When a person commits to cross-cultural ministry, it is an understatement to say that they commit to it in partnership with others. From the Sunday School teachers, family members, financial supporters and prayer warriors, there is no going it alone, even if the work is done in the context of one’s own home country.
Ministry is a group effort.
However, keeping that focus is hard, when you’re not used to writing letters or emails in the first place. How do you communicate what’s happening in your life, family and ministry with people who are living their own lives and serving in their own ways — or not? There can be a sense of “tooting one’s own horn” in writing about your work or feeling guilty that your readers are not seeing what you’re seeing on a day-to-day basis. What do you do?
Take it to the Lord.
Ask the Lord to help you in your communication with friends and supporters, remembering that they really do want to hear from you, even if they can’t understand everything you’re talking about or experiencing. Also, think about how best to communicate your message — emails work, but maybe a video from time to time too. Visuals help to set the stage of the environment you’re in, the beauty or harshness of the area and especially the importance of a gospel witness or ministry.
Though I’m talking to myself, do your best to keep it short. The attention span of most readers is one page of text, at the most. If that’s hard for you, just write more often, breaking up one long newsletter into shorter ones. Give it to them in spurts.
Tell a story, but highlight prayer points.
In many of our newsletters, I put the word pray in bold type, so they could easily pull requests out to remember before the throne. Make them specific and understandable. Don’t forget to include prayer for you and your family. Let them support you personally in prayer, when things are tough, you’re sick or facing persecution. Transparency in our letters reminds them that we’re not super Christians for what we’re doing, but normal people striving to serve an amazing God.
Share highlights not details.
When it comes to issues with our spouse, children or teammates, be sensitive to how much information is appropriate to share. My prayer support group is not the same as my teammates, so I do not share their names or specific details with others. However, if someone is struggling and needs prayer, add it as a general request without invading their privacy. While my children grew used to being the subject of newsletters, I was careful not to go overboard, especially when it was a sensitive issue we were dealing with. Too much information can bring more harm than good.
Give glory to God.
When something amazing happens in the life of a person you’re serving, share about it, while remembering that it’s God’s work, not yours. Expressing humility that he chose to use you or allow you to witness his handiwork, puts the honor back on him. Remind your supporters to share with you similar opportunities to see God at work, as you want to rejoice with what he’s doing in their lives and work as well. Newsletters can be a two-way street to encouragement and prayer.
Thank your readers.
Above all, remind them in every letter or video that you rely on them holding the ropes for you in prayer and support. We all serve as a part of the Body of Christ, and I think we feel that the most when serving overseas or in a specific ministry. I would not have survived twenty years overseas without my prayer warriors’ words of encouragement and concentrated prayers on my behalf. I would not have survived if my family members had not taken on extra responsibilities stateside to pick up the slack of my absence. An attitude of gratefulness goes a long way in keeping connectivity with those who read your letters.
In the end, look with anticipation to face-to-face opportunities to share. John did:
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.*
Pray, Serve, Share to God’s glory, that all may rejoice together.
Grace and Peace
*2 John 12 (NIV)