5 Ways to Communicate with Supporters About a Ministry Transition

I remember facing our first ministry transition and Googling, “How do I tell donors that we’re changing ministries?”

We hadn’t served in our first overseas assignment for very long. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding our very unexpected change in plans and country of service. 

I hardly knew how to process the unforeseen change myself, let alone how to concisely communicate it to our donors. I felt like we had failed them. I was anxious and needed guidance with this intimidating task.

The blank screen that met me told me that no one talks about this.

Maybe that’s because people don’t go to the field expecting a change in their ministry. I certainly didn’t learn about the situation in training – or how to communicate about it.

But it’s more common than you might think. If you plan to serve overseas long term, it is likely that you will face adaptation in your ministry or furlough plans at some point. We expect global life to be fraught with transition, and we know how to pack a bag to exactly 49.5 pounds, but we are usually left feeling vulnerable and ill-prepared to communicate the delicate matter of ministry transition.  

If you are in this boat, I’m sorry. I’ve been there. I know the baggy-eyed exhaustion you are facing after a season of debating and seeking God on what to do. I also know the sleepless nights of wondering how your supporters will receive the news.

On the other end, after multiple transitions over the last decade, I also know the staying power of the people on our support team. Their dedication to God’s heart for the nations shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but I guess I never take it for granted.

No matter the ministry transition, you’re probably living in some discomfort and uncertainty. You might have an idea of future ministry plans, but many things are still unclear.

The very public nature of mission work with its fundraising and partnership development exacerbates an already delicate season. You not only have to navigate your own pain and incertitude, you have to promptly, concisely, and clearly communicate your shift to your ministry partners. 

Transition is also a time ripe for misunderstanding, which can damage relationships. Uncertainty can be crippling and may leave you unable to communicate with crucial ministry partners, even if you have stewarded these relationships well for many years. 

The goal here is to preserve your valuable partner relationships even when it feels daunting. These people are FOR you. There are things you can communicate, even if you’re still living with some uncertainty. As you do so, you will move from a place of ambiguity and non-communication to a place of greater clarity and new confidence.

In the midst of an unclear season, I offer five tools that you can apply when you communicate about your ministry transition. 

1. Share what you are praying and learning.
What have you prayed through this transition? What have you learned about God, his heart for people, and the sacrifice he modeled?  

When our family made one significant ministry transition, we prayed for God to open our eyes to where he was at work and how we could join him there. We learned that it was extremely important to us to partner with the national church, and we wanted to do this on a deeper level in our next assignment. We shared this with our partners and used it as a guide for discerning where to plug in. Your partners will cherish knowing how and what you have prayed through. 

2. Communicate threads of continuity.
People respond well to threads of continuity during transition. What will stay consistent? There is an overarching and unchanging aspect to conducting ministry that remains the same no matter where you are and no matter what you are doing. 

What was the original vision, or part of the vision, that launched your family into missions and still propels you today? This is the “why” that transcends your specific job descriptions or geographic assignment. You may need to step back from your specific ministry roles to look at the bigger and more timeless picture of your role in spreading the gospel message, however and wherever you do that.

When we transitioned out of one ministry to another several years ago, we faced a lot of change, including our job descriptions and country assignment. However, we leaned on two significant threads of continuity that we could communicate to our donors. Our long-term passions and skill sets included skills training, education, and discipleship. These ministry aspects are part of who Sam and Anna Danforth are and how we do ministry. They are the “why” beyond our specific job descriptions or location. 

Your threads of continuity carry a sense of timelessness that aligns with God’s call to make disciples of all nations and utilize your skill sets. Even though everything around you is changing, this isn’t a total shift in your identity or your approach to missions. It is an affirmation of the timeless call to make Christ known among the nations and of your role in that call.

3. Avoid getting bogged down in details about the past.
Your story is important, and transparency builds trust. But too many details can be confusing and may actually detract from your message. You are moving forward. Communicate what comes next.  

You may be dealing with difficult immigration officials or toxic team dynamics that are a major contributing factor in your need for a change. Focus on what is changing in the ministry or your situation, not all the details that led up to your transition. 

For example, “We were unable to secure our visas last week as we hoped and will have to return to the United States until further notice.” Share your next step instead of a very long explanation of every detail that went wrong at the immigration office. 

Instead of communicating the need for distance from your team, you can share, “We will be meeting with our teammates for vision casting quarterly instead of monthly.” If you are dealing with a private or sensitive medical issue, try, “One of our family members is experiencing some health issues that need to be addressed with a trip back home. This is a difficult time for us, and we ask that you enable us to protect our family privacy during this vulnerable time.”   

You can always go back and share more when you are out of the thick of the mess. Remember that anything you share may be shared publicly or forwarded to anyone. Starting with less gives you a chance to deal with your own pain and lack of clarity first. 

Do not promise that more details will come. Simply state your current situation or what is coming next. Allow yourself to choose whether you can or should go into more detail later on.

4. You have agency. Own your choice where you can.
If any part of your transition was your choice, own it. Embrace your role as a decision-maker. Avoid blame. This may not always be possible, but where it is, it moves you from a place of helplessness and reactivity to a place of confidence and proactivity in following God’s guidance.

If your sending organization has made a major shift in their vision or policies and you can no longer stay in ministry with them, avoid blame. Instead, talk about how your future sending organization provides the vision or opportunities you need to carry out the mission that God has placed on your heart.

Avoiding blame is especially important when family members are concerned. If one person in your family is dealing with a major issue or health problem that forces a change in ministry, avoid focusing on that family member. 

Instead, communicate your decision to pursue family health. For example, “After _____ years on the field, we have determined with our member care team that we need to return to the U.S. for a season to pursue care and resources that are not available in our host country.” Or, “Our family will be moving from our rural station to the capital city so that we can still serve in this cross-cultural context while accessing the resources that our family needs at this time.”

5. Avoid overly detailed promises about future plans.
What is the main thrust of your next assignment? You may feel a deep sense of responsibility to communicate a clear and detailed plan for future ministry. However, your future ministry may not shape up exactly as you plan. It is ok to share general plans for future ministry and how God is leading you to fulfill those plans without making specific promises of future outcomes. Prepare your heart and the hearts of your partners for open-mindedness on how God may shape your future ministry. It might turn out differently than you expect.

For example, instead of sharing, “We will raise up Thai leaders who will show the Jesus film in rural villages,” try saying, “We will work with local people to share the Jesus film in their own communities.” It is possible that the leaders God brings to you will be of other ethnic groups or that they will share the Jesus film in urban areas too, not just in rural villages. 

Instead of saying, “I will be working in a soup kitchen three days a week, tutoring high school students two days a week, and teaching Sunday School once a week,” try, “My ministry will include working in a soup kitchen, tutoring students, and teaching Sunday School.” Your time allotment may have to adapt and change according to community needs once you get there.

Avoiding overly detailed language may seem unimportant now, but it could save you heartache and miscommunication in the future. Partners typically latch on to the first news they hear during transition, and it can be difficult to communicate a different plan later on.

For example, when we were starting up a new auto repair ministry, we bounced around the name “Titus Garage” as an idea. The name actually became “Titus Auto Centre.” But years later, even after hundreds of social media posts and dozens of newsletters using the correct name, partners still called it “Titus Garage” because that is what they first heard. You can avoid confusion by refraining from details now.   

Unexpected change in ministry is both inevitable and unsettling. These five tools serve as a starting point to help you clearly communicate your timeless call to serve Christ while maintaining your valuable sending relationships, even when you’re not sure what to say. Because nobody needs to stare at a blank screen when there are people on the other side who care about you.

Churches, We Need You! (Why the Church is a Critical Piece of Missionary Care)

By Jessi Bullis

John Piper has famously mobilized Christians for international missions by saying, “Go, send, or disobey.”

In this well-known statement, Piper acknowledges the truth that not everyone was created to be an overseas missionary. God has blessed millions of people with giftings that would be under-utilized if they were to move internationally and try to fit into a role that God didn’t call them to. This is not a downfall. It is an incredibly beautiful part of the tapestry of the great commission (Ephesians 4:11-13). We need goers, and we also need faithful senders – those who make it possible for those being sent to serve with health and longevity.

God designed the Church to be positioned on both sides: the going and the sending. Throughout Paul’s letters we read many accounts of his gratitude for the believers’ communication, faithfulness, and prayer, along with his requests for both tangible and spiritual support (Phil 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:10-15; 2 Tim 4:9). 

God gave people in the Church different giftings to carry out the great commission. There is so much beauty in this diversity of calling, because it glorifies God: His creativity, His knowledge, His grace, His faithfulness, and more (1 Cor. 12:4-6). 

Both accepting the gifts of others while simultaneously offering our gifts to the Church is a necessary key to the coming of God’s Kingdom, because it is how we glorify God daily, and it is how we present God’s beauty to the rest of the world (John 13:35). 

So today I’d like to speak to those of you who are not going or who perhaps did go and are now back on the sending side. How can you do the sending with as much zeal and excellence as the ones going?

Yes, this often means financial support. We see this all throughout Paul’s letters. He used his trade of tentmaking to provide income for his missionary journeys, but he also heavily depended on the financial support of those in the Churches he was ministering to. 

However, the Church’s role in sending missionaries does not end with financial support. 

Time and again we hear Paul asking for support in other ways — fellowship, communication, and constant prayer. 

Often, a family spends six months to a year raising their financial support, having countless dinners and church events, are “sent off” with fanfare, and then that’s it. They are suddenly cut off from tea times and dinners with friends. From mentoring chats with older believers. From a village of believers pouring into their kids. Sometimes they are even cut off from access to worship in their own language.

And those are just the church-specific things. 

Suddenly they’re learning to cook things from scratch, trying to do life in a new language, navigating new schooling situations for their children, and raising their children with a brand new set of cultural and environmental challenges. 

All without their church and the people who were preparing them to go. 

The family did not change overnight to suddenly not need regular congregational support. If anything, the opposite is true. They’re thrown into one of the hardest transitions of their life, all without their support systems. They haven’t become “holier than thou.” They’re still human. They still have needs. And they still fall into the Lord’s plan for the interdependence of the Church. 

A missionary friend of mine recently told me that once she moved overseas, she rarely heard from her friends back in the United States. In the midst of her biggest life transition, she felt forgotten.

When they would return to the U.S. and they would visit their sending church, throngs of people wanted to speak to them. And many of these same people would tell them how much they loved seeing her Facebook photos of her children in the jungle or their bamboo house. Yet these friends had never even hit the “like” button. She had no idea they’d even cared that she posted photos.

Instead of feeling encouraged by their exclamations, my friend was frustrated, confused, and hurt. For the last few years on the field she’d felt abandoned and alone. Something as easy as pressing the “like” button had not occurred to these friends. Something so small, yet so impactful. 

Most of the time I find that believers want to know how to support their missionary friends, but they simply don’t know how. I’ve spoken with believers around the world who’ve said they didn’t want to write too often and make their missionary friends homesick. They loved them dearly, but they just didn’t know how to transition to long distance support. 

Churches need to know how to support missionaries beyond finances, and they also need to educate their congregations how to do it well. 

As a missionary kid who grew up my entire life away from my parent’s home town and sending church; as someone who now works with hundreds of missionary families; as someone who has dear friends all around the world, I want to leave you with some practical ways you can “send” and continue supporting the missionaries in your life:

  • Schedule regular time to check in with the missionaries you have a connection with. Put a recurring date on your calendar and send a message of encouragement or reach out to plan a phone call. Ask about their children or even say “hi” to their kids. Give them permission to talk about the hard things. Be present and listen even when it doesn’t match up to your expectations of a missionary. 
  • Send a letter or care package. Fair warning: it may get lost in transit or be opened by national authorities to check its contents. But I can guarantee the missionary will know they are loved if you are willing to send them snail mail. (Check with them on what’s best to mail and whether they’ll have to pay import tax so you can cover that cost.)
  • Be trained in debriefing so you can effectively help missionaries and their children to process the good and hard parts of their time on the field. 
  • Instead of waiting for a newsletter, reach out to them to ask them what you can be praying for. And then be diligent in praying. Oftentimes missionaries do not know if anyone is even reading their newsletters, much less interceding on their behalf. 
  • Develop a formal team that checks in with each missionary on a monthly basis and train the team in knowing what to ask, what to look for, and how/when to recommend additional care resources. 
  • Plan a trip to go see them. Not for a short-term mission trip that they need to plan and lead, but rather a trip just to support, encourage, and love them. 
  • Consider putting on an MK camp abroad for the Missionary Kids in the area. We’ve found that these camps are often deeply impactful on MKs, who are rarely on the receiving end of care. (Check out TCK Training’s retreat curriculum created expressly for this purpose.) 
  • Learn about what resources are available to them, and consider gifting those to them. You can find a list at the end of this post. 
  • Encourage your church to receive training on best practices in missionary and MK care. This Churches Supporting Missionary Families Training would be a great start. We also have a page dedicated to equipping churches to send and care for missionaries well.
  • “Like” their pictures on social media. It means more than you know. 

There are many ways that churches can come alongside missionaries; when they do, they contribute to the health of the missionary and their ministry. This is an important role for the church. Let’s learn to do it well. 

 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Jessi is an Adult MK who grew up in Singapore, England, Turkey, and Germany. She has a heart for TCKs and the unique struggles they face. She received her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling for the purpose of caring for TCKs well. Jessi loves getting to walk through the repatriation journey with Adult TCKs, as this season can be especially difficult to navigate. Her deepest passion is for TCKs to know and feel the love and goodness of God.

What Do You Share in Your Newsletters?

by Alyson Rockhold

When I first started sending newsletters to my supporters, I envisioned sharing messages of happiness and hope – the kinds of topics that would let me present a polished, pretty version of my life.

Like a social media star tilting the camera to capture the perfect pose while blocking out the heap of dirty clothes in the background, I had hoped to gloss over the messy parts of my life. Part of it was a heightened concern that I present my neighbors and host country in a positive light, but most of it was just my stubborn pride.

But God had other plans. He didn’t want me to be fake with my supporters any more than He wanted me to be fake with Him. Every time I sat down to write, words like “lonely,” “sad,” and “uncertain” kept coming out. I would start writing about teaching English and end up sharing how stupid I felt when I mixed up one letter of a Swahili word and told an old man that I was returning his underwear instead of his bottle (chupi vs. chupa).

Then I read Exodus 20:25 where God tells the Israelites, “If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.” What a revelation: God wants His altar built with jagged edges and uneven surfaces. He doesn’t want imperfections glazed over: He wants them on display!

Before I could show my imperfections to my supporters, I needed to lay them before the Lord. So I brought God my sorrow and anger, without sanding off my raw edges or covering over my rough emotions. I stopped trying to pretend that I had all the answers or that my faith negated my fury. I leaned into the belief that God accepts and loves us just as we are.

Knowing that God loved and accepted me helped me feel more comfortable being real with my supporters. Of course, people are not as loving and accepting as God, but I realized that’s no reason to hide my true self from them. When I was real with other people, it gave them the courage to be real right back to me. I learned that it takes courage to be vulnerable. And it also gives others courage when we’re vulnerable with them.

I had people tell me that they felt stupid sharing their “first world problems” with me. It broke my heart that they were scared that I would judge them. But somehow sharing my weaknesses and imperfections gave them permission to share theirs with me.

When we bring our messy, imperfect lives before the Lord, He declares, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). What amazing news: in Christ, our weaknesses are celebrated and embraced as conduits of God’s power!

And the benefits of being real about the messy parts of our lives don’t end there. As Jacqui Jackson writes, “When we give up the facade and the filters, and the perfectly scripted posts, we welcome back intimacy with our mate, with our family, with ourselves, and with our Maker.”

So I will join with Paul in declaring that “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9b). And I’ll include the hard, messy parts of missions in my newsletters while also being careful that the stories I do share are mine to tell.

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Alyson Rockhold has served as a medical missionary in Haiti, Tanzania, and Zambia. She recently published a 7-day devotional about learning to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). You can access it for free by clicking here. 

How to Pre-Raise Support Before You Actually Raise Support

Do you see missions in your future? Then this is for you. 

Right now, you’re just planning, and dreaming, and hoping. But one day it will finally be the right time, and you’ll find yourself filling out an application with a mission organization, packing your bags, and moving overseas.

There’s just one thing you might not be thinking about very much: Raising support. Before you can get on that plane, you’ll need to find an army of people who are willing to partner prayerfully and financially with you each month to make your missionary service possible. 

Raising support to become a missionary may just be the most challenging thing you will ever do. Trust me, raising monthly support will be a whole lot harder than raising $3000 for a short-term trip. Fundraising may require more faith on your part than even moving to a new country. But it’s necessary, and important. And guess what? There are things you can be doing, right now, to make that process much more effective when the time comes. 

So here’s my advice:

Starting now, get deeply involved in a missions-focused church. 

What do I mean by “missions-focused?” I mean a church who loves missions, and it’s obvious. They support missionaries, and they’ve got their pictures plastered in the hallway. They invite their missionaries to speak. They give regular updates on those missionaries, and pray for them often. The leadership intentionally encourages their people to consider missions (and not just for short-term trips). This is the kind of church you will need behind you when it comes time for you to raise support. If you are at a point in your life where you are looking for a new church (for example, starting college or moving to a new city), then make it a priority to choose a church that loves missions.

But what if you are deeply involved in a church that isn’t missions-focused? Should you leave and find a different church?

Not necessarily. Could you be an advocate for missions at your church? Could you meet with the leadership to discuss what a missions program would look like? Could you offer to host a Perspectives course? Could you contact your denomination to see if they offer any missions training or resources? Maybe God could use you to bring a fresh vision to your church that wasn’t there before.

And if that’s not possible, or just isn’t working? Well, I would never encourage someone to leave their church without understanding their unique circumstances, because I think it’s a big deal to leave a church. But you do need to consider how much more difficult your journey to missions will be if you don’t have your church behind you. Not only will it be significantly more challenging to raise financial support, but you will need your home church to give you spiritual, emotional, and prayer support as well. If you don’t think you’ll get that, then you should be fervently praying about your options–starting now.

What do I mean by “get deeply involved?” I mean that you need to be known at your church as someone who serves widely, frequently, and whole-heartedly. You need to take advantage of social events, men’s or women’s retreats, and church camping trips as opportunities to get to know people. Volunteer to be a greeter–that person who meets everyone at the door. You should be someone who is “always there.” Of course, I’m not encouraging you to over-stretch yourself, but your reputation should be as the one who is happy to volunteer for just about anything. Serve cheerfully, in any capacity– not just the “up front” jobs. 

When the time comes for you to talk to the missions committee about your plans to go overseas, their reaction should be “Well, it’s about time!” not “So who are you?” When your support raising coach asks you to make a list of people who know you well, the list from your church should be a mile long. It’s going to take intentionality on your part–starting now, not just when you are ready to start building your support team.

There’s a fine line here, because I don’t want to encourage you to attend the women’s retreat or volunteer in the nursery just because you’re hoping people will add you to their budget someday. You don’t want your motives to be manipulative. Hopefully, these ideas will just give you an ‘Aha!’ moment, not a guilt trip. If you find yourself resisting, you need to ask yourself, “If I’m not willing to serve here, how do I know that will change overseas?” “If it’s too much effort to build relationships here, how do I know I will be motivated to build them cross-culturally?” 

When the day comes to start humbly asking for financial and prayer support, a lot of your success will be dependent on how deeply involved you have been in your missions-focused church. Most likely, there will be a connection to how well you pre-raised support before you actually raised support.

Guiltitude: the Guilt of Having in a World of Sacrificing

by Michèle Phoenix

My pastor got a car.

His van was totaled in a wreck and, just as he and his wife were considering what it would take to finance a new vehicle, someone they know offered them a Volvo.

This past Sunday, he spoke with awe in his voice about the miraculous provision for his family. Then he emphasized that the car was well above their means and added, “I don’t want anyone to see the car and think, ‘Wow, my pastor can afford a Volvo?!’”

I turned to the friend sitting next to me and said, “I hate that he had to say that.” Then I remembered how often I’ve done something similar.

I’ve noticed the syndrome beforeI’ve lived it. And it has reached epidemic proportions in the world of missions. Even among the MKs I serve, I see it embodied every day, inherited from parents who might not have realized the lessons they were teaching.

Guiltitude [noun]

Condition in which guilt overwhelms gratitude—most commonly observed in those who are dependent on charitable giving—aggravated by fear of judgment, often resulting in calculated communication and/or conscience-stricken self-restriction. 

 

CONFESSIONS OF A GUILTITUDER
When I moved back to the States from Europe, I found my elation over God’s provision of my townhouse tempered by strong feelings of guilt.

Though I could document every miracle that had paved the way to my new home, I still struggled with the guilt of “having” when I lived in the ministry-universe of “sacrificing.” 

I wondered if guests would see my flea-market European antiques, bought for $50 but worth hundreds in the US, and question whether they’re appropriate for a missionary’s home. I found myself wanting to explain things by saying, “This was given to me by a friend” and “I bought this for next-to-nothing at a charity store in Alsace” as I gave tours of my two-story miracle.

Even today, nearly ten years later, as I look around this home and see the items contributed by the outrageous generosity of friends, I am assailed again by that uncomfortable combination of paralyzing guilt and galvanizing gratitude.

I live in the land of Guiltitude.

Guiltitude is not a uniquely Phoenix notion either. Though it doesn’t afflict all missionaries, it impacts enough of them to warrant some attention. Its symptoms are wide-ranging:

  • Missionary to Germany relinquishes the old, beat-up Mercedes he was given (for free!) by members of his local church and invests his own funds in buying a less “brand-y” car to avoid looking ostentatious.
  • Missionary to Switzerland, while interacting with his supporting church, avoids speaking of the recent purchase of expensive editing software, though much of his ministry relies on producing music and videos.
  • Missionary family scores $25 plane tickets to fly to Monaco for spring break. They post only a handful of pictures taken in the wealthy Principality, but are sure to thank the discount airline and the person who offered them cheap housing when they do. You know…just in case.

When I lived overseas, I vividly remember talking with a friend who had, for a year, bought virtually no furniture for her home. I asked her if she planned on getting a couch and kitchen table at some point, and she said, “My supporters send me money for ministry, and getting furniture is not ministry!”

Like so many others, she’d bought into something I call Donor Demand. There’s an old-school component to it. We like our missionaries to look deprived and to live without. It adds a certain nobility to the minister’s status and to the giver’s sacrifice. 

You might be amazed at the rigid (and sometimes irrelevant) standards by which the validity of a missionary’s work has been judged. Owning a Mercedes and serving in a beautiful location are just two of the numerous reasons for which devoted financial partners have been known to rethink—and sometimes withdraw—their crucial donations.

Guiltitude can be hard to diagnose, as it often masquerades as responsibility or humility. Its most obvious symptoms are:

  • Fear of having (because true ministers, by some accounts, must live in squalor)
  • Fear of doing (because some activities may be misunderstood as frivolous)
  • Fear of full reporting (because some ministry partners may misread the value and purpose of what is owned and done)

I’ve seen all three reach irrational levels in MKs who grew up in an environment where financial guilt of some sort prevailed. Even their adult relationship to money and ownership can be irreversibly skewed by the toxic influence of Guiltitude.

[Note: it goes without saying that there are instances in which missionaries truly have lived in excessive or dishonorable ways and been rightfully confronted about it.]

In my own life, I’ve found how easy it is for guilt to sneak into a spirit of gratitude. I am so grateful for God’s provision of my every practical, physical and spiritual need since I began in ministry in 1991—and for the donors whose gifts have kept me serving for these twenty-nine years!

That gratitude pushes me every day to be worthy of their sacrifice…but it also contributes to a creeping sense of guilt. How can I invest the funds I receive from supporters, who often give sacrificially, on things that are less than essential? Why should I buy a thrift store buffet or the used car of my dreams when others can make do with cardboard furniture and a 16-year old beater?

 

TREATMENT
I’m afraid I don’t know whether there’s a permanent cure for Guiltitude. Something tells me it’s a chronic disease that lurks in subconscious places. Perhaps a good place to start is for both sides (the servers and the givers) to acknowledge its existence, then treat its symptoms with a healthy dose of truthful assessment. If nothing else, this may at least mitigate Guiltitude’s damage.

May I offer a few additional suggestions? 

Missionaries:

  • Remind yourselves that you are called both to live and to serve. For most humans, living well requires rest, some level of comfort and the occasional escape. It’s okay to enjoy places, things, and activities that are financially responsible. You are not supported just to do a job, and there is growing evidence that self-care leads to greater longevity on the field of service.
  • Report clearly and intentionally, not out of guilt, but out of a desire to accurately inform those who follow your ministry.
  • Surround yourself with a smaller, understanding group of friends with whom you can share parts of your life that you don’t reveal on social media or in letters. This will keep you from feeling like you’re being deceptive. You’re just being selective.
  • Counter irrational disapproval with facts and assert truths that contradict flawed rationales.

Supporters and onlookers:

  • Understand that the occasional treat (activity, trip, unnecessary object) may actually enhance the missionary’s ministry, because it contributes to emotional and physical wellness.
  • Don’t apply to your missionaries restrictions you wouldn’t apply to yourself.
  • A poor, burned out, or suffering missionary is not more godly than a comfortable, healthy, and happy missionary.
  • Remember that the pictures you see only tell part of the story.
  • If you must speak with a missionary about what you think you’re seeing, begin by gently asking questions and truly listening with a compassionate heart.

As I sit today in my modest and comfortable home, surrounded by treasured bits and pieces of my years overseas, I am grateful for three decades of ministry rich in locations, accomplishments, and experiences. I am also aware of the challenges that come with the blessings. My commitment to myself, as I contemplate the opinions of others on what they see of my life, is to thoughtfully consider legitimate causes for concern, to adjust my choices (when appropriate) out of faithfulness to God, and to prayerfully let go of unfounded accusations—even those I inflict on myself. 

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Don’t miss the Pondering Purple podcast, available on all your streaming platforms. In each brief episode, Michèle highlights one of her most popular and helpful articles in a format you can consume on the go.

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Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions

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 in.  Or maybe, “What has God been teaching you?”

The questions, almost always, are spiritual. 

This is not a bad thing.  Of course, we’re thrilled people want to pray for us.  We are excited if they are excited about our ministry.  But do you know what we long to be asked?

The non-spiritual questions.

Sure, our ministry is extremely important to us.  But that’s only part of the picture of our lives overseas.  We moved to the other side of the world.  We landed in a country that most people only see on the news.  We had to learn new ways of shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping, educating, traveling, parenting, and talking.  It was not easy.  In fact, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.

We are different people now. And it is bursting out of us.  We might look the same on the outside, but we are totally different on the inside.  And you know what?  We long to talk about it with you.  We desperately want you to be interested in all of our other life, not just the spiritual parts. 

My husband and I have been missionaries for 13 years now.  And I must admit:  The people back home who ask us the non-spiritual questions are few and far between.  In fact, they are so rare that they stand out in my memory by name.

I’m not sure why there are so few people who ask the non-spiritual questions.  I think that sometimes, folks just don’t know where to start.  Or maybe they think that they already should know all those things and they don’t want to look stupid.  Or maybe they just assume that we don’t really want to talk about such mundane things.  (After all, we’re super spiritual…right?)

So let me just re-iterate:  Please, ask us the non-spiritual questions.  We missionaries would love to answer them.

Not sure where to start?

That’s easy.  Start with what you are interested in.

Are you into technology? Then ask about the part that technology plays in your missionary’s country.  Ask about internet speed.  Ask about cell phones.  Ask how technology is shaping the culture.

Are you into fashion?  Then ask about styles and fabric and cultural modesty standards in your missionary’s country.  Ask how your missionary manages to blend her own sense of fashion into her new culture.

Are you a foodie?  Then ask about grocery shopping and cooking.  Ask about whole food options, if you are into that.  Ask about the struggles your missionary has faced in adapting to a new diet.

Are you a mom?  Then ask your (mom) missionary about what it’s like to raise kids overseas.  Ask about what her kids have struggled with and how this new life has changed them.

Are you fascinated by politics?  Then ask about the government of your missionary’s country.  Ask how America’s politics (or your home country) has affected your missionary’s country.

I think you get the idea.  How about health care?  Transportation?  Housing?  Architecture?  Language?  The sky is the limit.  You will learn something new, and you will make your missionary friend’s day just by being interested.

Now, it is true that not all these questions will be appropriate during a group presentation.  But when you are one-on-one with your friend, or you have her family over for dinner, or when you are responding by email to their newsletters, please, ask the non-spiritual questions!

And if you know your particular missionary really well?  Then don’t be afraid to go deeper.  All missionaries need someone in their lives who is asking them about their marriage, their emotional state, the needs of their kids, and their walk with God.  Just keep in mind:  Don’t ask the deep questions if you are not ready to be a safe place.  Don’t ask these questions unless you are prepared to be entirely confidential.  Most people don’t have their job on the line if they confess to marriage problems or depression—but missionaries often do.  This makes them terrified to share openly about the hard issues.  Be a safe place—and work together with your friend if you think someone else needs to be brought into the conversation.

So yes—if it’s the right time and place and you are the right person—then go deep.  But asking about the everyday stuff can be just as important.  Being interested in your friend’s life overseas is one of the absolute best ways of showing your love.

You know who are our favorite groups to talk to back home?  Children.  They have no inhibitions!  We get asked:  “Do you ride elephants?  Do you eat bugs?”  We absolutely love it.  Sometimes we wonder, Do the adults think these things too, but are too afraid to ask?  If that’s the case, then today I give you full permission:  Ask about elephants and bugs.  You will make your missionary friend’s day.