Your Unique Weakness, Made Beautiful

Reading Time: 3 minutes

strength in weakness

When my husband John was younger, he hated hardware stores. (Work with me here.) He hated all the hooks sticking out of the walls to hang things on.  To him, it felt like those hooks were headed straight for his eyes. It was an odd weakness that followed him to adulthood.

Yet years later, as we lived in a remote village in Ethiopia where John was working on a water project, he began having trouble with his eyes–a malady seeming particularly unfortunate following a lifetime vulnerability. read more

“Trust and Obey, Mommy”: Gala’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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

When your ministry plans don’t look like you thought

Reading Time: 4 minutes

ministry plans

I thought I had found it.

My niche, my place, my way to reach out and bring others in while living overseas.  I was a young mom of a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a newborn. At the preschool of my four-year-old, I was getting to know other moms.

I had a growing relationship with a young mom of a toddler who was soaking up our friendship and appreciative of the care and support I was giving her. She was introducing me to her friends who’d ask me questions about babies and parenting and marriage.

Reflecting on encouragement received as part of a mother’s group back in the U.S., I thought I could offer the same to these precious women: a mom’s group where I could encourage them, share truth and love, share hard-won wisdom from experience.

I could do this with my kids, not leaving them behind in the name of my ministry plans.

It seemed perfect.

I told my friend about my idea.  She agreed this was needed.  Her friends were lonely; they weren’t thriving as moms. She loved my perspective on motherhood and knew it would encourage these women.  She would talk to her friends.

I started a private Facebook page to share thoughts and Scripture. Prepared short messages to share with them when they came to my home. Made coffee and tea and cookies and prepared my living room.

And the entire thing fizzled.

MINISTRY PLANS: The Beginning of the End

We tried it for a few weeks.  One or two would come.  Their kids would cry and scream.  One even threw up on our bean bag chair.

The children frazzled their moms. I offered encouragement with a side of coffee.  They were too embarrassed by their children’s behavior to hear me.

My friend and I talked about what was going on.  She said they needed this type of group.  She knew that they needed support and a change of perspective.

But they didn’t want to sit around talking about being a mom.  They wanted to escape from thinking about this.

Basically, they didn’t want what I was offering.

When Your Ministry Plans are a No-Go

I felt discouraged.  I thought I had found the perfect situation to use my passion and stage of life to encourage others, invite them into my home, and speak to their hearts.  Wasn’t I meant to do this?

Disappointed and sad, I wondered if I even had a place.  I wanted so much to see why God had called me here, uprooted me from my home country to figure out life in a huge city in a different language.

If I could just have a ministry, then I could see how it is all worth it.

There was nothing wrong with trying this, but God quickly closed the door.

What didn’t happen

I’d like to tell you that a new door opened immediately, a wide-open door I was able to sail effortlessly through into a lovely field of “productive ministry.”

I wish that were so.

My calling has not panned out quite like that. I think that my life on the field has been one of being faithful with the small things before me.

When the group failed, I had a choice to make.

I could keep trying for what I was passionate to do and what I thought was “just perfect,” or I could let it go and focus on what God was bringing to me. I took my eyes off my project and looked at what was before me.

Two women continued to seek me out.  I chose to invest in those two. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time and effort that sometimes I didn’t want to do.

Then there were other relationships, one here, one there.  Different faces, different needs, similar efforts.

Over the years there have been various opportunities, unique projects, long-term and short-term relationships.  Sometimes I wish there was a certain “something” I could point to, a specific something with a name and a box it goes in.  Something that’s easy to understand or write about in a newsletter.

The unfortunate fizzle

Dear reader, it’s possible that your ministry plans will fizzle, too. I don’t wish that disappointment on anyone who has left home and father and mother to follow a calling from the Father.
I think these experiences can cause some of us to doubt if we’ve heard our “assignment” correctly.  We can wonder if we are even supposed to be overseas at all.
Should you find yourself in this place, on this path I walked, I pray for you to have the eyes to see when it is time to give that plan up to make room for whatever else might come. 

What comes is not always pretty and not everyone will understand. But if we’re made open for what God will do next, the stripping of our ministry plans is a mercy.

Sometimes the next step is small

And sometimes the “next” is small.  Sometimes the “next” doesn’t seem like much at all.

Do it faithfully.

We are not good judges of what makes something “worth it.”  How do you even measure that accurately?  I am not able to measure this because I don’t know the entire plan.  I don’t know the steps God needs to reach the ultimate goal of His glory in this country.

To say what God has called me to do is insignificant is to say that those lives are insignificant. And I can’t do that.

I had a few different ideas when I set out to make this country my home. (Vision is good to have!) And I built a few different ministry plans as I tried settling in.

But ultimately, I want to do what God sets before me.  He gets to assign the jobs.  I’m a part of His kingdom, after all.

Sarah has served  in the Middle East with her family for over nine years.

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Advice for a Young Missionary: Geraldine’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.