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Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

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5 Ways to Encourage Your Missionaries

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I used to say, “You can tell how long a missionary family has been on the field by the color of their Tupperware.” But the face of missions is changing rapidly and the ways churches can help missionaries has changed with it.

  • Monthly missionary meetings have stopped in many churches.
  • Today many women work at paid jobs outside the home, making it hard for women to attend missionary meetings.
  • The missions projects of yesteryear—rolling bandages, sewing quilts from scraps to save money, cutting and pasting bookmarks and prizes out of old greeting cards—are seldom helpful on the mission field today.
  • The rising cost of postage and shipping has made treasures from missionary closets impractical to transfer to the field for many missionaries.

A recent comment from my website asked a question many churches are asking today.

What can our church do to encourage missionaries on a regular basis?

This is an excellent question. It doesn’t have a simple, one-size-fits-all answer, but I’m going to suggest some things to think about when you want to encourage your missionaries.

  1. Treat them as individuals.

What do missionaries need today? First of all, missionaries are just people. Some struggle in their marriages. Some have children who hate being MK’s. Some have complicated health issues or manage difficult diets. Some are introverts in a world where people expect missionaries to be extroverts. Some don’t have kids and the ones that do educate their kids in a variety of ways. Some collect turkey feathers, sew quilts, run marathons, write books, ski, or refinish antiques.

The needs of their fields also vary widely. You can minister to them in a much more effective way if you understand who they are. Figuring this out will often suggest ways you can encourage or help them.

2. Correspond to show you care.

What does that mean? Send birthday and anniversary cards? Write personal letters asking lots of questions? Sharing lots of details about your life?

I’m going to guess that some missionaries love birthday cards and some don’t care much. But if every supporting church sent cards on every holiday, with a long list of names signed, it would have about the same effect as when 147 Facebook friends write posts telling you, “Happy birthday!!!” Some churches make it their special ministry to hand-make beautiful cards and it can be a good way to show your missionaries that you are thinking of them in a personal way. If it becomes, however, a troublesome task which eats up too much postage, you might want to consider another way to do the same thing.

Personally, I’d rather have a personal, warm email than a card with a list of names signed. When you mention something specific from my last prayer letter or recall a personal memory, I know you’ve seen me and you are thinking of me, not just ticking something off your to-do list.

Whatever you do, make it easy to respond. If I get a card in the mail, I love it when an email address is included. Then I can easily write a few lines of reply and finish my response without having to remember to do it later. Find out what method of correspondence is best for your missionary and use that when possible. Sometimes it’s great just to say you’ve written to encourage them and don’t expect a response.

How early should you send cards? I’m sure every field is different and times vary within the same country. Sometimes we get cards from the US in about a week. Other times it might take much longer. I may receive cards a month or more before the date or a month or so after. Too early is always better than too late. I don’t open cards until the occasion has arrived. Usually, however, missionaries are thankful for the thought and don’t worry if the timing is off.

Lists of questions can take a lot of time to answer. Don’t ask questions about a country if you can find them on the internet. If you ask questions, make sure you use them well. Assure the missionary that she can use something she’s already written for other churches if appropriate.

Share your own personal details in correlation to the relationship you have with the missionary. If she doesn’t even know you by name, a few details are appropriate. If you know her well, you may want to share more. It’s appropriate to share a few personal prayer requests, but avoid sending heart-wrenching details that may burden the missionary more than encourage.

Consider a phone call or Skype. Sometimes this can be cheaper than postage. Check their time zone on the internet to make sure you aren’t calling them in the middle of the night or at a bad time. You could even email ahead and set up a time to talk. You could be quite an encouragement in this way. Even most pastors never call their missionaries on the field. We’ve been missionaries since 1978 and I know this for a fact.

What can you say in a letter or phone call to show you care? Tell them you’re praying for a specific request of theirs. This tells them you read their prayer letters and care enough to remember and pray specifically. Affirm something specific about their ministry. Say something personal. Don’t expect them to share private matters if they aren’t ready to do this.

  1. Look for special needs.

I feel kind of sad when people ask what special projects they make or do for us and I don’t have a good answer. You need to realize that sometimes missionaries don’t have special little “projects” that can be made by a ladies’ group. Sometimes they may not even have a specific, small financial need that you can even give toward. But when you treat missionaries as individuals, you may find special needs that come up.

Missionary closets were a great help to me in the past. I’m not sure I’ve ever purchased one Tupperware item, but I own many. They tend to be apple green or yellow or orange, which tells you how old I am. But now I’ve set up housekeeping. Posting, shipping, or bringing an extra suitcase on a flight often costs more than buying the items new. Many missionaries face this problem. Perhaps missionary closets are still helpful to missionary appointees who plan to send a large crate to the field or to home missionaries. But if you find missionaries aren’t taking much from your closet, you may rather buy specific items for specific missionaries.

Encourage their college kids. The hardest thing for a missionary family may be sending their children back to their home country for college and university. The MK may seldom or never go home for holidays during these years and may be far from any family. The missionary mother might long to send care packages, but the postage may make it unreasonable. Churches can greatly encourage college kids by sending baked treats, coins for laundry, offers to sew, shampoo or panty hose, or things like that. If you know an MK well enough, you might be in a position to help them shop for clothes as they re-enter their home country or invite them to your home for a holiday.

Ask your missionaries if they need items that you could purchase and sent to them. Ask them to pick out an item from Amazon or an on-line store and have it shipped directly to them. For missionary readers, ask for a wish list to read on their e-reader. Send a gift of money through their mission board to use to go out to eat or use on vacation.

If you have someone with special skills who wants to help, your church could offer their services. This could be making puppets, sewing, web design, woodworking, or even servicing their car. Don’t be offended, however, if they don’t have a particular need in those areas.

If a missionary family with young children comes to your church, provide opportunities for them to move around, play at a playground, play with children from the church, or go someplace special when they come to your church. Instead of expecting them to be missionary kids, just expect them to be kids.

  1. Be a friend.

You might be surprised to know how many missionaries have no really close friends apart from their spouse.

They may have close friends and family when they first leave for the field, but after 20, 30, or 40 years away from those friends and family, developing very different interests and experiences, they usually find time makes for distance in many of their relationships.

Many missionaries have close missionary friends on the field, but others don’t work in close contact with other missionaries. Depending on language, culture, and other factors, they may make close national friends, but even here, they have to have boundaries. Missionaries often feel they are giving out in friendship, but do far more giving than receiving.

You can’t be a close friend to all your missionaries, but you can ask the Lord to lead you to becomea better friend to some missionary. You might find someone who shares similar interests or skills and relate to her in a personal way. When missionaries are home on furlough, offer to include them in an excursion to a local place of interest. Think of a question, other than the top five questions everyone asks missionaries, and ask about that. Let them know you see them as people, not just missionaries.

Discover their love language and show them you care. A small gift, when appropriate, can be meaningful to people who love gifts. Avoid gifts that are big and impractical. Some missionaries don’t have a regular furlough home and sending something to the field may not be practical. This eliminates many gifts. You might provide a service, like providing car maintenance or offering extended housing. Some might like a good hug. For me, it would be much more meaningful just to give a few words of affirmation.

When missionaries are going through rough times or times when they see very few visible results, they need to know that you stand behind them. Let them know (when it’s true) that you appreciate their hard work and faithfulness.

  1. Pray specifically and faithfully.

This one may be obvious, but I’ve saved the most important for last. We need effective and fervent prayer like we read about in James 5:16. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can’t know how to pray very specifically for missionaries. I believe, however, that the most effective, fervent prayer happens when a person makes the effort to find out specific needs and prays faithfully for them. If that weren’t true we could just ask God to “bless all the missionaries around the world real good,” cross prayer off our list, and move on.

When we get to heaven, I’m convinced we’ll find results from our labor that we never saw on earth. I’m also convinced that we will understand, somehow, how much more could have been done with effective prayer support.

You may have even been placed in a situation where you are limited in how you can function, but you have more time than usual. Time is a wonderful gift, and time in prayer is a great support and encouragement for missionaries. Or you may struggle to find time to pray like most of us, but making time for meaningful prayer accomplishes more than we will even know on earth.

You can use these 5 ways to encourage your missionaries. Sometimes it’s easier to organize a craft and do it than to really see your missionaries and try to meet their needs. But if you are prayerfully looking for ways to meet the needs of your missionaries, these 5 ways can allow you to be a great blessing.

The Other Side of the Hardships of Missions

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You’ve seen the blogs that tell about the secret hardships of missionaries. We leave our families behind. We miss weddings, birthdays, funerals, and other occasions. While there are a thousand different missionary situations, some missionaries face physical danger, health risks, culture shocks, difficult languages, persecution, and great difficulties that pertain to their field. These things are all true, but there’s another side of missions that these blogs don’t cover. Perhaps few missionaries  share these things.

  • Many people who aren’t missionaries also live far from home.

While some Americans live within close range of most of their families, many are spread all over America, or even overseas. People in the military are often far from family for extended periods of time.  Other people relocate for career or simply preference, and they may not see their families every holiday either. Foreign missions usually takes us farther from family than most others situations, but we certainly aren’t the only ones who experience this separation.

  • We have the advantage of internet and social networking that previous generations of missionaries never dreamed of.

Snail mail cards and letters are almost a thing of the past. We can call, Skype, or email to keep in touch with our families. Internet brings a world of information to gadgets we can access anywhere. Even at the end of the world (I’m close to that in Invercargill, New Zealand) as long as we have internet, we can keep track of what’s happening everywhere. When slow broadband incites huge irritation, we have to realize we have so much more communication capability than we had even twenty years ago.

  • In most missionary families, dad, mom, and kids live together in fairly healthy relationships.

We forget how rich we are. Everywhere you look, even in churches, are broken marriages and dysfunctional families. In missionary families, most often the kids above a certain age are all Christians. Most missionary families eat most of their meals together. Sometimes the children are home-schooled and spend much more time with family than an average child. It’s easy to compare our lot to ideal church families in the States, but we fail to realize our families have so much better family relationships that many others.

  • We enjoy many advantages that missionary pioneers never had.

Some living situations are much harder than others, but overall we have much easier situations than missionary pioneers. Often we live in very comfortable homes, live normal lifestyles, and eat healthy diets. We may not have as much “stuff” as the average American, but do we need it?

  • We have the prayer support of many churches and individuals.

Few home church pastors enjoy the prayer support of the average missionary. The nature of missionary work (speaking in churches, raising support, and sending prayer letters) invites prayer support. We can even email updates to get quick prayer for urgent occasions. That’s a great benefit.

  • Many times our children are able to be very involved in ministry.

When we first moved to New Zealand we had two teenage girls who became very involved in our church. One or both of them taught a kids’ class, led a puppet team, sang in choir, and engaged with the adults as well as the rest of the teens. Our family spent a lot of time at church, but as my husband and I led the youth group and Discovery Club, we spent time with our own kids and their friends. At the same time, we were serving the Lord and building our church. Our daughters were able to be much more involved in ministry than they would have been had they belonged to a big youth group in the States.

  • Furlough time usually allows us to spend extended time with our families back home.

Yes, we often have busy schedules and travel extensively, but we can schedule family visits as part of our furlough schedule. Many working families would have to take vacation time and perhaps lose pay to do this.

  • We experience the blessing of Matthew 19:29.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (NKJV)

As missionaries, our highest motivation for service should be pleasing the Lord, not the reward we get for it. At the same time, however, Jesus does offer blessing for those who leave all to follow Him.

Even here and now, missionaries who have left their homes are invited into hundreds of homes as they visit churches. They become family to other missionaries on their field, national believers on the field, and churches who pray for them and support them. Beyond this visible benefit in the here and now, God promises his reward throughout eternity.

With all these blessings, how can missionaries feel sorry for themselves?

The problem is comparison.

Comparison usually gets us into trouble. It’s easy to lose our contentment when we compare ourselves to people back home or other missionaries who seem to have it easier than we do. If, however, we compare ourselves to others who, for a myriad of reasons, have life harder than we do, we see that we are truly blessed.

I recognize that missionaries bear genuine hardships. But I don’t find it especially helpful to focus on these hardships. I try to shift my focus to positive benefits I receive from being a missionary. How can I do this?

Let’s look at one of the hardest situations a missionary faces.

When I left home back in 1980, I got on the plane with my husband and ten-month-old daughter, and waved goodbye to my parents, knowing I wouldn’t see them again for four years. I would travel to this new country (Taiwan)  I’d never seen, learn a language I’d never spoken, and start a whole new life. Finally we had our support and we’d begin this whole new adventure.

Where were my mom and dad at this point? They were back at the airport, blinking away tears, waving through the airport windows. They had wished us well and rejoiced that the Lord was taking us to our new place of ministry. In short, they were making it easy for us to leave. Wow. What a gift!

Eighteen years later we were standing at the airport, sending our daughter off to Bible college. This time we were the parents who were left behind, praying, worrying, wondering about the daughter who would only come home to New Zealand once in those four years. (Though we would visit her on furlough.) A year and a half later we were standing at the airport with our other daughter who was packed and ready to leave home. Watching our daughters leave us was harder than leaving our own parents, but I had learned from my parents. Bidding them goodbye at the airport, we hid our tears, wished them well, and rejoiced that the Lord was leading them down a new path. We were trying to make it easy for them to leave, as our parents had done for us.

Now we could have dwelled on the hardship of being separated from our daughters just out of high school. Even now, more than fifteen years later, tears run down my face as I write this. But we choose, when faced with the many goodbyes in our lives, to make them quick and clean. We don’t drag them out for weeks. When it’s time to go we give the hugs, say goodbye, get on the plane and leave.

When my daughters left home, what did I focus on?

  • We were in God’s will and our daughters were following his will too.
  • We needed to look for ways to support our daughters in their new living situation. Phone calls, emails, prayers, birthday and Christmas packages all helped. Packages were expensive to send, but our supporting churches sometimes sent packages to our girls in college. (I was never more thankful to our churches for the gifts and help given than when they sent packages to our daughters in college.)
  • While I would have loved seeing our daughters more often, the empty nest did give me more time to serve more in our church ministry as well as my writing ministry.
  • Our daughters were learning to trust God and find his path for them in a new way when they were farther from home.
  • Serving God, though sometimes difficult, is a privilege. I can’t claim we’ve seen astounding visible results for our efforts, but I feel that we’ve done what God put before us. Yes, we’ve seen some people saved, but I like to think God is working through us in ways we will never know this side of heaven. God has blessed us by giving us a ministry in which we can get close to people, encourage them and help them.
  • Would I seriously want to be living in an easier, more comfortable position outside of his will? Would I want my family to keep me from the path God has for me? The safest place for my family, and me as well, is in the center of God’s will. It is the place of blessing for us. I could ask for no less.

Giving Your Kids a Positive MK Experience

Kanate Chainapong

In past months we’ve talked about giving MK’s an appreciation for their host country (mission field) and their home country (where their parents come from.)  Here are some other things you can do to give them a positive MK experience.

1. Emphasize the positive parts of missionary life.

Face it. Sometimes missionaries feel like a round peg in a square hole. In many mission fields the missionary family may look very different from the nationals and have a very different lifestyle. Differences in language and culture may make it difficult to build really close relationships with nationals. Then they return to their home country and find they don’t fit in real well there either. They have changed. They see things differently than they did before.

But missionary life also has advantages. You may get to travel far more than the average person from your home country. You may get to eat exotic dishes and taste weird fruit that few people in your home country even know exist. How can you capture and emphasize the advantages of your life?

When my girls were little I began to realize that, over their growing up years, they would be able to visit some cool places. I made each of my daughters a “Neat Places I Have Been” book. I used about a page for each year, and put a photo of each major places they went. Furlough years took several pages. This was one book that they could take to college or show to their spouses in years to come. It emphasized travel, one of the advantages of being an MK.

You could do the same thing with a shadow box or a collection of some kind. What physical object can you put in their hands that makes them say, “Wow! I’m blessed to be an MK.”

2. When possible, give your kids an enjoyable part in your ministry.

We moved to New Zealand during our daughters’ high school years. Here they were able to have a vital part in our ministry. Lisa was only here for six months, but she immediately stepped into choir and some teaching opportunities. Lori lived here two years. She took over our puppet ministry and kept it going while she was here. Our daughters naturally attracted teens to our ministry. I was so pleased that they could have the chance to really take part in ministry and enjoy it before they left home.

Even small children can help pass out hymnals or greet people and make other kids feel welcome. Kids who play an enjoyable part in their parents’ ministry are less likely to resent being MK’s when they become adults.

Your particular field may present challenges for engaging your children and building memorable times as a family. Pray about it. Work at it. Somewhere in the context of your ministry there will be some fun things that you can do as a family or that your child can participate in individually that will give him great childhood memories and make him glad that he’s an MK.

What activities or ideas have you found in your place of ministry to emphasize the positive aspects of being an MK?

3. Encourage your kids to develop unique skills that are available to them because they are MK’s.

Arrange for ways to learn the language of the host country even if they move overseas at an older age. Give them opportunities to use the language and point out what a valuable skill that is.

Help them develop ministries on the field that translate into ministry skills in their home country. Use them to help teach children’s church or VBS when they are on furlough.

Encourage them to write about their life as an MK and direct them to writing contests or ways to use their writing.

Teach them to use the art of friendship as a ministry wherever you go.

This doesn’t mean that you should push your MK’s into uncomfortable situations, but look for ways to encourage your kids to develop their own interests in ways that will make them glad for the advantages they have for growing up in a missionary home.

What unique ways have you found to give your MK a positive missionary experience?

God’s Invisible Work

uPatipat Rintharasri

Are you feeling discouraged in your ministry today? Maybe you’ve been working hard, but you see few results for your labor. You’ve analysed your ministry to see if you could makes changes to be more effective, yet you don’t feel the Lord’s leading you to make changes. You’ve poured yourself into the lives of people who are making bad choices. It looks like you are accomplishing very little. You’re trying to be faithful, but if what you’re doing isn’t working, why not quit?

Wouldn’t you like God to speak to you today and give you words of comfort? He has. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10 NKJV)

God sees your work. If you are following his leading and serving him to the best of your ability out of a heart of love, he is pleased, even if you can’t feel it. God often works beneath the surface.  He may be doing his greatest work at a time when it looks like nothing is happening.

A friend recently told me, “Satan is really working. I’ve told all these friends about Jesus and they just aren’t responding.” Within days of hearing that I read these verses in my devotions. “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, NKJV)

Most people don’t respond to the gospel the first time they hear it. Many times it takes years of exposure to the gospel before they are ready to believe. Over the years they meet various Christians who show an attractive picture of who Christ is and plant gospel seeds. The unbelievers remember bits and pieces of things they hear, but mostly they resist the message.  All these things seem to do no good. Then one day someone witnesses to them and “suddenly” they get it. They’re ready to be saved. But actually the decision wasn’t sudden. All the words by Christians that they seemingly ignored were actually helping to prepare them for the sudden decision.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NKJV)

God hasn’t forgotten your work. He is working in hearts. Your labor is not in vain. May you experience his joy in your ministry today.