Working in full time camp ministry, of course our biggest “mission fields” are the 700+ campers who attend each summer, the adults and families who come for retreats, and our college-age summer staff. But in addition to these, we also have opportunity for ministry to those who come to serve with us — short term volunteers and mission teams.
These groups can bring a lot of mutual encouragement, them to us and us to them. They can bring opportunities for great conversations and learning from one another.
Yet often, I find myself backing away from these people and avoiding those conversations, and there’s one big reason…
I get sick of answering the same questions over and over and over.
Because every single visitor or volunteer who comes through this place – and that’s a lot in a summer’s time – will ask me the same questions: basic, get-to-know-you, introductory-level questions.
Not bad questions. Basic informational stuff. But it’s a conversation that becomes so repetitive, I feel like my answers are rehearsed and memorized. That makes it feel like I’m not truly engaging with the person or talking about anything real — just the same blah blah blah I just told that other person 5 minutes ago or yesterday or last week. So it makes me want to hide and not engage at all… but that’s not healthy either.
A couple weeks ago, a short-term volunteer was here at camp and as I had a conversation with her, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the questions she asked me. They were questions like…
What are some ways this town is different than where you’re from?
What is the culture and spiritual atmosphere like here?
How does that culture affect you?
What do you like about the church you go to?
They were different questions, yes, but more importantly, they were questions I actually had to think about. No rote, rehearsed answers. This conversation required me to dig deep and share my experience, rather than a story I’ve told a million times.
It was refreshing, life-giving.
Am I saying “don’t ever ask a missionary what they do or how they got where they are”? No, certainly not. If you’re engaging in conversation with a person in full-time ministry, and you don’t know that story, you’ll probably want to know… and that’s fine.
My encouragement is to go above and beyond that. Think harder and dig deeper. Don’t just stop at, So how long have you been here? Oh that’s nice. Try to remember that they have likely answered that question a hundred times before, especially if they are working in a field that welcomes volunteer teams. Keep going and ask some deeper questions:
Ask about friends they’ve made in their mission field environment.
Ask about people they miss back home.
Ask what culture shock was like.
Ask what’s the most challenging part of their ministry.
Ask what they love about the town, state, or country they’re ministering in.
Ask what God has been teaching them lately.
Ask for their advice about your own life season.
Missionaries are just real people like you and me. People working in full-time ministry need good conversation and encouragement, too. And your willingness to engage in a real dialogue might be more life-giving than you realize.