by Karen Schmidt
It’s one of those projects that often gets put off until furlough looms. Or it’s a requirement of new missionaries who have so many other new and confusing tasks to accomplish.
It’s one of those projects that often gets put off until furlough looms. Or it’s a requirement of new missionaries who have so many other new and confusing tasks to accomplish. Whatever the context, this is one more guessing game of how to do it best. Producing a prayer card seems like a trivial aspect of missionary life and work. But this small piece of paper will be stuck to innumerable refrigerators, bulletin boards, and mirror edges, representing you and your work for many years. So the prayer card is worth much planning, thought, and effort. Here’s how to make your prayer reminder effective and unique.
The photograph you use is the make-it-or-break-it element of your prayer card. How many prayer cards have you seen with a stiffly posed person or family in a sterile studio? Do you even recognize those people? After all, how often did you see the agronomist who now works in the Sudan wearing a three-piece suit? Think about how you want yourself and your family to look on someone’s fridge. Will they be more apt to pray for your work if they see you dressed in your best, stiff and starched, in a studio setting?
In an informal sampling of missions-aware Christians in a suburban U.S. church, a majority of folks said they are more inspired to pray and write to missionaries whose photos show them in action. One single woman, a teacher in North Africa, used a candid photo of herself surrounded by dark-skinned children on the front porch of her house. Her prayer card continues to draw favorable comments, and possibly more prayer support.
Outdoor photography can be very effective, depending on your location. If you work in the Northwest Territories of Canada, the surroundings might offer a dramatic note to your card. Jungles, teeming cities, a rice paddy, or a sidewalk scene in the Ukraine can all be effective.
Or think of your workplace. An engineer who maintains high tech shortwave antennas might gather his family around an antenna tower. Medical missionaries may pose with a patient or in front of their rural clinic. Pilots and airplanes make for a natural set-up. Provide your prayer partners with more than a glimpse of your faces; bring them to your mission field via the photograph on your prayer card.
Use a professional photographer or a skilled amateur to take your photos. A snapshot done in a hurry, or as a last minute thought, is rarely high quality. Think about the time of day, the season, and your energy level. If you plan your picture taking for just before supper, after a hectic day of outreach, the smiles might be strained and the weariness too evident. Be at your best, when the kids are fresh, and the setting is in its prime.
Take an array of shots-give yourself some choices. The more people in your photo, the greater the possibility that eyes are half closed, smiles dimmed, heads turned the wrong direction. Out of a 36-exposure roll of film, one or two excellent shots are enough. So take plenty of exposures to be sure to get a good one. And if you are not really pleased with any of the first round of photos, consider trying again. This one picture will represent you for a long time.
WATCH YOUR DATA
The information conveyed by your card is significant. In between prayer letters and furloughs, those words and other data are what keep people informed of who you are and what you’re doing. Include your mission’s logo and address. Identify individuals in the photo. A few keys words about your ministry are valuable; a long paragraph may not be. If your field is in a little known location, a clear map drawn in simple line art might be wise.
Of course, this little card is not a resume. Don’t try to say everything. Prayer supporters don’t need a sermon or a long Bible verse. Just the facts, said as concisely as possible. Resist squeezing your information in by using lots of tiny type or strange typefaces. Readability is crucial. Often your most ardent prayer partners are older people whose vision is not in its prime. Use type no smaller than 9 point; 10 or 11 point is better.
Use the limited space on your prayer card to the best advantage. Stick with one, certainly no more than two, type styles. If you are reversing some type out of the photo on the front, be sure the contrast between type and background is definite. Small type or artwork like a logo often is not effective when reversed-thin lines or delicate lettering can be lost.
FOLLOW YOUR STYLE
If you contract your prayer card work out to a publishing house that produces millions of them every year, your card will most likely look like most other missionaries’ cards. Is that really what you want? Your ministry and your means of accomplishing it are probably distinctive in some way-the place you do it, the people you live among, and your organization probably have something unique about them. Make use of whatever uniqueness or personal style you have in designing your card. Choose a less common shape-oval, triangle, or bookmark style. It may cost more, but your prayer reminder will stand out among the rest.
Consider reverse type-white or colored ink coming out of a black or colored background. Look at the card as a whole. If your photograph, mission logo, and other information will blend in with an all-white background, consider color or reverse type.
If the area in which you minister has distinctive art, it’s possible you may be able to use some aspect of the culture on your card. A border, a single line drawing or some other distinctive item can set your card apart from all others. Be sure this element fits in well with the rest of the design, however.
MECHANICS TO THINK ABOUT
Before you commit yourself to 5,000 prayer cards, think ahead. If you will have new family members or a change in assignment in the next 18 months, a large quantity may be unwise. Yes, quantity does reduce the overall price. But an outdated card can leave your prayer partners praying outdated prayers.
Black and white photos, though less eye-catching than color, may be effective depending on the design of your card and the type of work you do.
Some missionaries use one color of ink on their card, leaving space open for a glued-on photo. These can be economical and also practical-the photo can be updated more often, using the same printed cards. Be sure the photo fits in the space before the two are reproduced.
A prayer card with a full bleed is often more costly. A bleed is where the printing runs to the edge of the page, requiring that the piece be trimmed after printing. You can often have just as nice a card done that doesn’t need the edges trimmed, saving money as well as paper.
Black ink is usually the most economical. Colored inks, reverses, special effects, screens, and other extras add to the cost. Be sure they add enough effect to your card to be worth the price.
Always proof your card before printing. Scrutinize it for spelling, placement of items, and overall look. If more than a few changes are required, ask for another proof before the card goes to press.
Producing a missionary prayer card is one of those tasks that many workers aren’t prepared for. With thought and creativity, you can leave your prayer partners with a provocative card that will encourage them to stand with you over thousands of miles. Make the most of this opportunity.
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