In this fourth part we continue with the premise from Part I, that much of the content of our prayers can wisely be modeled after the prayers we read in Scripture; and in this particular example, from Paul’s prayers in Colossians Chapter 1. (For a bit more context please see the previous blog post of Part 1 of this series , Part 2 of the series and Part 3. Note: this excerpt is directed toward the Sender who is seeking guidance in the prayer support of a missionary.
“… and increase in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10)
The personal devotional life of your worker is at stake here. On the field there are many factors that can lead to spiritual drought:
Your worker may become so busy “working for the Lord” that there is no time for personal intake. He does not take the time to be still and hear from the Lord. The missionary’s head can still nod at the appropriate times; his public prayers can still sound holy; his teaching can still be most proper! Unfortunately, though, he knows the life of the Spirit is gone.
Loneliness haunts many cross-cultural workers. More susceptible, of course, are single adults. This can lead to seeking inappropriate relationships, which can lead to spiritual dryness. One single woman was continually being harassed by the married people about ‘getting married.’ Unfortunately she found relief from this pressure in a local bar! A kind married couple became her confidants.
Expectations of the people back home are not met. Some think, “We are paying the bill. We want to see some results.” And generally these results are in the number of conversions. One friend wrote from a very difficult field. He knew that his major work would be “breaking up fallow ground” and he had communicated that to his support team members. But, after six months the people back home were wanting ‘statistics!’ He had none. He was discouraged.
Failure in task takes its toll on some. Discouragement debilitates. This downward spiral of morale is slippery. At the bottom of the slide are many spiritually depleted field workers. Often, these burned-out workers do not realize that they should go home. They become an embarrassment to the mission endeavor, a drain on the energies of others who are trying to help them and a dismal blot on the testimony of God’s Church in the world.
Disillusionment can bring an awful frustration, which in turn may lead to spiritual drought. In the mission process there are many tasks that aren’t so glamorous – cleaning the grease trap outside the kitchen door, keeping an inventory on parts, or being reviled by the drunken street-sleeper.
One may become discontented with other workers. Discontent is putting it mildly. ‘Radical interpersonal relationship problems’ might be more accurate. This is the number one cause of missionary failure. Why? Because Jesus said, “They [the ones your worker has gone out to seek and save] will know they are His disciples by our love for one another.” (John 13:35) So here is a major area of attack by the enemy: If he can destroy our unity he can destroy our testimony!
Your prayers and the united intercession of the prayer support team for your cross-cultural worker will put a hedge of protection around him (Ezekiel 22:30), will ground his thoughts (Philippians 4:4-7) and will give him the wisdom of a peacemaker in those tough interpersonal situations (James 3:13-18).
In this third part, we continue with the premise from Part I, that much of the content of our prayers can wisely be modeled after the prayers we read in Scripture, and in this particular example, from Paul’s prayers in Colossians Chapter 1. (For a bit more context please see the previous blog post of Part 1 of this series as well as Part 2 of the series.) Note: this excerpt is directed toward the Sender who is seeking guidance in the prayer support of a missionary.
“That you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing…” (Colossians 1:10)
Phillips ‘ translation puts it, “That your outward lives which men see may bring credit to your Master’s name.” Watchman Nee said, “If you want to be a missionary in China, plan on wearing a ‘learner’s permit’ around your neck for the first ten years!” Due to diverse cultural distinctives and your cross cultural worker’s lack of ability to communicate deeply, it is often the love of Christ working through his lifestyle that gives the Gospel message.
Another perspective, of course, is that “What you are doing speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying!” When your worker’s actions differ from his words, it will be his actions that the people among whom he ministers will believe.
The enemies of the cross gave the name ‘Christian’ (little Christ) to the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It was a dirty word then, but since the followers of the Way were living epistles, known and read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2), they were easily identifiable. Are we so easy to identify?
A team of college students walked into a remote village in Central America where there were no Christians. Their job was to paint a school building a previous team had built. They were excited to share the Lord, so the weight of their luggage and equipment seemed light.
As they entered the square, they were met by the village captain. He told them that his people had heard all they needed to about this man, Jesus, from the last team. “We don’t want to hear another word you might have to say. Just paint our school building as you said you would. We will watch you. When you have finished, we will let you know if we want your Jesus.”
The team knew that their outward lives would be living epistles, ‘the Word written on the fleshly tablets of our hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). All that they believed about the Word was put to the test in that village. Those students “walked worthy of the Lord”; when they were ready to leave, ten people including the village captain trusted in Christ as their Savior!
Sometimes God brings people together in amazing ways for His purposes. I had the privilege of witnessing one such encounter during a week-long visit of two of our short-term mission teams here in Chol-Chol, Chile, the birthplace of the Anglican Church in Chile.
That Sunday morning two teams from Knoxville-area Anglican churches (Apostles and Old North Abbey) had been divided into four groups to visit four different churches in the rural areas outside of Chol-Chol. I served as translator at the church we visited in the community called Laurel Huacho, for team members Greg and Pryor Baird. Near the end of the service during prayers, Gladys, the wife of the lay leader in charge, stood to ask for prayer for her complicated situation of mastitis, a breast-feeding condition that can, when infected, spread. In Glady’s case it had led to very painful and swollen legs. Everyone prayed fervently for her, and after service, we proceeded to the abundant “almuerzo” (Sunday dinner) prepared for us by church members.
After lunch, when poor Gladys finally got to put her legs up, Pryor took me aside and asked some more details about Gladys. “I don’t know if you know this,” she said, “but I am a nurse and I work specifically with women who have complications due to mastitis. Do you think I could ask Gladys some questions?” Well, of course she could ask Gladys some questions! I stared in amazement. No, I had NOT known that Pryor’s work was in that specific area. And no, I had not known that Gladys was suffering with something directly in line with Pryor’s specialty.
I had no idea, but God did. And on that warm late summer morning the Lord had chosen to bring His daughters together, from one continent to another. Pryor gently sat down with Gladys, carefully touching one of her badly swollen legs and was able to explain to Gladys, with me serving as translator, why the mastitis had led to her legs swelling. It was obvious to Pryor that the untreated breast infection had reached Gladys’ bloodstream and had been carried to her legs. It was now being treated, but it was a slow process. Pryor’s suggestions and quiet words of reassurance seemed to calm Gladys’ heart. Pryor took pictures on her phone of Gladys’ medical reports and prescriptions, and by the time we gathered to pray together for Gladys, we could all sense God’s peace.
I did not know this fact when I began writing this article, but my husband, Russ, told me that the name of Gladys’ church is El Buen Pastor, “The Good Shepherd.” How fitting! Our Good Shepherd knows His sheep and cares deeply for each one. He knew exactly what His precious lamb, Gladys, needed at that moment. He chose to bring another of His lambs from a part of His sheepfold a continent away to minister to His own that morning — Pryor from Knoxville, TN, to Gladys in a remote rural area in southern Chile. His extravagant love was made tangible that day.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
Heidi Smith is a SAMS Missionary serving in Chol-Chol, Chile with her husband Russ.
Athletes at every level have coaches who train and encourage. Voice coaches help singers increase range and match pitch. Missionaries make use of coaches too, and they can be of great benefit.
Anne Schaffer is SAMS newest coach, specializing in language and culture coaching. Anne has a broad range of experience to draw from, having served as a missionary herself and having taught languages at different levels for many years in many different countries and contexts. Her priority is squarely on SAMS missionary personnel, though she coaches others outside of SAMS as well. Yet, when she introduces herself as a language and culture coach, she is sometimes met with blank stares.
She recently explained more about her role to supporters. “I’m passionate about helping those missionaries who are moving to a new country to learn that language and culture so that they can be successful and remain in the field. I mean, moving to a new country is a major event! And if it’s a location that speaks a different language, basic skills like speaking and listening are no longer possible – let’s pause to let that sink in. Basically, every area of life is going to be impacted and hindered, not just practically, but socially and relationally.”
Missionaries are only human. Some people look at them as spiritual heroes, but in truth they are normal people with normal flaws seeking to earnestly serve God in a fallen world. Yet, they experience major transitions that require extra resources to survive. “But ultimately,” says Anne, “they are relational people that have left behind family, friends and all that is familiar for the sake of new relationships. And in this new culture, they want to introduce people to the relationship that is the most important of all – the Lord himself – so language acquisition is crucial.”
Once in the field, missionaries can discover that there is not a structure or adequate support to advance in language learning. Sometimes there aren’t available resources such as books in their new language. Rarely is there a language school nearby, and if there is one, it doesn’t always provide instruction that meets the learner’s needs. The lack of a “cultural informant” early on doesn’t help either. Finally, expectations of the missionary, either real or perceived, to focus on ministry right away and not devote adequate time to learn the language and culture can be counter-productive and actually exacerbate the already stressful situation of living in a new, unknown environment.
Anne has received consistent feedback from missionaries she has coached, even ones with some formal training, that they don’t know what they don’t know. And she emphasizes that cross-cultural training on the front end doesn’t necessarily eradicate the stress or challenges of living cross-culturally; but it does provide a lens to begin to think differently and to begin knowing which questions to ask.
“Most people are not aware of and do not adjust for the added, underlying stress of cross-cultural living or feel permission to take the needed steps, which can lead to unrealistic expectations and cause them to be less effective than they could be,” says Anne. “Language-learning is a very large, time-consuming undertaking and can get overwhelming very quickly. Having a coach can help provide the professional and emotional support needed to set realistic goals based on actual language needs. It breaks the process down into small, doable goals rather than living under the weight of undefined goals that can never be reached, which only adds more stress.”
No matter whether the missionary candidates are in the field or are preparing to go, Anne says that her main focus is to help missionaries thrive in their new context by helping them to identify and navigate the cultural issues and practically address their language needs. As the process evolves she finds that missionaries better understand and are better received by those in the host culture. And she adds, “I see reduced stress and an emotional stability being established as the learner develops a sense of control and ownership of the learning process. This all leads to increased motivation to serve the Lord and thrive in the place to which they’ve been called, enabling them to carry out their ministry more effectively and more confidently.”
Anne is a wonderful new resource for SAMS Missionaries and for the Society as a whole. Her tenure as a Missionary with SAMS and another ministry has provided her with the experience and empathy to come alongside others in this critical phase of their transition into the field. She is available to meet with any SAMS Missionary to be a listening ear or for ongoing, structured language and cultural support. We give thanks to God for her new role. Please pray for new Senders to come alongside and support Anne financially and in other key ways as she works alongside our Missionaries.
In this second part, we continue with the premise from Part I, that much of the content of our prayers can wisely be modeled after the prayers we read in Scripture, and in this particular example, from Paul’s prayers in Colossians Chapter 1. (For a bit more context please see the previous blog post of Part 1 of this series) as well as Part 2. Note: this excerpt is directed toward the Sender who is seeking guidance in the prayer support of a missionary.
” …in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” (Col. 1:9)
It is noteworthy that throughout all of Scripture these two qualities of the Christian life are always twins – one with the other. Wisdom can be defined as “the ability to see things from God’s perspective” and understanding as “the ability to know how to make that Godly perspective work out in day-to-day living.”
One missionary statesman wisely said, “The only ones who know everything about missions are those who have been on the field less than six months!” Bombarded with cultural distinctives, worlds apart from his own culture, and quite possibly faced with methods that have become bogged down in tradition, the missionary continually needs to see things from God’s perspective — things pertaining to family life, ministry, relationships with nationals, economy of time and energy, finances, personal devotions, relationships with ministers on the team and those of other groups.
It is not for nothing that Solomon urges: “Get wisdom, and with all your getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7)! As your prayers ‘bind the strong man’ (Matthew 12:29) so your missionary can have a clear vision from God’s vantage point of eternal values — as your prayers elevate your missionary to realize he is “seated with Christ in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6), he must now understand how to make all of it happen in the daily affairs of his life.
Days — even weeks — of extended travel away from home wreak havoc with the scheduled family time. Dare we use God’s money to take a vacation? How do I tell the nationals that we aren’t going to use US dollars to build their building — that it is better for the local congregation to trust God for the provision? How do I not violate my doctrinal distinctives, yet develop a working relationship with others in the Body of Christ? These and a thousand questions bombard your missionary worker’s life and demand an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:9). To see things from God’s perspective is one thing (wisdom); to know how to make them work out in your missionary’s everyday life is another (understanding).
You can see how this prayer for wisdom and understanding could consume hours of intercession as you wage war against the enemy, and help you missionary live in the victory of Christ won for him on Calvary.