by Doug Wicks
Here are good ideas to get you over the hump.
When Longfellow wrote, "My feet reluctant linger at the gate, " he unwittingly zeroed in on a common feeling of many missionaries when it comes time to write another prayer letter. For some of them this feeling reflects an underlying lack of confidence in one’ s writing ability and style.
But whether or not you "linger at the gate, it is necessary for every missionary to review his own approach and style of prayer letter writing, in order to improve the level of communication between him and his supporters. Following are some helpful ideas.
Develop a writing schedule and stick to it. Write to your supporters at least every third month, but better yet, try to do it every second month or even monthly. Your sponsoring organization (administrators and publicity workers) need to be well-informed about your ministry., your personal struggles, and your whereabouts. Your home church needs a regular flow of information in order to maintain a high level of interest in you and your ministry. Your faithful supporters and prayer warriors will develop the habit of anticipating the next letter from you, assuring you of a constant cloak of prayer backing.
Present a balanced picture of both your work and your family life. Don’t let one overshadow the other, unless an extremely unusual situation develops in one of these areas.
Don’t settle for anything less than an attractive appearance. Remember, your prayer letter is competing with a host of other mail. It has to catch the reader’s eye. Make sure your letter is neat, whether you type, write, or hand print. Typed letters are preferable. In addition, photos, sketches, or other art forms will enhance it.
Be as timely as possible. After you write your prayer letter, send it immediately to your supporters. Because of the distance involved, your up-to-date news will already be somewhat old when it reaches its destination. Don’t contribute to the problem by putting off the mailing date. Americans are so time conscious that an untimely or late report from you may leave the impression that you are disorganized and inefficient in your work.
Be honest and realistic, but always positive. Human beings are emotional creatures, and it’s natural for us to show excitement and disappointment. We usually don’t run into trouble when reporting the exciting events. But even with excitement come some dangers. Beware of a sickly sweet or super spiritual tone. If your personality lends itself to hyperbole, strive for a more moderate approach.
It’s in the area of reporting disappointments, however, that missionaries are often entrapped. In the midst of a terribly depressing or shocking event,, an attitude of defeatism or a negative approach may convey to your supporters an unintended dissatisfaction with your work. The attitude that should ultimately emerge from your prayer letter is that despite the discouragement from a human standpoint, you are a child of God and have already gained the victory over such human failures. To be safe,, report your highs and lows with an attitude of objectivity.
Don’t appear to be overly anxious to get home on furlough or to go on vacations. Some missionaries publish their furlough schedule nearly a year before they get home. Supporters will wonder if you really enjoy your work.
Be careful not to sermonize. You weren’t sent overseas to preach to your supporters. Tell them about your ministry. If you do preach, you will have wasted a golden opportunity to gain the spiritual power received through prayer for that tough project you’ve been working on.
Try not to use evangelical jargon, such as: "My ‘ministry’ is going well. God has really ‘blessed.’" Even though this may be true, what does this mean specifically? How can your supporters pray intelligently? Be careful not to use vague terminology.
Don’t try to impress your readers by throwing around foreign words. Explain all new terms fully. The same principle holds true for geographical terms and the names of nationals. Be sure that your readers have a full understanding of where things are and who the people are. It’s not that your readers are ignorant; it’s just that the people are not as immersed in your work and relationships as you are.
Keep a daily or weekly diary to record ministry and family activities. Refer to this diary when searching for ideas to write about. Do not list in chronological order everything you do. Be selective and solicit specific prayer.
Keep a copy of all your prayer letters in a loose-leaf notebook or in a manila folder. You will have an instant library to go to when you attempt to write the next letter. You will be able to see more readily the answer to the prayer items you have requested previously. Be sure to mention the answers in the very next letter. Reviewing your previous prayer letters can also be an exercise of selfevaluation. Did you communicate what you really wanted to say? Maybe you will have to clarify some things.
Read other missionaries’ prayer letters. If they are boring, pledge not to fall into the same trap. If they are exciting and challenging, jot down what makes them that way and use the same method in your own.
Include in each letter: your full name; your organization’s address; your field or home address; country of service (if you’re on furlough); date; support needs; prayer requests; personal signature (if possible); personal note at end of prayer letter (optional).
By following these ideas and by adding your own personal touch and creativity, your prayer letters should:
* Enlighten your readers to show that missionaries are intelligent, consecrated human beings with senses of humor and wholesome attitudes toward life.
* Inform your readers of the changing trends in missions and the current political mandates that affect Christian outreach in the area of your ministry.
* Identify the spiritual needs of the people and the Christian service opportunities in your particular part of the world, to help gain prayer and financial support and to recruit new volunteers.
* Stimulate prayer for you and your family, the nationals with whom you work, your missionary organization, and the worldwide missions endeavor in general.
* Promote the vision of the missionary task to those who read your letters, that they themselves might consider their role in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Writing prayer letters was never intended to be a burdensome task. In fact, the primary purpose of prayer letters is to help lift the variety of burdens that missionaries face in other cultures. So don’t "linger at the gate" when it’s time to write that next prayer letter. Open the gate, walk through, and begin to communicate with confidence and enthusiasm.
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