As missionaries, a valuable tool of communication we have with our supporting churches and partners in the ministry is the prayer letter. In this age of technology, it has become even easier to share what we are doing, the progress, and requests we have for prayer as we labor together for the Lord.
There is also a temptation to feel the need to report all the positive reports that we all like to hear--conversions to Christ, baptisms, lives being changed, etc. It seems the seal of a "good" missionary is the fruit and visible results that can be seen.
We support several missionaries as a family and receive various prayer letters via email. While we are happy for the churches that are doing great, seeing many people come, etc. it can also be discouraging when you compare what is going on in your field to what is happening in other seemingly more fruitful fields of harvest.
We read of ministries in Africa where they are bursting at the seams with many in attendance, or a first service in Central or South America where 70 people showed up the first day, or in the Philippines where souls seem to be flocking to church, etc. We've all seen the slides and presentations of the "fruit" we can see. But what missionary ever takes a picture on the day when it is just him and his family that shows up? Yes, it happens.
Some of us are laboring in fields where the soil is as hard as a rock. We plant, we water, we do everything that we know to do. We have children's Bible clubs, we try doing good works, such as feeding the homeless, ministering to the inmates in jails, putting up public announcements on billboards with scripture, going to nursing homes, public schools, finding every open door of oppportunity to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. We try to shine as lights to a dark world, having a good testimony among our neighbors and yet we can't see where it is doing any good. We see a few people respond here and there, get saved, baptized, and endure for a time, but in the whole scheme of things we are tempted to feel like we are not gaining any ground.
I wonder if our prayer letters seem as "exciting" or encouraging to read. What if we were brutally honest, and told of all the days we labor, feeling discouraged about the lack of interest, the coldness and complacent attitudes, the indifference, etc. Maybe our prayer letters would read a little differently if we could be more honest about our trials that we are facing without fear that we would be judged or lose support if we revealed what we are really experiencing on a day to day basis.
We love to read missionary accounts of the great men of old, like Judson, Taylor, Carey, Livingstone, Brainerd, etc. They labored through the most difficult circumstances and often worked many years before they saw visible results. Were they "bad" missionaries because they didn't see a new soul come to Christ every week? Did their churches immediately bloom and grow overnight? Then why should we expect the same of the modern day missionary?
Pray for your missionaries as you never know what they are enduring. We are all subject to the same temptations of discouragement, loneliness, heartache, disappointment. As a missionary living far from "home" we often feel isolated, forgotten, and tempted to think we are not making a difference. It is vital that we communicate the whole story and present an accurate picture.