Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Spiritual Formation Page 1 of 9

collaborating prayer

Co-workers through prayer

Ukraine has been our home for the past 12 years. I would love to be back there now, if not for the ongoing military conflict in that country. But currently, we are back in Canada and we do not know when we will be able to return to our home in Ukraine. How can we continue to participate in ministry in Ukraine if we are located thousands of kilometers away? There are many good answers to that question. Some of them can be found on our mission organization’s webpage on Ukraine. In this post, I would like to focus on intercessory prayer.

Praying for Ukraine

For the past several months, my email signature has said “Pray for peace in Ukraine” with a link to our mission webpage. That webpage gives a couple of resources to guide our prayers for the crisis in that country. Using the PrayerMate app, I have been using the prayer list entitled “SEND 40 Days of Prayer for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the World.” I also have a reminder set on my phone that dings a few times throughout the day to remind me to pray for Ukraine.

Many of you are also doing something similar. Frankly, I have been amazed at the number of people that have assured me that they are praying for Ukraine. I hope that we are not simply praying for a military victory for one side of the conflict or the other. My prayers are for the safety and spiritual resilience of the believers who have fled and those that remain. I pray that the vision of mobilizing Ukrainian believers to the unreached peoples of Eurasia and Europe will become reality. I pray that God will turn this horrible tragedy into something that will bless the world.

Do my prayers matter?

But is praying for people in another country, particularly if we don’t know them by name, all that significant a help? I mean, don’t the prayers of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters reach the throne of God with even more passion and urgency than my prayers? Why is it necessary that I also participate in this practice of presenting the needs of Ukraine before our loving and sovereign heavenly Father?

feeding your soul

Feeding your soul in a time of crisis

In my last post, I reflected on our new status as refugees from Ukraine. I talked about some of the ways that God had prepared me for this crisis and was helping me process this new reality. The processing continues. We have not given up on the hope that we may be able to return to Ukraine and resume our ministry there. But we are seeking to deal with the possibility that we may not. Today, I want to reflect on what has sustained me through this time of crisis, even when the future is so uncertain, and answers to my questions seem so far away. How do I feed my soul when God does not seem to answer our prayers?

A personal crisis

Without a doubt, what all of us see depicted on the news is far more catastrophic than my personal crisis. Yet the possibility that our cross-cultural life and ministry may have come to an end on January 30 has created a significant amount of stress and anxiety within me. As many of you know, my wife and I have made Kyiv, Ukraine our home and base of ministry since 2009. In order to facilitate a training program for new missionaries, we traveled to North America at the end of January. We had planned to be in North America for about 10 weeks, with return tickets booked for a few days after the completion of the training program.

But the day I opened the online course was also the day that Russia began its “special military operation” in Ukraine.  One of the first residential buildings in our city to be hit in the conflict was about 200 meters from our apartment building. Since then, most of our friends and all of our missionary colleagues have left Ukraine or at least evacuated out of Kyiv.

Dealing with many questions

We pray daily for peace to be restored in Ukraine and for the safety and protection of friends that remain in Kyiv or in that country. When will the conflict end? Will we ever be able to return to our home? Where will we live if we are not able to return? We are currently staying with relatives in Canada but know that this is not a long-term solution.

How does God’s calling on my life to develop leaders intersect with the need of the refugees pouring out of Ukraine? I know so little about working with refugees. I am still struggling to understand what it means for me to be a refugee. How can I train others to work with them?

resilience and grace
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The source of resilience – grace

What is missional resilience? In a nutshell, it’s grace not grit. We must receive Jesus’ resilience to join him in his mission as we turn toward the triune God, others, and ourselves for loving support.

Geoff Whiteman, Resilient Global Worker Study: Persevering with Joy, March 2021.

In my previous blog post, I talked about the need for resilience in cross-cultural work and particularly now in the pandemic. I mentioned Geoff Whiteman’s research. He surveyed more than 1000 missionaries to find out what contributes to making global workers more resilient. What was his overall conclusion? It can be found in the quote above – resilience in mission work is rooted in God’s grace.

In a workshop at the 2021 Missio Nexus Mission Leaders Conference, Whiteman presented various recommendations for mission organizations to support missional resilience. Based on his research, he talked about the type of training, leadership, and caring that would help global workers become and stay resilient. Whiteman’s research demonstrated that mission organizations have much to learn and many ways in which they can improve. Nevertheless, Whiteman still concludes that resilience is first and foremost a gift of God’s grace.

The witness of Scripture

This echoes the witness of the Scriptures. Repeatedly we find that the Word of God promises the grace of resilience to those who cannot endure in their own strength. Here are a couple of examples.

Teaching and Learning: a review of two great books

Two great books on teaching and learning have been published in the last two years. They complement each other well. In 2020, Duane and Muriel Elmer’s The Learning Cycle: Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences was published by IVP. And this year (2021), Baker published Craig Ott’s Teaching and Learning Across Cultures: A Guide to Theory and Practice. The authors bring both extensive research and experience to the discussion of teaching and learning.

The Learning Cycle by Duane and Muriel Elmer

The Learning Cycle book

In a sense, this book is a capstone of Duane and Muriel Elmer’s writings and ministry.1 Many of Duane Elmer’s books have been foundational training materials for cross-cultural missionary service. See a review on this blog of one of his books, Cross-Cultural Servanthood. Duane created “the learning cycle” as part of his doctoral research at Michigan State University (p. 6). Subsequently, Muriel added the “barriers to change” to the cycle. Furthermore, they have both practiced the model throughout their teaching careers in various contexts. The insights from neuroscience do not dominate the text and come from “the more stable insights from the brain literature.” (p.11)

The Learning Cycle Model

intercession
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Intercession: The Indispensable Priority in Mentoring

Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by the late Jim Feiker, a former member of SEND International. This tenth pillar emphasizes the importance of intercession in the mentoring relationship.

My mother’s intercession for me

Minneapolis was a great place to grow up. Its people gave me a positive spiritual heritage. My mother gave me to God as Hannah did with Samuel. She had lost her second child by miscarriage and then I entered this world. My mother never told me she had “lent me to God for His purposes” until I was 17. She only let me know when she knew that I had dedicated my life to Jesus as Lord and to ministry. I knew that my mother prayed for me often and that she enlisted others to pray for me.

God took her at her word, called me into ministry, shaped and transformed my life, and put key mentors in my life. All my life I have felt that I am reserved for God and His purposes only. Mother, now in the Lord’s presence, never knew the impact she had on my life by intercession. It was more important than anything else she ever did for me. The prayers she prayed for me extend on through my life and will influence my life forever. Thanks, Mom!

Chuck Swindoll has made a powerful statement:

There is no more significant involvement in another’s life than prevailing, consistent prayer. It is more helpful than the gift of money, more encouraging than a strong sermon, more effective than a compliment, more reassuring than a physical embrace.

quoted in When Couples Pray by Cheri Fuller, p. 58.

We need to both intercede for those we mentor and teach them to intercede for others by our modeling. There is no greater calling in our mentoring.

soul rest
Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash

Vacation and Soul Rest

Vacation time

August is vacation time for many of us serving in cross-cultural missions. Whereas July is often busy with various camps and short-term teams, August is more often focused on spending time with family and enjoying the warm weather before classes and the fall ministry schedule begin again. As expected, in the last few weeks, I have received innumerable “out-of-office” notifications from my colleagues. This morning, I had only a couple of new emails and messages to which I need to respond. This is the predictable pause in August while colleagues take a break from ministry. It almost causes us to forget how very unpredictable and disrupted our lives have been in the last 18 months.

Finding rest for your soul

But a break from ministry while taking some vacation time does not always result in soul rest. Some people seem to need a vacation to recover from their vacation! Unfortunately, vacation does not nearly always result in people returning refreshed and rested. We may feel physically rested. But since most of us are not involved in much manual labour, physical rest is not the primary objective of our vacation. As knowledge workers, we want to rest our minds, our hearts, our center core, that which we call our soul. But as we sometimes ruefully admit to ourselves, taking some vacation time did not result in soul rest. How does one actually rest one’s soul?

a grace environment
Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels

Creating a grace environment

Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by the late Jim Feiker, a former member of SEND International. This eighth pillar explains the importance of establishing a grace-filled environment in the mentoring relationship.

To my daughter Susan, the ambiance is everything. Even as a child her favorite way to help was to create a beautiful table, or to make welcome signs when friends were coming over. To her the atmosphere set the mood for loving relationships. It gave signals to those who entered our home that it was okay to be yourself, that you would be accepted there. She wanted people to feel that they could be at home in our family, that they belonged there. This desire of Susan for a loving environment flowed from her gifts of mercy and hospitality. To this day, this is still a vital part of Susan’s ministry.

Environment of grace

She was right! An environment of grace does release a positive response in people leading to powerful outcomes. In it, people sense the freedom to be transparent and vulnerable. They feel safe to express themselves, they trust each other and they learn to speak truth to one another. They forgive each other and often walk out of their darkness into light, revealing and confessing their sins to each other. Mutual acceptance and forgiveness are given, as is the freedom to fail and disagree.

In this environment, learning is made fun, and people celebrate each other’s lives with laughter and joy. A grace atmosphere pours through them to others, fostering creativity and hope, and nurturing the learning process and growth. It attracts others into the Kingdom. Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in a healing power and to experience the presence of God. Grace sets the pitch for the music of the mentoring relationship.

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