We spent February, March, and half of April in the U.S. Most of that time we were meeting with supporters and trying to find new people to partner with us in prayer and finances. Every time I return to the States, I'm surprised and blessed by the generosity of our community there. Often, people think they have to write a check in order to support missions. And if they're not in a spot where they have extra cash around, they don't feel like they can be involved. But I thought I would share in this space some of the ways we were blessed that didn't include cash. Maybe you can use one of these ideas in the future when you want to help others but don't have money to give. Services
This year, we were blown away when a friend of ours who is an ophthalmologist said to us, "If anyone in your family ever needs an eye exam, let me know. I can do it for free." We took him up on the offer and Brandon got a new glasses prescription, which saved us over $100 right then and there.
Do you have a skill or expertise that a missionary might benefit from? Then offer it to them! Most probably won't come out and ask you to help, since they don't want to take advantage of people. But it can be hugely helpful! Are you an accountant? Offer to file a missionary's taxes. A Web designer? Help host or design a Web site for a missionary. Aromatherapist? Give some essential oils to a missionary. A doctor? Let the missionary know you can help with medical questions while they are around. These are just a few ideas.
Housing and car for furlough
On this trip, we only had to pay for a hotel one night of the entire 2 1/2 months. Friends and family opened their homes to us for the rest of the time. I know it can be inconvenient to have people staying with you (especially if they have kids), but this sacrifice can be a huge benefit to missionaries. Often they are still paying rent on their home in their host country and can't afford to also pay for housing in the U.S.
If you have a guest house or the like it can be even better. Often missionaries do end up spending tons of time staying in other people's homes, and having their own space for a bit can be a lifesaver. This time around, someone offered us their above-the-garage apartment for almost two weeks and it felt so luxurious!
One thing that I consistently hear is hard for missionaries to get when they are on furlough is a vehicle. People rarely want to lend out their cars (sometimes for months on end), or when they do it's because it's a very unreliable vehicle that might break at any moment. Renting a car is crazy expensive though! So lending out a car to a missionary is monumental. If you can't do that, you could also offer to find a local used car for the missionary to buy when they arrive and then help them sell it when they leave. This would serve people really well, especially when they are on furlough for more than a few months.
Definitely check with the missionary to see what kind of airline miles they need, but if you can transfer some of your unused airline miles to one of the alliances they use it can save them big bucks. We spend a pretty large portion of our budget on travel, so anything here helps. The same goes for free hotel stays that you may not be able to use.
This category has two parts. First, because missionaries live so far from friends and family, they actually spend a lot of time on computers and smart phones staying up to date with them. This fact actually surprised Brandon and I. When we first moved to Cape Town, we sold our iPhones before we left and bought cheapo Nokias when we arrived. But we soon discovered that those phones weren't the luxuries we thought they were, they were actually fantastic tools to connect with locals and overseas family alike. So all that being said, smart phones and computers are still quite expensive. If you upgrade to a new phone or computer, consider contacting a missionary you know to see if they could use your old one. I say to contact them first because not every phone will work overseas (it needs to be able to be unlocked and have a sim card that can be switched out).
The second aspect of this category is that often electronics have better resale values overseas than they do in America. I am not sure about every device, but I know that Apple computers and phones sell for much more in Africa. So much so that Brandon is able to sell his two-year-old computer here and buy a brand new one in the U.S. for the same price. If you have a several-year-old Apple product in the U.S. you aren't using, you could give it to a missionary to resell for the profit.
Host an event
This one is a big deal. If you aren't in a place where you can financially support a missionary, but still want to help them out, then host an event for them. In February, a family friend hosted an amazing dinner party for us. She invited a few people she knew, and she allowed us to invite a few other people that we knew. We mingled and ate for a while, and then we shared about our work and showed pictures and video. We received a really great response from the people who attended, almost all of whom we would not have gotten face-to-face time with otherwise.
One of the things that made this event work really well was because people other than us invited people to the event. Even the ones we knew already, my mom actually invited personally. We tried to host an event ourselves once that pretty much no one attended. The ones that go well are advocated for by the hosts. If you don't feel like you can promote the event yourself, however, it can still be great to just open your home. I would recommend then teaming up with someone else locally who can help promote the event with their network. It's hard for the missionaries to promote it when they don't live in town and may only be passing through.
Don't have a home you feel like will accommodate something like that? No big deal. We also had someone organize a get together at a park, and once someone just invited a few of their friends out to dinner with us.
So why was I so excited about these events? People often aren't comfortable setting up a one-on-one meeting with these missionaries they've never met, but are cool with coming to a group event. It provides us opportunities to connect with people who may be interested in our work that we don't yet know.