Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beyond “Bless the Missionaries”

The three-year-old girl grabbed her mother’s skirt and stared at me standing next to my display table in the church’s foyer. Slowly her hand rose to eye level, until her pointer finger jabbed the air wordlessly, like some big business executive.

What is going on? Who is this family?
I grinned and tried to stall as I searched my memory... “Have you ever seen a giant blue butterfly?”  I reached for the insect display on my table.

The mother looked down at her daughter. “Yes, dear, she’s the missionary.” Then she turned to me, with a small apologetic smile. “She recognizes you from your prayer card. We have it on our fridge and pray for you every night.”

Wow. Now it was my turn to be speechless.

There is very little more encouraging to me than hearing those five precious words: “I am praying for you.” During the past several years, when the day was dark and the battle hard, knowing that people were praying for me, for Bible translation, for Papua New Guinea (PNG), was one of the few things that kept me going. I’ve seen challenges dismantled and strongholds dissolved as a result of sending out prayer request updates....as a result of the prayers of warriors like that mother and her toddler.

Although many missionaries send out some sort of regular prayer updates (go here to subscribe to my monthly updates), I know that it can still often be hard to know what to pray for and how. Here’s a grab-bag of twelve tangible reminders (perfect for kids...and for the kid in the rest of us) to help us through the process (thanks to the women of CEFC who helped me put this together!).

1. Travel—toy plane

Our Kodiaks in PNG don't quite look like that...
Travel can be challenging—but so can all the decision-making up to that departure! Lost luggage, narrow connections, visas, customs, time zones, delays, bureaucracy, overnights, poor airstrips...whether an international flight or a hike across the river, pray for wisdom and clear guidance, protection and provision, and open doors for the many permissions needed. 
2. Health—Band-aid

Poor sanitation, contaminated food/water, and lack of proper medical facilities/supplies means that health care can be challenge around the world. However, instead of praying that we never get sick (God works powerfully through illness), pray that we will have enough health capacity to do what God has called us to do. Pray that we would be wise in stewarding our health and for wisdom as we deal with unknown illnesses or conditions.

3. Protection—critter

One day, there will be eternal peace, but until that time, violence, whether it is lashing out directly at the Gospel or a cultural mandate or a breakdown of society, is a cry to know the truth of the Prince of Peace, and how will they know, if we do not bring it to them? Instead of praying that we wouldn’t suffer, pray that we’ll glorify God through our suffering. Pray that He will turn hearts toward Himself, give us boldness in times of danger, and when trauma arises, help us to know Christ and show Christ more through it.

4. Cultural Adaptation—spoon

Cross-cultural life is stressful—new languages, new foods, new climates, new governments, new ways to cross the street and brush your teeth and say hello and make your bed! (And then you get to do it all over again when you return to your home country!) Cultural adaptation takes years; pray that we’ll give ourselves grace and patience, that we’ll learn quickly, that we’ll show others love, and we’ll rejoice in the differences as marks of God’s creativity. 

5. Financescoin

Many missionaries live on support, meaning their monthly income is dependent upon the faithful giving of partners back home. Although this can be inconsistent and uncertain (budgeting is tricky when your month’s income may swing $1000 in either direction...), after several years of living in this way, I can confidently say that the Lord is always faithful and my needs have always been met, sometimes in miraculous and unexpected ways.  Pray not only that God would raise up financial partners to serve alongside us in ministry in this way, but hten pray for wisdom for the missionaries as we steward these gifts faithfully.

6. Language—Scrabble letter

The language you speak in your home is what we call your "heart" language—it's the one that impacts you most deeply, carries the most weight and meaning, and often is the language of deep emotion or passion. And thus, learning that language is crucial to relationship building and sharing Christ. But, language learning is difficult, takes years, and can be discouraging at times. Pray for grace and perseverance in language learning and for good language helpers! Pray also for the 2000 or so languages left in the world without access to translated Scripture.

7. Restcotton ball

When the need is great, the workers are few, and if those few are anything like the typical American missionary, “rest” falls to the bottom of the to-do list and “margin” is one of the overlooked practices...a pattern which can easily lead toward burnout and overload. Privacy is often limited and vacations can be very expensive or difficult to take within the country of work. Pray that missionaries would see Sabbath as a priority, and for creative ways of peace and relaxation to refresh tired and lonely workers.

8. Strength/Perseverancerock
Missionary life is hard. It’s glorious, rewarding, wonderful, exciting, thrilling, and hard. Very hard. From continually being faced with overwhelming need to loneliness to future uncertainty to the challenges of everyday life (like laundry and cleaning the windows), sometimes it’s difficult to simply take the next step. Pray as Paul did: “We also pray that you will be strengthened with His glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy.”  (Col 1:11, NLT).

9. Fruit of the Spirit—fruit snacks

While some people think of missionaries as superhuman, they are simply sinners saved by grace, being refined by the Spirit, and following their Lord. We appreciate your prayers for our spiritual development for our prayer times and Scripture study and journey as we grow to know the Lord more and more. We desire to be fruitful in ministry by first developing the fruit of the Spirit and walking in holiness.

10. Relationships—heart sticker

Missionary life is all about relationships—both on the field (husband or wife, parents, children, colleagues, friends, nationals) as well as back in our home countries (partners, families who stay behind). Missionary life is also all about transition—and constantly grieving the end of many relationships and the challenge of building new ones. Pray for the strength of these relationships (which face the same types of challenges yours do), comfort in the time of grief, and for friends to share the burdens.
11. Spiritual Warfare—sword

Scripture tells us that while we are on the winning side, we continue to struggle in a fierce battle against spiritual enemies (Eph 6:12). In PNG, witchcraft, sorcery, spells and curses are commonplace and as real as the computer you’re using to read this blog post. Things go unexplainably wrong all the time. Pray the armor of God over us and pray against spiritual warfare especially in transitions (like to and from home assignment), and beginnings and endings of events/projects.

12. Boldness and Open Doors—fire sauce
Open doors can’t be taken for granted...and sometimes they look nothing like we expect (Col 4:2-3). Pray that the Lord would open doors, that we would recognize them, and then charge forward boldly! Missionaries are regular people who fear pain and rejection as much as anyone else. When faced with opposition, we need God’s strength to help us stand firm. Language and culture barriers can also hinder boldness—pray for effective communication skills (Eph 6:19)!