Ups and Downs of Ministry

Remember when you started your ministry? Fresh from Bible college your dreams were high and your goals were worthy. You had notebooks full of ideas. You were a fountain of enthusiasm. You were going to pour your  life into the lives of others and, with God’s help, you were going to make a difference!

You knew your ministry might be small at first, but it would grow a little each year. You would be faithful. God would bless. Slowly your work would build to a peak and then you would retire or perhaps just move on to build another ministry.

After years of ministry, however, you found your work didn’t resemble the steady rise of a mountain as much as it did a roller coaster with continual ups and downs. The novelty wore off and you wondered why you were such a failure. In the dark of night, when you’re trying to sleep Satan whispered, “Why doesn’t God bless your ministry?”  Maybe you even wanted to give up.

It’s possible that who you are and what you are doing is causing your ministry to fail. You may need to change. But so often ups and downs are just part of ministry. We all see the high profile churches that are bursting their seams and we want to know their secrets. Comparison can rob us of our confidence and our joy.  The truth is, around the world we see some mission fields that seem to be wildly productive. Others seem to struggle no matter how faithfully the missionary serves.

Maynard Belt tells of a mission society who, in 1853, discussed closing a station in Ongole, India, because only ten people had been won to Christ in fifteen years. “At that time more than 167 languages were spoken in that area.  This area had been called the “Lone Star” church of India.  Only two men on the mission board pleaded not to abandon the continued support of this work.” But in time the others changed their minds. “The men voted unanimously to continue the ministry and because of this decision God worked and hundreds of people in India became believers.  Thirty years later the Ongole church had grown to 15,000 members.  The Lord had another plan for the “Lone Star” church and marvelously rewarded the efforts of all who had patiently labored in the region.”

Pastor Belt ends his article with these words: Are you discouraged because you may not be experiencing fruit in your God-appointed vineyard? Have you thought about resigning your ministry because nothing seems to be happening? Have you quit casting a vision before your people because no one seems to care?  Have you lost the excitement that you first had when called to your particular ministry? Yes, God does use such circumstances at times to nudge us on to different ministries, but sometimes it is just the devil discouraging us to the point where we just want to give up. Over the years I have learned that with God something is always happening, even if we do not see it. Maybe we need to pray more?  Trust more? Work more? For sure we need to wait more! While living in a “Hurry Up World” we must be careful not to forget that the Lord is patiently working out HIS plan. (2 Peter 3:8-9) The great believers have been unwearied waiters! There is no time wasted in waiting IF you are waiting on the will of God!

May these words encourage and challenge you today as you wait on the Lord.

*Maynard Belt is a retired pastor who writes articles of encouragement to people in ministry at:


Traveling with a Special Diet

chili wafflesManaging a special diet while you are traveling is a fine art. We are missionaries so every few years we spend months in America in which we travel most of the time. My husband is a Celiac and must have a gluten-free diet. He also likes to eat (rather than starve, which is the obvious alternative.) Our first challenge wherever we go is finding food he can eat. This has not only built our patience, it has taught us some tips that we’re happy to pass on to others who struggle with a special diet when they travel.

Eating in Restaurants

Prepare to take extra time and patience to order your meal.

Often counter clerks, waitresses, even managers may be unfamiliar with the special needs for your diet. You are asking them questions which may be hard to answer. You may have to ask them to bring out a gallon jar of dressing to check the label or hunt down a brochure which is hard to find. You are more likely to get the help you need if you continue to smile and patiently work with them to find something you can eat.

Do your homework.

Before you leave home, research websites of food chains noting what their options are for your diet. Many times you can download diet specifications and bring it with you. Then if the counter clerk or waitress doesn’t know what you can have, you’ll be prepared ahead of time. You will still need to specify your diet and double check on it, but it will give you more confidence and save time if you have done this before you’re standing in line waiting to order.

You can also phone the restaurant ahead of time and ask about their menu. If you are going to a new restaurant, you may want to ask if they have menu options for your diet before you are seated. We have had to walk out of some restaurants because they have nothing Art can eat or they aren’t willing to work with us.

Home Invitations

Communicate ahead of time.

If we are invited to someone’s home or we will be visiting a church, we always tell them ahead of time about Art’s diet. We recommend my website as a place to find recipes and guidelines about what he can eat. If you have a complicated diet it is much better to warn the hostess ahead of time than to show up hoping there will be something you can eat.

Suggest some easy menus. Some cooks like challenges and want to try new recipes. Some, like me, want to keep it simple. I tell them Art can always have plain meat and vegetables. It’s the seasonings that get them into trouble. For lunch I often recommend nachos with G-F chips like Tostitos, seasoned ground beef with Taco Seasoning like Old El Paso, a can of tomatoes, and a can of G-F baked beans.

Bring helpful items with you.

We always travel with a box of G-F cereal so breakfast is always easy. Sometimes we bring a loaf of G-F bread. You could bring a can a soup you know you can have or a few things that travel well. With the stress taken away from breakfast and lunch, it’s not as hard for your hostess to prepare supper.

Pot Luck Dinners

Bring a dish you can eat to share with others.

This is often the easiest solution. Sometimes you are coming from out of town, however, and can’t do this. If this is the case I suggest the next option.

Nose around in the kitchen ahead of time.

On furlough we eat pot luck dinners almost every Sunday. Because we are missionaries, we’re usually pushed to go to the first of the line and we feel the pressure to choose quickly and make way for others. This usually works better if I amble off to the kitchen ahead of time, make friendly conversation with one of the cooks who doesn’t look too distracted, and ask some questions. I might take a glance at the table first and spy out dishes that look like they might likely be G-F, then ask if anyone knows who made that dish.

When I first start doing this I get some funny looks like “why is this lady inspecting our food?” I try to explain early on why I am being so nosey. If the first person I approach can’t help, they can often introduce me to someone who can. This is also easier if we have already notified the pastor ahead of time so at least one cook has prepared a G-F item.


Away from Home for Christmas


My least favorite Christmas carol? “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me. . . . I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my heart.” If you really are away from home at Christmas, the song makes you want to cry—which is no help at all.

As a missionary I’ve been away from my parents and extended family for all but about 8 years since 1980. We’ve been totally away from our family, even our own children for about 12 years. Separation from family is part of being a missionary. How can Christmas be special when you are separated from those you love the most?

When we had daughters at home, we followed many simple traditions that made the season special. I asked my daughters for help in writing this blog, and I realize that, for us, crafts was the biggest part of the fun. We cut out snowflakes, decorated cut-out cookies, decorated the house and the tree. Special ornaments and music added to the fun.

As a missionary, you might be prepared to leave your parents and live in some far-off country. It may be harder to actually have your own children leave you. So how can you keep the joy in your Christmas when you are away from home and family?

My daughter Lisa nailed the answer to the wall.

“I think a big part of what made it (separation from family) okay for us,” she writes, “was that you chose to be happy at Christmas time (and serve others) whether or not we were able to visit family that year or not. I think Lori and I have both inherited that attitude. Also, Christmas is a family holiday because we’ve made it that way. But it is certainly in keeping with the real meaning of the holiday to be apart because of where you serve Him (or to use being apart as a chance to reach to others.)”

Choose to be happy at Christmastime.

Wow! That made me think. She was right. We chose to make Christmas fun as well as meaningful, but there were years when being happy at Christmas was a definite choice.

Lisa spent her first Christmas in the Intensive Care Nursery as a ten-week-premature baby. I spent that Christmas in the adult Intensive Care Unit. That Christmas Day was scary and horrible, but I choose to remember the fun Christmas activities that came earlier in the month. God brought us through that time to full health and strength.

Our most difficult Christmas was probably the year we closed our ministry in Taiwan. We came back to the States the week of Christmas. Broken-hearted for our ministry, we bought a few last minute presents and built graham cracker houses at Grandma’s. That Christmas we definitely had to choose to make the Christmas as happy as we could.

Lisa came to our home in New Zealand her freshman year of college in 1997. She also shared Christmas with us three other times. She spent many Christmases apart from family. How did she cope as a young adult?

“Other favorite things include going caroling, singing in choirs, sending and receiving cards,” she writes. “I look forward to hearing recordings of Handel’s Messiah each Christmas. I try to reflect on the Christmas story and perhaps write a little reflection for myself. I send cards to people who have blessed me that year. I get involved at my church. When I do all that stuff, it’s hard to find time to be lonely at Christmas. (This was true even in my single days.) I like to think back to the various places I have spent Christmas and who I’ve spent them with. I appreciated the hospitality of others, several of whom were also MK’s before me. I like the years I’ve been hosted by other family members or friends, but I think I enjoy even more thinking about years I’ve been the hostess.”

Lisa finished college single and remained single for a number of years. During these years she reached out to international students or lonely people with simple holiday dinners or invitations. She continues to do this as a married woman.

Jesus was away from home on His first Christmas too.

Jesus left His home in heaven where he was worshiped and adored to begin the live of a servant on earth. He gave up so much to provide salvation for us. If serving him takes us far from home, is that too much for Him to ask? I would never want my desire to be close to family to keep me from serving Him. His birth is certainly the main reason for Christmas. But I think he is also pleased when we use the occasion to build family memories and enjoy the many good gifts He gives us.

Maybe you are far from your family for Christmas. Maybe the season brings back bad memories. Maybe some other reason makes the season difficult. You can still choose to make it a happy time. And making good choices is an important key to living the Christian life.


The Other Side of the Hardships of Missions


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?