What to Write

by Editor on August 20, 2014

Productivity and results. These are hallmarks of the west, demonstrations of success that prove our worth. And when you are accountable to others, even if you live a world away, the pressure can build to show results, to document success. Our guest poster, Laura, takes us into this topic with gracious honesty. You can read more about Laura at the end of the piece. For now I know this will resonate with you so we invite you to read through and join the conversation at the end of the piece.

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computer

Once a month there’s the pressure to produce results. To write a letter that proves to people who are praying and giving that I am doing my job. And since I blog, there’s weekly pressure as well.

But what about when life is culture stress and paperwork. When it’s forcing myself to attend a church service in a language I don’t understand yet. When it’s tears and homesickness and a craving for foods I can’t find at any store in town.

And what about when ministry is sitting alone in a coffee shop because I’m trying to begin building relationships with people. Or picking someone up from work because there’s a strike and the buses aren’t running. Or taking someone shopping after church because she doesn’t have a car. Or going to a monthly girls’ Bible study that I don’t lead. Or standing on a football (soccer) field staring at the kids kicking the ball because I know virtually nothing about football.

What do I write then?

When there are no dramatic stories of people accepting Christ and being baptized. No young adutls growing through a Bible study I am teaching. No amazing testimonies of teens choosing to live for Christ because of what I shared at camp.

There’s simply everyday life in a foreign country. Learning where items are in the grocery store. Learning how to drive on the other side of the road. Collecting paperwork for needed immigration documents. Finding my way to new places. Figuring out how to best communicate with new teammates. Skyping with family and friends. Learning how to use public transportation. Learning, listening to and speaking a different language.

And it can all be extremely overwhelming and exhausting. Teammates tell me to take my time adjusting to my new culture, yet each month it seems as though I need to have something amazing and ministry-related to write.

Now that I am beginning life in my third new country and culture, I am learning that all of these everyday tasks that consume the first few months of life in a new country are tasks I need to learn in order to effectively serve in that country. If I can’t find my way to someone’s house, I can’t meet her for a Bible study. If I can’t find items in a grocery store, I can’t invite people over for a meal. If I can’t communicate well with teammates, I will become frustrated.

These months of transition make for some rather uneventful, maybe even dull, prayer letters. However, I know that the relationships, the activities, the events, the leading will come. So for now I attempt to drive the curvy, country roads without becoming lost and without driving on the right-hand side of the road. I attend the Bible studies and look for ways to contribute without taking over. I invite people into my home. I listen; I watch; I learn. And I share these small victories in my blog posts and letters because these accomplishments are answers to prayer too.

How do you share with prayer supporters about the transition months in a new country? Do you feel “guilty” for not having enough ministry-related items to share?

 

Bio: Laura has served in Portugal and South Africa and is currently adjusting to life and ministry in Ireland. God has given her a heart for teen and young adult girls, as well as a love for living overseas and drinking coffee. She writes regularly about living cross-culturally at http://chattingaboutlife.wordpress.com.

*Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/computer-computers-keyboard-313840/

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  • Trevor Watson

    Thank-you for your blog Laura. Having just moved to a new area I can share much of what you say. The real work of progress is the adjustment towards familiarization with the new, getting to know your way around and who is who in your new community. Fortunately I am spared the burdens of learning a new language and writing letters to encourage prayer partners but at times it still seems overwhelming and wearisome. However, just as learning from our mistakes is a necessary process the trial and error involved in the journey from the unfamiliar to the familiar cannot be bypassed. Making it fun whilst persevering is the best help I have found to date.

    • Trevor, making the adjustment fun definitely helps.

  • Chrissy Cosner

    When I don’t have much to say, I focus on extended prayer requests, often very detailed, honest, and vulnerable. Our supporters have really appreciated that, and feel like they are a significant part of our ministry because they really are.

    • Chrissy, great idea, and it’s encouraging to know your supporters appreciate the honesty and vulnerability.

  • Linda Funke

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking about the importance of building a foundation and the ways you are doing that. It sounds like you are right on target 🙂 You are a cultural bridge for people who may never know what it’s like to live in your host country or, quite frankly, any culture other than their own. Many supporters find it fascinating to learn just what it takes to pick up everything and move to another part of the world. We all feel the differences between our passport cultures and our host culture the most during those first months–and perhaps again every time we travel back and forth–which make those months really, really hard. However, it can also be a good opportunity to share what you are noticing and what you are learning from your new culture.

    And absolutely do share prayer requests. When I wrote a blog that talked about some of my struggles and what I was learning from them, I got more email responses than ever before. http://www.afunketimeintanzania.blogspot.com/2013/03/reflection-what-god-is-teaching-me-part.html Supporters thanked me for being open and letting them pray specifically. It amazed me and inspired me to write more about the things that were hard for me and what I was learning from them.

    And when the words fail, there are always pictures. They can take up a lot of space 😉

    • Linda, I love what you said about being a “cultural bridge.” I often forget that people enjoy learning about a new culture as I’m adjusting to it. And, yes, pictures are always great, and people love them. 🙂

  • Wendy

    I’m blogging my way through a transition back to our home country (for 12 month home assignment) right now. I find that the things that resonate with people are being honest about the struggles, the funny stories of cultural adjustments, and the wonderful answers to quite practical prayers. Being in support ministries in a country where ministry is slow anyway (Japan), we have long ago adjusted to not having many “ministry results” to share. Instead we share bits and pieces to help people understand what we do and where we live. We share our lives. But you’re right, so many missionaries feel pressured to share only their “results”.

    I have a colleague in my editing work who almost never shares about his significant work with me and other administrative work that he does. Most of their communications focus on his wife’s ministry with Japanese mothers. I think that’s sad and really not allowing people to fully participate in your ministry by praying for all of it.

    • Wendy, sharing your life with people is a great idea. I do quite a few administrative tasks, and I write about those because I know they are important, even though I feel like it’s “boring” to write about sitting on my computer making up flyers and schedules and such.

  • Richelle Wright

    In some senses, I’ve never felt “at a loss” as far as what to write (monthly prayer letters, almost daily on our family blog, weekly on our ministry blog) about even though our primary ministry – production of audio-visual tools (i.e., editing digitally recorded radio programs didn’t often lead to traditionally “newsworthy” stuff for our blog/prayer letter). Perhaps that was because I knew that would be true, that I already had that challenge as an expectation. Instead, we’d often focus on the people we were working with, incidentals of life, challenges and victories in our and their lives, things we were learning, stuff about our kids and our family, and lots of pictures when appropriate. I’ve found that the more I write, the easier it gets. My ultimate goal is writing is that we give glory to God for the amazing and the everyday, and I guess, ultimately – since I feel like I’m writing about Him and what He’s doing in, through and around us – there’s always lots of material.

    • Richelle, I like your perspective – writing about what God is doing in, through and around your family. What a great reminder.

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