This is an article that Sarah wrote for a missions magazine.
I remember the Family Circus cartoon: the mom stands in the kitchen with a baby crying on her hip, a toddler pulling on her leg, and an older child asking her to sign a school paper. In the background, a pot boils over, the phone rings, and laundry spills out onto her dirty floor. Even the dog holds his dish, begging to be fed. The caption reads: “For this I went to college?”
I can relate, can’t you? In college, I prepared for the missionary work to which God had called me. After classes in Bible, missions, interpreting, and education, I was ready to serve God alongside David. We dove into language study and eagerly started a church plant. God fulfilled another of our dreams with back to back kids. We were thrilled! Then, reality started to hit. As Bible studies in our living room ran until midnight, I was in a bedroom with a screaming, tired baby. I took “maternity leave” from teaching Religion and Morality classes in the public school. Rather than counseling at Bible camp, I stayed home to nurse our baby and potty train our toddler, so David could be 100% involved with preaching and counseling.
I knew what a “high and holy calling” it was to be a mother, but, let’s be honest: is it more thrilling to lead two girls to the Lord after a stirring message, or to clean urine and spit up in another room while you miss the whole service? And, at least for me, I was more confident and capable in ministry duties than in motherly ones. Need a Bible lesson? No problem. Infant fevers or feeding tips? I don’t know what I’m doing! I have a master’s degree, but this mothering job is pretty hard. Why didn’t I major in it?!
One by one, I was unplugging (temporarily) from ministry duties, so I could take care of my kids. But, as I let go of each one, I felt I was losing myself. My identity had been wrapped up in what I was doing for Christ. I somehow viewed “just being a mother” as the bottom of the totem pole, and, suddenly, there I was struggling with the “lowliest” job and disconnected from the work I still felt called to do. I was discouraged, confused, and spiraling into some dark days.
Thankfully, God used His Word, other books, people, and counsel to help me through. First, He showed me that who I am is not defined by what I do for Him. By no merit of my own, He created me, sent His Son to die for me, chose me, and saved me. My position as His beloved daughter is all because of Him. Basing my worth on how much I did for Him today is both erroneous and prideful.
Secondly, He is changing my perspective on motherhood. I used to see grocery shopping and cooking as a tedious hour-long project that gets demolished in 15 minutes. Now, I stand in the produce section and think of the health and life this food will give my kids, so they can grow and become the people God wants them to be. Recently, I was braiding Laura’s hair. As we fetched a hairclip from her room, she suddenly started asking about heaven. I had to step out to the kitchen, sit on the floor, and cry for joy. Motherhood is difficult and dirty and draining, but it is the greatest mission work ever!
As Laura and Samuel are growing, I am picking up ministry responsibilities again. How I pray for God to help me reach the precious souls He has placed around me, and, most importantly, those He has placed right under my roof.
You probably know the feeling. Despite much prayer, careful planning, and dedicated work, you feel like you are going backwards in your ministry. The enthusiasm and anticipation that was there in the beginning has fizzled, and now the cold, hard reality has set in: this isn’t going as well as you hoped.
I felt this discouragement on a recent Sunday as we began the church service. I looked out at the dozen or so people sitting there and thought, “Where is everybody?” Through much of last year, we averaged between 40-50 people in attendance. However, over the past several weeks, we began to see a significant decline. Of course, no missionary likes to write a prayer letter that begins with such news, but it’s the truth. Sometimes things don’t go well. People leave, projects fail, and disappointments mount. When they do, we shouldn’t be afraid to share it.
That Sunday evening, when I got home, I just sat in the car and prayed, “God, what do you want me to learn from moments like this when it feels like we are going backwards?” As I thought about this, I came to some conclusions.
1. I must see setbacks as part of God’s grace. Planting a church, or doing anything worthwhile, is never a steady, upward trajectory to success. There are many ups and downs. While we pray and long for and celebrate the victories, God’s grace is sufficient to sustain us during the down days as well. In fact, seen in the right light, these disappointments should help us depend more on Him. Furthermore, God often has unseen benefits behind the despair we are feeling. In this case, it could be that God is pruning people from his church to make it stronger in the long run. It may be that God is teaching me humility and forcing me to rely more on him to change peoples’ lives than on my own programs, preaching, or personality. At this point, I don’t know all the reasons, but I must run to God and trust that he knows what is best for me right now.
2. I must persevere with joy. I shouldn’t be surprised when there are setbacks; I knew going into this that it would be hard. Any good soldier knows to expect hardship, and the same is true for anyone serving Jesus. So, instead of me being resentful towards those who have fallen away or frustrated with people who don’t show the level of commitment I think they should, I must simply plod forward with joy. I must thank God for the people who are with me and that are serving Jesus alongside me. The truth is that it was a privilege I could never deserve just to preach to a dozen people on that Sunday. And really, if you think about it, a week (or even several months) of setbacks is not a good indicator to the true progress being made. If I stopped to look closely, I would see that there are plenty of good things happening as well.
We just finished drafting a church constitution. This is a big and very important accomplishment.
Sarah is having Bible studies with two girls that will hopefully be baptized soon.
One of the men in the church is taking classes at a Bible institute and is growing in his ability to teach and lead.
The hard part is to persevere with joy. But it’s essential. There are few things more discouraging to a church or an organization than a leader who is always down, always pointing out the negatives, and always complaining about the faults of others.
Maybe things in your church, small-group, or project feel like they are moving backwards. It’s hard and can be discouraging, but don’t give up. God’s grace is sufficient, so persevere with joy.
It seems like the time of year when everybody is giving their “Top Ten” list of books read in 2015. While I read quite a few books this year, I could only come up with five that were truly memorable. So here it is: my list of “Top Five Books I Read in 2015.”
“The Pastor in Prayer” by Charles Spurgeon. I’ve read a lot of Spurgeon over the years, but somehow I missed this one until now. Prayer is the number one area I need to grow in a as a Christian/missionary/pastor. Virtually every page of this book helped, inspired, and convicted me in every area of my prayer life. However, one practical change that I made after I read this book was that I began thinking about and planning my prayer for church services much more carefully than I had done before. As a result, I feel my public praying is growing more passionate and Scriptural.
“Preaching” by Tim Keller. By the end of this year, I will have written and prepared almost 90 messages and will have preached at least 120 times. If I am going to spend my life preaching, I want to grow and become the best preacher I possibly can. I’ve read many books on preaching, but this one helped me the most. There are three chapters that really make the book special: chapter 2 “Preaching the Gospel Every Time, chapter 3 “Preaching Christ from All of Scripture, and chapter 6 “Preaching Christ to the Heart.” Having read this book, I am becoming better at tying every passage I preach to Christ and the Gospel.
“Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing” by Sally Lloyd Jones. This is a children’s book I read to Laura. Essentially it is a devotional for kids, but it is as profound and encouraging as any devotional for adults. I want to teach the Bible as creatively and beautifully as this book does. Buy this for yourself and for a child you love.
“Unbroken” by Laura Hillebrand. This is a well-known bestseller released a couple of years ago. And as everybody says, the book is definitely better than the movie.
“The Conviction to Lead” by R. Albert Molher Jr. This is a very general, but helpful and practical book on leadership. Every chapter challenged me in some way.
Finally, I leave you with my first attempt to write a poem in many years. It was inspired by a recent moment in our home with Samuel and Laura.
Are you ever struck with how much your life has changed? That was me today.
Five years ago this month, David and I boarded a plane and moved to Portugal. It was just the two of us. We had prayed and dreamed of learning new languages and starting a hearing church, a deaf church, and a family. The day I landed in Portugal, I understood few words, whether spoken or signed. I didn’t know my town; I had no house; and anyone could peg me as an American by how I walked and dressed. (“Tennis shoes? American! Pauses at a crosswalk and lets cars go by? Total American!”)
Today, I woke up to my sweet three-year-old hugging me and asking for her breakfast. Soon after, there were shouts of, “MO—MMMY! MO—MMMY!” from my hungry one-year-old upstairs. These two have been the biggest and cutest change in my life in the past five years. They’re usually job numero um for me. But, today, after breakfast, they were daddy’s responsibility, because today was my day of the week to do ministry out of the house.
It started with an 11:00 meeting with a lady who just got saved. Five years into this job, I’ve learned not to schedule things too much in advance. Around here, committing to an event one month from now is like scheduling a dental appointment for 2036. (“That’s sooooo far away. How can I know I can be there one month ahead of time?”) Ok. I’ve learned. So this Thursday meeting was not even planned the Sunday before. That would have been way too early for her to know her schedule or where I could pick her up. Here is how the texting went down:
Me-Hi there! Does it work for you to meet me on Thursday at 11:00? I hope you have a good day!
Her-Good morning. Yes. Sure. I’ll call you a little before. Have a good week.
Me—(Called her. No answer.)
Me—I’m leaving my house in 10 minutes. What is the apartment number for your friend’s house where I’m meeting you? Are they the apartments right across from the factory by the stoplight? See you soon.
Walking out of my house, (wearing sandals instead of tennis shoes, of course), I’m pretty sure this meeting isn’t going to happen. Normally I’m huffing, “You inconsiderate people! My husband and kids and I rearrange our whole day to make room for YOU, and then you all back out and waste the time we could have invested in someone else.“ (Such an American thought! Eye roll.) Today, though, I’m calm. I’m putting it in God’s hands instead of stressing and getting frustrated at people like I usually do. I’m actually chuckling at how much I’m used to this situation now. Must be the culture beating the American out of me.
Me—(Called her again. No answer.)
Me—Hey, I’m by the apartment buildings, but I don’t know which one is yours, and you’re not answering your phone. I’ll wait here a while. Can you call or text me?
As I fire away text messages in Portuguese, I’m a little irritated at myself, because five years in, I still have to think about how to write in Portuguese. Should I treat her with the formal or informal verbs? Are we close enough friends now for me to use the informal? I get stuck on how to use the direct object in one of my formal sentences, so I rewrite the whole thing in the informal to make it easier. I can communicate, but I’m still not where I want to be. Grrrr.
Me—(After walking the whole neighborhood of apartment buildings in case she is waiting by one, I go back to the van and read for a while. Oh ya. I’ve learned to bring a book to these “meetings” . . . just in case.)
Me—(About 50 minutes after we were supposed to meet) I’m still not seeing you. I’m going back home. I don’t know where you are.
So, I grabbed a quick lunch. At any minute my hard of hearing missionary colleague will be here. She and I usually communicate in spoken English and American Sign Language. Lately, I’ve been interpreting for her from Portuguese into Portuguese Sign Language. (And often in a confusing mixture of all four languages, because my brain sometimes forgets which one I’m using.) As I interpret, she keeps a paper and pen handy. Whenever the speaker uses a Portuguese word that I don’t know the Portuguese sign for, I sign it to her in American Sign Language. She writes it down in Portuguese or English, and today we’re going to a deaf tutor to learn all these signs in Portuguese Sign Language. (Are you confused yet? I am, too.)
Then, I’m coming home to a meal that was intended to share with a family in our church. They aren’t able to come tonight after all, so . . . more food for us, I guess. Did I mention that five years ago I wasn’t very flexible either? I mean I can do the splits, but mess with my schedule and I want to throw a temper tantrum. Haha. No screams today. Just a couple of sighs and a reminder of how much I’ve changed in 5 years. Portugal has taught me to jump fearlessly into crosswalks expecting the cars to slam on their brakes for me because that is the rule here. It’s taught me to dress a little more European and to have different expectations. Most of all, it’s reminded me of who runs this ministry circus anyway:
God, to You and through You and for You are all things. By Your grace, You have given us all we wished for in just five years. You started a hearing church in our town! You started the first deaf church in continental Portugal! You gave us a son and a daughter! Our hearts are full! Honestly, our plates are full, too. So, please give us wisdom and grace to speak and sign Your words, to reach the people You have chosen as Your own, and to praise You for those You have saved and sanctified in just five years.
After church on Easter Sunday, eight-year-old Beatriz came up to me and shyly said, “I want to ask Jesus to be my Savior.”
I explained the gospel to her, and after she prayed we announced the news to everybody who was still at church. We clapped for joy, shed tears of happiness, hugged her, gave her a new Bible, and prayed for her. For almost two years, she and her older sister, Joana, have been coming to church faithfully. Last year, Joana made a profession of faith. For Beatriz, it took a little while longer to understand the gospel, but she finally did.
So, with a heart filled with joy, we locked up the building and began to take the kids home in our van. When we got to Joana and Beatriz’s apartment, Joana said,
“Wait here. I want my mom to come and talk to you.”
I had met their mother before, and she had always been polite but never expressed any desire to come to church, despite our invitations. When she came down, I greeted her, and Joana interjected,
“Now, tell my mom what happened to Beatriz today.”
At first I was a little reluctant to bring up Beatriz’s salvation to the mother, because I figured she wouldn’t understand, and so I said,
“Today at church we gave Beatriz a new Bible.”
Joana looked a little annoyed and pressed on,
“No, not that. Tell my mom what Beatriz did.”
And so, I told her, “Today Beatriz asked Jesus to be her Savior.”
A confused look crossed the mother’s face, and she stammered, “Oh, Okay… Well, we need to get going.” We said our goodbyes, and I drove off.
But I couldn’t get her response out of my mind.
I wanted to say, “Oh, Okay???!!!
Dear woman, do you realize your daughter, Beatriz, just made the most important decision of her life? She was lost, but now she is found. She once was dead in her sin, but now she is alive. She is a daughter of the King of the universe. Instead of condemnation, she is crowned with eternal life. At this very moment, the angels in heaven are leaping with joy over the salvation of your precious daughter.
And to this your reply is…’Oh, Okay.’”
How sad a response and how blind this poor mother is to the infinite glory of knowing Jesus.
It moved me first with pity toward Joana and Beatriz returning to a broken home where they are the only two people who know Jesus. But, then it moved me also to pray for this family. I pray with all my heart that the mother, Paula, would one day know the joy of salvation. I pray for Joana and Beatriz’s older sister, Carolina, that she, too, would be saved and that one day the whole family would join together singing praise to their Savior and King, Jesus. Would you pray with me to this end?
Take a moment to watch this two minute video of some kids’ testimonies:
One of the best parts about being home on furlough is getting to spend time with dozens of different pastors. I’ve enjoyed asking them questions about their ministry and seeking their advice on issues I am facing. This time has deepened my gratitude and respect for pastors in America. The pastor’s work is not easy, and I am amazed at the perseverance and faith of the men with whom I have spent time.
All of these conversations have led me to think about the similarities and differences between my work as a church-planting missionary in Portugal and the work of a pastor of an established church here in America. Mulling this over, I thought, “What are some missionary practices that are sometimes overlooked in an established church and pastorate?” “What is something that a missionary does that could be helpful to a pastor?”
Now before I continue, I want to be clear about a couple of things. First, I am no church-planting or ministry expert. I recognize that most of the pastors I have met have far more experience and wisdom than I do. Also, I understand that the reality of ministry in an established church in America is very different from planting a church on the mission field. The American pastor faces expectations, entrenched practices, and hurdles to change that most missionaries never face. Nevertheless, here are some observations that I believe may be helpful and relevant.
1. Help your church reach the point where it doesn’t need you.
As a church-planting missionary, my goal and dream is to plant churches that become healthy and autonomous. I want to work my way out of a job. While most pastors would rather keep their jobs (though maybe not on some Monday mornings), the principle is similar. You want to see your church thrive and grow so that the entire congregation is ministering and serving. You want to see others grow in leadership.
At first, helping your church reach the point where it doesn’t need you may seem counter-intuitive. After all, many leaders are addicted to feeling needed and being the center of all decisions. But, the true test of the strength of an organization or a church is seen when the leadership leaves. When Steve Jobs died, people wondered if Apple would survive. It did, and it continues to succeed brilliantly. On the flipside, there are countless churches and organizations have stumbled and faltered when there was a change in leadership. A strong, dynamic, hard-working personality can cover a lot of gaps, but when that person leaves, the whole show falls apart. If a church lives or dies based on one leader, it will eventually die.
How can you help your church reach the point where it doesn’t need you? Here are some hard questions I have had to ask myself:
Are there ministries in the church that you are doing that other members could do? Then work hard to share the load and teach others to do these things. I am not above picking up kids for church, cleaning the building, making the bulletins, or making sure the nursery is staffed. I’ve done, and still do, a lot of these things as a church-planter. But my goal is to see other brothers and sisters sharing in ministry. In theory, we all agree with this, but the reality is a lot more complicated.
Sometimes we don’t give people the direction and guidance they need. Equipping people for ministry takes time and patience. Other times we micromanage and feel that nobody can do as good a job as we do. I have felt this often and have to fight against it.
Are you the only one in your church capable of leading a Sunday service, preaching, or leading a Bible study? If so, make it your mission to disciple people in your congregation so that they eventually are able to do these things. Often pastors invite outside speakers to come and preach while they are away. That is good, and the church can surely benefit from that, but do your best to include other people from within the church.
Are you the only voice of leadership within the church?One of the big responsibilities of the pastor or lead pastor of a church is to put a voice to the church’s vision. The pastor must speak courageously, decisively, and clearly about the church’s goals and vision, but it is also important to include others in this communication. I quickly found that when I spoke about an idea in church, the people saw it just as my idea. But when I had other people in leadership speak about an idea or plan, the church began to see it as “theirs.”
2. Network with other churches and pastors
As a missionary, I am “forced” to do this. I depend on dozens of churches here in America in order to serve as a missionary in Portugal. Again, the reality of a pastor’s life is different from that of a missionary, but I have noticed that it is easy for a pastor to get buried with everything that is going on with his own church and staff. However, time spent with other pastors is a worthy investment and mutually beneficial.
Some of the best pieces of wisdom I have received have been from other pastors. Some of the sweetest times I have had in prayer have been with other pastors. Some of my most creative ideas began with conversations I have had with other pastors. Seek out these relationships. Take the initiative, encourage another pastor, seek to bless another church in your area.
3. Write a prayer letter and chart your progress
I am convinced that writing prayer letters is one of the most important activities a missionary does. If it is true that God works and moves in result to prayer, then I want people praying for me and for the work I am doing. How can they pray and participate if I don’t communicate? The same is true in church. Now most churches I have been to have a long list of prayer requests printed for the Wednesday night Bible study and prayer time. This is good, but writing a prayer letter is not just writing a list of needs. It is communicating the big picture and story of what God is doing and what you as a church hope to see accomplished. Another benefit of writing a prayer letter is that it helps me stop and evaluate what is going on:
What are obstacles that I am facing?
Who are people that need special prayer?
What opportunities are before me?
What is something amazing that God has done recently?
These are just a few of the questions that I ask as I write a prayer letter, and they are questions that anybody in ministry should contemplate regularly.
How does writing a prayer letter translate into the life of a pastor? It could be beneficial to write a prayer letter to yourself occasionally. Over the years, these “prayer letters” can serve as a record to what God has done in your life and ministry, and it can help you stop and think about where you are at.
Furthermore, communication with the leadership in your church is vital as well. If you are training others and leading together with the leadership of the church, they need to hear about the progress you are making and the challenges you are facing. Beyond that, the congregation as a whole needs to have a sense of what is happening. Most people at church on Sunday are so entrenched in the weekly routine and schedule of church life that they often fail to “zoom out” and get a panoramic look at what God is doing. Be a visionary of what God could do in your congregation and communicate that vision.
Be an historian of God’s grace in your church and ministry. People are quick to forget the progress you are making and are often unaware of the challenges the church as a whole is facing. Be bold and loving in communicating, regardless of the form it may take.
One of the sweetest moments I have as a missionary was when I made a “year in review” video for our church’s first anniversary. It was precious to see our church celebrate the victories of the past year, laugh together, serve together, and thank God for his goodness. It gave our church a view of the story that God is writing in our lives together. If you look hard enough, you may be surprised by all that God is up too in your church.
Wherever you are today and however you are serving God, I pray that God would strengthen, inspire, and encourage you.
We’ve been on furlough for four months now. In just over two months, we return to Portugal. While we miss Portugal, we are enjoying our time in America.
During January, we are staying in Kingsport, TN at a church’s mission house. In February, we will be in Chattanooga staying at a mission house there. Every Sunday and Wednesday we are at a different church sharing an update about what has been happening in Portugal over the past four years. In all, we will be in almost fifty churches during our six months in America. Here are some pictures from our recent journeys.
Since I have a little more time on furlough, I have been trying to write some articles about what I have been learning as a missionary. Here’s what I have been thinking about recently.
7 Qualities of Highly Effective Missionaries (or anybody who loves Jesus).
I Thessalonians 2 is one of my favorite passages because here Paul describes his life as a missionary. It is a powerful testimony and an inspiration to me as a missionary, but it really applies to anyone who is follower of Jesus and wants to share the gospel. Here are seven qualities of highly effective missionaries as seen in this passage.
1. They know the value of proclaiming the gospel (1). For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain.
Paul writes the church in Thessalonica about year after he first arrived in that city and began proclaiming the gospel. As he reflects upon his time there, he states with conviction, “My time with you was not in vain. Yes, there was opposition. Yes, I had to leave under dire circumstances. But today, you are testimony of how the gospel changes lives. You once worshipped idols; but now you worship the true God (1:8).”
What keeps missionaries on the field when they see few results and much opposition? Belief in the power of the gospel. How did Adoniram Judson and William Carey both work and wait more than six years before seeing their first converts? Because they knew that God’s Word was powerful enough to break through the hardest of hearts and the darkest of minds. Proclaiming the gospel is always worth it even when the results are sparse.
2. They are willing to face hardship and persecution (2). But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.
Paul and Silas arrived in the Thessalonica shortly after being beaten and thrown in a Philippian jail. Perhaps the wounds on their backs were still tender. Despite this, they continued on proclaiming the gospel from city to city.
Highly effective missionaries won’t quit even when life gets tough. In fact, they know to expect opposition, self-doubt, and every sort of trial. If we wait for ideal conditions before we begin proclaiming the gospel, we will rarely do so. Instead, we must “speak the gospel of God with much contention.” Of course this willingness to face hardship and persecution is not some sort of bravado based on our strength. Paul himself often reminds us of his great weakness. Rather, this willingness to suffer is based Christ and his power through us.
3. They live lives of integrity (3-6,10). Our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak…
Paul reminds the Thessalonian church that he was not some sleazy swindler or salesman. His motives were pure; his testimony was above reproach. Highly effective missionaries know that there is no substitute for godly character and selfless motives. Rather than using people and resorting to manipulative gimmicks, a true follower of Christ will do nothing to bring reproach to the gospel.
4. They want to please God above all else (4). …Not as pleasing men, but God which trieth our hearts.
Simply put, I like making people happy, and I hate conflict. However, I can never let this desire trump my ultimate aim of pleasing God. People-pleasers find their joy in making people happy. God-pleasers find their joy in obedience to God. People-pleasers are fearful and manipulative. God-pleasers are courageous and honest. People-pleasers will eventually get burned out and disillusioned with people because they feel used or let-down. God-pleasers know to base their self-worth on who they are in Christ rather than on peoples’ opinions.
Ultimately, God is the one who knows our hearts, sees our motives, and understands perfectly who we are. Pleasing him is enough.
5. They love people (7-8). But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
It is heartwarming to see Paul describe his love toward these people. He compares his love to that of a nursing mother in verse 7 and to a caring, vigilant father in verse 11. Furthermore, Paul states that he was just there to impart information about the gospel. He was there to give his life for these people. Faithful proclamation of the gospel cannot be separated from deep love for people. Being a missionary is not just a matter of imparting knowledge to people. It requires love, service, and devotion.
Loving people does not necessarily mean you are a “people person,” but it does mean that you will seek to follow Christ’s example, put others before yourself, and use your life to love the people God places in your path.
6. They work with intensity and purpose (9). Ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
Again, Paul looks back on his brief time in Thessalonica and remembers his passionate work for the sake of the gospel. His primary concern was to avoid relying on the very people he was trying to reach with the gospel for his own income. Over and over again, Paul’s concern for the reputation of the gospel is evident. No matter your position or calling, proclaiming the gospel is worthy of your most focused and intense effort.
7. Their great joy is seeing other people begin to follow Jesus (13, 20). For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because when ye received the word of God… For ye are our glory and joy.
As he looks over his life, Paul says that the lives of these believers are his “glory and joy.” The crown jewels of his life, the summit of his achievements, and the greatest joy he had was wrapped up in seeing these people begin to follow Jesus. For those that love Jesus, we know that there are few joys deeper and richer than this.
When I was dating Sarah, there were several months where we lived 600 miles apart. Almost every evening I would call and talk with her. It was the highlight of my day. Though it may sound corny, I would often prepare for my calls by jotting down a list of questions to ask her. I wanted to be sure I had something to talk about in case the conversation started to lag (it rarely did). My preparation must have paid off as all those conversations led to marriage and life together.
Good questions are the fuel to a great conversation. They are the door by which you can discover who a person really is. Now what about you? Have you ever wondered what to talk about with a missionary that visits your church or that comes for a meal at your home? You may have thought, “I don’t really have much in common with these missionaries. They live in a foreign country and do something I would never dream of doing.” Or perhaps you think that missionaries get tired of answering questions. But the truth is that most of them are excited to talk about the people and country they love. If you have ever thought any of these things before, then here are some great questions to ask next time you are with a missionary.
Ask about their calling
How did God lead you to become a missionary?
What did you do before you were a missionary?
What advice would you give somebody who felt that God may be leading him or her to become a foreign missionary?
Ask about their country
How would you describe your neighbors and the people that live in your town?
What were some of the biggest adjustments and challenges you had to make when you started living in your field of service?
What do you miss most from America while you are on the field? What do you miss most from your country while you are in America?
How do people in your country view America? What are some cultural differences or barriers that you have had to overcome?
Ask about their work
What is the best part about being a missionary? What are some of your favorite things you get to do in your work?
What does your typical week look like?
What are some of your biggest victories from the past year?
What were some of your biggest challenges during the past year?
What are some of your big goals and desires for your future ministry?
How can people and churches here in America better help your work?
Find out who they are
Tell me a funny story about something that has happened to you as a missionary.
Have you read any books that have been particularly helpful to you? Do you listen to any podcasts or preachers that are an encouragement to you?
What is one of the most encouraging things somebody has done for you while you were on the field?
How is your family doing?
What are some activities that you like to do as a hobby or to relax?
Find out what you can do for them
How can I pray for you? If the setting permits, ask to pray with the missionary that very moment. Surprisingly, there have been very few occasions that people have done this for us, and yet we deeply appreciate it. It is powerful to have people not just pray for you, but with you.
Is there something I can do to help your family right now or while you are on the field? Again, you may be amazed at the response to this question. Most times the needs are very simple – getting to do a load of laundry, mailing a small package, or recommending a good place to take their kids for the afternoon.
You may be surprised. The more you talk with a missionary, the more you may find out that they enjoy many of the same things you do. They may share similar struggles with you. They may be more like you than you thought at first glance.
So the next time you are with missionaries, don’t hesitate. Go talk with them, Your thoughtful questions just may open the door to a terrific conversation, an encouraging moment, and even a new friendship.
Since we are home in America for a few months, I have had time to reflect upon some areas in my life that have changed since arriving in Portugal four years ago. One of the biggest lessons I am learning is to “let go and let others…”
What do I mean by this? Simply put, I like to control things. I don’t like surprises. I want order, and I want things done right. For example, at church I like to make sure all the chairs are perfectly aligned. I think people pay closer attention in an orderly room. I want the bulletin to look a certain way, and I want things at church to go as I plan. In big and small things, I like to have control. Can you tell that I don’t like to “let go”?
But I am learning to loosen my grip on the details of life and invite others to work with me. This learning process has stretched and challenged me, but the progress is encouraging.
In the early stages of our work in Montijo, we began meeting with three families that were interested in planting a church in our town. I began to develop a detailed plan of action for the launch of the church. I made a four page, full-color, professional looking proposal and presented it to everybody after having dinner together one night. I expected everybody to be on board with my ideas, but exactly the opposite happened. None of them thought my plan was the right thing to do, and they were vocal in telling me so. Going home that night, I felt discouraged and humiliated, but I had a choice to make. I could either “go it alone” and control everything, or I could listen, be patient, and work with the brothers and sisters God had placed in my life.
Thankfully, I chose to listen and be patient. As time went on, I began to see the wisdom of what they were saying, and in turn, they began to trust me more as a leader. In the end, we planted the church together and it is wonderful to see God work through us together.
It’s not always been easy. People let you down or forget to do what they promised. Other times, one person’s idea of how to do something is different than your own. But, I am also starting to see that this is a risk worth taking.
To let go and let others is risky because it means you yield control in exchange for partnership. You can either control everything or you can work with other people, but you can’t do both. As a result, allowing others to work with you means that you must often lead from behind or from beside rather than from the front. It means helping others succeed and get credit for something you ordinarily could have or would have done yourself. It is a process of enabling others to grow. It’s like the saying, “Good leaders don’t create followers. They create more leaders.” That’s the goal of letting go and letting others.
Also, I quickly discovered that “letting go” is not passivity. In fact, when you are a leader that works to create other leaders, it is often more time intensive and challenging. I can prepare a Bible message by myself much quicker than I can train somebody else to preach a sermon. It is much easier for me to make plans for the church by myself than it is to get other leaders in the church to reach a consensus on this matter. But then it would be my plan and my vision, not our plan and vision.
On the Sunday before we left Portugal to return home on furlough, I looked around the church grateful for the friends and co-laborers God had placed in my life. This was now the true test of the lesson I was learning. For six months I would be gone. Other people would be setting up the chairs, making the bulletins, planning the services, leading the Bible studies, and many other things that I would normally do. I had no option except to let go and let others. At that moment, I thanked God for patiently teaching me this important life lesson. I was leaving, but the work would continue on.
And that’s just the way it should be.
Serving as church-planting missionaries in the land of the discoverers