“Trust and Obey, Mommy”: Gala’s Story

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trust and obey

Our family had been in Ethiopia for about two weeks one February when we decided to visit the village where we’d soon be living.

My husband John is a water engineer. Our task was to put in a water system for the Tokay area and surrounding villages. We had just begun language school in Addis, so our skills were limited–but we were excited to see the village where we’d live for the next three years, about four hours west. read more

My Big Dream (that Starts Small)

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big dream

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Rebecca Hopkins’ blog, Borneo Wife, when she and her husband served in Indonesia. She now blogs from her new American home at rebeccahopkins.org .

A window in my kitchen faces our backyard. Much of my days are spent cooking and watching, washing dishes and listening, making granola and checking. The kids are often dangling or running or whooping outside, playing on our mini-playground with the zipline. read more

Make Local Friends Overseas: 6 Ways

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make local friends

We had been living in Cairo about a year and a half when friends visited from Uganda. We ate at the mall food court when they asked how it has been meeting and making friends with Egyptians. I told them it’s been hard: Where do you meet people you can make friends with?

I mean, you don’t just make friends in the food court. read more

Advice for a Young Missionary: Geraldine’s Story

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advice for a young missionary

Editor’s note: Glen and Geraldine are what you might call old-school missionaries. They arrived in Ukraine in 1994, back when big bangs were cool and the Iron Curtain had recently fallen hard across Europe–and the dust was still settling. (Would you believe these two briefly tangled with the Ukrainian mafia?)

We asked Geraldine what she’d tell a young missionary over coffee–because though a lot has changed since perms were hot, we can gain so much wisdom through ministry vets. Here’s what Geraldine had to say. 

Be 100% CONFIDENT OF your “why”.

First of all, for the prospective missionary, I would definitely recommend that he or she is completely confident in God’s power and Great Commission. There are many adversaries or even those who are against foreign missions.

For example, we had friends who were missionaries to the Jewish people who actually tried to dissuade us from coming to Ukraine. We should consider, they said, the language barrier, the difficult cultural differences, and the anti-American sentiment.

As a missionary, you’ll be challenged with these issues regardless of where you serve.  

Be confident of what God’s called you to–because you’ll inevitably withstand times of significant obstacles, fear, pain–and yes, questioning if you’re in the right place: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20). 

advice for a young missionary

Keep your lifestyle/housing simple or consistent with the people you serve.

We rented a Ukrainian house and didn’t furnish it with anything American. We wanted Ukrainians to feel comfortable around us.

Of course, there were a few things that I personally brought for myself: books, devotionals, recipes for our favorite foods.

Here’s the advice for a young missionary which someone gave me: Bring essential items for your kids–certain games, movies, and toys so that they would feel more at home. For children, the cultural transition is much more difficult, especially if the son or daughter is a pre-teen or teenager.

It’s also important to engage in special occasions for them–such as birthdays, academic accomplishments, sleepovers, sporting events (we had basketball and volleyball games).

Plan for pain.

One event that really impacted our family: Church problems we experienced in 1996. After two years, we had certain people that were opposed to my husband’s leadership. Some people walked away and others complained about us.

We had to spend much time in prayer and examine our lives and ministry before the Lord. We never wanted to hurt anyone, but the enemy was working. This is very common. Before making any major decisions, consider the fallout, although things do happen that are out of our control.

We basically had to start over again in the church until the Lord provided a godly Ukrainian leader/pastor, This was hard for us, yet we never thought about quitting or returning home–there was too much at stake.

ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: Be prepared and have the courage to trust God for difficult, painful circumstances.

In 2003, we moved out to the village to evangelize and hopefully start a church.

Life was so hard. People weren’t friendly. We had to walk to the village well to draw our drinking water. We’d burn our own trash because they refused to collect ours.

We had Ukrainians working in our home for remodeling purposes, and their work wasn’t good. After we paid them lots of money, they demanded more. When we refused, they took us to court. They paid the judge a bribe so we would lose our case and our home.

It was so difficult. We prayed a lot. My husband hired a Ukrainian lawyer and she took pictures of the work. She actually won our case, but then we were forced to sell our home. Some of these men were associated with the mafia and we didn’t want to take any chances.

My husband sent our son and me out of the country back to the States. We prayed and ask others to pray as well.

Glen sold our house within one month–which was a miracle! After this, we left Ukraine for about one year.

don’t let marriage and family fall prey to ministry.

The demands, trauma, and pull of the mission field have torn apart too many marriages.

My advice for a young missionary: Always pour unconditional love, support, and sacrifice into each other’s lives for God’s honor and glory–no matter the needs “out there.”

Glen and I always prayed together as a couple and as a family.

(Editor’s note: Don’t miss Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together.)

Missionaries we met while raising support encouraged us to never allow ministry to become more important than our families. We remembered that and took one day a week to spend time together at the park, the shopping malls, or watching a movie at home. No interferences.

We spent time together talking about life with our kids and any issues they were encountering.

advice for a young missionary

Stay aware of and responsive to your kids’ holistic experience.

One of the biggest mistakes we personally made was to send our son to a Ukrainian school while we were attending the Kyiv University for language. During that time in Ukraine, the prejudice was real. Ben was about nine years old.

We eventually brought him home. I wish we could have afforded private school, but the prices were too expensive. So we had to homeschool–another challenge.

Your kids’ educational and cultural experiences are so important, so research your options thoroughly, visit schools, talk to other parents, and plan wisely for the education that will make up their days and much of their cultural experience. 

FINAL ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: When It’s Time…

Some missionaries have left the field due to health, marital issues, problems with their children. Regardless of where we live and serve, God can use you. You don’t have to feel like your life is over!

We follow him wherever he leads us–to the mission field or elsewhere. Our ministry doesn’t define us. It’s our relationship with God that’s so important.

Does Christianity destroy culture?

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christianity destroy culture

Photo credit: IMB.org

Editor’s note: We’re pulling this post from the archives to answer a key recurring question: Does Christianity destroy culture? Are you importing Western culture when you bring the Gospel? We weigh in. 

If you’ve ever stood in the middle of African worship, it’s…well, it’s pretty hard to stand still.

Gotta admit. At a refugee-center staff retreat, I started as a mild observer. I marveled at the literal full-bodied movement and vocalization: music that took over my heart, my body. I was, um, really dancing (don’t necessarily try to picture it…) to worship for the first time. Moisture leaked from the corners of my eyes.

Perhaps you can see what I’m talking about:

After a rousing snippet of this kind of worship in staff devotions the week before, I’d told the teachers, this is just a sliver of what the African church offers the world. Every culture has its own strengths, its own vibrant display of the image of God.

And when Jesus comes, I will have watched so many cultures become the truest version of themselves.

Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together

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missionary marriage

Years ago, my husband and I talked about how to help missionary friends on the field in struggles they were working through in a marriage. The couple was fairly new on the field.

It was tough, we acknowledged: A missionary marriage was like a pressure cooker, intensifying whatever flavors were first lobbed in the pot. If basil, you tasted its nuance in the entire dish. If a sweaty gym sock? Well.

Make no mistake: Your marital issues and strengths will arrive with you on the field with more certainty than your luggage. But it’s critical you don’t let living overseas just happen to your marriage.

Because the natural course of marriage isn’t toward being one flesh, toward unity. It’s toward isolation, disconnection. But “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

What relationships will you feed while overseas?

You may not mind giving from your marriage to outside ministry. It’s quite possible you’re eager to share! Yet that flexibility and generosity flow best when marriage and ministry work as allies—not  competitors.

For FamilyLife.com, I recently wrote the article, “Ministry Marriage: Perks to Love, Dangers to Fight.” That piece is far more comprehensive. But before I direct you there, let’s have some specific straight talk on your soon-to-be missionary marriage.

Actively stay alert for signs of isolation.

I currently live in Colorado, a state notorious for deal-breaking foundation cracks in a home–cracks costing thousands of dollars to fix while you move out. So I keep an eye on cracks in plaster, in drywall, that could indicate a bigger problem–which I’d rather solve as early as possible.

The priority of your missionary marriage remains critical overseas. It speaks the Gospel to your family, not just an unreached people group or the world “out there”. And experiencing God’s love regularly also means you regularly experience that you are loved; that you are more than what you do for God.

It’s the same strategy for your marriage. Keep an eye out for warning signs:

  • constant bickering
  • a feeling of resentment
  • temptation toward an emotional or physical affair
  • a loss of respect
  • porn use, or other addictions
  • apathy toward your spouse
  • inability to recover from trauma, issues with kids, or other obstacles
  • isolation; finding yourself “holding back” from your spouse
  • mental health issues, like depression or anxiety (common struggles overseas)
  • lack of regular, fulfilling sex

See more on these warning signs here. 

Your ministry marriage can flounder—or flourish, should you invest in displaying the gospel intently there.

Understand your tendencies in navigating stress and trauma.

When I was about to deliver my first child, the instructor asked us where in our bodies we carry our stress. (I carry mine in my jaw, my shoulders.) This is a similar exercise as you prepare for stress. Are you prone toward depression? Workaholism? People-pleasing? Being gruff with your spouse?

Living cross-culturally, you’re more often in the stressed version of yourself (see this post for more ideas of what the stressed version of yourself might look like, including these on the stressed version of your marriage and the stressed version of your parenting).

Can you already anticipate the stressed version of your missionary marriage, and be ready with healthy coping mechanisms, truths to tell yourself, and ways to bridge the gap?

Many sending agencies now require mental health evaluations before you head overseas for these very reasons, and several more.

For those of you going to developed countries, the closer you are to the poor, the more you experience their hardship and heartache. Your probability of trauma skyrockets.

Make no mistake: God will triumph through your darkest days overseas. But starting from a place of health, with a number of robust coping mechanisms in place, means you stay longer and stronger overseas, without the wave of trauma capitulating you as easily.

Don’t hesitate to get counseling before you go, even JUST for evaluative reasons.

Family friends headed overseas racked up well over twenty medical appointments before they left: immunizations. Examinations. Checking out weird little problems they didn’t want to rear their ugly heads in a nation with less developed medical care.

We need the same mindset with our hearts, minds, and marital relationships before heading into the pressure cooker of a missionary marriage.

What could use a tune-up? And if you don’t know…will you make the effort to find out?

Many counselors can continue long-distance video counseling, and many sending organizations are happy to provide the counseling you need overseas.

Make sure you talk about the mutuality of your “call”.

Don’t miss our post, “Help! I Don’t Feel as ‘Called’ as My Spouse.” 

All right, I’m ready now–if you’ve managed to hang in there all this time, jump on over to Ministry Marriage: Perks to Love, Dangers to Fight.”

 

Sure, your marriage reciprocates in every area of service you put your hands to. But even if you were only experiencing Jesus more in your own marriage? That alone honors and delights Him.

Do the hard work to deeply nourish the relationships that matter most–and not just “out there”.

 

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit. 

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How to Overcome Obstacles and Get Fully Funded

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fully funded

Editor’s note: We’re stoked to feature this article from another one of Go. Serve. Love’s round table partners, Support Raising Solutions. (Yes! That organization is a thing.) In our quest to present you overseas fully-funded, we’re happy to welcome back the indomitable Jenn Fortner, support-raising expert extraordinaire. 

In my time as a support coach, I have yet to see a ministry worker not make it to the field because they were unable to raise their budget as fully funded missionaries. I’ve seen people not go to the field because they got engaged, accepted a different job, or had medical issues—but it has yet to be money that has kept someone from going to the ministry they felt called to.

That being said, I’ve seen numerous ministers scared that they were never going to get to the magical 100% mark. Some just freeze up, unable to move forward because of obstacles and fears.

So lets talk about the obstacles and fears we face when raising our budgets. What are some of the most common? And what can we do to overcome them? 

Let’s get fully funded.

#1 Obstacle: Perspective/Lack of Biblical Understanding

Viewing fundraising as a necessary evil instead of a vibrant ministry can be the largest hurdle someone raising support can face.

I once heard it said 90% of support raising is perspective. After listening to numerous workers talk about their struggles, I find this overwhelmingly true. Workers who can’t seem to see the awesome ministry opportunities raising support provides them are the same ones who can’t seem to be fully funded, and ultimately will probably walk away from their ministry calling.

Viewing support raising as ministry is vital to staying engaged long-term and excited about the process.

If you go into an appointment seeing it only as a means to an end, you’ll pass up the opportunity to minister to the person across from you—and miss being blessed yourself! Other effects may be:

  • Coming across as disingenuous
  • Being sloppy and cutting corners
  • Awkward and fearful to make strong/bold ask

So how can we overcome a lack of perspective, to be fully funded?

  • Seek out a biblical understanding of support raising. Discover what God has to say on the subject in the Bible studies in the appendix of The God Ask.
  • Ask others who have been successful in raising their support about their overall perspective.
  • Pray continuously, asking and seeking God why He came up with this idea of Christian workers raising their personal and ministry expenses from others. He has already given the answers in Scripture. We just have to find them.

#2 Obstacle: Procrastination

Ever find yourself starting to work on something important, only to be distracted by a text, social media post, or an internet deep dive?

Instead of making progress on your task, do you find yourself watching a YouTube video about a horse and a dog becoming best friends?

Don’t feel alone. Stats on procrastination:

Have you ever taken on a project you knew would take a long time to complete (hey, like raising an entire budget?) and instead of attacking it, you procrastinate a few hours instead?

Those few hours become a day, a day turns into two or three days, and two or three days ends up being a week—a wasted week!

Sometimes support raisers will go into total denial and will dream up all kinds of new “to-do’s” to work on, except the one they’re assigned—raising their support!

As a coach, I see this in those raising funds who also have jobs or current ministry responsibilities. They may subconsciously increase their hours at their jobs, or say yes to more ministry opportunities.

Why? Anything to get them out of making the calls and setting up appointments!

(Is that you?)

How can we overcome procrastination to become fully funded? 

  • Set specific, challenging, but reachable goals for yourself each week.
  • Share those goals with someone who can exercise a little “tough love” and keep you accountable.
  • Write down those weekly goals and break them down into daily tasks.
  • Don’t let a week (or even a day!) slip through the cracks. If you feel the “procrastination monkey” starting to crawl onto your back, quickly ask for help, accountability, and advice from those you trust.

Editor’s note: Don’t be afraid to dig into the “why’s” that keep you procrastinating. Are you struggling with fear, rejection, unbelief, perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed…? Prayerfully attack and problem-solve more than the symptom of procrastination.

#3 Obstacle: Lack of Contacts

This is a common one, but may or may not be a real issue. Sometimes it is a perceived obstacle, and if that’s you, you need to face up to reality.

Let’s go straight to the solutions:

How can we overcome a lack of contacts? 

  • Start by checking Facebook. I know not all your 850 “friends” are your best buds, but they are connections you have made over time, including exchanging likes and postings for months or years. It’s an easy next step to message them for a cup of coffee, openly talking about your next adventure.
  • When namestorming a list of people you’ll be asking for support, make sure you are not limiting yourself to those you think will give. Include everyone you know. Why?

You’ll be shocked when you discover some of those you thought would surely support you, don’t. And those you thought never-in-a-million-years would give, want to jump on your team!

Never let your perceptions (or paranoia!) determine who will or won’t contact. Remember God is in this process. Allow Him to do His job!

  • If your concern about having a small number of contacts is real (around 85% of the time I find it’s only a perceived obstacle), go ahead and begin your support raising. Work hard to set up appointments with everyone—not just the ones you’re comfortable asking! Along the way, connect with pastors or others raising support and ask for their help and prayers as you overcome. Ask those who are cheerfully supporting you for referrals. Experiment with a fundraising dinner (or other creative events) as ways to possibly expanding your contact base.

#4 Obstacle: Lack of Time

Ministry commitments, large families, full-time jobs, school, frequent social engagements, etc. all vie for daily attention and concentration.

If you find yourself over-scheduled (even before you start raising up your team), you may be tempted to procrastinate, cut corners, or even give up! Be assured, though, that the Lord has given you just the right amount of time each week to accomplish exactly what He wants you to (see Ephesians 2:10).

I know it’s hard to balance everything, but take heart, God delights in giving you grace and wisdom so that in his perfect time, you can be fully funded.

How can we overcome a lack of time, to get fully funded? 

  • Pull your pastor or a trusted friend aside, and the both of you look hard at which of your priorities and time commitments are essential to you and God—and which ones are elective.
  • Be willing to temporarily cut items from your schedule during the next 3, 6, 9 months of support raising. I know it’s painful, especially if have to set aside social obligations or ministry commitments for a time.
  • If you are working full-time, consider figuring out a way to move to part-time, or even transition to full-time support raising. That would be the ideal!

Do you have any tips for overcoming these four obstacles so others, too, can get fully funded? Or maybe you have experienced or observed other obstacles that can inhibit successful support raising? Share them in the comments.

We want to hear from you, pray for you, and seek to be of help.

Jenn Fortner is the creator of Financial Partnership Development for the Eurasia Region of Assembly of God World Missions. She is the author of Financial Partnership Development Workbook: Biblical and Practical Tools to Raise Your Support. She also operates as a support raising coach to numerous missionaries, and a speaker on the subject of support raising.

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Going Overseas? Prepare for Scars

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Recently I sat with another missionary, stocking feet curled beneath us. We were reflecting on some of the more painful parts of missionary life.

I’m talking things that were hard to understand if you hadn’t been overseas, hadn’t had moments in a foreign land defined by sacrifice or loss. They were like scars, covered by clothing. read more

“What keeps you going?” The successes we remember

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what keeps you going

Photo: IMB.org

One morning in Guatemala, I walked into our office and found sitting around the table the regional leadership of a group of churches we were working with. They were visiting politely with Melvin, a national pastor we worked with.

I greeted them and visited a moment and then excused myself and made my way to my office.

Of course I was curious what was happening. Still, I said nothing until they had left.

Why were they there? Why were they meeting with Melvin? What were they discussing? (That was only my beginning list.)

When Nothing’s Making Sense

Allow me to pause and ask: What keeps you going when nothing else is making sense?

When you live and work in a country and a culture you didn’t grow up in, but have adopted? When everything is hard to understand? When you aren’t sure you are communicating? When the cost/benefit ratio of missions feels fuzzy or downright disappointing?

Missionaries wrestle with that question somewhat regularly. I wrestle with that regularly.

The Background Story

I found out more of the story after the regional leaders left. But you need the background to the story to understand his answer–and understand what keeps me going.

Our small team had been working with these rural pastors and lay leaders for a couple of years, attempting to bring them resources and training that would help them serve their people and teach their congregations to walk as Jesus would want them to walk.

Periodically in this ministry, we welcomed groups of youth and adults who came down from supporting churches in the U.S. to spend a week. It took a lot of thinking and planning to create a situation which we felt would be a blessing to the churches we worked with and to the group coming down.

so here’s the plan

The groups completed work projects for four hours each morning, then showed the JESUS film each evening in a meadow in a location where our churches were trying to plant a Bible study or home church.

The churches were moderately interested: Maybe it would be worth doing. The JESUS film project offered the use of one of their staffers, along with a projector and screen. We took care of him and covered his costs; he showed the JESUS film in the crowds’ Mayan language and preached a short message and gave an invitation in that same local language. And it multiplied the churches’ reach at no cost to them!

Our group of American gringos, frankly, were the bait to draw a crowd.

Each night we had a good turnout. Some people walked three miles to attend. They seemed interested and somewhat responsive. The church elders stood around watching the crowd and conversing with those who came.

We completed the same routine for four nights in different locations. Then, the group headed home.

The idea: Church leaders would try to follow up with the people they saw at the film-showing over the next 10 days, visiting them in their fields or homes.

Two weeks later we repeated the process with a second national church group and four more locations, showing the JESUS film in a language none of us knew.

“Was it worth it?”

And then we all went home and I asked “Was it worth it?”

I wanted it to be worth the month we had spent with those two groups helping them see what we did there in the mountains. I wanted it to be worth it for both the wide-eyed group from Texas and the collection of churches we had tried to serve.

And then about a month later I walked into the office and some of those same church leaders were there.

I’d had no idea they were coming. But they seemed to have a good meeting.

It turns out they had indeed followed up with the people who they had seen at the showings of the Jesus film. And at each location they’d added 3 or 4 families to the Bible studies or home churches they were trying to start!

They had come to visit with my national teammate, Melvin, to find out how they could arrange to do the same thing all year long on their own.

What Keeps YOU Going

Yes, that made my day. That’s what keeps me going; it’s why I came. So what if they hadn’t talked to me about it?

Their question verified that the new untried evangelism event we had put together actually helped them. It apparently had turned out to be more productive than any “outreach program” they had tried.

We’d ensured all costs of the group would be covered–and the churches had experienced a new tool for growing their churches. And now they wanted to make it their own!

God had obviously showed up. Now, decades later, it’s an event I hang my hat on after all the mysteries of missions: Is what I’m doing working? Are there results to show from all I’m giving up?

(Wondering about what measuring stick to use for success–and what should be the kind of thing that keeps you going? A Life Overseas’ blog offers three criteria.)

When you get to see results that clearly, it keeps you going for a good long while. It did for me!

And even today when I think back over that and other events, unique though each one was, it is a constant encouragement. God calls us to serve him and others, and he is the one who creatively weaves the threads of ministry to produce what he calls success.

It’s well worth remembering those times when you got to see his fingers weaving success into what he’s called you to do.

Global veteran David Armstrong has set foot in 15 countries, and confesses that Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants. Catch his classic post here on 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas.

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