[For the purposes of this article, I use the term “missionary” to denote those who live cross-culturally and work in “formal” Christian ministry.]

Having just returned from a symposium on Missionary Care, the needs of missionaries are strongly on my mind. Some of them are obvious: prayer, partnership, support.
But I’m finding that what many missionaries truly crave (and fear) is to tell their full story—to be known as flawed and faithful, depleted and devoted human beings with the same successes, failures and yearnings others experience.
Caveat 1: These questions need to come out of an existing relationship that fosters trust and understanding. If you haven’t established that first, these questions will feel like prying.
Caveat 2: There are hundreds of questions you could ask for each of the categories below. These are merely discussion-starter suggestions.

  • Are you physically healthy?
  • What brings you joy?
  • Who are your sounding boards—the people with whom you can be vulnerable and open?
  • What are the biggest challenges in your personal, relational, spiritual and vocational life?
  • Do you make the time (even if it costs something) to be still, regroup and process?
  • How has being in full-time ministry affected your family relationships and your marriage?
  • If married, how healthy is your relationship/marriage? What would help your marriage be healthier?
  • If single, how are you managing life as a single missionary?


  • How has God been speaking to you lately?
  • Is your personal faith and walk with God being fed? How?
  • What have you learned from Him in the past few months?
  • What have you been asking God for?
  • Is there any confusion or frustration in your faith these days?
  • Are you confident that you’re where God wants you or are you questioning your presence/work there?


  • Do you feel that your child’s needs are being acknowledged and met?
  • Does your child have good, healthy friendships there?
  • Do you have any concerns about your child’s wellness or your child’s faith?
  • Are you confident that your child is safe?
  • In what way(s) do you see your child thriving?
  • Are you able to have open communication with your child on both trivial and important topics?
  • How does your child feel about living in your foreign culture?
  • Have you seen any behaviors in your child that concern you?
  • How does your child figure into your plans for the immediate and more distant future?


  • What aspect of your ministry do you enjoy the most?
  • What is the most taxing part of what you do?
  • Who advocates for you within your mission?
  • Do you feel that your superiors and colleagues understand and support you as a person?
  • Do you feel safe in your foreign home and culture?
  • Is there something (tangible and/or intangible) that would make your life easier or more fulfilling overseas?
  • What do you wish you could ask for from supporters and extended family?

old suitcases


HMA = Home Ministry Assignment. Returning to one’s passport culture to visit friends/family and often for fundraising too.

  • What are your personal needs during this time and how can we foster a context for them to be met?
  • Are unreasonable expectations being put on your schedule or on your family during HMA?
  • Would your kids like to be involved in the church and its programs and services? If so, how?
  • Are there questions you’d like the church’s missions committee or your supporters to ask?
  • Is there something about your ministry that you don’t feel comfortable sharing from the platform or in committee debriefs, but that you’d like us know?
  • Would it be helpful to have some medical check-ups while you’re here? Physical, dental, eyesight, counseling? Can we help to schedule and finance those for you?
  • Do your kids want to join teams or clubs or go to camp? Can we help you sign them up and arrange carpool rides to/from their activities?
  • What are your feelings as you prepare to head back to your ministry? What are you looking forward to and what are you dreading?

Please join the conversation!

  • Contribute your thoughts in the comments section below
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  • Pick up Of Stillness and Storm (my novel about a missionary calling gone awry) on Amazon




  1. Good stuff, Michele. So good to get this ball rolling. The body of Christ needs to be engaged at meaningful levels if we are going to stop the hemorrhage that is missionary attrition. Questions like these must become standard fare — and yes, definitely within the context of proper relationship. So, step one: build appropriate relationships. Step two: nurture those relationships with appropriate questions.

  2. “Are unreasonable expectations being put on your schedule or on your family during HMA?”
    What are unreasonable expectations? By whose definition? I think back to a co-worker who was originally sent out in the 1980’s by an American organization that had her traverse the continent for a year with the head of the organization, prior to being sent to her overseas assignment. She had 22 churches spread across both the US and Canada and they all expected her to show up every home assignment. But I don’t know that any of those geographically diverse churches ever offered to assist with her domestic North American travel costs so they could have her speak at an evening service for 30-60 minutes. I know on the return from one home assignment year, she had a nervous breakdown when she got back to her location. You can imagine that brought a different cascade of member care issues, both in the host country and the national sending organization. She was single, and struggled tremendously with these unreasonable expectations. I can’t imagine what sort of additional pressures she would have had if she was part of a couple or family. And these expectations were from the supporting churches — not ever considering her own families desire to see or spend time with her,nor individual supporters, nor that she probably needed some time to rest.

    • Anna H.

    • 9 years ago

    Those questions are fantastic. If only churches would begin to ask deeper questions of their missionaries – like those listed above. “How is Africa?” Was the most common question we got, just before “what do you eat?” and “what kind of house do you live in?” As Africa is a huge continent composed of over 40 countries, I really can’t speak to the state of it. It makes the missionary feel like a spectacle and outsider.
    One more question about HMA could be something about reverse culture shock. It was real and almost debilitating for us when we visited our passport culture. It made the first couple months of our HMA very uncomfortable for us and our kids and we longed to pack up and go home.

  3. It’s difficult to be vulnerable, but for me it’s even more difficult to not be…trying to be something I’m not – someone I’m not…that just doesn’t work for me.
    But after being on the field for 8 years, I’ve learned that most (not all) missionaries share this desire – though they don’t always feel the freedom to express it or to function in it.
    After our first trip to Africa, we were encouraged by someone very close to us, and in an authority position to NOT share our fears, failures, etc., because they would think we’re not good missionary material and they wouldn’t support us. But we couldn’t function that way. We so strongly felt God wanted us to share our struggles and how God worked in our lives because of them, that we went ahead and did so. I I can’t tell you the number of pastors and pastor’s wives who approached us with tears, thanking us for ministering to their broken and hurting hearts through our vulnerability. Yes there are people who don’t get it and who look down on us. That’s true. But there are many more who appreciate our transparency.
    One of the most difficult things for me in regards to supporters asking questions like these, is the number of times we’ve been asked similar kinds of questions, but then no one follows through with them. That’s hard. They get your hopes up that someone finally understands and wants to help you – emotionally, physically, spiritually, even financially – but then nothing happens. You don’t feel like you can remind them… I think that was almost more difficult for my kids than for us. We would encourage our children that God knows our needs and will provide what is truly needed, but then our kids (well, us too) would get a bad taste in their mouths for the local churches and Christian friends back home. We’ve sat with our pastor and our mission board in TEARS begging for understanding in certain areas; we’ve received promises for things to change – better communication. Nothing. Nothing changes. We’ve begged them to read books about Third Culture Kids so they could know how to minister to our children and know how to understand our children. Nothing. They don’t read them.
    Oh how I long for someone in the States to really hear the hurts and aches of our hearts – especially as it concerns our children and our daughter who is now back in the States.
    We’ve been vulnerable for so long, and so few people respond in any way that is actually helpful to us…we get tired of expending the emotional energy to stay vulnerable.
    Thanks for what you do, Michele. I hope someone back home is listening…

  4. One thing that is hard when you are a missionary is waiting to be asked. I can see many ways that we could be helped in tangible and intangible ways – both abroad and stateside. But how do you get that information across without sounding like you’re asking for a hand-out?
    I had a Bible College Prof-cum-Pastor whose heart for missions and missionaries led their congregation to do amazing things for their missionaries. But if I share that, I sound like I’m asking for people to do that for me… So a lot of times you are waiting for people to ask. Not many are asking what questions they should be asking…

  5. Michele Phoenix, when I was back in the US last year and met with one of our committees, I was asked 2 additional questions that literally put me in tears. The first one was, “Have we ever done anything to hurt you?” The second was, “How can we do our job better?” I was blown away by the courage and insight to ask these questions and their care and interest in our family. This church also volunteered to pay for travel and camp fees for my son to attend a Re-entry camp–so important since he had never lived in the US. In addition, they volunteered to fly him “home” to them for Thanksgiving break.

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