Every 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?