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.

Building Harmony into Ministry Marriages

m1Anna Stsonn4Part Three: Nurturing Your Relationship

It’s easy to get so busy in the ministry that you neglect your marriage relationship, but that relationship is foundational to your ministry. A man may be a powerful preacher or able administrator, but if his marriage relationship is in chaos, his ministry will be greatly hampered. Harmony in the relationship is key to a harmonious ministry.

Remember when you were first “in love”? When he looked at you, you felt like a beauty queen.  When she looked at you, you felt like lightning was coursing through your body. After several years of marriage you begin to understand that a lot of that physical attraction is just hormones. Yes, a good sexual relationship will help a marriage and protect it from outside attack, but there’s got to be more to a relationship that that. In time libido will wane, and then what will you have left?

Art and I have been married thirty-seven years. More and more I see that the biggest hunk of marital love is friendship and companionship.  You may change ministries. You may move away from family. But a marriage should last a lifetime. If your marriage relationship is weak, your ministry will suffer too. So how can you protect and nurture your marriage relationship?

 Trust

Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.” (NKJV)

Your marriage partner should be able to completely trust you and you should be able to trust him. That means you don’t sneak around behind his back and do things you know he wouldn’t approve of. You make decisions that fit with agreements you have already made. You don’t undermine his authority. You know her well enough to know what she’ll like or won’t like and try to please her. You honor joint agreements. You know what your spouse wants to be consulted on and when he doesn’t mind if you make decisions for him and you honor that.

If you can’t trust your marriage partner totally or you can’t be trusted, your relationship will suffer greatly.

 Consideration

Art often quotes 1 Peter 3:7 to married men. “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them (your wives) with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (NKJV)

That means a husband needs to consider the needs and desires of his wife. When he makes decisions he needs to consider what’s best for his wife and delight in making her happy. His decision shouldn’t run over her needs.

At the same time a wife needs to consider her husband, how to help him and make him happy.

Simple kindness and consideration for each other is a big part of what makes a marriage relationship strong.

One thing I love about Art is the fact that he takes care of my silly but precious things like dolls, teddy bears, or collectables. If they are important to me, they’re important to him.

 Friendship

Your marriage partner should be your best friend for life. That means you need to nurture that friendship. You may have separate interests that you like to pursue, and that is healthy, but you should also have things you like to do together.

What do you like to talk about? Are those things encouraging to you, or do they discourage? Can your read or view something together that gives you more to talk about? Is one person doing most of the talking and the other mainly listening? Encourage each other to share the things that mean a lot to you. Thank each other for sharing even when you don’t agree. Instead of censuring your partner, listen to understand his or her viewpoint.

Develop common interests. You may encourage each other in private pursuits, but you should also have things you enjoy doing together. After a while boredom may step in, so consider breaking the mold and beginning a new joint venture.

Art has always been a fast distance runner. He picks up any sport naturally and well. I’m hopeless at sports but love creative crafts and writing. We’ve each pursued our own interests, but we also learn from the other. I understand more about sports than I used to. Art will sometimes talk about writing issues. But we both like to rummage around garage sales and second hand stores. Sure, our house gets full of silly collectables sometimes and we have to restrain ourselves or recycle things we have previously loved. But looking for bargains brings us closer together. I don’t know just why.

Of course, we both love to go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef as well. (Who wouldn’t?)

Life is busy these days. Follow a diet. Spend time with your kids. Increase your skills. Keep up with social networks. Excel at your job. But in your busyness, don’t neglect your marriage relationship or it will affect your ministry and almost every area of your life.

[image courtesy of m1Anna Stsonn6/Deposit Photos]

Building Harmony into Ministry Marriages

m1Anna Stsonn5Part Two: Working as a Team

In my last blog I began talking about ministry marriages and how to nurture them.  A couple can have a much more effective ministry by working together as a team than be each going their separate ways. Building that harmony into a marriage isn’t always easy, but good harmony will bless everyone around them.

Scripture pictures marriage as being like two oxen yoked together. The man and wife should be moving in the same direction at the same pace for the same purpose. This need for unity is even more important in a ministry marriage. If a couple is not united in purpose and are going separate directions, their ministry will suffer.

Have you ever met a passionate, gifted pastor with a wife who wished she could be someplace else? Doesn’t work very well, does it? Or maybe you’ve met a woman who longed to be in ministry and was trying to drag her husband along with her. God doesn’t lead a couple together and then give them mutually exclusive ministries.

Wives can help their husbands by supporting their ministries and working alongside them to see those ministries thrive. Husbands can help their wives by recognizing their gifts and encouraging them to use them.

About forty years ago Art Brammer felt the Lord calling him to a missions ministry in Taiwan. I was eager to be involved in ministry and searching for God’s will. Two weeks after we started dating Art told me about his desire to be a missionary to Taiwan and wondered if I would be open to the possibility. I told him I felt God was leading me to write for Christian publication, but I was also open to missions. The Lord led us together in marriage, then to Taiwan for sixteen years, then on to New Zealand for more years than that.

Unity of purpose has helped us to work well together in various times of ministry. We both cared about the same people and ministries, though we had different jobs within those ministries.

Here are some ways I support Art in his ministry:

 1. Support and encourage his teaching ministry and ideas, both privately and publicly.

 2. Give feedback in a positive way.

At times Art says something from the pulpit that comes out sounding like he means something different than I know he does. At times like that I mention it to him in private and allow him to correct it as he sees fit. I also try to get a sense of how people are responding to various ideas or events in the church and communicate that to him privately. Are we having enough or too many fellowship nights? Are people ready to make various changes? Who might be ready to fill a certain church office? Is a church member struggling with something?

3. Offer suggestions for programs or events in the church.

Art is a great plodder. He never grows weary of studying and he prepares well for all of his teaching and preaching times throughout the week. It’s easier for me, however, to come up with ideas for outreaches, programs, and events in our church. When I think of a new idea I run it past him. Sometimes these ideas don’t fly, but often, in talking about the idea, we come up with something that works well. Art doesn’t resent my ideas. He welcomes them, though he doesn’t use all of them.

 4. Complement his ministry with my ministry.

I teach, plan, play the piano, lead programs, and do what I can do to help our team ministry prosper.

But Art also supports me in my ministry.

1. He recognizes my gifts and encourages me to use them.

Yes, he’s happy for me to use my gifts in our ministry. I teach, play the piano, and lead various programs. I enjoy these things and feel the Lord leading me to do these. But throughout all these years he has also encouraged me to write for Christian publication. This takes time, energy, sometimes finances, which I have to carve out of my life in addition to ministry. He encourages me to do this because he wants me to be happy and because he recognizes the Lord leading me to do these things.

2. He gives me feedback about my church ministry and my writing ministry.

He gives suggestions and help. He’s my first editor.

3. He helps me in areas of need.

He works through computer problems and handles my writing finances. He encourages me to go to writing conferences when I can, and order helpful books or resources. When I plan events at church he’s the first to help me set up or clean up. When I plan a book launch he’s the quiet helper who makes everything work.

When a husband and wife work together in accordance with God’s will, ministry becomes more effective and rewarding. The hard times become more bearable. Without that unity of purpose, however, the ministry suffers and the marriage does too. Even when a couple is serving in separate ministries, they can support each other in a way that makes them stronger in each individual ministry.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (NKJV)

[image courtesy of m1Anna Stsonn6/Deposit Photos]

Building Harmony into Ministry Marriages

m1Anna Stsonn6Recently a reader asked: How can couples in ministry protect and nurture their marriages toward more love and unity? It’s a good question, and one we should probably ask more often. I’m no marriage expert but my husband and I have worked in harmony in ministry for thirty-seven years. During that time we’ve grieved as we’ve seen some couples in ministry break up or struggle in their relationship while others draw great strength and encouragement from their marriages.

When a couple works together in harmony, each doing his or her own part in a way that blends with the other, the result is a beautiful ministry. Like a symphony, their marriage blend blesses the couple first of all, and then the people they minister to. On the other hand, when the couple fight each other and go in separate directions, the result is a clashing cacophony.

In a marriage, what makes the difference between that beautiful symphony and the clashing cacophony?

In the next few weeks I’m going to share our thoughts on marriage based on Scripture and what we’ve observed through the years.  

 Part One: Making Decisions

Submission and individual freedom need to be balanced or the marriage will suffer. Either extreme will affect the harmony of the marriage.

Suzy works hard to be a submissive wife. Sam speaks with authority and Suzy obeys. She hardly makes any decisions without consulting Sam first. Once he speaks on a subject, she follows his desires without question. If she disagrees with his decision, she prays that God will give her a submissive heart. She may not enjoy doing what Sam says, but she feels responsible before God to obey him. If Sam makes unwise decisions, she figures he is responsible to God for them. She leaves herself in God’s hands, satisfied that she has done her part and must leave the result to God.  In their church ministry Sam writes Suzy’s job description and she fills it. She never disagrees with her husband in public. When people ask Suzy for advice she refers them to Sam and she doesn’t answers questions without consulting him first. She never offers or accepts invitations or makes plans without consulting Sam first.

Edward and Enid, on the other hand, believe in perfect equality in a marriage. Edward makes his decisions; Enid makes hers. They negotiate to make joint decisions come out 50/50. He doesn’t tell Enid how to live and she doesn’t nag him. Edward makes jokes at her expense from the pulpit. She publicly criticizes him. In conversations they often correct each other or argue over who is right. Neither one can offer or accept invitations without consulting the other. Each speaks for himself or herself, but will not answer for each other.

 

These two couples show two extreme views of submission and individual freedom. Suzy takes submission to such an extreme that she doesn’t even need to think for herself. Sam, on the other hand, misses out on a lot of help Suzy could give. Enid works so hard to be equal that she loses some of the benefits of marriage, while Edward’s ministry would profit from her support.

Scripture does talk about submission, but an extreme view of it can destroy a marriage.

Ephesians 5 teaches us that wives need to be submissive to their husbands, but that we all need to submit to one another. A husband should love his wife in the same way Christ loved the church.  1 Peter 3 also admonishes wives to be submissive to their husbands and husbands to live with their wives with understanding, giving honor to them. It calls husbands and wives “heirs together of the grace of life.”

So who gets to make the decisions?

The husband, as head of the house, is responsible for final decisions on major issues. He should lovingly lead his family in spiritual issues as well as more mundane matters.

A Christian wife, however, brings her own unique gifts and abilities to the table. She can also be led by the Holy Spirit and should be capable of making wise decisions. A Christian husband can and should be able to learn from his wife.

A couple should work together in an open and trusting relationship in which each works for the good of the other. Marriage can be such a help and encouragement in ministry or it can be the Achilles’ heel that mortally wounds your ministry.

Each couple needs to work out the way they will implement these principles. Both need to give and take. Both need to recognize the strengths of the other. Who will make what decisions?  What will they do when they disagree? How will they work out differences?

Our marriage

Art and I compartmentalize many decisions. He decides car issues and many house maintenance and lawn issues. I get to rule the kitchen. I make suggestions about our ministry. He sifts them and implements many of them. He decides what computer to buy. I purchase clothing and small home purchases. He drives, I ride.

Many other things we talk about until we come to an agreement. Sometimes a decision is more important to one of us than the other. The one who cares least allows the other one to decide. Sometimes one of us gives in because it doesn’t seem that important. Art’s a gentleman and wants to make me happy so that helps a lot. It’s rare that both of us feel really strongly about a decision and take opposite sides. Rarely I might need to give in, even though I disagree, simply because he’s the husband and I leave it to him.

We did have one issue on which we didn’t agree and when it came up it really upset me and robbed me of any kind of peace. We had agreed that neither one of us would use money for this purpose unless we both agreed on it. The issue surfaced at unpredictable times and always left me feeling unsettled. Finally I said, “Take x amount of dollars a year to use for that cause and I’ll leave you alone about it. I don’t want to hear about it or talk about it. Just use the money to do what you feel you need to.” In that unusual situation that was the best way to make peace.

A balanced view of submission and individual freedom will reflect these Biblical principles:

The husband is the loving leader of the home.

Each person brings gifts and skills to the table. Each will be better qualified to make certain decisions.

Each person needs to have freedom to make many decisions by themselves.

Each person should consider the feelings and needs of the other when making decisions.

Each person should trust each other and be trustworthy.

Each person should be giving and taking. No one should get his or her way most of the time while running over the feelings and desires of the other.

In coming weeks I’ll deal with working as a team, nurturing your relationship, and managing finances.

[image courtesy of m1Anna Stsonn6/Deposit Photos]

 

 

Equality as a Cultural Issue

10645013_s (1)I always thought I knew what equality was.

Americans believe in equality. We don’t like to think of ourselves as snobs. We try not to judge a person’s worth by their fame or income level or what they look like. We try to treat all people with a certain degree of respect. So when we moved to New Zealand, where equality is very important, I felt we fit in and understood. Years later, however, I learned that the New Zealander (Kiwi) idea of equality was slightly different.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is a label used in New Zealand and Australia to describe their aversion to people who “get above themselves.” They are friendly to almost anyone, but eye with suspicion the “tall poppy” who grows higher than the rest. Kiwis and Aussies rarely celebrate success and don’t generally aspire to build wildly successful careers.  Sports is the exception to the rule. Everyone loves the All-Blacks, the nation’s rugby team. Compared to many other cultures, however, education is not highly valued. New Zealand is, as a result, always short of doctors, but they have plenty of tradesmen.

Kiwis will tolerate a certain amount of success if the successful person lives in an average house, drives an average vehicle, and is like everyone else.  Anything that could hint at being flashy or pretentious will not impress the average Kiwi, but will have the opposite effect.

 Equality and Leadership

Understanding the Kiwi concept of equality becomes important in a leadership position. Titles are rarely used. Even kids often call doctors and pastors by their first names. While Americans use titles as a sign of respect, expecting it in New Zealand often signals superiority.

Some cultures weigh a pastor’s advice very heavily and nearly always follow it. In an egalitarian culture like New Zealand, however, a pastor or leader has to tread much more carefully when giving advice or correction or he will risk offense.

Formality and Leadership

Kiwis like to keep most things casual. Formality often comes across as unfriendly. Formality often emphasizes a central figure standing up front, leading things. Casualness emphasizes everyone in the group, because individuals can speak out quite freely.

People sitting in a circle drinking tea is friendly. Casual dress, informal settings, unstructured meetings are friendly too. Having tea and biscuits (cookies) makes anything seem more friendly.

On the other hand, anything highly structured or planned can seem unfriendly. Rules, punctuality, formal dress, evaluation, one speaker talking without comments from the audience; all these can easily come across in an unfriendly manner. Meetings are often much more casual than the American counterparts.  While Americans may be uncomfortable with such a degree of casualness, it makes the meeting seem friendly to Kiwis. And friendliness is the brother of equality.

Potluck Chili for Many Occasions and Diets

I’ve just come from a church potluck dinner after a morning service with a baptism. We had a great attendance, good testimonies, and an all-around great Sunday morning.  The food was not the most important aspect of this, but it’s the topic of this blog. What do you serve a big group when you have different diets to cater for?

This noon meal was soup and finger food. We had five crockpots of soup and lots of sandwiches and savouries. This works well for our church. I always bring chili. Of course chili is as common as dirt in America.  It’s not common in New Zealand, but Kiwis seem to really like it and it goes every time I bring it.

But the great thing about chili is that you can easily adapt it to suit a wide range of diets. It’s easy to make and very filling. You may have your own recipe, but if not, here’s mine. I often call it my 8-can chili. Here are things to look for when you want to feed a crowd:

Gluten Free

This chili is easy to make gluten free. Just make sure none of your ingredients have wheat in them, especially the pasta sauce, baked beans, or seasoning.

Vegan

One time I knew a vegan couple would be attending our pot luck. I simply took out enough for them before I added the ground beef and kept theirs hot in a small crock pot. Then I added the meat to the rest of the chili in the large crock pot.

Dairy Free, Egg Free

Chili works great for these diets as well.

Something Different

Make waffles using corn meal for part of the flour and use a little less sugar. My recipe is already gluten free. Pour chili over the waffles and top with grated cheese or the cheese sauce in my recipe and sliced olives.  This works well for lunches or youth group. You can make the waffles ahead of time and warm them in an oven when needed. A small crock pot works well to keep the cheese sauce warm until serving time.

Just be aware that the waffles won’t necessarily be gluten, dairy, or egg free or vegan unless you work to make them that. For dairy free or vegan the cheese sauce would need to be made with something like soy milk and soy cheese. To be gluten free the cheese sauce needs to be thickened with cornstarch (cornflour) that has no wheat in it, not  wheat flour.