This update comes from John and Naomi, Mission Associates who do a significant chunk of work in Panama. Panama Christian Academy (PCA) is a school that they are working closely with, and it is currently renovating a new building to handle its recent rapid expansion.

There are still numerous legal and physical details to be worked out, but they are strongly hoping that the building will be ready for a March 12th start — a challenge as you can see by the recent picture. The school has been growing steadily and slowly over the last few years, but this year we are seeing enrollment jump from 200 to 300 students. This has required the greater space offered by this building, and bringing on new staff too (another process that is still underway).

Please pray for the transitions here, that teachers would feel settled and comfortable for the start of the year, and that the students’ education would not be adversely affected by the inevitable distractions. Pray also for John and Naomi as they train and work with the school’s teachers and staff, that they would be able to share solid leadership and principles with the school’s various leaders.

An update from one of our couples in Ukraine outlines the growing threat of credit abuse. For this particular people group (and for several others around the world), the concept of credit is entirely novel. With this new financial ‘freedom’, people are spending large amounts of money unwisely, and are getting themselves into real trouble. When people get deeply into debt with high interest rates (often as high as 40%), the consequences are severe.

Pray that your missionaries would be able to provide wise counsel to people, and help to prevent the growing problems. Much of the problems stem from unrealistic expectations created in western media which create unnecessary demand for the latest clothes, computers and other commodities. Added to that, there are generally few checks and balances in place to prevent banks from taking advantage of people. So some missionaries are working to get people to assess their needs and match those against their income. We have the opportunity to share the concept of Godly stewardship in places where it’s desperately needed.

I recently received a small publication from Ron and Beryl, a couple involved in missionary care through the EFCCM. It’s worth sharing, so I’ll summarise it here. (If you’d like to see the whole thing, contact us, and we’ll make sure you get it.) They’ve broken down the missions career into four compartments, and prayer is central to each.

1.) Before they leave, missionaries need support and encouragement, and any practical things that you can offer will be welcomed. They may need room for storage of their belongings, or help with the transporting and shipping of what they’re sending. A good send-off can be memorable and meaningful.

2.) When in the host country, life comes at you fast. There’s language and culture study (formal or not), and there is a whole lot of “new”. Even how you buy groceries might be radically different. Added to this bewildering barrage is the actual work — the intent and calling. Tracking along with what’s happening over there, and offering timely support and encouragement is an important way to show that you care.

3.) When on Home Assignment, needs are different. It’s certainly no vacation! There is a lot of pressure to connect personally with all supporters, especially churches, and share what’s happening and where the needs are. But there is also pressure to connect with family and friends too. Then there are practicalities like a vehicle and a place to stay. Assisting with transition can include making preparations with schools in the area where the kids will be, and supplying immediate needs, like groceries and toiletries. Make an effort to connect personally with them, over a shared meal for example.

4.) When missionaries retire, they often feel disconnected from what they used to be so integral in. Recognise that they have wisdom to offer, and look for ways to get them to share it. Styles change, but people are still the same, and retired missionaries can offer significant insights into missions and ministry despite the changing cultures.

By its very nature, mission work requires risk. But your active love and support, at all stages of ministry, can minimise those risks.

There seems to be a lot of interest in the emerging church conversation right now throughout the church. When it pushes too far against the envelope that it starts questioning scriptural truth, there’s certainly a problem! But there are some valuable things that the emerging church discussion has brought back to the surface of our faith.

1.) Emphasis on cultural understanding and relevance. This is of critical importance, especially in an international ministry perspective. The Bible was written in culture, is understood in culture, and is taught within culture, and we need to ensure we are doing our best to be true to each of those.

2.) Examination of what’s true and what’s tradition. Styles and expressions vary from era to era, and from country to country. We need to make allowances for those differing styles and their meanings, and use the benchmark of truth rather than familiarity.

3.) Focus on outreach. We are told in the Bible that we have the good news, and that we need to share it. That’s a foundational truth in scripture that is returned to within the emerging church conversation.

In recent times the words ’emergent church’ have become polarising, turning some off. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. While we need to be cautious and prayerfully reflective as we consider these things, I think the discussion gives us a new impetus to gain a deeper understanding of our faith.

I was searching through our picture files for something specific the other day (can’t even remember what anymore) , and I happened on this picture of Steve, our Latin America Area Director.

When I showed it to another colleague here at Home Office, she joked matter-of-factly, “Oh, he’s killing him.” Mercifully, that’s not what’s going on at all! Let’s call this a ‘dry run’.

Taken at Nueva Belen (the Quechua church in Bolivia that was included in our recent Year End Projects), Steve and Pastor Diego are demonstrating to a number of candidates what to expect in the upcoming baptism service. This is an example of the creativity we celebrate here: with the language barrier between Quechua and Spanish, it is far easier for them to show this than to try to explain it.

But it sure makes for some rather unusual photo ops!