Are you a missionary or a missionary supporter?
I have a story to tell you that may change the way you do something. I will make this as pleasant and fun as possible. (Who doesn't love a good story?)
Long ago in a land far away there lived a princess.
(Actually, it was a missionary, but princess stories are more romantic.)
The princess and her family had exciting news to share. She knew that her friends and family in distant villages would be thrilled to hear the exciting news. She sat down at her royal writing table. She picked up her royal quill and ink well, and pulled out 300 of the finest quality papers. She began to write. (OK, so it was a computer and printer, but that isn't as fun as ink and quill, is it?)
The princess began writing 300 letters to the people she thought would care the most about this happy news. She poured hours into the letters. Her excitement graced every swipe of the pen. She didn't leave out any details. The princess, after all, was known for being verbose. When the letters were finished, she carefully addressed each one and gave them to her royal messengers. They quickly dispatched each letter. The princess was a fountain of energy anticipating the responses to the letters.
Months passed by and the princess grew discouraged. Of all 300 letters written, only five people took the time to reply. She was heartbroken. She could not figure out what had gone wrong. Did the people not care?
Did you know?
The average missionary has around a 3-5% response rate to prayer letters.
That means for every 100 letters that goes out, only 3-5 people take the time to reply.
The princess visited the wise old woman in the royal clock tower.
"Why did so few respond?" the princess asked through tears. "Have they forgotten me? Did I do something wrong? Do they not care?"
The wise old woman sat in her rocking chair. She was silent for several minutes. The chair squeaked as she rocked back and forth. The princess's sobs were interrupted when the woman's voice creaked through the air.
"Princess, you must search out the reasons, for each reason has hidden lessons all their own. Disguise yourself and travel to these distant lands."
So the princess put off her princess gown and donned the threads of a peasant girl. She purchased an old mare and galloped away in search of answers. (Alright. I posted some questions online, but the princess on the mare is definitely more fun to read.)
The princess first visited a farmer friend. He was busy working in the fields. She struck up a conversation with the man. After a few minutes, she gained the courage to ask, "Did you receive a letter from the princess?"
He continued hoeing and breaking up the sod as he spoke. "I did, but the letter was so long I have not read it yet. I am so busy in the fields all day. When I finish working, I am too tired to sit down and read. I hope the princess does not think I have forgotten her. She was always so kind to our family. We pray for her every night."
Keep It Short and Simple
As the princess left the farmer, she was deep in thought. She never realized people would be too busy to read her letters. As she wrote, she always added in every detail and even added details that had nothing to do with the news she wanted so desperately to share.
Soon the princess, still dressed as a peasant, arrived at her next destination. As she approached the artist, she noticed he was painting a lovely landscape as he sat beside a pond. She began talking with him. Soon she asked the artist if he had received a letter from the princess.
"Oh yes. It is on my table waiting to be read, but I must admit I struggle reading the princess's letters. I love portraits and landscapes more than hundreds of words. When I see a picture I am captivated. The writing comes to life. I just struggle reading things when I can not see what it is talking about. But perhaps the princess does not draw like me."
Include Lots of Pictures to Bring to Life the Details and the People
The princess was stunned. She had never thought about how pictures could also tell the story. She loved to draw.
She continued her journey down the road and came to the home of a woman with a dozen children. The children were clamoring around the house as the woman hung laundry outside. The princess began to chat with her. Then it came time for the question. "Did you receive a letter from the princess?"
"I certainly did! I read every word to the children the very night I received it! It was such happy news!"
"Did you reply to the princess?" the princess casually asked.
"Oh no. The princess probably does not want to hear from me. I doubt she even remembers who I am." The princess was surprised at this answer. This woman was the kind lady who helped the princess one day when she had fallen from her horse. The princess had played many times with the children.
Dear Friend, Your Reply Means the World to Missionaries
"I am quite sure the princess would be very encouraged by a letter from you. I am very close to the princess and know her well."
The princess continued on to the bridge keeper's home. The guard at the bridge stopped her before she could cross.
"Stop right there young lady! You may go no farther!" The princess was surprised by his gruff voice.
"But I need to see the bridge keeper," the princess pleaded.
"Sorry. No one or nothing may pass this bridge without my permission."
Make Sure Your Missionary Has a Current Address
The princess looked down and saw a box. Sticking out of the box was her letter.
The outside of the box was labelled:
Stock Pile All MessagesApparently the bridge keeper never received her letter because it had been captured into this box by the guard. The princess sighed in frustration.
The princess had one more place to stop. She came to the seamstress's shop. "Surely she read my letter," thought the princess.
As she approached the seamstress, she saw the seamstress busily stitching a garment. She sat down on a stool near the seamstress and began chatting. Soon the princess asked, "Did you get a letter from the princess?"
"I am sure I did, but I did not read it."
The princess was surprised. "Why ever not?"
Did You Know?
The overwhelming number one reason people read a prayer letter
is that they have personal knowledge or connection with the missionary.
"Well, I have been receiving letters from the princess for many years, but here lately every letter the princess wrote was asking for something. The princess's letters began sounding more like business propositions than a letter from a friend. I have given so much time and effort and money for the princess's projects that I have nothing left to give. The past three letters I simply threw away. She was probably just asking for more things. Sometimes I just wish the princess would write to me as the friend she used to be to me."
Missionary, sometimes people become wearied when they are constantly asked for money.
The princess was deeply saddened by this last visit. She had not realized how impersonal her letters had become. She wanted a closer friendship with these people. They had done so much to help her throughout her childhood.
Immediately the princess returned to the castle and pulled out her ink and quill. She began to write all of her friends again. This time she wrote with their needs in mind as well. She was considerate of their busy lives. She focused on the important details. She even drew pictures. She made the letters very personal because she was writing to dear friends and family. She didn't ask for anything but simply shared some happy news. Then she closed the letters with a simple sentence:
"It would mean so much to me to hear from my dear friends
so that I know I am not forgotten."
This story was a lighthearted look at a real situation. Missionaries spend a great deal of time working on prayer letters. I asked a group of missionaries what their response rate was to these letters. The conclusion was that few people respond. The truth is that missionaries are greatly encouraged when people take the time to reply. It helps us know that we are not forgotten and that our supporting church family and friends are doing their part to help us by praying and staying connected with us.
For the supporter:
Take the time to read the letters. It matters to us. We are sharing news from the field that you are investing in. We see you as part of the team. Then after reading the letters, take time to reply even if it is only a few words.
"Praying for you!"
"Great prayer letter!"
"I am excited to see what God is doing there!"
For the missionary:
Be considerate of the reader. People are busy and don't have time to read a prayer letter book. Keep it short and to the point. Make it personal. Use pictures to make it come alive. Pictures really are worth 1000 words! Consider bulleted highlights. Don't ask for something in every prayer letter. (You start sounding like that relative who only comes around when they want something.) Consider using social media to help supporters get to know you personally so that there is a connection. When on deputation and furlough, do your best to meet people in supporting churches and allow them to become familiar with you.