Adding to Your Story-Letter

by Craig Thompson on March 27, 2017

Ahhh, newsletters. (And by “Ahhh,” I’m guessing you know what I mean.)

Living outside your passport country means finding ways to keep people updated about what’s going on with you. Some of those people need to hear about what’s happening and some of them simply want to. The newsletter can take care of both, which is a good thing. But sometimes it can feel like one more burden, especially when there’s not much interesting or exciting (or not much of anything at all) to report. What if your day-to-day goings on don’t feel newsworthy?

How about thinking of your newsletter as a way to tell your story in serial form? A story-letter, if you will. I’m not suggesting that your collected writings would need to be novel-esque. It’s a problem when we think that what we write isn’t enough: not inspiring enough, not impacting enough, not poignant enough, not powerful enough. It doesn’t have to be any of those things. Your story is your story. It is what it is. And we need more “what it is.”

But my main point here isn’t telling you how to write—many of you are already great story tellers. I’m just wanting to help you fill in the gaps when you hit a dry spell. With that in mind, imagine your newsletters bound together, like chapters in a book. What kind of cover would that book have? What kind of illustrations? And what would you add to make your memoir more memorable? Why not add those things now?

So, when you’re sitting in front of your computer screen and you feel stuck, give these a try:

A Subtitle:
Your newsletter already has a title (which you chose from hours of research and consulting with focus groups, right?). But what about a subtitle, that explanation that comes after the colon? And by that, I’m thinking about a short mission statement. Maybe it’s the one for your team or for the work you’re doing. Maybe it’s your personal mission statement. Whichever it is, from time to time, you can remind your readers about it and reflect on how you’re on track . . . or how you plan to correct your course. Maybe you’ll even need to rewrite your subtitle. This is a work in progress.

A Prologue:
Probably most of the people reading your newsletter know your basic history. But when an anniversary rolls around, it can be a good time to recount how you got where you are, showing how God has brought you from “there” to “here.” Writing it down might help you better see the distance between the two.

A Map:
You know how fantasy writers create new worlds with hard-to-pronounce place names? To orient readers, they often supply a map showing the villages and shires where the story will unfold. Some of you can show where in the world you are and label the countries next door. Some of you can’t. But most will be able to draw a word picture of the neighborhood you live in, giving your readers a feel for your corner of the globe. Just take a quick walk outside your front door and write down what you see.

These are the meaningful quotations that precede each chapter of a book. What is something inspiring that you’ve heard or read lately?

Whenever I read about a place or time with which I’m unfamiliar, I enjoy reading the asides, those times when the author digs deeper into some aspect of that place or period. What an opportunity you have to educate your readers on the customs, histories, politics, and traditions of the people around you.

This is where well-known authors and experts claim on a book’s back cover that it’s “Amazing!”—”The best thing since sliced bread!” If you’ve got similar endorsements, by all means print them, but most will need to rely on more run-of-the-mill reviews. No problem. When people come to visit, ask them to write about their experiences, then publish a few of their responses. It’s good for others, and for you, to see your surroundings and your work through new eyes.

A Bibliography:
Where do your ideas come from? What about your strategies and plans? Tell your readers about the books, conferences, and classes that have given you new insights and have helped shape your direction. And while you’re at it, you might need to include a running glossary, explaining the jargon that we so often take for granted.

There are always people to thank. Who are you grateful for? Who has helped your story along its way? How have you been blessed by the people you’re serving?

Remember that meeting you organized where 50 people showed up, fueling your hopes and dreams? That was news!—and you wrote about. But don’t forget to report later that the attendance dropped down to one. Epilogues aren’t only updates; they’re times for reflection, as well, looking back on what may have seemed at the time as a finished chapter. Sometimes there are surprise victories, sometimes lessons learned. Follow-ups that tell about the one step (or two steps or three steps) back after the two steps forward aren’t easy to write. (I certainly have a hard time with them.) But disappointments don’t mean you’ve failed. They simply mean that you’re doing cross-cultural work, with its ups and downs.

Of course, the final epilogue to your story remains to be written, and it’s not a cliché to say that God only knows what it will contain. It hasn’t been put on paper yet, because it hasn’t happened yet. And until that time comes, here’s to living out your story . . . and writing about it, page by page.

[photo: “Large Coptic Bound Journal Covered in Handmade Paper,” by Krispy and Dennis, used under a Creative Commons license]


When God is Too Late

by Editor March 24, 2017

I spent a lot of time thinking that I somehow missed something, because I was single longer than all of my family and friends. I had a failed engagement and I lived in such an obscure place, I thought that it was too late for me. I was looking at others, comparing myself, when I […]

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Leaving Happy or Leaving Well?

by Jerry Jones March 22, 2017

We’re bracing around here, for the annual Expat Exodus. If you’ve lived abroad for more than a year you get the reference.  It may look different where you are but it’s always a part of the gig . . . people leave and often they leave in herds.  So, in the context of finishing another […]

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How Living Abroad is Like Marriage

by Rachel Pieh Jones March 20, 2017

Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be its precondition. Alain de Botton The same could be said for living abroad. I hear many people say they ‘fell in love with Africa’ as soon as their feet touched the ground off the plane. I’m not sure how Kenyan or Nigerian or Burundian tarmac has […]

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When You Are Getting Married . . . and your teammate isn’t (Part 2)

by Amy Young March 17, 2017

Normally a Part 2 comes just a few days after a Part 1. So, if you have forgotten about Part 1, no problem. In brief, last month I shared a letter Janice wrote to me in which she is getting married and her roommate isn’t. “My roommate really desires to be married. She is mid-30s, and has […]

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An invitation to the 2017 Velvet Ashes online retreat

by Danielle Wheeler March 16, 2017

We’re all fans of Sabbath here, right? Or at least the idea of Sabbath. We know we need to take time away from our responsibilities to physically rest and spiritually renew, but actually doing it? Well, that proves to be a challenge for us. Constant needs clamor for our attention. Even if we are able […]

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Hard Truths

by Anisha Hopkinson March 12, 2017

At a recent ladies’ retreat the speaker asked, “What are the hardest truths to believe about God?” Before moving overseas, I thought I had a pretty good handle on Christianity. If you’d asked me about hard truths just 3 years ago, I might answer: Um, interpreting the book of Revelation? Moving overseas complicated a lot […]

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Before I called you, I saw you

by Marilyn March 10, 2017

Within mission circles, the term “call” or “called” is loaded. It is loaded with story and passion; with grit and determination. It is also loaded with hurt and condemnation; with wrecked dreams and spiritual baggage. A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Lost to a Call.” It was a short essay, written from […]

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Ask a Counselor: three dysfunctional missionary marriage patterns

by Kay Bruner March 7, 2017

I see missionary marriage dysfunction falling into three broad patterns: disconnection addiction abuse Let me tell you a bit about each pattern, and share some resources that can help. DISCONNECTION Disconnection is the easy one to deal with. All you need to fix the problem is: two people willing to invest in the relationship, and the […]

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Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider

by Jonathan Trotter March 6, 2017

My day job here in Cambodia is serving as a pastoral counselor. In a typical week, I meet with clients from Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and occasionally Africa. And whether these clients are missionaries, NGO workers, or international business people, they’re all trying to figure out how to live well here. In Cambodia. I […]

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Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions

by Amy Medina March 2, 2017

When we’re on furlough and giving presentations about our ministry as missionaries, we always end with, “Does anyone have any questions?” A hand goes up.  And the question is inevitable. “How can we pray for you?”  Every. Single. Time. Sometimes someone will ask to know more about our ministry.  Or a person we are investing […]

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CULTURE SHOCK! (yes, it still happens at 6 months)

by Editor March 1, 2017

It’s been almost six months since we stepped off the plane and onto South African soil. Six months of glorious new experiences, of meeting new people and trying new foods, of seeing new sights and relishing (mostly) sunny weather… and six months of that dreaded companion known to all cross-cultural workers: culture shock. This is […]

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