I’ll Do My Best

By Clint Cook

A few weeks ago I joined six other General Baptist pastors on a journey to the Philippine Islands. I had the privilege of leading this team of pastors in the important task of teaching and challenging our Filipino brothers and sisters in leadership and spiritual growth. The team consisted of Chad Hensley, John Brumfiel, Dr. Jim Pratt, Barry Cullen, Jim Rudolph, Clint Pagan and myself. It was a hectic but life-changing trip. Each member of our team had the privilege of preaching in one of our local General Baptist churches during Sunday morning worship and visiting with the members. We traveled to the Matigsalog area to view the General Baptist work there to encourage our teachers and leaders hard at work in this important region at the Matigsalog Bible Institute. We also held a conference at the General Baptist Bible College called the 360º Leadership Forum where we met, taught, trained and encouraged young students determined to win the Philippines for Christ. How uplifting it was to see how God is using them!

While in Davao City we also hosted the first ever American-Filipino Minister’s Retreat. It was a wonderful time of worship and training with our Filipino counterparts. We shared meals with these ministers, listened to the triumphs and struggles of their ministries, and cried and rejoiced with them as they told us stories of rebuilding after Typhoon Pablo in December 2012, a project made possible by the generosity of General Baptists. What a solemn sight it was to see Ground Zero for Typhoon Pablo, a pile of rubble where a thriving community once stood, and where over 1,000 people lost their lives.

It was an awe-inspiring experience to see our work on the island of Mindanao. A special note of thanks and appreciation goes out to Joyce Porcadilla and all of her staff at the General Baptist Bible College and the Matigsalug Bible Institute for making the 360º Leadership Forum and first ever Minister’s Retreat a definite success. Out of the 120 college students that attended the 360º Forum, 90% of them are General Baptist students, and nearly 80% anticipate continuing in ministry as Christian leaders, preachers, and pastors. How bright the future of General Baptists is in the Philippines! How blessed we are to have this Gospel-proclaiming, gates-of-hell-storming work thriving on the other side of the world!

Although the seven members of our team were sent to train and encourage these Filipino students and ministers, each of us left with hearts full of thankfulness, humbleness and excitement for the General Baptist work in the Philippines. The students at the General Baptist Bible College repeatedly displayed their burning desire and passion to serve the local church as Christian leaders. Prepare to be blessed as you watch this short video of 3rd and 4th year students at GBBC telling, through song, their General Baptist brothers and sisters in the U.S. that they will do their best!

Where in the World are the Warrens?

By Cindy Warren

A family steps off an airplane and is greeted by the Bowers family (Keith, Carrie, Jason, and Lucas), General Baptist Bible College president Joyce Porcadilla, and many other sweet, welcoming faces.  Who are these new arrivals?  Aren’t they General Baptist missionaries to the tropical island of Saipan?  Not anymore?  The Warren’s mission trip has turned into two destinations instead of one.

The Philippine countryside

The Philippine countryside

My husband Phil and I are now living in Davao City, Philippines, along with our two youngest sons, Oliver and Harley.  There are a few things we have to to adjust to here.  The money system is different than on Saipan, and the language is sometimes a barrier.  I exchanged my first US currency for Philippine pisos at the information desk at the mall!  Other major differences are the congested traffic, the many open air markets, and the fact that some of the mall include grocery stores.

Our two youngest sons are now attending a Christian school with the Bowers’ sons just four blocks from our home called Faith Academy International.  They have a great school and they enjoy being close enough to walk over to shoot hoops and play on the new soccer field with the other students.

We have been trying to build relationships with our pastors here in the Philippines.  So far we have visited the Matigsalug Bible Institute and the General Baptist Bible College and met with the staff, have attended a baby dedication, attended a Sunday morning service at First General Baptist of Davao City, and attended both the Pastor’s Conference and the 360 Conference.

The Warrens are now serving General Baptist work in the Philippine islands.  We pray that they will adjust seamlessly to this new assignment, and facilitate General Baptist work there in a way that allows us to do together what cannot be done alone.  

Making it on a Pastor’s Pay: 4 Reasons Salaries are Low

By Franklin Dumond

Honest discussion of the salary and benefit needs of a pastor should not be uncomfortable. The Scripture is very direct: pastors are expected to work hard; churches are expected to offer fair compensation.

congregation in pewsThe pastor’s salary should be reviewed on an annual basis. The finance committee should review the entire salary package as each annual budget is prepared. Years of experience, educational level, and cost of living adjustments should all be part of the discussion. Support staff such as secretaries and custodians should also have salary packages reviewed annually, but they should be evaluated and paid in comparison to their skills and positions, not in comparison to the pastor or staff ministers.

Church paid salaries have historically been lower than the average salary amount in most communities. Too often the old adage “Lord you keep him humble; we’ll keep him poor!” has been an actual fact. The scandal generated by a few notorious preachers has sometimes reinforced the tendency toward lower salaries.

A few reasons for lower church salaries are:

  1. Unbiblical priorities. The New Testament is very clear that pastors are to be respected, treated with dignity, and paid fairly. The Apostle Paul instructs, “Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:6-7
  1. Unrealistic expectations. While all believers are expected to trust God, and not man, members may expect their pastor to live on less as an example to the flock, while the flock continues to live on more despite the noble example of the underpaid pastor.
  1. Untrained lay leaders. Many lay leaders who serve on finance and budget committees simply have never been trained to develop a pastoral compensation plan. For example, the specialized tax status of pastors is often a mystery to lay leaders. Even self-employed businessmen do not always understand the special dual status of the pastor, who is considered an employee for income tax purposes but self-employed for Social Security purposes.
  1. Unfair models. The salary model churches often use is based on the net, or take-home, pay of the average church member. While this can be a fair approach to compensation, it generally does not take into consideration that the gross salary of the average worker is substantially greater than the net pay. Most workers benefit from having an employer who provides health insurance, job training, and retirement benefits, in addition to the matching share of Social Security paid by the employer. Yet all too often the total package for a pastor is based on the take-home (net) pay of an average worker, not on the total package paid directly and indirectly to that worker by their employer.

Personnel committees, finance committees, and pastor-search committees do well to avoid two perilous pitfalls in planning for pastoral compensation. First, it is never appropriate to use an average of church member’s income to determine the pastor’s salary unless an honest study is done of the actual income of the members. Best guesses about average income will always understate the income levels. Census data on average household income in any census tract will provide surprising insights into actual household income within the congregation.

Second, it is important to consider the long term implications of a parsonage to the pastor who is more than 30 years of age. Home ownership in our society is a keystone to retirement. The general practice of a 30 year mortgage means that if a pastor does not purchase his own home by his early 30’s he will not have it paid for by the usual retirement age. While the parsonage is convenient for the church and may be necessary for the pastor due to lack of housing, it should be used sparingly in the long term pastorate. Churches sometimes rent their parsonage to provide housing allowance for the pastor. To encourage a long term pastorate some churches provide a down payment in the form of a loan or grant to the pastor which is forgiven over a period of a few years. Other churches use the parsonage for second or third staff members as the church grows and develops.

Every salary package should address three broad areas: base salary, fringe benefits, and professional expenses.

This article is the final installment of a six part series by Dr. Franklin Dumond, Director of Congregational Ministries, on understanding and planning for a pastor’s salary.  To learn more about the process and intricacies of paying your pastor, catch up on part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

Making it on a Pastor’s Pay: 5 Dangers of a Reimbursable Plan

A reimbursable plan for the pastor’s salary package can seem like a good idea because it is simple to compute, but can be dangerous in actual practice.

dollarsIn a reimbursable plan, the available salary for the pastor’s family is used in part to pay for the costs of ministry first, leaving the remainder for the take home salary.  In the not too distant pass this strategy was used to reduce the pastor’s tax burden.  The dangers of this approach are five-fold if the plan is not computed from the proper starting point.

A reimbursable plan would state, “We are providing a salary package of $50,000.”  What that statement does not identify is that from this plan the pastor will be reimbursed for items like health insurance, travel, continuing education, and phone that would normally be considered costs to the employer.  Thus a $50,000 package may actually result in only $20,000 to $25,000 in actual take-home pay.

There are five dangers of these kinds of reimbursable plans.

  1. Costs are unfairly shifted from the employer to the employee.  In the United States employers are required to match Social Security contributions. Shouldn’t the church at least do the same?  Health insurance, despite the complications imposed by the federal government, is tied to employment in our country.  Shouldn’t the church do the same?
  2. Unrealistic assumptions are at work.  One motivation for these kinds of reimbursable plans is the drive to reduce taxes that are owed.  While everyone should take every legal tax break possible, the net result of these plans is that taxes are reduced because income is reduced.  For many years I listened to my mother-in-law complain about paying extra income taxes every year.  I offered to let her have my reduced tax burden if she would give me her level of income.  She never made that trade!
  3. Unbiblical standards are being used.  The Bible calls for fairness and generosity for those who labor hard to teach and preach.  Enough said.
  4. Unskilled bookkeepers don’t deal well with the IRS.  Financial reports and W-2s for this type of system must be carefully maintained.  It does little good to have gone through the pain of careful reimbursement if the financial report or the quarterly 941 misstates what was done.  The complications of this system lead to mistakes by both the church and the pastor.
  5. These plans are unfocused on the future.  The reimbursable plan deals only with the moment.  Reduced taxable income is reduced available income.  Reduced taxable income is reduced retirement benefits.  A plan that provides easy solutions for the church treasure today may not provide the management systems necessary to maintain credibility in the 21st century.

The advice from Scripture regarding compensation for pastors and staff ministers has not always been taken seriously.  Congregations and their leaders often want to be fair, or even generous, but information about what is being done in other churches, along with guidelines and suggestions for implementation, have not been readily available.  On the other hand, the very nature of ministry often finds pastors hesitant to ask for adequate salaries.  Indeed, many pastors would find a means to do ministry even without a salary.

This article is part 5 (read part 1, part 2, part 3, or part 4) of a six part series by Dr. Franklin Dumond, Director of Congregational Ministries, on understanding and planning for a pastor’s salary.  Check back over the next few weeks (or subscribe using the box to the right) to learn more about the process and intricacies of paying your pastor.

Making it on a Pastor’s Pay: Bi-vocational Salaries

By Franklin Dumond

The bi-vocational pastor serves the church while also working as a business owner or as an employee in the secular world. This New Testament pattern of tent-making ministry remains a fact of life for many small to mid-sized churches in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the bi-vocational pastor faces the tension of balancing company time with church time while being fair to both.

A number of variables determine how much time a bi-vocational pastor may give to the church.

  • Some bi-vocational pastors are, for all practical purposes, full-time since their business or professional life offers broad discretion in their time usage. They are able to give extended periods of time to the church or to easily and quickly adjust their work schedules to meet the emergency demands of the congregation.
  • Many congregations with bi-vocational pastors only offer programs and ministries thatcountry church are connected to the stated worship times of the church. For many of them the church building is empty most of the time. This generally reduces the time demands placed on the pastor. These pastors work a full time job and still easily meet the limited demands of the church since most of those time demands are ‘church’ times.

National trends for bi-vocational pastor compensation are difficult to determine. In one study when compensation for part-time senior pastors was reported the average compensation came to a salary of $15.13 per hour with benefits worth an additional $6.88 per hour. The total cost to the church then was $22.01 per hour. These bi-vocational pastors worked at least 15 but not more than 29 hours per week in their ministry assignments providing a range of average salaries of $226 to $441 per week.

A similar 2014 study by the Southern Baptist Convention found that bi-vocational pastors averaged $19,527 in direct compensation (salary and housing). This national average may be discovered on a state by state level by using the tables provided at www.compstudy.lifeway.com.

Many bi-vocational pastors work with their churches to designate the bulk of salary as housing in keeping with the IRS guidelines by which housing allowances are not subject to federal income tax but are subject to self-employment tax.

To ensure that expectations and responsibilities are stated fairly it would be wise for the church to state in the terms of their call what the usual time allocations would be for the part-time or bi-vocational minister. This allows the church to know how time is being used and also protects the pastor from being expected to do full-time ministry on a part-time salary and a part-time schedule.

This article is part four (read part 1, part 2 , or part 3) of a six part series by Dr. Franklin Dumond, Director of Congregational Ministries, on understanding and planning for a pastor’s salary.  Check back over the next few weeks (or subscribe using the box to the right) to learn more about the process and intricacies of paying your pastor.

Making it on a Pastor’s Pay: Four Attempts at Fairness

By Franklin Dumond

A prayer on behalf of a pastor was short and direct, “Lord you keep him humble; we’ll keep him poor.”a pastor's pay package must be fair to both parties

Even if this prayer was never prayed, the result in the local church has often been the same.  Sometimes this result was unintentional, but the method to determine fairness was the actual culprit.  I have seen four attempts to create fairness when it comes to pastor’s salaries.  Some fit that description better than others, but they are as follows:

1.  What is the average income for the church?  On the surface this seems like the most reasonable approach since it is based on the incomes for the families in the church.  Beneath the surface, however, the fairness may be lost if:

  • the salary package does not properly account for benefits that are also given to wage earners in the congregation
  • the report from the congregation is incomplete
  • the congregation includes a large number of retirees who have a smaller, retirement income that is adequate for their status as mortgage-free home owners
  • the pastor is an entry level pastor but the average income is substantially above entry level income.  (Here the fairness to the church is lost since they would be paying more than necessary.  In the other cases, the fairness to the pastor is lost since he is being paid less that should be expected.)

2.  What does it cost to live in our community?  What a church needs to do to make this method work is to find the value of a respectable middle-class home in their area, factor in any student loan debt the pastor may have, loan on a vehicle, etc.  They should then figure out what kind of salary the pastor needs to make to qualify for the mortgage on that home.

3.  What can we afford? While this may be the actual bottom line issue for most churches “What do we choose to afford?” may be the real question.  Church budgets should generally allocate 40-65% of income for employee costs.

4.  What is the professional equivalency in our community?  The suggestion is that a church should look at a secular profession that is most similar to pastoral work and pay accordingly.  Most of the time, this will be a high school classroom teacher.  Local school districts will have salary scales developed based on educational level and tenure.  So when the church looks up the education level of its pastor along with his years of experience in full time ministry, a community-based standard of pay will be in hand.

If the pastor manages a number of staff, then pay him as a building principal would be paid according to the school district salary schedule.

Of all the systems reviewed, this last one seems the most fair to all concerned.  All pastors (not just senior pastors) receive a decent middle-class salary that directly compares to salaries being paid in their community.  All pastors are compensated in accord with their education and experience with proper benefit packages.  Those pastors who pastor larger churches are compensated in line with their expanded responsibilities.

The New Testament calls for fairness in pastoral salaries by insisting that “The worker deserves his wages.” (I Timothy 5:17 NIV)

This article is part three (read part 1 here, and part 2 here, and part 4 here) of a six part series by Dr. Franklin Dumond, Director of Congregational Ministries, on understanding and planning for a pastor’s salary.  Check back over the next few weeks (or subscribe using the box to the right) to learn more about the process and intricacies of paying your pastor.

The Go Project

By Carl Nichols

In January, when our team (myself, Brandon Petty, and Vince Daniel) was appointed to help navigate the future of National Missions, it was obvious that we needed a clear direction for the next few years.  Before developing any plan or outlining any goals publicly, we had to look hard at the state of affairs in National Missions.  With this in mind we began to develop, and are still developing, healthy systems that enable us to plant churches better and faster.  We also paid off a loan against some endowments almost two years ahead of schedule.  We are now in a more stable place than we have been in the six years I have been involved in the movement.

At this point, the question became: “What are legitimate goals that stretch us to work hard and trust God?”  It was in answer to this question that the Go Project was birthed.  The Go Project is a five year initiative that officially begins in 2015 to launch 15 healthy churches in the next five years.  We recently hosted our first assessment and will share details of our first Go Project plant in Bonita Springs, FL in the very near future.

I shared some numbers at Summit this year and wanted to take a moment to share once again.  Take a look at the five year impact of the Go Project on our General Baptist Movement.

If we take the average attendance, salvations, baptisms, and Unified Giving numbers of our five most recent church plants, and spread them over 15 more new churches in the next five years:

  • 8,922 more people will be attending worship services in a General Baptist church
  • 6,278 more people will receive Christ
  • 2,688 more people will be baptized
  • $278,400 more a year to Unified Giving

This is so exciting for the Kingdom of God and the future of our movement. We take our call to serve General Baptists seriously, and we believe if we can make this happen, we can help be a catalyst for the greatest days of our movement in the years to come. If you know someone who would be interested in planting a church, our next assessment will be held in the spring of 2015 in the Atlanta area.

On behalf of the National Missions Advisory Team, it has been a great experience working alongside our Executive Director, and I believe the best days of our movement are yet to come.

A special offering will be received October 26th in our General Baptist churches.  If you would like to give on National Mission Sunday, your support will help fund the Go Project.  You can give online at www.generalbaptist.com, by phone at 573-785-7746, or by mail at 100 Stinson Drive Poplar Bluff, MO 63901.  Be sure to designate your gift to the Go Project. 

Making it on a Pastor’s Pay: Four Factors in a Salary Package

By Franklin Dumond

One of the major costs in a church’s budget is the cost of employees. Since most churches only have one employee, the major cost in these church budgets will be the cost of the pastor’s salary package. As a rule of thumb 40-65% of a church budget should be spent on employees. These percentages will seem entirely too high for many businessmen who keep employee costs to 10-20% of operations. These percentages will seem too low for many school administrators since education budgets often spend 80-90% of total budgets on employees.

At the heart of the matter is a basic question that, when answered, will guide the process to a fair conclusion. How do you compute a salary package?

1. Is the pastor a self-employed, independent contractor or an employee of the church? calculating a pastor's salary includes considering 4 factors

 

An interim pastor, a guest speaker or an evangelist function as self-employed contractors with limited oversight from the church and a great deal of flexibility about scheduling their limited services. A permanent pastor—whether bi-vocational or fully funded—is an employee of the church by all the standard descriptions of employees. Self-employed contractors receive a 1099 report of payments made to them. Pastors as employees receive a W-2 with a detailed list of income, tax payments, retirement contributions and housing benefits.

 

2. What benefits will the church provide?

In the United States, some benefits paid on behalf of employees are legally required of the employer. Others have become cultural expectations. Still others have been developed to attract and hold quality employees.

A church would be wise to develop benefits for its employees that address:

  • self-employment tax  This can be an added line item in the budget, but remember: it is not part of the pastor’s take-home pay!
  • vacation schedule  Should additional days of vacation be earned by employees based on length of tenure?
  • health insurance  This is a very BIG issue in light of the affordable care act. Individual health insurance is increasingly expensive. Many pastoral spouses subsidize the church by providing family coverage through their workplace. As a rule of thumb, health insurance premiums are not taxable income if the church pays the insurance company directly. However, if the same premiums are paid directly to the pastor they are probably taxable income.
  • professional expenses  What the church will and will not cover as professional expenses must be determined in advance and in writing to avoid misunderstanding, conflict and tax problems.
  • retirement  The General Baptist Pension Program provides a strategy of employee contributions with employer contributions in a self-managed portfolio that is available to all General Baptist church employees.  For more information on the Pension Program, click here.

 

3. Will housing be part of the package?

Many churches provide a parsonage. Others use a housing allowance. Each has its benefits and its pitfalls. Housing in rural communities or small towns is often at a premium. In those cases a parsonage is advantageous. On the other hand, every year spent in a parsonage is one less year’s equity in a home!

 

4. What about continuing education?

Although it could be included in the benefit list above, Continuing Education merits a separate paragraph. Currently, General Baptist Ministries provides conference and event packages that provide quality continuing education through the Mission & Ministry Summit and the General Baptist Minister’s Conference. Additionally, young leaders have access to the Leverage Conference and Youth Pastors can find specialized training opportunities and networking through the National Youth Conference.

The built-in difficulty for most oversight committees that develop church salary packages is that they have never seen the true cost of having an employee. The weekly pay stub received by most employees will have a list of tax deductions and other contributions but it will not include a behind-the-scenes look at what an employer contributes.

Unfortunately, church budgets often look only at the bottom line of total cost for an employee to determine if that is a fair wage when in actual fact a salary package is very different from take home pay.

The New Testament is pretty clear about salary packages for teaching pastors:

“The elders who do good work as leaders should be considered worthy of receiving double pay, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”  1 Timothy 5:17 (GNT)

This article is part two (read part 1, part 3, and part 4)of a six part series by Dr. Franklin Dumond, Director of Congregational Ministries, on understanding and planning for a pastor’s salary.  Check back over the next few weeks (or subscribe using the box to the right) to learn more about the process and intricacies of paying your pastor.

Making it on a Pastor’s Pay: Six Terms Everyone Needs to Learn

By Dr. Franklin Dumond

Every fall thousands of committed believers serving on the finance teams and budget committees of Bible believing churches wrestle with plans for the next year’s budget.  Salary for church personnel is a large factor in most of these discussions since the combined salary line items can easily account for 40%-65% of the total budget.  Pastor search teams confront similar issues as they work on behalf of the church to present not only a prospective new pastor but to also explain the salary package.

Learning some vocabulary

  1. Base salary  This would be similar to the regular income of an employee.deciding on a salary for your pastor can become very complicated. In our society this is often computed on an hourly rate.
  2. Housing  Currently, IRS regulations allow pastors to exclude housing costs from income that is subject to federal income tax.  However, housing may be a housing allowance or the rental value of a parsonage. Housing is subject to self-employment tax.
  3. Self-employment Tax  For Social Security purposes pastors are considered self-employed.  This means that their income, including housing, is subject to self-employment tax at the rate of 15.3%.  Computed on a separate form as part of the 1040 income tax return, a small credit is allowed to offset some of the costs of self-employment tax.
  4. Professional Expenses  Pastors generally incur some costs to undertake their ministry.  These would often include the cost of a cell phone plan, travel on behalf of the church, office expenses, professional dues and continuing education.  Since full time pastors are employees of the church, not contract employees, these are actually costs of the church not personal costs of the pastor.
  5. Matching Contribution  Employers in the United States are required to contribute 7.65% of each employee’s salary to their individual Social Security accounts.  Employees are also required to contribute 7.65% of their salaries to their individual Social Security accounts.  Churches may provide an extra salary line item to address Social Security taxes.  When this is done, it increases the pastor’s taxable income but it is a fair approach in our culture.  A church may not withhold self-employment/social security taxes from the pastor but may, as a courtesy, withhold additional income taxes to offset the self-employment tax if requested by the pastor on his W-4.
  6. Take-home Pay  This is the amount left after deductions for federal, state and local income taxes have been made.  Other deductions for retirement and health care may also be included here.  As most of us know take-home pay is much lower than total income!

Jesus reminded his hearers of the importance of careful planning:

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it?  If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish.  Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’  Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other?  And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?”  Luke 14:28-32 The Message

Church budgets and pastor’s salaries demand the same care.

This article is part one (continue reading with part 2, part 3, part 4)of a six part series by Dr. Franklin Dumond, Director of Congregational Ministries, on understanding and planning for a pastor’s salary.  Check back over the next few weeks (or subscribe using the box to the right) to learn more about the process and intricacies of paying your pastor.

 

Life in Saipan

Lori and Robbie Myers are missionaries on the island of Saipan. 

Lori and Robbie Myers with their son, Reagan

Lori and Robbie Myers serve General Baptists on the island of Saipan along with their son, Reagan.

Needless to say, there’s been a bit of a learning curve this past year as we have gotten used to life on this island.  Some things have just made sense and haven’t taken too much adjustment.  Others, however, have gone on my ‘Believe It or Not!” list, and I thought I would share a few of those experiences with our friends and supporters back home.

First, there’s the thing that we had to adjust to early and often, because it hit us right away and continues to affect us most days.  Saipan is an island, and the main industry (overwhelmingly) is travel.  Vacationers tend not to look at their watches much-there is such a thing as “island time” and we are on it!  This is a multi-layered reality.  First and foremost, it affects the demeanor of the people who live here.  The majority of islanders are so pleasant and wear a smile 99% of the time.  I LOVE that about the people here!  On the other hand, if you are a stickler for people being on time, this might not be the place for you!  With my fibromyalgia pain making me take extra time to get ready most days, this is a terrific development!  Events start when they start, people arrive when they arrive.  I love island time and island people!

However, there are things here that make me realize how very spoiled I was all my life without realizing it.  Some of these things I will never take for granted again.  For example, who enjoys a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles?  No one!  This might make you feel better about your next trip, though:  When we arrived in Saipan last year, one of the first things we needed to do was get driver’s licenses.  Many things are discounted if you are a local resident, and after I saw the grocery and other prices, we wanted that as soon as possible.  We were sent to the courthouse, where we waited in line to go through security and a metal detector.  Once we got through, we went to the appropriate office, paid, and got a receipt.  Then we went to another building-which was unmarked-where we were to show our receipt, surrender our Missouri licenses, and get our new ones.  However, you just have to hope you get there are the right time of day, because they have to close periodically to let their copy machine cool down!

Living in a place that is so diverse is exciting in many ways.  I love making friends from so many parts of the world, and learning about their customs.  There is such a variety to food here, too.  There are Chamorran, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, (and more!) cuisines available.  Along with my severe fibromyalgia, I have unfortunately developed almost superhuman senses of taste and smell, so I cannot enjoy it quite as much as I once would have.  Buying groceries and eating out in restaurants each present their own challenges.

Packaging and presentation in the grocery stores are also different.  It seems no part of an animal goes unused.  You have the option of chicken beaks and feet in packs.  Also, beef intestine, entire beef tongues (which are huge), pig heads, pork intestines, hooves, fish heads-it all took some time to get used to.  I also had to adjust to the plastic drawstring bags (with the drawstring end not fully closed) of pork chops, short ribs, etc.  That would never get by at Kroger!

I have to cook according to what’s available.  Expiration dates are only suggestions here, it seems.  The produce selection is often made up of things they would have culled from most U.S. grocery stores.  The first two or three times I shopped for groceries, I left the store crying because I couldn’t find much that I recognized, and when I did find something, I couldn’t afford it!  The $10 gallon of milk, $7 orange juice, and $30 bag of frozen chicken breasts was daunting!

But eventually, I figured out how to shop here, what to look for, and which stores to shop at for certain items.  It often means I shop every day or every other day, and visit four or five places instead of buying everything from socks and nightgowns, to chicken and lettuce, to deck chairs and Christmas decorations from Walmart!

There are so many more new experiences and differences we have had to adjust to, but the best thing is that we have met so many wonderful people who have big hearts!  Yes, it’s been difficult at times, being so far away from our family and friends, but I am so grateful to God for His perfect plan for our lives and for our part in His kingdom.  I did not expect any of this at my stage of life.  What a loving, amazing God we serve!  I cannot wait until next summer, when we are back in the states on furlough and can share more of our experiences and ministry here on the island of Saipan.