Author - Jonathan Hanley, Mission Worker, France
Jonathan has been serving the Lord in France for almost 30 years. With his wife Amanda, they have been involved in church-planting and discipleship training, with specific involvement in AIDS chaplaincy, Christian publishing and ministry to artists. Jonathan has written books and published articles for a number of magazines and websites. He currently helps lead the publications department of Scripture Union in France.
I may have one of the world’s worst records for writing newsletters and responding to mail. I know it; so this blog post is not a ‘how to’ column. Rather, it is an account of an issue many of us face if we serve the Lord on the mission-field: it can be difficult to make a newsletter interesting and still be honest. Furthermore, like many other modern-day mission workers, a large part of my/our ministry is office based, and it is not easy to make a newsletter interesting when you spend many hours a day in front of a computer keyboard or on the phone.
What do I actually do with my time?
I receive a fair number of invitations to preach and teach, which frequently involve travel, sometimes to interesting places. For that I am grateful. I get to meet some wonderful people, and sometimes Amanda and I can do this together. But for every day of teaching or preaching, I spend several days working at my desk. What do I do in my office? I prepare. I write bits and pieces that sometimes get published in magazines or websites, or turned into books. I translate other people’s writing from English into French. I also spend a lot of time answering e-mails and returning phone calls, and trying to stay informed and relevant through reading and study. How can I make these hours and hours of office work sound interesting in a newsletter? Why would anybody be interested in reading about it, anyway? It gets even worse when I start comparing myself with other people.
The danger of comparisons with others
Most mornings when I am at home, after a mug of strong black coffee and some time in front of my open Bible, I check my email inbox. That is when I get to read other people’s news – reports of what God is doing in some parts of Africa or South America, for instance. Mission workers who are involved in medical work or caring for orphans. Vocational training for widows. Church planting and cutting-edge evangelism. Preaching to large crowds. Baptising people. I know it is not always like that, but many people are indeed called by God to work in such circumstances. And sometimes I can’t help feeling a little jealous, as I launch into yet another day in front of my computer keyboard. Many years ago, a wise older Christian warned me against the danger of always thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. And over time, I have come to understand that the satisfaction of serving God is not to be found in the results of our work, but in the company of the one with whom we do it, the Lord Jesus Christ. That said, when it comes to newsletter writing, even a touch of jealousy can lead to the temptation of embellishing the truth.
I have come to understand that the satisfaction of serving God is not to be found in the results of our work, but in the company of the one with whom we do it, the Lord Jesus Christ
Being truthful and interesting?
Sometimes, we are tempted to write things that make the humdrum sound dramatic. Struggles get reported as victories, or ministry is made to sound highly effective even when such reports are not really warranted. Weeks of difficulties and drudgery can be overlooked, with a focus on the one short event that seems newsworthy. I remember attending a meeting many years ago, where a colleague with whom Amanda and I had been co-leading a difficult youth camp reported on the “wonderful and powerful deeds that we saw God do among the young people”. All I can remember of that camp is squabbles, a suicide threat, theft accusations amongst the youngsters, and drunk and disorderly behaviour from the boy who turned 18 on the last day. Another temptation is to always write about exciting projects and future prospects, while never actually getting around to achieving the targets and evaluating progress.
As we read God’s Word, we cannot help but observe that of all the moral qualities He desires to see in his children, honesty features right at the top. “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Prov. 12:22).
God loves honesty. Even in newsletters.
Back in the early 90s, shortly after we started working in France, I wrote a newsletter going through a list of plans and projects that we had decided to abandon. Amanda and I spent a long time talking about whether or not we should even send out that newsletter, as its tone seemed quite negative. But we were learning about letting God guide us by closing doors. So we decided to send it anyway. To this day, few of our newsletters have had such a positive response from so many people keen to express their appreciation of our honesty. It was a lesson well learned.
Newsletters may be difficult, but they are worth it!
Although the exercise is not always easy, I know I am the first to benefit from sitting down and taking stock of what the Lord has done and is doing in our life and ministry. It is useful to evaluate progress (or lack of it) and question methods or actions that may no longer be yielding fruit. Writing a news report for praying and supporting friends is a good way of doing this. And it is a wonderful experience to get feedback from them, demonstrating that the reports are indeed read and prayed over, even when they are not particularly dramatic. And I suspect that many of the faithful Christians who support the Lord’s work know that serving on the mission field does often require patience and perseverance when things get humdrum. But I promise to keep on trying to honestly make news reports as interesting as possible!