Supporting Student Missionaries
As a former student missionary, I know how it feels to leave home for a new culture and return to a whole new world. Serving in another country can be challenging. On top of a new culture and language, taking a year abroad means missing an entire year with friends and family. With a friend all the way around the world and in a different time zone, it’s surprisingly simple to help them feel remembered. The following are what I wish I had received more of during my SM year:
Take advantage of the opportunities Campus Ministries provides to sign cards, and take a little extra time to write a meaningful message. From personal experience, I can say that a note saying, “Hey! It’s snowed so much this winter, you wouldn’t believe it! Can’t wait to see you when you come back! I’m praying for your mission and your safe return” is more meaningful than an anonymous “Praying for you!”
Pictures can be visual reminders that the people back home haven’t forgotten you. Seeing familiar faces and places can be a huge relief when you’re confronted every day by the unfamiliar—especially if the unfamiliar isn’t always smiling. It takes only a second. Snap a photo and send it to your friend abroad.
Time zones are a pain, I know, and both you and your SM friend are busy, but at least once a month coordinate time to give your friend a call. Many spending time abroad are surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language, which can often be overwhelming and cause extreme homesickness. Hearing your voice can help them feel closer to home, and seeing you on a video chat makes the experience even sweeter.
If you haven’t spent several months in a culture different than your own, you won’t have the frame of reference to understand your SM friends’ experiences. Often SMs come home and feel discouraged because their friends and family only want to hear about how the food was or the heat. Imagine how frustrating it would be to go home from a crazy busy school year and only be able to say, “Yeah, I took a lot of classes” before people stopped paying attention. Try to listen to what your friends have to say and understand that it may not have been the biggest adventure ever—they lived day-to-day life there just like you did here.
Don’t know anyone abroad? Not to worry! Take the opportunity to introduce yourself when they return. Remember, these people have sacrificed an entire year of their lives, and many of their friends may have graduated and moved on. Your friendship could make all the difference to a person returning to a world that’s no longer familiar.
Katie Turk is a senior studying english language arts education.