December 12, 2012

Preparing to Plant Overseas (and Other Insights)

In my last post, my friend Mandy shared about her life as an international church planting wife in Galway, Ireland. Today, my interview with her continues as she offers advice to women preparing to plant overseas and encouragement to those seeing little fruit from their work. Her words are profitable for all us, if nothing else than because they serve as a reminder to pray for our brothers and sisters serving all across the world today.

Q: If you could sit down over coffee with a wife who is about to internationally church plant with her husband, what would you tell her? What should she expect? What are the most important things for her to know as she prepares?
A: Before I say anything, I will go ahead and admit that I need to follow my own advice!  So here goes…I think the most important thing to remember is to continually prioritize your relationship with the Lord above everything (spouse, children, and church).  It is easy to get caught up in ministry and “doing” things for Jesus, but this will leave you empty, exhausted, and resentful.  Church planting often requires us to do things outside of our giftedness, and being with the Lord is the only way to sustain you through that.  Secondly, I would say it is important to love and support your husband and family.  You are all working together in the church plant so be a team and cheer each other on.  Keep negativity and complaining to a minimum, and continually praise and thank the Lord for the big and little things.  And last I would say to frequently remind yourself of your love for the people you are reaching.  There will be times when it is hard to love them, especially when you’re clashing with their culture or you see no fruit from your labor.  If you lose your love for the people where you are serving, apathy will creep in and suck the life out of your church plant.  Also, related to this, I would advise you to study not only the culture you are moving to but the one you are coming from as well.  Sometimes we think things are Biblical, but they’re not; they are just part of our Christian sub-culture.  Before moving to another country, it is important to understand that cultural differences aren’t necessarily un-Biblical or wrong…just different.  (Bonus Advice:  Lower your expectations.  And just when you think they are low enough lower them even still!)
Q: You and your family labored for many years without seeing many “results”. What helped you persevere and not waver in your faith? What encouragement would you give to other international church planting wives who are not seeing fruit from their work?
A: Thankfully by the grace of God we were mentored by our colleagues who had worked in another difficult country in Europe.  They told us the work would be slow and taught us to count small, seemingly normal, insignificant things as huge successes. Results weren’t seen in our church meetings or “numbers” but in getting to have a spiritual conversation with a person on the bus or having a family accept an invitation to our home for a meal.  And if we were actually invited to someone’s home or to meet for a coffee, it was cause for celebration.  Fruit from our labor comes in all shapes and sizes; some like berries and others like watermelon, but it is all still fruit nonetheless.  And aren’t the smallest fruits sometimes the sweetest?

Q: What do you want people in the States to know about your life and ministry? 
A: We are ordinary people trying to let our extraordinary God use us in His mighty plan for the world He loves so much.  Here in Ireland that means I worry about our sticky floors when a friend pops over for a “cuppa” (tea, that is).  It means that Jason sometimes sighs when he has to switch from his pastor hat to his IT hat or accountant hat.  Our children kick balls that break things, write on the walls (and clothes and sofas), and yell at each other.  But we pray for God to use our ordinary lives to show people His love.  That friend of mine will hear an encouraging word while we chat over tea.  Jason’s time spent working on our church website will draw a new person or family to our fellowship.  Our children practice asking for forgiveness in our home and are now asking for and extending forgiveness to their friends.  It’s never about us but about letting the Lord work in and through us.  And if you are ever in Ireland, pop on over for a cuppa and let’s encourage each other in the love of Jesus. Just mind your feet on our sticky floors!

Thank you, Mandy! Are you an international church planting wife? Please let us pray for you today. Simply leave your name and location (if you can) in the comments section and, if you choose, specific ways we can pray for you. I am thankful for your faithful service to Christ!