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). 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.
Jo Shetler had completed the translation of the Balangao New Testament. A flourishing church had been established. She was now called back to the Philippines to be a speaker at the Balangao Bible Conference. Her subject was prayer.
She said that her prayer life had consisted of “… all we ask God to do, such as heal our sickness, provide money to put children through school, give the ability to learn a language, translate Scripture and interact well with people. Then I decided to pray the prayers of Paul and David and others in the Bible. I copied them out and started in. Wow, did I ever get a surprise. Those people weren’t asking God for the same things I was!”
These ‘model prayers’ from Scripture seemed to center more directly on God and his program, rather than people and their plans.
Read all the articles on prayer; read all the books about prayer. But when you are done, read, study and use as models the prayers of the Bible! One of the prayers of Paul fits perfectly the needs of the cross-cultural worker. He was praying the prayer for the church in Colossae, but note how adaptable it is to the needs of any missionary.
Even before he prayed, Paul twice assured those at Colossae that he was constantly praying for them. Look at Colossians 1:3 and 9. “We always thank God…when we pray for you,” and “…we have not ceased to pray for you, from the day we heard…” Everyone who is interested in praying for a missionary will at one time or another breathe a prayer for him or her. Certainly the financial support team will pray as they write out their checks: “Lord may they use this money wisely,” or “Lord do they really need this money more than I do?”
The communications support team will no doubt pray that the missionary will have time to read the email that they wrote and that it will minister to them. The moral support team will surely whisper a prayer as they see the missionary’s picture on the church bulletin board or when the pastor leads a congregational prayer for them. But if you are going to be part of your missionary’s prayer support team, your commitment must be more on the level of Paul’s statement, “….we have not ceased to pray for you, from the day we heard…”
Here, then, is a prayer you can use as a model as you pray for your cross-cultural worker, filling in the details of their specific personality and ministry needs:
“That you might be filled with the knowledge of his will.” (Col. 1:9)
Once a worker arrives in the field, they are bombarded with an overwhelming array of ministry opportunities. Even if a pre-determined job description has been established, there is always one more assignment to fit into the schedule. When joining a team that is short-handed by illness, or workers on home assignment, or lack of laborers for an expanding ministry, your cross-cultural worker may be faced with appeals to take on ‘just a little bit more.’
Out of that mass of good deeds, the missionary must discern those that were “beforehand determined that he should walk in” (Ephesians 2:10). Once the will of God has been heard, a corollary prayer is that the missionary judiciously share with the supervisor or team that, in order to maintain his sanity he must say ‘no’ to certain opportunities.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Honduras has suffered immeasurably in the last 12 years, during which the country has endured two devastating hurricanes and the slowest economic recovery from the pandemic of any Central American country. As recently as July of 2021, the government estimates that 73 percent of Hondurans live in poverty with 53 percent living in extreme poverty which, among many other things, impacts children immensely.
In the midst of all this, Debbie and Steve Buckner, missionaries at the LAMB Institute, have made ministry to children their full-time focus since 2014. They serve at the Children’s Home, one of several LAMB ministries around Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Spend just a minute with the Buckners and you will not only hear the stories of these kids of various age ranges, but you’ll also hear firsthand the love the they have for these children. “Steve is basically a human jungle-gym for the younger ones,” says Debbie. “And the teenage girls with all their moodiness tend to come to me.”
Kids who have been shunned, orphaned, or impacted by grinding poverty now live in a Christ-centered environment. Showing Christ’s love personally is the Buckner’s trademark. For instance, every year, every child, is given a personal birthday party. “We give each child a personal gift from us, a gift from the Children’s Home, and a cake. All the other kids in their cabin, and any siblings, are invited. We try to be creative with each one and all the kids so look forward to having their own party,” Debbie says.
Steve assists with things like parties, but his main focus is a carpentry ministry. In 2018 a shop was built for him to build pieces that the kids could sell, but with the pandemic Steve had to adapt. “I was already making bookshelves for the school, but then with the new shop I starting making tables, desks, stools, anything that was needed really. But now that we have mission groups returning, the kids are once again selling the items we make and they earn some decent money. Plus, the kids come to me with their ideas of something creative to make.”
Steve adds, “In addition to school, they are learning to run a business. We now have a store and I buy the wood and they make the piece and then they pay me back with the proceeds from their sales. I teach them how to price things and also that raw materials aren’t free – everything counts – the wood, the glue, the screws, the nails, the stain. All of that stuff adds up and has to be accounted for in the price of the item. And they also learn to tithe and give ten percent to the church.”
Debbie is the money person. She has a bank set up and the money is there as the children need it, but the children are counseled by the Buckners on how to manage money and make wise saving and spending decisions. They are taught to save for things they need and they are held accountable to ensure the money doesn’t burn a whole in their pocket, spending it on snack food and sodas.
Money management is central to Debbie because she runs a clothing bodega (thrift shop) and sewing ministry. The kids help run the shop comprised of donated clothing, hats, jewelry, and items that are handmade. The kids share in the profits from the items they sell in which half goes to the kids and the other half goes to buy more material, thread, or whatever is needed.
The role that the Buckners play is evident in the kids themselves. Alex is one such child. “Alex was one kid that was due to be leaving. He was angry all the time and aggressive and never listened, “says Debbie. “He bit Steve. He even fought physically with the pastor.”
Yet they began to see a change. “Since the woodshop opened, he’s a different kid. He started coming to work, and giving him a place to release his energy and creativity was key. Soon his creativity spilled over to a garden at his cabin. He built, by himself, a fence for the garden. He began to farm and grow vegetables. The catalyst was encouragement and really just having a safe place where he could find an outlet for his talents. He’s now a joy to be around, plus he’s good at it and he’s proud of his work. Just recently he’s been confirmed and now he serves the church on the altar guild. He does it with reverence and now knows how to serve on a team with other kids, being a crucifer, and helping the others. Seeing the likeness of Christ in kids like Alex is what energizes us every day.”