I listened intently as Cindy shared the emotions she felt when she learned that her neighbor Guli’s little boy had died. It wasn’t totally unexpected; he had a physical handicap and had not been doing well. But being a mother herself, her heart broke for her new friend. How could she show her love and concern in a tangible way? Cindy captivated my interest, and soon my heart, as she related the heart-warming story of the opportunity God opened for her and her family. They had arrived only a few months earlier to serve in a Central Asian city among a Muslim people group. Though they had just begun studying the language, they were able to learn from another neighbor about Guli’s son. Cindy asked one of her teammates and learned that in this culture the grieving family must provide a meal for the relatives and close friends who come to pay their respects. Usually the family’s relatives see to these provisions, but this family had moved to the area from a bordering country and had no relatives in town! Cindy and her husband and daughter volunteered to meet this need, and she immediately started to work making two huge pots of soup. Guests moved in and out of their home throughout the day. They couldn’t do much more than smile and serve the soup, bread and tea, but their warmth was evident to all that came. By the Lord’s provision, they had just enough soup to feed everyone! Their grieving neighbor was overwhelmed by this act of love, and listened with an open heart as they gave testimony to the Lord.
Because I’m able to travel with my husband, an area director (AD) for our organization, I have the privilege of hearing wonderful stories like Cindy’s from women living all over Central Asia. Recently, I was part of a panel on women’s issues with other AD wives. Leaders have expressed concern that some of the wives and single women on their teams fail to learn the language and enter into the culture. Research has shown that involvement in language and culture often correlates to longevity in cross-cultural ministry. We wanted to address this issue to learn why women hold back and how we as leaders can help.
The first step that needs to be taken is to prayerfully discern the underlying factors at play in the lack of involvement in the culture. For some women, the responsibilities of having children at home take up so much of their time that they find it hard to add anything else to their schedule, especially when they have very young children and/or home school. For others it is fear or lack of motivation. Sometimes women just don’t know how to form friendships in the host culture because it is all so new to them. In the following paragraphs, I’ve included some helpful ideas for empowering the women around you in ministry. Whether you come alongside as a friend or as their God-appointed authority, you can be used of God to make a difference.
For Women Who Struggle With Language Learning
Key Thought: Language Learning is Ministry
- Learning the language shows the people of that culture that you love them
- Love is a language, and you are planting seeds for future ministry (Cindy)
- Learning the language expands opportunities for ministry in the future
Suggestions for Encouraging Women in their Language Learning:
- if you are on a team, set up language expectations before people arrive; new-comers will be more motivated if the language requirements seem official and standard (Obviously requirements for young mothers will be different from singles!)
- arrange for a language coordinator who will help new-comers set up language goals, monitor and evaluate progress, and suggest language-learning tips that would suit each individual’s style of effective learning. There is a lot of helpful information out there about how to do this
- give insights into aspects of the target language that helped you when you were studying
- volunteer to answer questions when needed
- invite the language learner into situations where you are socializing with a national friend, giving them the chance to have listening and, perhaps, speaking practice
For Women with Small Children or a Baby
Key Thought: Family is Ministry
- Godly families model the Christian Life and the difference Christ can make
- Raising Godly children increases the laborers for God’s purposes
Suggestions for helping others increase involvement with nationals:
- house help – encourage them to get as much help as is culturally appropriate for the culture in that area
- this brings someone into the home that they can minister to
- frees up time for them to get involved in ministry
- ideas for involving children in ministry
- join or start a local toddler play group to make friends
- host an English corner in your home and involve the children
- take walks with the children around the neighborhood
- if not in a restricted area, start a back-yard Bible club
- get a language tutor for the children when you are in class
- host people in your home for meals – everyone needs to cook anyway!
- host a cell or house group in your home – if you can’t leave, bring the action to your home
- disciple someone once a week in your home
- husbands, help out so that your wife can have time to get involved
- some husbands share the home schooling, or do math and sciences
- some husbands take the home responsibilities one day a week to free up their wife for ministry and socializing
- I heard of one organization that encourages the wife to study language the first 6 months, with her husband caring for the home responsibilities, then he studies the second 6 months
For Women who are Fearful or Hesitant to Get Involved
Key Thought: Relationship Building is Ministry
- Making friends is a part of the process of trust-building in evangelism
- Most of the people we end up sharing the Gospel with are friends
Suggestions for helping others to get involved with the culture:
- mentoring – invite women to join you in social and ministry activities
- model – let women see how ‘ministry’ happens in that cultural setting; this will help them get over their initial reluctance, if it is based on fear of the unknown or lack of experience
- some women will never feel comfortable ministering alone; this gives them opportunities to get involved
- share ideas – give examples of what other women have tried in that setting
- observe what they are good at doing, then encourage them to consider that as an avenue for ministry (examples follow)
- cross-stitching: teach some local women to cross-stitch; this could even turn into a cottage industry for locals
- cooking: teach nationals how to cook your ethnic food and have them teach you how to cook their food; some women have taught nationals to make a food that their expatriate friends would want to buy (i.e., tortillas, donuts), providing another option for helping nationals generate an income
- singing: I know a woman who began learning the pop music in her target country; she is now known all over the country where she lives, and has had opportunities to testify to the Lord before many people
A Few other Creative Friendship-Access Ideas:
- Look for opportunities to help the hurting and needy around you
- one mother took her little boy twice a week to play with a national handicapped boy who couldn’t get outdoors; this built bridges with his family
- Look for social forms in the new culture that you could “capture for Christ”
- in one area the women hold ‘teas’ similar to what the nationals plan once a month, but they include a craft-making time that is planned to lead into a spiritual discussion.
- Use your holidays to share the truth of Christ
- particularly, holding parties where you can share the meaning of Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving (ex: cookie or tree decorating party before Christmas)
- Use their holidays to show love – help them clean and prepare ahead of time
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17, NIV) There are many ways we can sharpen one another, but hopefully these ideas will aid you in encouraging those around you to achieve greater effectiveness in ministry. Perhaps there were some ideas to encourage you as well!
E. Peters and her husband have been serving in Central Asia with Pioneers for 10 years, where they work among a Muslim people group.