Furlough, Deputation, and Other Revolving Door Ministries

deposit photos by Hongqi ZhangEvery week you meet a whole group of new people. You try to minister in a meaningful way, but you find yourself feeling like so much window dressing. Dress pretty. Smile right. Answer the same timeworn questions about your ministry and your country one more time. Move on to a new group.

Furlough and deputation or pre-field ministry can feel like a revolving door of strangers. How can you relate to individuals when their faces change each week? One approach says you’re here to present your ministry and field. As long as you’re doing that you don’t have to worry about the strangers you meet each week.

True, it is totally unrealistic to expect to connect with everyone. You’ll never be able to remember even the names of key people in every church you visit. But you can touch individual lives in a significant way.  Here’s how:

Send out feelers.

When my husband and I go to camp we each sit separately with different campers every meal. We line up last so we can spot spare places and sit with kids who might show more interest than others. We ask the names of kids closest to us and ask where they are from.  We ask about camp activities. If we’re familiar with their families we ask about them. We might ask about their interests: sports, music, future career, hobbies, college expectations. This often gives us a way to connect with some of them.

I look for potential writers or missionaries or Christian workers. Art is more likely to ask about sports and physical activities. The key word is “ask.” Many kids and teens are willing to talk if you get the conversation started, ask them about themselves, and show genuine interest.

You can do a similar thing while you stand by a display table, watch a soccer game, or visit at someone’s house.

Focus on them.

As missionary guest speakers the focus is usually on us. We go first in the food line. We are featured and welcomed in the service. We talk about ourselves and our ministry. Some of this is necessary and helpful. But if we want to have a significant impact on individuals we need to shift the focus at some point. This is not just about me and my ministry. Who are you? What’s going on in your life right now? What are you passionate about? What can I learn from you?

When you focus on a person you listen to more than words. You search for their concerns or joys or passions.  You listen to what they say to learn about them, not just to use their words as a springboard for your own comments. You may never see this person again, but right now he deserves your full attention.

Connect as a friend.

This is not sermon time. I’m not here to straighten you out or perform like super-missionary. I just want to know you and affirm you.

You like to play baseball? Cool. What position do you play? I know missionaries who use baseball for a great outreach in the Dominican Republic.

You play the piano? How long have you played? God can really use that skill on the mission field.

You do patchwork? I’d love to see your work sometime. Do you display it anywhere?

You’re a football fan? In New Zealand they play rugby. I actually know very little about it, but you should talk to my husband sometime. He likes sports, but he’s more of a runner.

Sound pointless? Actually making conversation is an important missionary skill that will help you wherever you go. Today we have more forms of communication than ever before: texting, email, phone calls, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, even snail mail. But with all of these, we have less and less time to actually focus on one person and communicate well. It’s becoming a dying art, and yet one that is desperately needed.

I’m convinced that one of the most effective ways to impact people is through quiet, personal conversations. We don’t usually see the results of this kind of ministry, but it is real and memorable.

What are some ways you reach out to people during periods of constant travel?


Adapting to a New Culture – Chinese

INTCL019Living in a new culture forces us to make changes and rethink the way we do things. It causes us to evaluate our home culture by new criteria. We have to make choices about how we are going to live and balance our home culture with our new culture.

Changing cultures stretches our minds and experiences, encouraging us to learn and grow. People who have never left their home culture seldom understand this process and may not understand us after we’ve gone through it. It’s good for us but it’s not necessarily a comfortable process.

Here are some cultural observations from an American friend who has recently spent a year living in a Chinese country:

  • Chinese people who have a close friendship/relationship do not say, “thank you” to each other. Saying “thank you” implies a distant relationship with the other person.
  • Teachers have a serious, conservative demeanor in class. It’s OK to smile, but dramatic gestures and drama can make students uncomfortable.
  • Respect for elders is always important. We need to stand to greet older people who enter the room and call on the oldest brother to open or close a meeting in prayer.
  • Time schedules are made last-minute and are open to change.
  • If you ask people questions to which they don’t know the answer, they are likely to make up an answer. Saving face is more important than truth-telling.

When culture shock was strong, my coping strategies were to read about culture or make a journal entry about it. Our home was a place of rest and normalcy from a Western perspective.

Local believers and friends were generally quite forgiving of our cultural ignorance and mistakes. But this can make it is harder to learn about your weaknesses.

 Chinese culture is difficult for Westerners to adapt to. Historically, Westerners have failed to adapt well to Chinese culture and have left offences in the Chinese mind. They still admire Americans because they perceive our country as wealthy and successful. However, they do not expect us to adapt very well to Chinese culture. It’s like they think, “You are foreigners. You will always be foreigners. We don’t expect more than that.”

 I want to thank my friend for sharing his experiences. He is challenged to continue to learn about Chinese culture and relate to Chinese in a more effective way.

Here’s a book by me about Chinese culture in Taiwan: Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World

Here’s a book I recommend by Dillon Forbes about Chinese culture in China: Careful Enough?

What things have your learned about a different culture?




What does God want me to do? Part 3—Choosing a Ministry

New Zealand BeachTwo weeks ago I talked about how to find God’s will for your life. I talked about finding God’s will through the Bible, positioning ourselves to do His will, getting Godly counsel, and rattling doorknobs.  I promised to give you some personal examples of how I found God’s will in several areas of my life. Last week I talked about the way the Lord has led me in writing for Christian publication. Today I’ll talk about how the Lord has led me in ministry. I hope this will help some of you who may be looking for guidance in your own ministry.


I became a Christian at age 5 and, as a teen, told God I would do whatever he wanted me to do. I was raised in a pastor’s home and always had a special heart for ministry. It only made sense to go to a Bible college, since Bible college training is a pre-requisite for many kinds of ministry. I thought it would be great if the Lord would lead me to become a pastor’s wife, but for several years no would-be pastors asked me out. During my junior year at Faith Baptist Bible College I felt God leading me to write for Christian publication, but that didn’t rule out other ministry at the same time.


Suddenly I became aware that Art Brammer was interested in me. After dating 2 weeks he informed me that God had called him to be a missionary to Taiwan. Was than an option I would consider? It sounded a bit like a proposal, but it wasn’t. He just didn’t want to waste time and emotion dating if there was no future in it. Being a missionary wife sounded more daunting than a pastor’s wife, but I told him I believed it could be an option. We continued to date, asking the Lord to lead us apart if this wasn’t his will for us. He continued to lead us together. We married in 1978 and I believed God had called me to my husband and the field of Taiwan as well.


After about 15 years in Taiwan we came to a scary place in our ministry. We had started one ministry and helped with another. In about a year it became clear that both of the ministries weren’t really going forward. We didn’t want to quit and go home if the Lord wanted us to stick it out, but we also didn’t want to stay when the Lord was leading us elsewhere. How could we know what the Lord wanted?


We prayed and ask God to lead us very specifically. We sought Godly counsel from our field council, mission board, and sending church. Finally we set some goals for our ministry that would help us discern the Lord’s leading. The goals were high enough to show progress, but low enough to be reasonable. If the ministries met these goals we believed God would continue to build those ministries and we should stay with them. If the goals were not met however, we would take that as a sign that the Lord was moving on.


In about six months the Lord made his will very clear. Neither of the ministries came close to meeting the goals. It was time for us to move, but we had no idea about what to do next. Art had planned on missions in Taiwan since he was a teenager. It had been difficult for him to even consider any other ministry. We brought our two high-school-aged daughters back to the US and began the search for a new ministry.


At first we looked at Chinese ministries in the US and Canada. Some sounded promising, but when we actually visited them, we didn’t feel like they were a good fit for us. God didn’t give us peace about them. Each time we “rattled a doorknob” we found the door was locked. After a couple of months in the States our field administrator from our mission board called. “Would you consider pastoring a church in New Zealand?” he asked. On the southern tip of New Zealand was a church that had been started by a missionary who felt the Lord leading him away. We said sure, we’d consider it. Then we got out our maps. Where in the world was New Zealand?


Within about a month Art and I flew down to Invercargill, New Zealand for ten days so we could meet the people and he could candidate as pastor. We visited the church and toured a bit of the South Island. Soon after we returned the church voted to extend the call to Art to be their pastor. We talked about it with our kids, prayed about it, and God gave us peace. We’ve been in that ministry for 15 years now.


Early on in our ministry here, God showed us that this new place of ministry was right for us. Our daughters both had opportunities to share in our ministry before they moved away from home.


Most ministries go through ups and downs. Sometimes God brings us through down times to times of more apparent blessing. It’s not always easy to know when to leave a ministry and when to hold on. But if we really want to know God’s will, because we want to do it, because we love him, he will show us his way. We may only be able to see the next step, but when he shows us that step, we can take it in confidence. God will help us through all the necessary changes.


Are you confused about the direction of your ministry today? Are there Godly counsellors you can talk to? Have you made long range goals and short range goals to get to the long range ones? Are you flexible enough to sense when God is leading you in a different direction? Are you moving forward, rattling some doorknobs to see which ones are locked?


My prayer for you today is that God will lead you to make good decisions and you will find the place or ministry where you can best serve him. May you find joy in serving him today.

How to Help Your MK’s Keep in Touch with their Home Country

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In 1980 we carried a baby onto a plane bound for the mission field of Taiwan. We didn’t plan to return to the States for four years. That baby and another one yet to be born would grow up in Taiwan, but we had to look past that. Someday they would want to return to the States for college. Unless the Lord called them to be missionaries in Taiwan or some other Chinese country, they would have to fit into American culture. Actually, no matter what they did as adults, they would need to be able to fit into American culture on furloughs. Even in foreign countries they would likely have American friends they would need to understand. Little did we know then that the Lord would lead us away from Taiwan during their high school years and move us to a very different country of New Zealand.

Last month’s blog talked about adapting to the culture of the host country, but we were aware that our kids also needed to be able to interact in their home country. They wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the latest TV commercials which, for some reason, form such a strong part of American culture.  But we needed to help them understand American culture as well as the cultures of their host countries.

1. Give your kids a regional identity.

“Where are you from?” Generally MK’s hate this question.  They hardly know where to begin to answer. If they say they are from some foreign country, other kids may disconnect because they can’t relate, or even feel your kids are showing off.

People don’t mean that to be a trick question. They are just looking for connections. Giving your kids a regional identity with some part of your home country will give your kids more connections. It gives them a group to belong to. Face it, in their home country, almost no one will be from the country they grew up in.

We realized that Americans have, not just a national identity, but a regional one. Art and I grew up in Montana and Colorado. That American sub-culture is different from the South or California or the Northeast. Our kids needed a regional identity too.

In Montana, our furlough home, people hunt, fish, climb mountains, and chop wood. None of these activities seemed very important in Taiwan, but our girls needed to know what it meant to “come from Montana.” We did take our kids hiking. On furlough we sent our kids to Bible camp in Montana. We tried to give our kids a taste of the farm and the mountains. Furlough gave them the opportunity to meet our friends and their kids. We never succeeded in making them avid campers, but we tried to give them enough activities in those places to at least give them some sort of regional identity.

2. Avoid disposable friendships.

“Friendships are disposable.” I remember thinking this as a teen. My dad was a church planter, and because of some special circumstances in his ministry at that time, I moved at least once a year during high school. One year I went to three schools the first month. I finished up the year at the school I liked the least. I didn’t fit in and finally decided that I didn’t have to make friends there. I just had to get through the school year. In time I revised that a bit, but you can see how friendships seemed disposable.

Many MK’s visit a different church every Sunday during furloughs. Even if they are friendly, many American teens aren’t prepared to make friendships that quickly. Short term friendships can be valuable too. Sometimes short term friendships come back around as you get older.

Help your kids to understand that life is enriched by many kinds of friendships. Help them to keep in contact with some of their friends. Email and Facebook makes that easier than it was in years past.

Kids can also benefit from friendships with adults. They can extend their family with “aunts and uncles” who are co-workers on the field or take a special interest them in their home country. We had some adults that worked hard to stay connected with our kids. My daughter Lori writes, “Whether the relationships MK’s make are with kids or adults, In the States of on the field, these meaningful relationships can easily last a lifetime if they keep in touch.

Make the effort to help your kids build relationships with people in your supporting churches so that when they leave home they will realize they have friends in their home country who care about them.

3. Visit well-known national places while you are on furlough.

You have to travel anyway. Go the extra mile to see historical places, see national parks, or do fun activities. Research ahead of time so your kids will understand the significance of where you are going. One thing you kids may not get overseas is the significance of being a citizen of your home country. They may never be as patriotic as the average citizen, but they do need to gain some understanding of why a citizen feels proud of his country.

Years ago most Americans felt a strong pride for their country, many feeling it was the best in the world. Sometimes today they have the opposite problem. Politics and problems have stolen their pride to the point they aren’t even respectful of government leaders.

Missionary parents need to give their kids pride in and respect for both their host country and their home country. They need to help them see the good and deal with the bad realistically.

4. Choose books and DVD’s that will help your kids understand the culture of their home country in a good way.

Helping your kids become comfortable in two cultures may be a big task, but it is well worth it. It will help them reach adulthood with a positive attitude about their MK experience.

Teaching your MK’s to Appreciate Their Host Country

peanut_butter_friends2Most missionary parents want two things very badly. They want to serve the Lord completely and passionately in the place to which he has called them. And they want to give their children a rich childhood that will prepare them for adult life and make them happy that they could grow up on the mission field. Often the mission field is quite different from their home country. Parents have to make some tough choices.

When we raised our girls in Taiwan, we had high goals. We wanted them to learn Chinese well, become close friends with Chinese kids, and adapt completely to the Chinese culture. We also wanted them to have a great command of English and fit in well in America. In the beginning we wanted them to be equally proficient in both cultures.

Before long, however, we realized that few MK’s in Taiwan fit really well in both American and Chinese cultures. Some MK’s went to Chinese school and had Chinese playmates, but couldn’t talk to their grandparents when they returned to the States. Others live in the American segment of Taiwan and seemed really well-adjusted in American society but cared little about Chinese people. Like many missionaries, we had to balance ministry needs with the personal needs of our family.

We expected to spend the rest of our lives in ministry in Taiwan, at least until retirement. But we knew God might not call our daughters back to Taiwan as missionaries. They had to be able to function well in America as well. If they chose to be involved in Chinese ministry as adults we wanted it to be a choice, not something they did simply because they didn’t fit into American life.

How can you teach your kids to appreciate their host country without losing the identity of their home country?

1. Have a positive attitude toward your host country.

There will be times when life in your host country will seem totally illogical, backward, and ridiculous. You may fight your own battles with contentment on the mission field, but make sure you model a positive attitude to your kids.

Talk about the cultural differences with your kids. Voice positives and negatives of both your home country and your host country. Let them voice their problems but help them to see the positive side of the culture and the people. Resentment is contagious.

2. Set reasonable expectations for adaptation to the new country.

The Brazil MK’s we met on furlough were so annoying! They spoke Portuguese as fluently as English and played a big part in their parents’ ministry. Our kids were smart, so what was wrong with us as parents?

We had to realize that our situation was different from theirs. Our daughters spoke English at home, heard Taiwanese at church, and took Mandarin lessons at their English school. Chinese is more difficult for Americans to learn than Portuguese. We had slower growing churches and our kids didn’t know Christian Chinese kids. They didn’t belong to a Chinese youth group. We had to quit comparing our ministry expectations with those of missionaries from other fields and make decisions that were right for our kids.

We needed to give our kids good experiences in both cultures. Our kids did play some with Chinese kids. They grew up in Chinese neighborhoods and churches. They took their turns eating strange Chinese foods with chopsticks to please Chinese friends. But ultimately their closest friends were ones who spoke English and shared a similar culture. In our situation, they were able to have close friendships with other MK’s.

It’s easy to get into the trap of comparing your kids to other MK’s, as if all MK’s are alike and all mission fields are alike. Look at the different situations MK’s live in. Home schooling, boarding schools, national schools, MK schools. Dripping hot climates and freezing cold ones. English speaking countries, easy-to-learn second languages, difficult languages with strange alphabets. Deeply religious cultures, very immoral ones, voodoo followers, primitive tribes, wealthy cultures with high expectations. Cultures that emphasize group mentality or individualists. Friendly and emotional or standoffish and reserved. To that you add the countless varieties of missionary kids and their unique personalities.

If you are raising MK’s in your home, ask the Lord to give you a good balance that embraces both your host culture and your home culture. Instead of competing with other missionary parents for how well your kids know the language or how adapted they are to culture of the host country, determine what works best for your family and ministry. Your kids will face enough pressure to return to the mission field simply because they have been raised there. Give them an example of finding the Lord’s will for your life and being content with that.

3. Take advantage of unique opportunities on your field.

My grandson’s other grandma was making him a picture book about family life and animals and asked me if I wanted to contribute. She and the other grandpa had been to Yellowstone the past summer and had pictures of grizzly bears and buffalo. “Great!” I thought. “How am I going to compete with grizzly bears and buffalo?” We had changed our missionary ministry to New Zealand, an exceptionally tame country. I be pushed to find anything more exciting about our life than the ostrich at the zoo.  On further reflection, however, I remembered my picture holding a koala bear in Australia, petting a pink dolphin in Singapore, and sitting on an elephant’s knee in Thailand!

Sometimes we feel we’re missing out as missionaries, but if think about it, we have often travelled to some amazing places “on our way” to normal ministry.

All families need to have fun together. Instead of thinking about the things you miss in your home country, relish the differences in your host country. Maybe you can go to the beach on Christmas day or snow ski to school. Raise a pet monkey. Fish or hunt. Ride an elephant. Climb the Great Wall. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Visit Machu Picchu. Ride a double decker bus. Visit a castle. Go on Safari.

Crafts and sporting activities often give us chances to experience local culture. I learned to do elaborate Chinese paper cuttings and origami in Taiwan. Lisa still enjoys some of these Chinese crafts. Your field may give you great opportunity to participate in soccer, rugby, or cricket. You may be able to watch unique musical instruments being played or become acquainted with a musical scale different than the Western one.

Of course, your child can also enjoy crafts and sports and music on the mission field that are similar to that of your host country. You don’t have to only pursue those activities that are different you’re your host country.  But whatever you do, give your child good memories that make them proud to be an MK. Part of that is helping them to appreciate their host country.

two_sidesHere are two of my fiction books that show kids who learn to adapt to a new culture. Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World shows Amy Kramer who moves with her missionary family to Taiwan. Two Sides to Everything shows Josh McKay moving from big city USA to rural New Zealand.

Next month I’ll talk about more ways to make your missionary experience positive for your children.