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.

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]

 

Interpreting from One Love Language to Another

goldfish in an aquariumFeeling unloved and appreciated?

Maybe you live far from your family and they don’t write or call. Maybe you pour out your life in ministry and it seems like no one notices.  You may have just achieved an important goal and your friends barely recognize it. You wish your husband would surprise you on your special birthday or anniversary with an amazing gift, but he underwhelms you with a cheap gift card. You planned an important celebration and someone very important to you didn’t take the trouble to attend.

Doesn’t that person care about you? Doesn’t he understand what that small gesture would mean to you? If only she would notice one thing you do right instead of three things you do wrong. How could they miss an event that means so much to you?  Would it kill him to help you when you are working to exhaustion? Is that cheap gift he gave you an indication that romance is dead?

I hear your pain. I also know that continuing to think like that could give you a lot more pain. The aim of this blog is to give you a more productive way to deal with disappointment like this.

But first let me go back to the 1980’s when Art and I attended a marriage enrichment conference taught by Gary Chapman. He presented a new idea that opened my eyes to an important concept. People generally receive and give love in different ways. He presented the five love languages which are so well known today: Words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.  The basic idea is that people may be showing you love in their love language, but you don’t get the message because it isn’t your love language. The reverse is true too.

Since the book The Five Love Languages was first published, Gary Chapman has added books about love languages for other relationships. This book did more than help me in my marriage. It helped me understand people in my church.

For example: Someone in our church hands me a gift. Maybe it’s a jar of jam, veggies from their garden, a pretty candle, or a plant. As I smile and reach for the gift my mind immediately goes into overdrive. Why are they giving me this? I don’t need this. What will I do with it? Will they be offended if their plant dies? Now that they’ve given me a gift I have to think of something to give back to them. I wish they would have taken the money they spent and put it in the offering instead. They don’t need to give me anything. Why don’t they just thank me for something I’ve done that helped them or mention one thing I’m doing right around the church?

You can see the problem. Their love language is gift-giving, mine is words of affirmation. We live in New Zealand, a country where, compared to some other places in the world, people are generally not effusive with their praise.  So I have a choice. I can continue to feel unloved and unappreciated and spiral down into depression. Or I can choose to translate their love language into mine, putting the best possible slant on it.

Let’s say a lady in our church hands me a jar of Vegemite, which you pretty much have to grow up in New Zealand, Australia, or the U.K. to stomach. I accept the jar with thanks and I interpret the gesture in my own way. “What she is really saying,” I tell myself, “is, ‘I appreciate what you do for our church,’ or ‘Thank you for talking to me about my problem.’” Later I give the jar to someone I know will enjoy using it. She gives me love in her love language. I accept it in mine.

Face it, some people just can’t or won’t speak your love language.  You have a choice: Feel unloved and unappreciated or adjust your expectations and interpret their love language into something you can understand.

This is especially important today when people communicate in such a variety of ways. I love email. I like to figure out exactly what I want to say, when I’m thinking about it, and send it to someone who can read it at their convenience. Overseas missionaries were probably one of the first groups to embrace email because it works so well when you are living far away from someone, in a different time zone with sky-high postage rates. I loved email from the start. I stay close to my email and try to give very prompt answers.

But I absolutely hate to text. Years ago we bought a very basic cell phone, mainly for emergencies. We seldom need to use it, except for texting people who don’t own landline phones. If I send a text, I will inevitably be frustrated, will send the shortest message possible, and will expect to explain it all to the person next time I see them.

As a writer, it should come as no surprise that I feel most comfortable crafting my words and sending them in writing. Some people, however, feel intimidated by having to write their thoughts. They may not be good spellers or they may feel writing letters makes a matter much more formal than simply talking it out face to face. For some people, texting is by far the cheapest and easiest way for them to stay in touch, and they love it.

So if a strong emailer, who likes to write long letters, communicates with a strong texter, who stays close to her phone, both sides may be frustrated.

You may wish some friend or family member would write you a long newsy letter and ask about you and your life. But some people just aren’t writers. They don’t write letters to anyone and they aren’t going to start with you. It doesn’t matter that you live far away and are hungry to hear from them. It’s just not something they do. Maybe they don’t phone you either. If you are overseas, they may not even have a calling plan that includes overseas calls. Or maybe they don’t think to call, or don’t have anything to call about.

In ministry, it’s easy to feel like a goldfish—visible to all, but closed off from friendship that could look like favoritism. You keep busy serving the needs of others, while they may not understand your needs at all.

As a missionary you may wonder why churches expect to hear from you regularly, and perhaps not one of the pastors of your churches has ever sent you a letter once or phoned you. As shocking as this concept may be, very few pastors write letters to their missionaries. As a missionary, you can resent this, but you probably won’t change it much.

This lack of attention may feel like neglect. It can make you feel bitter, angry, or hurt. It can destroy relationships.

What’s the answer?

  1. Change your expectations.

Some people are just not huggers. Many husbands don’t have a clue about what to buy their wives, and each decade of marriage only makes the choice harder. Some people can’t analyse a situation and see where you need help. Some people don’t understand the need to quit doing something useful to spend time with a loved one doing something that doesn’t seem useful. Some people feel very awkward praising people with their words. You want them to do something that they can’t do or don’t know how to do or feel uncomfortable doing. Realize that they may care about you, but not be able to express that in a way that is most natural to you.

  1. Interpret their actions into your language.

Look for the way they express appreciation or concern. Someone who is constantly handing people little gifts or prizes may be gift givers. If they give you a gift, accept it with the realization that they are expressing love and concern for you in their love language. Give the best possible slant to interpreting that gesture. And you might consider giving something back to them, not out of obligation, but as a way to express love and appreciation for them.

Some of the other love languages may be expressed in more subtle ways, but when you sense someone is reaching out to you in a way you possibly don’t understand, accept their gesture even if it isn’t your main love language. Consider how you can reach back to them in a similar way.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is the Golden Rule. Jesus taught the concept. It won’t work well, however, if you are doing for others what you want them to do for you, in spite of the fact that you are doing something they don’t want you to do. I believe the meaning of this rule comes closer to this: Treat people well in a way they can appreciate in the same way that you would like to be treated well in a way you would appreciate. The motive for doing things for people should be helping and encouraging them in the way that works best.

So what do you do when you don’t know what their love language is and you don’t know what to do? I just do what the Lord puts before me. When I sense someone needs encouragement I might say something nice to them or tell them I’m praying for them, invite them for a simple meal, praise them to their son or daughter, give them some roses from our garden, phone them or send an email, give a hug or pat on the arm, or whatever thing the Lord puts on my mind. It may not be the perfect way, but at least I am trying, and I have to hope that will count for something.

Realizing that I don’t always know the best way to connect with people reminds me that the reverse is true. I need to accept their gestures of appreciation and love, and I hope they will accept mine, however awkwardly offered.

[image by Enika100/Deposit Photos]

More Evidence of God’s Work

Water drops folling from a bamboo leafA couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog about why I write. I shared with you some of the results of Mary’s story, our book Edges of Truth, and similar stories of innocent caregivers who are accused and convicted of abuse. A coalition of accused families has launched a petition to be presented to Congress asking for an objective evaluation of today’s medical guidelines for diagnosing child abuse. This is a beginning of challenging mistaken medical assumptions that has endangered innocent families for decades.

Less than two weeks later I have more news. On March 20 an article on shaken baby syndrome came out in the Washington Post. The author, Debbie Cenziper, has been in contact with us for about a year as she wrote this extensive article. While Mary’s case is not mentioned by name, Ms. Cenziper had interviews with Mary and her lawyer (the book’s co-author) Steve Brennecke and read many of the trial transcripts. This Washington Post article points out the dangerous practice of diagnosing shaken baby syndrome on the basis of three brain injuries alone. In Mary’s case, some doctors found these injuries in a baby who quit breathing while Mary cared for her. The doctors testified that Mary had to have shaken and possibly slammed the baby during the baby’s last 42 minutes with Mary. Many other innocent caregivers can tell a similar story. When medical experts found these injuries in a baby, they believed the last person with the baby had to have shaken it to death. This article challenges this assumption.

Mary’s case and our book are only a small part in the process of change, but all those parts put together are beginning to make a difference. Praise God, he can use the little things we do, in combination with the little things others do, to make great changes. With God’s help, our lives can make a difference.

[image courtesy of Andrejs-Pijass/Deposit Photos]