Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Tips for Transcient M.K.’s Who are Adults and Still Single

Kanate ChainapongIf you’ve read my new book Broken Windows, you might wonder why Jordan is so rootless. Jordan, an adult M.K. from Taiwan, moves from Colorado to Idaho at the beginning of the book. Less than a year later, he’s contemplating another move, this time to Minnesota. Why can’t he settle down someplace in America? Or should he live with his parents in Taiwan?

My oldest daughter, Lisa, finished Bible college single and didn’t marry for six more years. She used her single years well, and now wants to share tips with others to help them through these challenging years. This article is written by her.

Holidays usually find me far from home and extended family. If my husband is working the holiday, my kids and I will be invited somewhere for dinner. By the time the dessert is done, I’ll get into deeper conversation with my hosts or one of their guests.

Before long, I notice puzzled expressions on their faces as they try to understand the person they discover as they talk to me. They wonder how anyone could be as root-less as I, the person who has, on average, lived in a different home for each year of my life. They wonder how a quiet, stay-at-home mom emerged from the world-traveling single woman that I was ten years ago.

I lived in four states and one foreign country between my graduation from college and my marriage six years later.  It wasn’t that I planned it this way—how to squeeze the most adventure of out my singlehood. Rather, I was pursuing God and where He wanted me to serve, a path that included more changes in locations than I might have expected. It became an unconventional solution to an unconventional situation.

When I meet missionaries with teenaged children, they often ask me about that stage in my life. It’s hard for them to imagine being thousands of miles away from their kids. They hope their children will steer through their turbulent early-twenties without capsizing in the rapids of life. How did I make those transitions? Here are three things that helped me through those years:

 1) Seek the blessing of your parents.

When I finished college, I had a small amount of college debt to pay off. Paying for airline tickets to return home would have cost thousands of dollars and, at the time, employment options for me in their city were bleak. But I discussed my options thoroughly with my parents and they prayed for me as I considered where to go next. That was a pattern that continued throughout those years. Whether I was considering housing, employment, roommates, or churches, I made sure that they were comfortable and supportive of those decisions. (This was easier because they granted some freedom and did not micro-manage my life.)

 2) Become a part of a good church.

In each transition from one place to another, I always had a good recommendation for a Bible-preaching church in my new city. Usually, this meant that I or someone close to me knew the pastor of the church personally, as well as a few of the members. This helped me know what to expect about the Bible teaching and ministry philosophy of the church. I was able to attend these churches and make them my own starting with the first Sunday of my life in each new city. These churches became great places to learn, build friendships, find mentors and serve the Lord during my single years. Finding a good church and being actively involved is a great way to keep from getting lost-in-the-cracks of life far away from home.

 3) Develop relationships with mentors and friends you trust.

Young people face many first-time experiences when they move away from home. Even if they want to follow the Lord and make good choices, they may need help evaluating the situations that come their way (i.e.: is this neighborhood a safe place to live, is this used car in reasonably good condition, is this job offer legitimate?) Having adults around that my parents and I trusted helped me to steer away from some less-than-ideal choices. They helped me to evaluate and navigate relationships with friends, roommates and the guys who showed a romantic interest in me. These families, couples and individuals provided homes away from home for the holidays and modeled Christian living for me.

During those years of multiple transitions far from home, I met my future husband. My life as a stay-at-home wife and mother is considerably less exotic than before. I’m thankful for the husband and children God has given me, but I don’t regret those single years. They gave me flexibility that allowed me to serve the Lord in ways a married woman could never do. During those years, I made moves to three different locations in order to fill short-term ministry needs in a church or missions organization. While I want to be open to God’s leading now, I realize that moving a family is much more challenging logistically and emotionally.

Being a single adult M.K. can be a blessing. If you are a single M.K., I challenge you to consider serving the Lord in ways that would be difficult after marriage, even if those options are unconventional. God has purpose in every season of life. Don’t miss the special opportunities that singleness brings while you are in that season of life.

[Image courtesy of Kanate Chainapong/Deposit Photos.]

 

 

Keeping Joy in Your Ministry By Getting Others to Help

runningIn your ministry do you feel pressured into doing things you don’t want to do? Do you ever feel inadequate for the job? You need help, but the guilt trips you are offering at church aren’t producing eager workers. How can you get a little help around here? Here are some things to think about.

Can I get more people involved?

This sounds like an easy answer until you realize that, at the beginning, using more people will just make it more complicated. It’s easier to just do it yourself, your way, instead of having to explain yourself to others and having to give in to ideas you know are not as good as your own.

Training others takes time. Working with others takes patience and requires giving up on some of your best ideas. The initial training time, however, will pay off later when you have multiplied your workers. We all need to learn to give and take, and though it can be easier to do it ourselves, the Lord may want us to learn to work with others.

Am I sure God wants this done?

We’ve had some good years doing Discovery Club in our church in New Zealand. But some years we just didn’t have the workers to carry out the program, so we didn’t do it. At the time of this writing, we’ve had to revamp the whole program to include kids and teens. While the situation is not ideal, God is blessing it.

If you have the same few workers doing everything at your church, and they are struggling to keep up, maybe you need to take something out of your schedule. Don’t wait until your workers are so discouraged that they start sizing up churches which expect less.

Guilt is not a good motivator.

If people serve mainly out of guilt, they will resent it. Serving with resentment is dangerous. If you really need someone to do a task she struggles with, how can you help her? If a Sunday School teacher struggles to find time to prepare, maybe you can find someone to make visuals or cut out flannel graph figures. If a teacher feels inadequate, maybe you can meet with her each week and talk over the lesson.

Give them a break if you can.

Some teachers struggle to teach every Sunday, year after year, but would teach happily if they simply got regular breaks. You could rotate teachers if you have enough. In our New Zealand work we finally took breaks from Sunday School for about two months in the summer. During each two-week term break we didn’t have Sunday School either. This went against everything Art and I knew and believed in. You have to have Sunday School every week! But in time we learned we didn’t have to. Our teachers needed the break to serve happily.

Listen to their problems.

Is there a way you could change the things that really bother your workers? Church work today is made up of a multitude of details. There is the obvious way of doing things, the way you’ve always done them, the way that makes sense to you. But sometimes a worker could be quite happy in a job if you could just change a few little details. Can you change them? It’s worth considering.

Evaluate and don’t be afraid to change.

New Zealanders are often not comfortable evaluating things. I am told that Aussies are the same. It can be tricky to find out what people really think about church programs. But in some way we need to be able to figure out what is working and what isn’t and make changes.

In our church, our kids’ and youth program seems to need continual fine tuning. We tried the AWANA approach to memorizing verses—learning them on their own. That never worked. In Discovery Club we taught the verse each week. That worked a lot better. This year we have different challenges and are rethinking the process again. Just because something worked well in your church one year doesn’t mean it’s the best approach every year.

Train your workers and give them confidence and encouragement.

We often expect people to know how to do things without teaching them. Discovery Club became a good training ground for us. Helpers learned to teach and lead by becoming part of our program. We worked through problems together and modelled different ways of teaching and leading.

Don’t forget to thank your teachers and workers. Sometimes the ones who work most faithfully get little thanks. Each year my husband and I use Christmas cards to express thanks for the specific jobs our church people do.

Make it fun.

Enthusiasm is infectious. We work so hard to make our programs and activities work, that we can forget to make them fun. We especially need to put fun into our ministry so that our workers enjoy the work, not resent it. This may mean not pushing so hard. We need to take time to see our workers as friends. And we need to save some extra energy to make it fun.

 

[Image courtesy of yanlefv/Deposit Photos.]

 

 

Keeping Joy in Ministry in Spite of Exhaustion

young peopleIt’s a huge honor to serve the Lord, but we can serve until we are exhausted and our joy is gone. What’s wrong?

Jesus said, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV)

If my burden is too heavy, maybe it’s because God never asked me to carry it. I say I’m serving God, but sometimes I do things to please people. I don’t want to tell them no. God may not want me to do everything people want me to do. I need to take responsibility for my decisions. If I agree to do something, that’s my decision. I have no right to resent it.

So how do you know what God is asking you to do and what you are doing for other reasons? Here are some questions that might help you think through the next task you are asked to do.

Am I gifted in this area?

Do my spiritual gifts or natural abilities make this job a good fit? Serving God with your gifts and abilities in ministries you can get excited about will put joy in your ministry.

Could the Lord be asking me to grow in this area?

Maybe I don’t feel confident in this new task, but serving the Lord in new ways is one way to identify spiritual gifts. No one does a task perfectly from the beginning. Maybe I need to try this new task to stretch myself.

Is this job something that needs to be done?

It’s easy to start church programs, but difficult to phase them out. Talk about ending a program can sound like the program was never worthwhile in the first place. But if there are not enough workers to carry out a program, it could mean God wants us to end it.

We always need to look at ways to lower maintenance, especially when we are short-handed. Sometimes it’s easier to convert a garden to lawn or bark chips than to beg for workers to weed it.

Maybe we need to eliminate the job, rather than plead for workers.

Is this something I can and should do just because it needs doing?

I may not truly enjoy cleaning the church, watching the nursery, cooking for potluck dinners, or pulling weeds, but some of these things just need to be done. Maybe I need to do it, out of love for the Lord, because it’s a need I can fill.

Is this job something that only I can do?

If I’m the only pianist at church and there are others who are good at hospitality, maybe I need to put my time and priority into playing the piano.

In Taiwan, for a period of time, I watched the nursery every Sunday morning. I had about five little Chinese boys, who were used to getting their own way and who were used to different cultural play rules than mine. Every Sunday I would say, “I sure hope I get a reward in heaven for this!” Watching the nursery was very stressful, but I did it because every other mother at church wasn’t even saved and needed to hear the sermon.

What can someone else do?

As a missionary I should be working myself out of a job. If I can teach someone else to do a job, that’s often better, even if they have far less experience than I do. Sometimes no one else will volunteer as long as I am willing to fulfil a certain role. Maybe I need to be encouraging someone else to learn my job instead of doing it year after year.

If the joy in your ministry is sputtering, go to God with these questions and ask him to show you what he wants you to do. With his strength and encouragement you can do all he asks you to do–with joy.

[Image courtesy of yu liufu/Deposit Photos.]

Keeping Joy in Your Ministry in Spite of People’s Problems

beautiful girl enjoying the summer sunRandy Alcorn says, “A true Christ-centered church is not a showcase for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” If you’re in ministry, that makes you a spiritual healthcare provider. Gone are the days when problems were simple and the average family actually looked like Leave It to Beaver or Happy Days. People come to us with marriage problems, parenting problems, emotional problems, problems with health, education, and jobs. When people get saved, these problems don’t disappear. Messy lives cause problems with no easy solutions.

Our first concern is for our people, but we also need to watch what is happening in our own lives. If we aren’t careful, the problems of our people can rob us of joy in the ministry. How can we keep that from happening?

We need to listen to what people with needs are saying and, beyond that, to what they are feeling. We need to care about their problems. Sometimes that may mean giving advice, especially when they are ready to listen. Sometimes that may mean helping them. Sometimes we can’t fix their problems, but only be a sounding board and a friend. We can always pray with them or for them. But it doesn’t end there.

After we have listened, cared, helped, and prayed, we need to let it go. We care so much for our people that it’s easy for their problems to consume us. When that happens we have nothing left for others in need. I have learned that I need to keep myself strong to be able to help other people. I need to do things that keep me spiritually and emotionally strong year after year.

I need to cast all my care upon the Lord. (1 Peter 5:7) If my burden is on His back, it’s not on mine anymore. I can be free to enjoy a fun outing with my family when my friend’s family is in ruins. I can buy nice things for myself, within my own budget, while my friend cannot. I can, and should, think about fun, nice, pleasant things even when people around me are hurting. (Philippians 4:6-9) I can focus on God and his good gifts and not let my thought life be dominated by problems to the extent that it robs me of joy in the ministry.

I will post two more blogs about keeping joy in your ministry. They’ll deal with exhaustion and getting other people to help.

[Image courtesy of EBreHnn ATAmaHeHko/Deposit photos.]

Building a Library of Bible Story Visuals

Family 4How would you like own enough quality visuals to be able to teach any Bible story at a moment’s notice? If that sounds as good to you as it does to me, you may find this blog helpful.

 Sunday School Curriculum

When I ask someone else to teach Sunday School in our mission church, I like to be able to hand them curriculum like that of Regular Baptist Press. The curriculum gives the teacher helpful hints in knowing how to present the lesson. I also know that Regular Baptist Press organizes their materials to teach regular attenders all the major Bible stories within a certain number of years. It also features lessons about communion, baptism, Baptist distinctives, and subjects that are often lacking in other curriculum. I know these lessons will teach sound doctrine.

But I sometimes find that this kind of curriculum, in their effort to provide quality workbooks, often comes a bit short when it comes to pictures of the Bible story. I sometimes feel the need to supplement. Plus I sometimes want to pick a single story out to use in another context (like Bible-in-schools or our church kids’ program), and this curriculum isn’t ideally suited for that.

 Sets of Bible Story Visuals

Lots of Christian publishers sell sets of Bible story visuals for main Bible characters like Joseph, Moses, and Daniel. Some of these are very nice, but it costs quite a bit to buy enough sets for all the Bible characters.

 Betty Lukens

In about 1984, one of our supporting churches gave us a set of Betty Lukens felt figures. The ladies had even taken the time to cut all the figures out. The great thing about this set is that you can use it to teach basically any Bible story. Since I often create my own curriculum for Bible clubs, I like the freedom of knowing that I can create any series of lessons knowing I’ll have visuals to back me up. I have used these visuals in many different ways.

These felt figures are sturdy and flexible for different situations, but they do look a bit generic. You have old men, young men, old women, young women, and kids in a variety of positions and dress, but they show little expression and can make every Bible story look the same. Some stories, like Jonah, don’t really have as many figures as I would like. Their backgrounds, however, are beautiful and vivid and can be overlaid to give different looks. I love the backgrounds, but actually don’t own many of them.

One disadvantage to these figures is that you have to set them up just right in order for them to look right. If I need several scenes for one story, I usually use several flannelgraph boards with the scenes ready to go. The set comes with a manual that shows how possible scenes could look, but I find it really helpful to take photos of a scene once I have it the way I like it. This helps me set it up for my class, as well as remind me, years down the line, the best way to set up the scene to teach the same story again. Photos can save you lots of time when you teach a story for a second time.

See more about Betty Lukens visuals here.

Flannelgraph or felt figures can add variety to a story because you can move them around, but they are a bit more hassle than flashcards. You have to make room for an easel and board. You have set-up and pack-up tasks. You have to be prepared to put all the figures in place at the correct time. When you want to refer briefly to a Bible story, sometimes the hassle makes you skip the visual.

 Flashcards

I love flashcards. They are easy to use and you can take them anywhere. Since every scene is a new card, the art can give a lot more emotion to the story.

Not long ago I said, “I wish a company sold a complete set of Bible flashcards for all the major Bible stories. That would be a great resource to own to begin a lifetime of teaching ministry.”

Of course you could buy a lot of flashcard sets. You could easily spend hundreds of dollars, but it would be a great resource.

One constant frustration for overseas missionaries is the spiralling cost of postage. It can cost as much to send an item as it does to buy the item itself.

I’ve found some resources, however, that allow you to download quality Bible story visuals for basically no money. Of course, it would be nice to make a donation to the company, but you can buy a ream of cardstock from a stationery story, download the visuals, and print out the scenes as you need them. No more waiting for items to come in the mail. Buy it now, print it now, use it immediately.

 Free Bible Images

So far I’ve downloaded images for Samuel and Jacob and Esau from this site. They have printed out beautifully on our printer using card. In New Zealand we use A4 size paper rather than the letter-size that is standard in America, but that didn’t give us any trouble.

Tired of artist-drawn visuals? Free Bible Images also  has beautiful images using real photos of people in costume.

Want to use the visuals for a bigger crowd? Free Bible Images can be used on PowerPoint.

Need images for an obscure Bible story? Not a problem. For example, Free Bible Images has beautiful visuals for the persistent widow in Luke 18 about the widow who pestered a judge for justice.

Are they really free? Yes. We did give a donation so that we would feel good about downloading images any time we needed them, but yes, they are free.

Any drawbacks? I can’t see any. Though I did notice that the stories I downloaded had so many detailed scenes to each story that I actually didn’t need to print every one.

See more about Free Bible Images here.

Of course, downloading images and printing them out takes time. You might not want to sit down in one day and print out everything. But you can begin today to download flashcards as you need them so that, in time, you’ll have visuals to teach any of the stories you commonly teach. That’s a great resource and a great beginning to children’s ministry!

[image courtesy of BasheeraHassanali/Deposit Photos]