Holding the ropes

Katelyn stood before our church this past Sunday as we had a special time of prayeIMG_20150714_121448r for her before she leaves for a new season of life — life in another part of the world focused on missions.

In early June, Mallory also stood before our church as we prayed for her summer in Ecuador. A Sunday in late May, Bryce stood before his church in northwest Alabama as he prepared to leave for his summer missions work in Uganda.

And countless congregations across the state have held similar prayer moments recently as they sent out their young adults for a missions experience.

It is not only prayer for the summer missionary and the work he or she will do, but it also is prayer for his or her family. It is a prayer for peace as they release their child into the hands of missions and ministry teams in faraway places. Even a location across the state can seem faraway for parents sending their young adult child out for the first time.

A church “holding the ropes” for those serving in short-term and long-term missions experiences truly can make a difference for the missionary and his or her family.

No matter how strong your call to serve, there will be moments of loneliness and discouragement. And even the most excited of young adults are sometimes shocked to discover the difficulties and frustrations that come with adapting to a new culture, adjusting to the new area and feeling overwhelmed when they see the enormity of the work.

But knowing their church family is back home praying for them truly makes a difference when those weak moments surface.

Facetime and Skype had not been invented when I served a two-and-a-half-year term with the International Mission Board back in the mid-1990s, but a phone call here and there, an email on occasion and definitely cards in the mail became welcomed touches from home that kept my spirits lifted. I also remember the banner Pastor Sammy Taylor hung at Mountain View Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, that said “Mountain View holding the ropes for Jennifer.” I knew their prayers continued throughout my term and weren’t only spoken that Sunday I stood before the congregation to be sent out.

As special as the prayers prayed over you as you leave are, the ones that are consistently being  lifted during your missions service are the ones that sustain you.

Alabama Baptist students and young adults are serving in a variety of ways in Alabama, through ministries in many states across the nation and on missions fields around the world. They may not send back regular reports of their work while they are away, and it is easy to skip days and even weeks of praying for them without a consistent reminder.

Prayer cards, email notes and social media posts are good ways to keep the need in front of church members and others who would like to pray for those participating in summer missions. Posters, banners or other types of visuals in the church also are good reminders.

The Alabama Baptist regularly reports on students and young adults doing missions. When those stories appear, it is another good reminder to pray.

The prayers really do make a difference. I remember many times feeling a sense of strength, peace and focus I knew came from the prayers of those holding the ropes for me. I also remember the confidence and courage I felt with the love and support of family, friends and an amazing church. If someone inquired deeper about the experience, then my enthusiasm grew as I shared my story.

The privilege of praying for Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce provides an opportunity for me to give back by supporting the next generation of young adults following God’s call. Who will be your Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce?

Jennifer Davis Rash

Do you know a church leader who is at the point of giving up?

Thom Rainer addresses @BhamBaptists Ministers Conference on May 18. (Photo by Maggie Walsh, TAB)

Thom Rainer addresses @BhamBaptists Ministers Conference on May 18. (Photo by Maggie Walsh, TAB)

BIRMINGHAM — “We may be living in the most precarious times in church history, but we are living in the greatest time of opportunity,” said Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, speaking during the Birmingham Baptist Association Ministers Conference on May 18 at Central Park Baptist Church.

Addressing “5 Critical Issues for the Church in 2015,” Rainer said, “God is not done with us. Let’s say to God that we are ready to start over. I will be bold in the presence of the community as we face” issues of culture, change, comfort, crisis and community.

In Zechariah 4, the temple of the Lord has not been built yet, but the foundation has been sitting there for 10 years, Rainer said. It is time to rebuild the house of God and Zerubbabel is the one to lead the effort. He can’t do it in his strength but by the spirit of the triune God.

But just like Zechariah and Zerubbabel, believers today also face discouragement and obstacles. “Many times we also find ourselves like them,” Rainer said — at the point of giving up because of five critical issues.

To read more about those issues, click here.

What are strategies you have used to overcome similar obstacles and crises?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Did you notice his eyes?

By Jennifer Davis Rash

Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist

The man carried himself with confidence and purpose. He walked into the church and up to the welcome desk without hesitation.

“I’d like to go to your singles Sunday School class,” he said.

“No problem,” one gentleman said and pointed the man my way. “She will help you find your class.”

As I wrapped up my conversation with a family of five new to our church and regrouped to help the gentleman at the desk, I noticed several people walk by and greet him, speak to him, pat him on the back, etc. Our church is a friendly church and the members are good about welcoming guests, but in this particular case no one spent more than a few seconds with the man before moving on.

When he turned to look at me, all I could see was pain in his eyes. He said all the right words and knew what to do in a church setting, but something wasn’t right. I purposefully didn’t take him to a class right away. I spent some time talking with him, got him a soda, asked questions and tried to get to know more about him. Within a few minutes, he was sharing his real story with me and he definitely needed to talk. He also needed a different class than the one he came in asking about.

The more I heard his story, the more I could narrow down which Life Group (or Sunday School) class would be best for him. I also knew exactly which leader would connect with him and personally located the class leader so that I could introduce them immediately.

The connection was made, phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged and the man knew he had a family of faith willing to walk with him on his journey.

The experience that Sunday shook me a bit. What if I had not slowed down long enough to really look into his eyes? What if I had not noticed the pain? What if I had not shown compassion and truly cared about him as a person?

Of course, the next person may have done all the right things and taken even better care of the situation, but it reminded me that we shouldn’t leave these opportunities for the next person. What if the next person isn’t paying attention?

God gave me the opportunity to encourage a fellow believer who was in a world of hurt that day. It meant I had to rearrange my schedule. It meant I didn’t finish a project for one of the ministers when I said I would. It meant I missed catching up with many of my friends. But it also meant receiving a tremendous blessing.

As I drove home from church, I thanked God for allowing me to participate in the experience. I also wondered how many other hurting people had walked up to the welcome desk and received a friendly greeting but nothing deeper. How many others had I not noticed?

What about in everyday life outside of church? How many people do we see every day and never slow down long enough to read their eyes, observe their body language or notice their words?

And if we are honest, how many times do we sense someone needs to talk or needs a friend, but we don’t want to invest the time, change our schedule or deal with it in general?

How many times have we been so focused on the latest office or family drama that we missed noticing the sadness in the eyes of the person listening to us?

As Christian believers and church families, what difference could we make if we all slowed down and served others through the gifts of awareness, listening and encouragement?