Archive for the 'Motherhood and Ministry' Category

The Playground in Spring

(Some of my mom friends on the playground last spring)

Moving to this northern Russian city where the winter is so long and dark makes the coming of spring with it’s warmth quite thrilling. And it is not only the sun that brings this warmth, but the fact that the people who have lived all winter long closed in their cold communist cement block apartments begin emerging to stroll leisurely down the streets once more. Smiles and conversation begin blossoming in place of cold and brisk sidewalk passings.

Not only does the winter here starve us of sunlight, but it starves us of day-to-day community in many ways. As the ground and interactions warm, I am excited about the relational possibilities that spring will bring with it.

Once spring arrives, we resume our daily walks to the playground along with the many moms and little kids who live in our giant apartment complex. I see women and their children who have been living just yards up, down, or sideways from us, for the first time in months. New babies have been born, children have grown and moms have grown eager to relate to one another once again.

As I look forward to long mornings outside with my kids at the playground, I am also looking forward to the opportunity for relationship that is coming. Part of this eagerness is for my own desires for community and friendship, but another part is the great opportunity that this brings as I look to reach out to the women around me with the gospel and love of Christ. No matter where you go in the world, moms with little ones are eager to relate about the joys and challenges of motherhood. I have yet to meet a mom who feels like she has it all figured out. What a natural and great opportunity to share about the guidance, love, and wisdom that God provides to those who look to Him. Mothering little ones takes every single one of us to the end of ourselves. The question is when we reach that end, where do we look next? This stage of life, no matter where we are in the world, is such a unique time for ministry!

A good friend and leader here in our ministry recently was sharing with me how as her kids have gotten older it has become a bit harder to forge friendships and relationships with other moms in the community. People grow busier, kids start going out to play on their own while moms stay at home, and perhaps women even become a bit more set in their parenting ways and look less often for guidance. Hearing her share some such things made me all the more eager to take hold of this time with little ones and to pray that God will both allow me to make use of this time when it is natural to interact with so many moms on a daily basis, but also to pray that He will begin friendships and opportunities for influence that will last into those years when we no longer meet each morning around the sandbox.

Perhaps the contrast of literal seasons is a bit more profound where I am than where you are, but I am thrilled about this new time of friendship and ministry opportunity and wanted to encourage you moms of little ones as well to purposefully take hold of this unique season of life for the glory of God. Many times it can feel like this is such a difficult time to do any sort of “real” ministry, but I think in many ways we can structure our lives with our children in ways that will give us perhaps a greater influence than many other seasons. Young moms, let’s pray and be intentional with this season that we are blessed to find ourselves in!

Where do the moms in your community gather with their little ones? Are there any daily life routines in your host culture (or home culture if you’re in the US) that you might be able to take part in for the sake of growing relationships with the women in your community? Do you have any exciting or encouraging stories on this topic that you’d have a moment to share with us?

(Post by: Ashley)

Ambassadors, Bread, Fish, and Motherhood

Have you ever struggled to believe in the value of your contribution to your ministry as a mom? This feeling will certainly differ widely among us for many reasons, but from my experience, even though I believe our whole family is called to ministry, once I finish devoting my necessary time and energy to my family, there is not a whole lot left over to pour out elsewhere, meaning that this issue has crossed my mind many times. Some older mothers have told me that it gets easier as kids get older, and from others I have heard that this is not the case. Whatever the future may hold, I know that with 3 kids ages six and under, our normal family life is busy and tiring.

Though I wholeheartedly believe that my first priority aside from abiding in Christ is to love and serve my family, as I’ve wrestled with the issue of my own personal role in ministry, I’ve become convinced that God has me here in Russia for a specific reason. Yes, probably the majority of that reason for now is to support my husband and raise my kids, but I think He has other special things here prepared for me specifically to do too!

By the simple fact that we do not live life in a vacuum but are surrounded by others in community, whether or not we have a big visible ministry responsibility, we have been given gifts and opportunities and people in our lives to purposefully invest in.  I believe that God planned and placed each of us exactly where we are for special and unique purposes.

Some of us might have official ministry roles, and some of us might have a quieter daily-life ministry of keeping our eyes open to the needs around us and looking for open doors to share Christ with friends and neighbors and shopkeepers, etc., but the fact is, we are all ambassadors for Christ! You have been entrusted with vital ministry designed just for you (or you for it), whether or not you get a paycheck with your name on it or ever organize any sort of formal event.

I think it is so important to remember that, yes, we’ve been called as a family unit to our ministries, but also very much so  as individuals to be His ambassadors wherever in the world that we are.  But do you ever find it hard to believe that you are actually contributing much of consequence? All sorts of little lies love to try to plant themselves in my mind along those lines. Things like, “You have such little time, how is anything that you have the time or energy for going to make any sort of difference?” or “With your language abilities, how are they ever going to hear the gospel fully, let alone have their hardest questions answered?” and so on.

Over the past few years, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 has taken on such dear significance to me. I feel like that is exactly what my ministry outside of my home is like at this life stage. I am that kid, with an inconsequential little sack lunch that on its own could do nothing to satisfy the appetites of that overwhelming crowd. But we all know this story so well! In Jesus’ economy, 5 loaves and 2 fishes means a filling meal for 5,000 men, plus even more women and children, and left overs for tomorrow! Why should I let the size of my offering prevent me from giving it to Jesus in faith?

I fully believe that God has given us just enough to offer back to Him to equate to nothing short of a miracle.  We may see results right away, or we may wait a lifetime and never know what was accomplished by our efforts, but we must never forget stories like the feeding of the five thousand, as well beautiful promise like this from God’s word:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Isaiah 55:10-11

God can use us to accomplish the miraculous if we humbly yet faithfully give our small offerings to Him by seeking to love our neighbors both in word and deed. The only way we cannot be fruitful is to keep our offering to ourselves, believing them too insignificant for God to use.

How have you felt about your personal call to ministry as a mother? Do you ever struggle with whether or not you are able to contribute anything of worth? What is one thing this week that you can do to offer a fish or loaf to Jesus? Be encouraged friends, God desires to work in great ways through YOU!!!

(Post by: Ashley)

Children And Scripture Memory

Truth transforms lives. This is something that we believe but too often do not practice. I thought about this as 2010 approached this year, how I say that the very Word of God holds such transformational power as the Holy Spirit uses it to speak truth into our lives, but how I contemplate and store up these words much less often then I ought to. What an amazing gift we have been given that we have access to the very Word of God…wow!

As a parent of young children I never thought about having them memorize scripture until they were “older,” perhaps five or six, until I watched my almost 2 year old memorize entire songs on her tape player (yes we are one of the few family that still listens to tapes). I picked a verse that I thought was applicable (Mark 12:30) and started saying it with her at every meal. Within 3 days she had the verse memorized. This was almost 2 years ago and she has now memorized 12 verses, which is far fewer then she is capable of.

This year we are trying to work on memorizing a verse a month together. It has been a challenge for me to remain consistent in saying it with her every day. I find that as I work on helping her memorize and understand the scripture God gives me greater depth of understanding into passages that I thought I “understood”. This has also served to be a great parenting tool. We memorized Ephesians 6:1 and when discipline needs to happen around here we use this verse to help her understand that God desires us to obey our parents.

Probably one of the most exciting things is how God uses my daughter’s scripture memory to speak truth into the lives of adults around her. She often wanders around reciting verses, meaning that the truth of Scripture is then heard, and with the power of God then has the ability to transform hearts of those whom she comes in contact with. For our family, scripture memory is a vital part of being missional, not only to those in our community but to our own children as we build in them at a very early age the truth that they need to navigate life and be transformed through the power of Christ.

When did you start working with your children on scripture memory? What are some things that you do to give the Word of God a prominent place in your home? Do you have any helpful ideas to share about how to help children learn the Word of God?

(Post by: Amie)

Motherhood and Ministry: Maintaining Vision

We likely all know the hierarchy of our roles, first as daughters of God, then wives to  our husbands, then mothers of our children, and then as missionaries, but how do we balance all of this in a healthy way? We know our roles, but the hard part is trying to figure it all out in practice. I often feel like the first three roles are way more than enough to fill my plate. I would actually enjoy an extra 2-3 hours a day to feel like I could accomplish all of the things that I’d like in those realms!

Reality is that we have been given 24 hours each day, and aside from our primary 3 callings as daughters of God, wives, and moms, God has also called us to serve Him as missionaries. I  of course am not going to go into any sort of detail here to tell you what your life should look like. With different capacities, different families, different life stages,  different ministries, and different personal callings in general, no one of us can stake claim on “the perfectly balanced missionary mom lifestyle….” and I of all people would never claim to have that mastered.

What I wanted to talk about today though is the importance of maintaining our vision for the work that God has called us to overseas. You don’t need anyone to tell you that living overseas is a sacrifice.  Vision is a large part of the fuel that will keep us going.  As you likely have heard or experienced, it can be quite common for missionary moms to become so consumed by our home lives (and I definitely agree that our home and family are our main focuses), that we lose sight of why God has called us to be where we are in the first place. The danger of becoming exclusively homeward focused is that we start thinking, “Hey, I could do everything that I am doing right now equally as well and much more easily if I were only back ‘home.'” This leads easily to frustration and discontent and burnout. The statement is true on many levels, which is why it is so important for us to stay engaged in our mission and to allow God to remind us through people and experiences why it is that He has called us to give up what we have to be where we are.

Being engaged in ministry will look different for each of you. Some of you may be in the phase of motherhood with little ones at home and therefore might be limited in what you can do outside of the home. Some of you might have grown  or school-aged kids that might allow you to be out more, doing things more independently. I wanted to share a few ideas with you, especially for those whom staying engaged is a struggle, to help you keep your heart focused on and engaged in your calling.

Pray- Above all things, we should be seeking God to confirm in our hearts the calling that He has given us to be serving overseas. Even if we have a more homeward focus in our daily lives, we must also be actively battling in prayer for those that God has called us to reach. It is amazing how vivid our vision can be when we are faithful to pray. Equally as drastic is how fast our vision can fade if we forget to pray for the people, place, and the work that our families are called to.

Build Relationships- I think this is the second most important thing that will keep our hearts engaged in the mission. Make sure you are engaging with the people you are seeking to reach. Build relationships with believers and non-believers alike. Of course this is something we all know, but with a house full of little ones and much to do at home, and depending on the culture, it may take more intentionality than one would expect.

Use your home for ministry- we have talked about this a number of times, but home life and ministry don’t have to be separate! It is a wonderful thing for those we are trying to reach to observe a family who loves God, and it is also a wonderful thing for the whole family, and especially for the kids, to do ministry together.

Schedule ministry time away from home- Work with your spouse to find time when you can be the one out doing ministry. Again, I won’t tell you how often or for how much time, but it can be helpful to know you have some time specifically for you to do ministry apart from other responsibilities.

Utilize holidays- Sometimes it can be stressful to have a ton of regularly scheduled ministry events year-round, but most of us can spare extra time as special opportunities come up. Take a look at the holidays in your culture and see how you can use them in ministry. Plan ahead to make it happen.

Learn and love the culture- One thing that will make you feel more connected to the  ministry is becoming more a part of the culture in which you live. Learn about the values of the people around you. Celebrate the holidays that they do (as long as they are appropriate). Appreciate the art, the natural beauty, the architecture. Enjoy the traditional foods and learn how to make them yourself, etc. The more that we see the beauty that God has woven into the culture that He has created, the more we see His heart and plan for His people.

Write your family newsletter- Simple things like being the one to cast vision through your family newsletter or blog can help you keep fresh in your mind why you are doing what you are doing. That way you are recalling the things that God has done through your ministry and are recalling how God has used your family in His work. It is also great to help cast vision on support raising appointments when back in the US.

Don’t compare yourself- This is important too. I am talking about comparing yourself to other missionary moms in an unhealthy way. We first must seek God and ask Him what He is calling us to personally. It is of course helpful to learn from the moms in ministry around us, but we need to recognize that each of us has been given different circumstances and capacities, and that someone else’s calling, as wonderful as it might be, has not been given to us. We can so easily start comparing ourselves to others and start feeling defeat. This unnecessary feeling of inadequacy too can kill vision.

This list, as long as it is, is far from being exhaustive. Would you please take a minute to share your ideas for keeping our hearts engaged in ministry? What has worked best for you? Are you feeling engaged at the moment, or are can we be praying for your vision today?

(Post by: Ashley)

Joyful Resolution

Do you ever feel like you are doing all the “right things” as a believer yet you still lack joy in your life? We are studying the book of Philippians in church right now, and one of the great themes of the book is joy. Our pastor was encouraging and admonishing us yesterday to examine our lives and see if we are looking for joy and satisfaction in our own “righteous” acts, or if we are truly finding the fullness of joy in Christ himself. He challenged us to ask ourselves this question:

What things, apart from Christ, are you currently counting as your own personal righteousness?

This is such a vital question for us to ask ourselves frequently, especially as strong believers and those in Christian work. Is it the fact that you are a missionary? Is it the fact that you are leading Bible studies or are really great at studying the word deeply and consistently? Is it all of the great activities that you do for your children? Is it your skill at hospitality? Is it your ability to navigate and thrive in a foreign culture? Is it all of the things that you do to help others?  Of course each of these things are great things when done out of the right motivation and for the glory of God, but the truth is that as soon as they are done for our own glory, they cease to please God and cease to bring us joy. And we all know, despite whether or not we want to admit it, how easy it is to sneak in and try to take the glory for ourselves. Strange, isn’t it, that the more we try to please ourselves, the less joy we receive, yet when we strive to love and please our Lord authentically, His gift to us is joy.

I was planning on writing a post on New Year’s resolutions today and had it all prepped and ready to go, but I was very convicted after hearing this message yesterday morning. I realized that in my resolutions, though there were some good motives for sure, there was also a desire to earn my own righteousness. Between the lines read something like, “If I can only get better at this and this, then I will be a good missionary/mom/wife and God will be happier with me…” God of course will be pleased as I progress in these areas, but only as I seek Him first, and not those things first as if to prove something to Him. I am going to revamp my New Year’s resolutions and boil it down to one resolution. I desire to seek God faithfully and ask Him to help me find fullness of joy in Him alone. From there I hope and pray and trust that He will grow me in the other areas that are lacking as I respond to His Spirit through conviction and leading and taking joy in serving Him, but I am thankful for yesterday’s message that reminded me of how easily I can step toward that desire to try to earn righteousness backwards by attempting to start with works.

So, for today’s question for thought, what things are in actuality “loss” in your life compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [your] Lord” that you are tempted to hold onto as your own personal righteousness? Are you currently looking for joy in things apart from Christ? Are there things that should bring joy that have lost their joyfulness that you might need to bring before Christ? Let’s pray for one another in this!

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” -Philippians 3:8

(And as a quick and perhaps unnecessary disclaimer, by sharing my thoughts today I am in no way saying that I think New Year’s resolutions are bad. I was just realizing that my own resolutions need a bit of revisiting. Just thought I should say that because I am sure that many of you have made some very wonderful resolutions that God is very pleased with!)

(Post by: Ashley)

Ministry at Home

Mom and babies

I have been reading and thinking through a great article posted on Reviving our Hearts, and it is so good and thought provoking that I wanted to share it with you. The post is titled Ministry at Home.

Like this article discusses, it is so easy to define “ministry” as something that happens outside of the home to people outside of our family and to forget that the most significant ministry that we’ve been entrusted with as mothers is right in front of our eyes… or our knee caps!

Of course it is also 100% true that God has called us and fully enabled us to be salt and light to those outside our family as well. By suggesting this article I am not discouraging anyone from doing the “ministry” that you are called to, BUT I do think it is so very necessary for all of us to examine how we are doing at our primary ministry, that being to our family, before we look elsewhere for ministry opportunities. Motherhood is hard, time consuming work and will by necessity demand the bulk of our attention and heart! We need to evaluate and ask God how much He is actually calling us to beyond this great calling that exists in the daily ministry of motherhood. God gives mothers an abundance of opportunities to be salt and light while never neglecting our primary calling, meaning that our  families should never need to be sacrificed for “ministry.”

Two things are true. We are clearly instructed in the word to value and excel at our work as wives and moms, and we are also very clearly instructed to be faithfully holding out the word of life. I think all of us can tend towards focusing on just one or the other of these callings. It is easy to be focused exclusively on our lives at home and to forget to forget to participate in the ministry of reconciliation that we have been entrusted with, or we can become wrongly convinced that what happens in the home is not as significant as the ministry that happens outside of it, and thus neglect our highest calling.  Since many of your families are in ministry or are strong believers, I am assuming that you might battle the temptation to forget the value of your work as moms as you see all of the other ministry opportunities around you. I know that it is a temptation for me if I don’t consciously combat this lie.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and article! I’ll leave this post up for a few days to give you time to think and respond if you need. Do you ever find yourself believing that “ministry” is something that happens primarily outside of the home? What helps you place a correct value on your role as a wife and mother? Do you wrestle with the opposite challenge of struggling to look outward? Would you like to share your thoughts on finding the right balance?

“…and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure,working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2:4-5

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16

(If anyone is looking for more great thoughts on this topic of ministry at home, please check out the post Mothering As Ministry from the Stay-at-Home Missionary blog.  Joy’s blog is absolutely one of my favorites. Her blog actually where I first found the link to the article above. She is a wise woman and all of her posts on motherhood are so encouraging and convicting.)

(Post by: Ashley)

Growing in Hospitality

(Please welcome Jami’s first post here at Missionary Moms!)

teapot

“Jesus, help me to be a hospitable person”. This was my prayer soon after getting married seven years ago.  I saw other people in my life that really excelled in gifts of hospitality and knew that it was an area I wanted to grow in.  Soon after praying this, our house was jokingly known as the “Gustafson hostel”, as we had overnight guests almost every weekend.  I had many opportunities to practice hospitality.

The opportunities continue now that we live in Siberia.  People often come over to our apartment to do their laundry, wash their clothes, or have a meal.  But here’s the thing.  Hospitality is still not a natural “gift” for me.  I’m an introverted person.  I love time alone.  I love time just as our little family.    I am also a messy person.   I have dreams of a perfect keeping a perfect house, but I would SO much rather play with my daughter or talk with my neighbor over coffee than clean the floors!!

But the more I pray about God bringing the ministry He has for us, the more it has revolved around people coming to us and serving them with a willing and happy heart.  Offer hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9) is a verse that continually comes into my mind.  Here are some things that I’ve noticed:

  • All I did was pray for God to bring His ministry to us.  And then people began coming.  I didn’t actively DO anything.
  • I used to stress out about fixing the perfect meal or wanting the apartment to look tidy but practice has helped me to be a lot more relaxed!   The way I treat the guest(s) is much more important than that other stuff.
  • As people come into our home, it’s a natural way for our daughter to interact with others and be a part of ministry… in a comfortable way.
  • Bringing people into our home shows an example of a Christian family (something most people here don’t have) and shines God’s light in ways we will probably never know.
  • In this culture, it’s important to plan in “flex time”…  time that’s unplanned so that we’re not too spent to minister to others when they call or want time with us.

In this season of life, I’m thankful for this gift of being able to minister in simple ways- without taking away from the most important ministries of being a wife and a mom!

~Jami

Is hospitality a natural gift that God has blessed you with? If not, how have you seen God grow you in this area? Do you have any ideas that have helped you to “offer hospitality without grumbling?” How have your ministry opportunities as a mother grown through showing hospitality?


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