by Ann Little
One of my seminary professors has jokingly said, “Missionaries are expected to ‘go into all the world and write prayer letters to every creature.’” The reality of that statement is not always so humorous.
One of my seminary professors has jokingly said, “Missionaries are expected to ‘go into all the world and write prayer letters to every creature.’” The reality of that statement is not always so humorous. A missionary friend from another agency told me that one of her colleagues owed supporters more than 200 letters. My friend’s advice to that discouraged missionary mother? “Burn them all and start over.”
Missionary wives, especially those with young children, can feel especially burdened with correspondence. I know. I am one.
No one has to convince me of the importance of correspondence, of course. I understand the need for accountability to supporters at home. However, I don’t believe keeping up with correspondence should replace the ministries to which God has called us.
During my second term in Japan I had two babies (two years apart). Although I was beginning to do ministry with the women in our fledgling church, my correspondence time was eating up my ministry preparation time. Tied down with family responsibilities, I was forced to choose between ministry and correspondence. Unfortunately, I felt compelled to abandon my ministry for correspondence. I figured that if I did no ministry in Japan neither my mission nor our supporting churches would notice. (After all, I was a busy mother.) However, if I was lax on getting those prayer letters out or answering letters from supporting churches and individuals, I would be reprimanded, or worse still, might lose financial support. Believing that God has called me to minister to people in Japan, not to people back home through correspondence, it was a heart-rending decision.
Having resolved never to give up ministry for correspondence again, here are a few ideas for streamlining the job and relieving the anxiety and guilt.
1. Face the fact that correspondence will always be with us. But don’t let it rule your life!
2. Make the prayer letter circular a top priority. Our mission requires six per year, and many churches only request quarterly letters.
3. Set priorities for who will receive personal answers to letters. We make family and supporters our top priority. Concentrate on your top priorities and don’t worry about what is left over. We do not answer every letter that comes our way. One term we received over 50 letters from junior high students from a Christian school that we had never heard of. Each student asked questions and included an address. We put the school on our mailing list.
4. Figure out what to do with all of it. Answering letters is only part of the job. Decide what you throw out or file and how long you will keep it.
5. Make a “correspondence corner.” I have a set of labeled stacking trays. When the mail comes, I organize it according to current mail, items that need answering, mission correspondence, family, and miscellaneous. The categories, of course, are endless, but choose a few according to your needs.
6. Use a calendar. Write down when prayer requests are due, when Church A wants the slide presentation, and so forth.
7. Take advantage of e-mail. A few minutes online can save you both time and money. Consider setting up your own Web page for communicating with supporters.
8. Request a “correspondence evening” from your husband. Ask him to wash the dishes and put the kids to bed one evening a week so you can spend three or four hours doing correspondence. Limit your weekly time to that evening, and don’t feel guilty about what is left undone. Three hours an evening become one 12-hour chunk a month—the equivalent of 12 full days a year.
9. Keep pre-stamped postcards handy. They are great for writing a simple note in a hurry. Picture postcards are even better; they have a limited amount of space for writing and give your reader a picture of the country and culture you live in.
10. If you have a desktop publishing program on your computer, design your own thank you card, leaving space for a short note. Have it printed or photocopied on colored paper. It will save you time and money.
I praythatthese few ideas will help you begin to tame the correspondence monster and free you for the ministry to which God has called you.
NOTE TO SUPPORTERS
1. If you need an answer, consider writing a senior missionary whose children are grown.
2. Allow adequate time for your request. For example, don’t request slides for your April conference in March. Allow plenty of time for the taking, developing, and mailing. Three months’ notice would be helpful. Remember, you may be hitting a very busy time for your missionary.
3. Read and keep on file the prayer letters your missionary sends! Often the answers to your questions are already in them.
4. When writing your missionary, use the address from his or her most recent letter. Missionaries move a lot.
5. Remember that you are not your missionary’s only supporter. Some have more than 50. Ask yourself, “Is it a reasonable demand on his or her time if all 50 expect the same as I do?”
Ann Little and her husband, Dale, are planning to return to Japan for their third term as church planters with the Evangelical Free Church Mission.
EMQ, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 330-332. Copyright © 1998 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.