them that impression. We took time away from our ministry to show them our city. We ate out. We went to museums. We ambled through historic churches. We stopped for coffee and long chats. It was very vacation-y. But it wasn’t, by any means, our real life.
Your hosts want to show you the very best of their community. They want you to have fun and to see the sites. But make clear that you’re happy to join them in their real life, too. Ask if you can go to church with them, play with their younger kids so they can help older kids with homework, pick up something at the market, or be a conversation partner at their English club. They might say no. They might need a week that’s kind of vacation-y. But don’t leave thinking that they’re living the high life, just because they showed you the highlights.
8. Lock the bathroom door
Pretty please. Save everyone some embarrassment.
What do you think? Do those of you who have a lot of experience visiting missionaries have any other ways that you’ve found to bless your hosts? Missionaries, do you agree with these tips or do you have any to add?