A Muslim man joined us recently for our regular communion service at the place where I live and work.  Which made me think hurriedly about how to do communion inclusively and build bridges rather than barriers.  I could of course simply have said “This is not for you, but you’re welcome to observe”, as indeed you might, but as part of a community that is trying hard to get along well with our ‘cousins’, I knew this wasn’t how we would want to treat a visitor.  So I improvised.

Communion can in many ways be one of the most exclusive things Christians can do.  It focuses on the death (real, not seeming) and resurrection (tangible) of Jesus the Messiah, the divine Son of God.  The introductory words we say often make it clear that this is only for people who trust in Him for their salvation.  Then we pray to him, and at the climax we may also drink alcoholic wine.  So for a Muslim person even to attend this event as a guest is an act of outreach to us.

For some of us, communion will be a non-negotiable.  It is only for believers, and we shouldn’t compromise it.  Others will not think it particularly important how we do it.  I think communion is vitally important, but I do value thinking through how we can make it more inclusive.  15 years ago I felt scandalised when a church I attended suggested that the ‘belong, behave, believe’ model meant communion wasn’t the final reward for completing the Christian initiation process but a part of that journey itself.  Today, I feel differently.

Someone once told me that if our mission is not stretching the boundaries of our theology, we are not stepping out deep enough.  So how do we do communion differently?  And indeed we need to think about other things too which are essentials of our faith but which may also alienate those enquiring.  Should we wear hats when we pray or take our shoes off when we enter a church building?  What posture should we adopt when we pray?

As we rethink mission for another age and multiple competing/complementary paradigms and worldviews there is a need for more discussion about what can be changed and what can’t, what is essential and what is cultural.  As you go through this week there will be many things that you do as part of your outreach/mission simply because you’ve always done them that way.  Why don’t you take the opportunity to ask yourself if there’s another way, different but equally good.

So in presiding over communion with our Muslim visitor, I dispensed with our usual liturgy and read the story of the road to Emmaus.  I explained that we are all on a journey, and Jesus walks with us on it, but we don’t always recognise him.  I shared the broken bread and cup of fruit juice as reminders of the meal he had in Emmaus, and said that perhaps we would see him better as we eat.  I pointed out that the meal mirrors the one he had with his disciples the night before he died, when he told us to eat it and remember him.  I said that he loved eating and drinking and would welcome everyone to eat with him, and he welcomes all of us too.  We don’t have to be perfect to eat with him.

And we all ate together.  After all, the essence of communion is reconciliation, isn’t it?

Source: www.freeimages.com

If you’re anything like me, you’ve recently had loads of emails or letters from charities asking you to sign up for their communications.  You might be wondering what the fuss is about, and just ignoring them.  It’s certainly tempting!

The reason for the flurry of activity is that new laws (succinctly known as The General Data Protection Regulations or GDPR) make it illegal for organisations to contact you unless they have your specific permission to do so.  This of course gives you a wonderful opportunity to get off all those annoying mailing lists you have somehow ended up on, but also means that organisations you care about won’t be able to tell you what they are doing.

This also may apply to your friends who are mission workers.  They too may be caught by this legislation if they give you updates on the work they do in association with a church or agency – so don’t assume you don’t need to reply to them when they ask you to sign up again.

The reason for this legislation is to prevent people getting lots of begging letters, which in itself is a good thing.  Previously, some people have been driving themselves into poverty because they responded to so many good causes.  But for mission sending agencies, the bad news (apart from the sheer effort and cost of complying with GDPR) is that they will not be able to send begging letters (sorry, ‘requests for funding’) to so many people, although at least they’ll save on the postage of all the unwanted letters they’ve previously been posting.

Many charities rely on a regular mailshot to give supporters updates on their work and invite funding to keep that work going.  This often reminds people to make a donation, and forms a core part of any fundraising strategy.  So it’s quite possible that agency incomes will fall.

Unfortunately , with every newsletter that arrives, supporters can face a very real dilemma.  Do they give or don’t they?  And when you are looking at a photo of a starving orphan it can be very hard to refuse to give the £50 you need this month for your gas bill.

So for us, the recipients of these newsletters, it will help to have a clear policy on giving.  So, for example, if you make a decision to:

  • give £50 each month to good causes
  • give to each agency only once a year
  • have a list of agencies you are willing to support in order of priority

you are far more likely to give consistently and generously to causes you really care about.  Of course, the amount, frequency and number of recipients  will vary according to your own circumstances, but the point is to be more structured and less ad hoc about giving, and so reduce the risk of overspending which gave rise to GDPR in the first place.

GDPR is not in itself bad.  Unfortunately, like other recent legislation (on non-EU spouses or access to free NHS treatment for non-residents) it unintentionally catches up people involved in mission.  So if you want to receive Syzygy’s regular updates, please sign up for them here!

Source: www.freeimages.com

At this time of year many mission workers abroad are making plans to gohome for holiday or home assignment.  They will be excited at the prospect of meeting with parents, friends and church again, and going to places that hold happy memories for them.

At the same time their children may feel a sense of foreboding.  The place their parents call home is probably not where they call home.  In fact, they may be confused about where ‘home’ is.  It may be where their parents serve (or used to serve, if they’ve moved country).  It may be where they go to school, if they’re at a boarding school for missionary kids.  Or it could be the airport, which is where they probably feel they spend most of their time.

When they get to their parents’ home country, they’ll go to strange places, be left in the care of people they don’t know even though they might be grandparents or aunts.  Church may feel strange, as may the climate, customs and clothing.

So it’s worth paying attention to your children’s concerns and helping them prepare.  We’ve devised a short checklist of our suggestions of things you may like to do.  Please let us know if you have any more you could add to it!  You can also read a longer page on preparing your kids for home assignment as part of our Guide to Doing Home Assignment.

Travel well!

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

We have probably all seen passive-aggressive behaviour exhibited in workplaces, shops, families, churches and of course the mission field.  It is an immature way of expressing resistance without directly challenging.

It sits on a spectrum which runs from “Yes, I’d be happy to” to “No, I won’t do that” and while it may not be as vocal as either of those statements, it could be expressed with a shrug, a pout, and slow, unwilling movements.  Think of a child who has been told to tidy her room, and realises she has no alternative if she wants dinner.  She do it, so is actually being compliant but everything about the body language is saying “NOOOO!”

Sadly, the mission field is no stranger to this behaviour, and one of the reasons may be because, whether we are leaders or followers, we think we ought to avoid conflict.  Or perhaps we’re uncomfortable with conflict because we do so need to be liked.  Christians today don’t do conflict with each other well, but at least we’ve stopped killing each other, so things are looking up.

One way in which passive-aggressive leaders can try to avoid conflict is by introducing new rules which affect everyone, rather than the one person they have an issue with.  So, for example, imagine your team holds a regular lunchtime prayer meeting, which is voluntary.  Only one person in the team doesn’t attend, so the leaders make it compulsory.  Everyone knows why – the leaders don’t actually want the risk of triggering interpersonal conflict by engaging with the individual and asking if there’s an issue.

If the team member is also prone to passive-aggressive behaviour, he will go to the meeting but sit there sullenly, in silence, possibly sighing or yawning loudly, doing everything he can to say “I don’t want to be here” without actually verbalising it.  Outright resistance would actually be more productive, because it would bring the issue to a head and force a flashpoint, rather than leaving it to simmer, unaddressed, for many years.

So how do we avoid passive-aggression?  With openness, honesty and humility.  Whether we’re leaders or followers, we should find constructive ways of expressing how we feel.  Not in an angry outburst, but in a meek, non-confrontational manner.  One which will take tension out of a discussion, not add to it.

None of us like conflict.  We tend to sweep things under the carpet.  The trouble with that approach is that the lump under the carpet starts to get so big that people trip over it.  We try to keep the peace by not making an issue of things, but peace is more than merely the absence of war.

Peacekeepers prevent conflict breaking out, but they don’t bring real, lasting, restorative peace.  No wonder Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers”.

 

 

I’ve been noticing recently in the gospels how often healings, miracles or important teaching opportunities happened as Jesus was on his way somewhere or while He was in the middle of doing something else. Amazing things happened on the go, out and about and outside of planned events. It’s great to organize and prepare for specific opportunities but I’m trying to be more aware as I go from here to there of what God’s up to and how I can join in. Do I often pray for opportunities but forget that the everyday stuff of life contains plenty of opportunities already?

Also, Jesus never felt interrupted. Every encounter was an opportunity to live out his mission. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and they were all over the place. I want to love the one in front of me the way Jesus did and see what God wants to do in their life. What feels like an interruption might be the best opportunity that day to share the gospel or show God’s love.

On Easter Saturday, while we were at a swimming pool taking a break from the loud music and chanting coming from our neighbour’s religious ceremony, I ended up having a great opportunity to talk about Jesus with a very smart and inquisitive 11 year old Chinese boy on holiday here. My first ever conversation about Jesus with someone from China. In a way he was a bit of an interruption to some quality family time. But it was clearly a God-incidence (there are no coincidences) and I trust that God will use that encounter in this boy’s life.

So look out. We might be about to walk into something God’s planned for us that never crossed our mind. Are we willing to abandon our schedules and be available? Here’s a quick little prayer from Norman Grubb of WEC International that’s worth echoing as we start each day: “Good morning Lord! What are You up to today? Can I be a part of it? Thank You. Amen.”

 

Today’s guest blogger is Alex Hawke, a mission worker in southeast Asia. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexGTHawke.

Source: www.freeimages.com

As Syzygy takes a much-needed holiday this week, today we are going to pause and think about the value of stopping and reflecting.  Many times we have blogged about the value of retreat, and while we recognise that this can imply a time of solitude and silence which would be torture for some of our more extroverted readers, all of us can find value in withdrawing regularly from the busyness of life’s challenges and burdens to reflect on life and ministry.

Occasionally we may hear about people who have been on sabbatical, or maybe we have even met some of them, and wonder why we don’t seem to be able to get so much as a week off let alone a few months!

Sabbatical draws its principle from the Sabbath, the seventh day, and keeping the Sabbath rest is something that has marked Israel out from its neighbours over the millennia, and is also a custom the church followed until fairly recently.  Less famously the Old Testament law included a Sabbatical year – a year in which fields, fruit trees and vines were left unsown and unharvested every seventh year to allow them to rest.  And perhaps more importantly, to allow the people to trust that God would provide sufficient harvest for them in the sixth year to last them until the eighth year’s harvest came in.  Sadly there is little evidence that this act of faith and obedience was ever fully-implemented in ancient Israel, although the idea has continued to hold sway in ministry.

Not that we necessarily get – or even need – a whole year off every seventh year.  But to be free of ministry responsibilities for a significant amount of time once in a while is valuable in a way that short bursts of holiday or even the less-structured but nevertheless demanding time of home assignment can never be.

However much time we manage to set aside, there is value in stepping out of our daily routine to reflect.  Without doing so, we can get so stuck in the treadmill we don’t have time to think.  If we can break that cycle and get away, we can ask ourselves serious questions like:

  • Are we still true to our original calling?
  • What are we doing that is outside the will of God?
  • What work can we drop/delegate to someone else?
  • Is there a better way of achieving our goals?
  • What new things is God calling us to?
  • What else does God want to say to us or do in our lives?

Perhaps, if we took more time out to reflect, there would be fewer issues of missionary burnout.

(Syzygy Trustees please note I have now been in my current post for 8 years!)

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

Recently a couple of influential bloggers have published their thoughts on Do we really need to send missionaries overseas? and No, we shouldn’t send missionaries…unless.  Rather than go all panto dame and write “Oh yes we do” I thought I’d flip the question on its head.

It is clear that many churches in the UK see the size of the challenge in this country as so great that they are wondering whether we really need to be sending people to other countries when the need is so great here.  This is a question that is worth asking, and if the overseas mission advocates cannot answer it convincingly there will inevitably be a significant decline in overseas ministry as home needs prevail.

What is also clear is that despite the increase in focus on mission at home, there is not yet significant, consistent growth across the church in the UK.  Some individual churches are growing, and some denominations are growing rapidly.  But many others are declining, and we have not reversed the trend.

Which is why we need help.  By the same logic that we send people abroad to do things the local church cannot do there, we need Christians from Africa, Latin America, eastern Europe, the middle east and China to come to this country and help us do what we can’t.

Which isn’t simply reaching their own ethnicities because we can’t cross the cultural divide.  It’s reaching ours too.  Sometimes they are able and willing to go and live in places we can’t… or won’t.  Sometimes they are able to forge new connections: to have someone from another culture telling you about Jesus suddenly seems interesting after you’ve heard the same old story from so many Brits.

In his blog, Eddie Arthur points out that:

If we are not prepared to receive missionaries from the Global South in our churches, then we shouldn’t be sending missionaries to theirs!

In the 1950s a lot of Christians from the Caribbean came to Britain and found little welcome in the churches, so they often started their own.  Today these are some of the most vibrant and growing churches in the country.  We don’t want to make the same mistake again so let’s welcome the people from abroad who God sends to us, and help them be effective in the ministry they are called to.

Syzygy is developing a stand-alone training day for small groups of foreign mission workers new to the UK which includes an introduction to British culture and history, an overview of the current state of the church, and helpful tips on how to engage missionally in a way which won’t alienate your neighbours.  If you’d like to know more, contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk.

This is rapidly becoming a pagan country again, and if we need more resources to prevent that, why turn away helpers?

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

 

This much-loved text, often attributed to St Francis of Assisi, is an inspiration to many.  Yet once we look beyond its beauty we find a brutal challenge to our fleshly and soulish ways of doing things.

As we go about our lives, work, relationships and ministry this week, energised once again by the thrill of the resurrection we have just commemorated, let us bear this challenge in mind.

As mission workers, church planters, member care workers, church leaders and agency employees, how do we conduct our relationships with one another and those we are reaching out to in the light of the sacrifice this calls us to?  A sacrifice which mirrors the one we celebrate as bringing us new life?  How do we communicate that new life to others?  Is our transformation deep or only superficial?  How do we tap into the grace which allows us to respond to every challenge with love and forgiveness?

As we are transformed by the grace of God, we offer the same hope to others.  He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)

As we start Holy Week – the name traditionally given to the week coming up to Easter, let us take a moment to pause and reflect.

For many of us in ministry, it’s a busy time of the year.  We have to plan services for Thursday, Friday and Sunday, perhaps several for each day, including multiple sermons seeking some fresh revelation using scriptures thoroughly familiar to our congregations.  We might even have to get up early on Sunday for a sunrise service.  One of the challenges we face at this time of year is that we are so busy trying to ensure the church has a positive experience of Easter that we can miss out on that experience ourselves.

It’s also a highly emotional time of year.  We’ve just got past the excitement of Palm Sunday with its crosses, and soon will face the awkward embarrassment of a foot-washing ceremony.  We have to balance the solemnity of Good Friday with the exuberance of Easter Sunday, with just that rather cumbersome ‘normal’ Saturday in between.

Wouldn’t it be great to just stop?

Stop and have time to read, reflect on and inhabit the Bible stories about Holy Week.

To imagine walking with Jesus in Jerusalem, listeningf to the discussions, watching the healing, pouring ointment on him as a symbol that we understand what he’s about to go through.

Try and understand what it feels like to be various characters in the stories.  Are you Mary, Peter, or Judas, or one of the many other nameless ones who have a walk-on part?  As you think about them, what do you have in common with them?  What would you do if you were in their situation?  How do you feel?

And what is Jesus going through, knowing all that is in store for him?  How does he feel?  What could you do to help him if you were there?

In the midst of this hectic and demanding week, let’s pause for 15 minutes in each day, just to reflect on some of these things.  Perhaps we will meet with Jesus.

I have written in this blog many times about the need for mission workers to be actively supported by their church, agency, family and friends – all of whom are very important for the resilience and fruitfulness of the mission worker.

However, the provision of intentional, pre-emptive, supportive care does not absolve mission workers from caring for themselves!  With millennials in the mission field, who are accustomed to more attentive parenting, workplace nurturing and personal mentoring, there may be an expectation of higher standards of support than were previously considered appropriate.  We need to lovingly remind mission workers that they are not children, they have been selected for their ability to thrive in the mission field, and have been trained to withstand the challenges of life in demanding places.

We must therefore resist the attempt to treat them as fragile, wrap them in cotton wool and run around looking after them.  Instead we need to encourage them into self-care.  This covers every aspect of who they are:

Physical self-care – They need to be paying attention to how their diet, exercise and sleep are healthily maintained to keep them well.  They need to be aware of their own biological cycle, how they adapt in their body to changing months and seasons, the amount of heat and daylight available to them, and how they plan their life around their natural strengths.  At what time of day are they at their best, and can they adapt their working time around that?  Taking the full holiday entitlement, Sabbath days and weekends (where possible) will be part of this.

Mental self-care – maintaining mental well-being has two aspects to it: allowing the mind to unwind from stress, and stretching it to enable it to cope with more.  So regular academic study, distance learning on practical or theological issues to keep people’s skills up to speed is important.  As is the need to create downtime to give the brain a chance to switch off, particularly at night to allow more chance of good sleep.  Developing a physical hobby, perhaps a craft or a sport, will go a long way towards facilitating this.

Spiritual self-care – mission workers are selected for their ability to feed themselves from the Bible and thrive in hard places, but regular times of retreat, seeing a spiritual director and being helped through podcasts or discussion groups can contribute to their spiritual well-being.  So too can keeping regular hours of prayer, journaling, or using a personal liturgy to help with prayer.

Emotional self-care – often we find ourselves too busy to stop and reflect on how well we are relating to those around us: family, friends, church and co-workers.  How do we intentionally deepen our accountable relationships?  How do we live in ongoing repentance and stronger commitment to others?  This can be complicated by being in cross-cultural teams, churches or families – can we identify the facets of the culture we live in which cause us the most stress, and find ways of coping better, even to the point of thriving in them?

In considering all these different things they need to do to care for themselves, mission workers may want to consider inviting a friend to be an accountability partner, to ask searching questions about what they are doing to look after themselves.  Some people may feel that the idea of looking after oneself does not fit well with ‘laying down one’s life’, but like a good marathon runner, we are in this race to finish well, and in order to do that we need to pace ourselves rather than run the race like a sprint!

Recently I was involved in leading a retreat for mission workers returning to the UK after finishing a period of service.  In our devotional times we looked at several passages from Exodus which seemed to me to be a perfect metaphor for our mission partners journeying into life in the UK.

Like the Israelites, they had left the familiar behind, and there was no going back.  They had packed up their belongings and left their homes, friends and ministries behind, and they were on their way to a new home.  Granted, not everything where they lived had been easy, but there were plenty of things they missed, like meat (Exodus 16:3) or fish, fruit and vegetables (Numbers 11:5).

But they’ve not arrived home yet.  They are still on the journey, in a wilderness of sorts, which is strange and unfamiliar.  They don’t belong there.  They don’t know their way around.  They don’t know how things work, how to use contactless payment or Deliveroo. They are bewildered and vulnerable, and can be quick to become unhappy.

One day they will arrive in the Promised Land.  They will find they feel at home, won’t be isolated from the culture and ignorant of terminology and technology.  They will settle and belong.

But in the meantime, they need the rest of us to remember that they’re not ‘home’, they’re merely ‘here’.  They may feel cold, or miss the noise of exuberant worship, or vibrant assault on their senses of everyday life in their host country.  They need us to understand that they are still in transition.  Neal Pirolo’s book The Re-Entry Team  is a very helpful resource for churches in helping them understand how to support returning mission partners and we recommend that every church gets a copy.

In the meantime, what can these mission partners do to help themselves?  They should stay close to the Pillar of Fire and Cloud.  It guides them through the desert.  It stops when they need rest and moves when they should move on.  It comes between them and their enemies.  Yes, they can’t actually see the presence of God, but they can feel it and know it in their hearts.  And in the midst of a massive change in their lives, God is the one constant in the universe.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Some years ago I lived in a house which had a significant-looking crack in a wall.  Of course, I could have papered over it and pretended it wasn’t there.  Or filled it with plaster and assumed it was fixed.  But the crack would have remained, a weakness in the wall, that may have got worse, even to the point of becoming critical.

Far better to investigate, monitor, and repair wherever possible, because the crack is probably a symptom of stress being applied to one or more parts of it, that is threatening to break it apart under the pressure.

Rather like walls, mission workers are subject to extreme stresses in their lives, and their character can begin to crack under the pressure.  So who monitors them, and how, to make sure any issues are dealt with before a serious collapse occurs?  Church, friends, agency, family and co-workers can all be part of this by intentionally caring about small incidents which may reveal deeper issues.  When somebody loses their temper with a co-worker, speaks harshly to a spouse, or perhaps evidences momentary vulnerability to excessive alcohol consumption, do we love them enough to go beyond forgiving their behaviour to challenge it and ask them what lies beneath?

Spotting these warning signs can be a very important part of stimulating early intervention.  But it’s not always easy.  Many churches expect their mission partners to be of higher than average character and so accountability can be a problem: nobody asks robust questions because they don’t want difficult answers.  Mission partners can be reluctant to appear fallible in a world that doesn’t tolerate failure, so they are happy to pretend everything is fine.  Yet one day the cracks may be too big to deal with, and a marriage breaks down, or a ministry falls to pieces.  People leave the field in shame.

So what can we do to avoid a collapse?

  1. We need to develop cultures that encourage accountability, and if mission partners are to feel comfortable to talk about underlying issues in their lives, they need the confidence that they will not be pilloried for failure but supported to reform.  Jesus said ‘Let the one who is without guilt cast the first stone’ (John 8:7) but sometimes his followers seem more eager than he was to throw rocks.
  2. We need to provide accountability structures, encouraging our mission partners to meet with peers and seniors for confidential support and mentoring.  We need to make it clear that this can work in partnership with other churches and agencies, rather than trying to keep it ‘in house’.  Being accountable to an ‘outsider’ fosters more openness than being accountable to a line manager.
  3. We need to create a framework for asking robust questions.  They don’t need necessarily to be direct accusations such as “Have you accessed pornography on your phone in the last week?” but more subtle ones like “What do you do to make yourself feel good after you’ve had an argument with your spouse?”  Questions which set up the opportunity for a confession without presupposing one.  I find “How can I pray for your marriage?” is a good one, or “How are things in your soul?”, which a friend of mine uses a lot.

Giving people an opportunity to reflect on their weaknesses, discuss their character flaws and work together on solutions can fix those cracks in the wall before it’s too late.  It’s called preventive maintenance.  We allow mechanics to do it on our cars, dentists to do it on our teeth, but we don’t let friends do it on our souls, which are far more important.  Maybe we should start.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Sadly, I frequently come across mission workers who have returned from an assignment disillusioned by the lack of support they received from their church.  Often these are independent people who’ve gone with their own vision, but sometimes they’re also people who have been sent by their church.

So together we unpack their disillusion.  What did they expect?  Why did they expect it?  Did the church know they expected it?  How do you know they did?

And it often turns out that these expectations were based on a loose verbal undertaking such as “Of course we’ll support you!” which was never fully discussed or documented.  By the time the mission worker realises that there was never any real agreement, it is usually too late to resolve and there needs to be some conciliation work.  I come away from such meetings thinking “If only…”

I always recommend that mission workers and churches (and of course agencies too if they’re involved) talk through their mutual expectations and document them in a partnership agreement or memorandum of understanding.  It’s not a legal contract, it’s too loose for that, and it’s not done in a litigious spirit but one of partnership.  But it does spell out in very simple terms, what everyone expects.  And it has signatures to prove that it was properly agreed.  You can put in in whatever you think is important, and I’ve seen really long ones and also ones that can fit on one side of A4, which I prefer, as I don’t think too many details make it easier to come to an agreement.

A good structure would be: the church will do this; the mission partner will do that.  It sounds positive.  And the issues that should be addressed should ideally include the following:

  • How frequently does the church formally pray for the mission partner, and communicate with the congregation about needs?
  • Does the church provide financial support, how much and how long for? Does it include extras like flights home, and how long should it continue after return?
  • How much is the church involved in making major decisions?
  • Is the church responsible for providing Member Care, and what would that look like?
  • Who is involved in making decisions in an emergency, and what funding is available?
  • Who is the principal point of contact for communicating?
  • Who is responsible for National Insurance, tax, pension and health insurance contributions?
  • How long will the agreement last and what happens when it expires?
  • Who provides operational oversight in the field?
  • What arrangements are there for pre-departure and post return health screening and training/debriefing?
  • How does the church hold the mission partner accountable? Are there other parties involved?
  • Is an appraisal involved and who will do it?
  • How much home assignment is permitted?
  • How much funding is the mission partner responsible for raising?
  • How frequently should the mission partner communicate with the church, and how?
  • How are any disputes about the agreement adjudicated?

 

It might seem like a lot of work to talk through all these issues, but the situation will be a lot clearer if time is taken to do so.  There will be less confusion, better support, and a much smaller chance of a relationship breakdown.  Syzygy is always ready to talk such issues through with churches – contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk to request an appointment.

Janet Fraser-Smith’s helpful workbook Love Across Latitudes has been helping people build stable cross-cultural marriages for 25 years and is now in its sixth edition.

As two people try to build a successful marriage together they bring into it their unvoiced (and often even unrecognised) assumptions about how to relate to each other, and what they understand a marriage to be.  Occasionally there are serendipitous harmonies between these various assumptions, but more frequently one or both partners lives with the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations until an argument occurs and they realise their partner had no awareness of what was expected of them.  Such occasions occur more frequently when the partners are of different nationality, ethnicity or culture.

Janet’s workbook provides a valuable resource to those embarking on cross-cultural relationships (or indeed already in one!).  Written in helpfully accessible English with a recognition that as least one of the partners may speak English as a foreign language, and with plenty of personal stories and practical examples to balance the useful theory, it is design for couples to read together, and provides frequent questions as a tool for reflection and discussion.  It is intended to initiate intentional engagement with cultural factors which may impact on a marriage.

Sections specifically focussed on culture help to expose the unstated assumptions behind our understanding of relationship, marriage and family.  Others tackle issues like communication, tough choices, compromise and stability in relationships.  We heartily recommend this resource to anyone involved in a cross-cultural relationship, including TCKs in a relationship with someone of the same ‘nationality’.

Recently, while on retreat, I came across a rocky headland where a wide variety of plants was struggling with grim determination to grow.  Grass, heather and trees all struggled to thrive in the rocky soil.  Not in their natural environment, deprived of good soil, they were undernourished, stunted and vulnerable.  Not unlike a few mission workers I know!

Mission takes nearly all of us out of our normal environment.  It also takes us to a context where we may find it hard to thrive.  Sometimes we are isolated (emotionally, spiritually, culturally, physically) with little encouragement, fellowship or input.  This is why Syzygy started publishing devotional blogs, so that we can help to provide a little input into the lives of isolated mission workers.

If the plants I mentioned above were in my care, I might consider moving them to a new location where they are more suited to the growing conditions.  While some of us may be aware that we are called to endure in tough places, others may be wondering if we’ve made the right choice.  And there’s no shame in relocating to a place where we can thrive better if we feel that’s the right choice before God.  After all, if our life is more shrivelled up and stunted than it is abundant (John 10:10) it would be good for us to reflect on how positive our Christian witness is likely to be.

Alternatively I might try to change the growing conditions of the plants I were caring for.  I’m a great believer in manure and (although we might joke that most of our agencies are good at giving us that) like plants we need to make sure that we get sufficient nutrition to thrive.  Eating well is obviously an important part of staying healthy, but we also need to make sure that emotionally and spiritually we are taking in more than we give out.  Where are the supportive relationships we need?  Is social media sufficient, or do we need to arrange for more team members to join us in our location?  Are we able to sustain ourselves from our own private Bible study or do we need to access podcasts, books and commentaries?  Do we need to schedule more time away from the mission field in order to recharge our batteries effectively, or make plans for more retreat?

When looking at struggling plants on that rocky headland, while having sympathy for their challenge, I also felt huge admiration for their tenacity.  Being plants they obviously had no means of simply moving to a location more conducive for growth, so they just stubbornly got on with it.  Like many of the mission workers I know.  Like it says in Matthew, those who hang on by the skin of their teeth will be saved (Matthew 24:13).  If you’re in that situation, we salute your tenacity.  Keep on keeping on!

Change, it has been observed, is the only constant.  And that was pointed out 2500 years ago by a Greek philosopher.

Many of us in mission struggle to keep up with various aspects of change, whether it’s organisational structure, new technology, government regulations or the constant coming and going of co-workers.

Most of us are not particularly disposed towards change, and the accelerating rate of change seems ever more bewildering.  So how can we learn to survive in a world where change is guaranteed, to continue apace?  Here are our top tips:

  • Accept that things change – for better and for worse.  Change is normal!  Our first experience of coming into this world was through change, and we continue to change throughout life until the final change in death.
  • Give yourself time to process the change – it takes time to get used to what is new and you won’t necessarily get the hang of it straight away.
  • Discuss it with family and friends.  How can they help you and vice versa?  Who is the person for whom the change is easy?  How can they be a resource for the others?
  • Recognise the stress that change causes and take steps to manage it well.
  • Research ways of making this change go as smoothly as possible.
  • Stick to familiar routines that will provide some element of stability in the midst of the change.
  • Rest in God – who never changes.
  • Eat well, sleep well, exercise well.  If you are physically healthy you will be better able to cope.
  • Are you afraid of the future?  Give it back to God, in whose hands it is anyway.
  • Make a to-do list and tick items off to create a sense of control.
  • Understand how your personality type copes with change and focus on using your strengths to help you rather than lamenting your weaknesses.
  • Read the bits of the Bible which were written by people undergoing massive change.  How did they deal with it?
  • Identify and name what you think you are losing.  This helps you be able to say goodbye to it – even reluctantly!
  • Develop your hobbies to ensure you have a way of relaxing.
  • If there is change in one aspect of your life, try to ensure there is stability in other areas to reduce the pressure on you from the change.
  • Reflect on how you personally can benefit from the change and help others to do so.
  • Find a safety valve so that you can vent your negative feelings privately without causing harm to other people or agencies.  Avoid expressing too much to close colleagues or on social media!
  • Take a retreat or holiday to recharge your emotional energy.
  • See the positives: is this a chance to grow?  Could things be better for you or your team in the future?
  • Acknowledge the extent to which your resistance to change may be based on your bad experiences of change in the past.
  • Create a ‘monument’ so that you can respect and honour the achievements of the past as you press on towards the future.
  • Be open with God and close friends about your feelings.
  • Manage stress through mindfulness, Pilates, meditation or breathing exercises.
  • Journal your feelings so that you are able to get them off your chest – and then look back to see how much God has done in you through the change.
  • Develop a rhythm of prayer or use regular liturgy to help enhance your stability during times of change.
  • Get professional help from a coach or mentor to help you process the challenges you’re facing.
  • Be open with family, friends and co-workers about how well you’re doing.  It will help them to help you.
  • Don’t assume that just because change is hard, it’s wrong.  It may ultimately be beneficial.

Syzygy runs workshops on handling change well.  If you’d like to book one for your church or agency, contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk.

“Hudson Taylor”

As regular followers of Syzygy will be aware, we have four cars which we lend to mission workers on home assignment in the UK.  You can read more about this on the Syzygy Cars page.  By the grace of God we have been given money – and cars – generously which has enabled us to have very nice cars, but an interesting problem has emerged: we now have two VW Passat estates and we occasionally get confused about which one we’re talking about.  So we have tried calling them 57 and 58 (referring to the registration number), or could simply use their colours, blue and silver.

But we’ve decided to give them names.  And we’re choosing names which will honour our missionary heroes.  We’re calling them CT Studd and Hudson Taylor.  And just to keep things balanced, the other two are being called Gladys Aylward and Amy Carmichael.  Which prompts me to wonder who are your missionary heroes, and why?

They may not be giants of the faith, but then most of us aren’t.  They may not have got everything right, and none of us do, not even the great missionary apostle St Paul.  They may not have seen many converts themselves, like David Livingstone, but their faith inspired others to incredible acts of service for God.

One of my own personal favourites is an old man I met in Mozambique.  He had spent many years as a mission worker in Brazil before retiring and returning to England.  When he was 80 he asked God for 10 more years of life so that he could resume serving as a mission worker, and went to start a new work in Mozambique.  So much for a quiet retirement perfecting the golf swing and maintaining the garden!

Who are your inspirations?  If we are truly standing on the shoulders of giants, do we know who the giants are, and what contribution they’ve made to our lives?  Are we able to emulate them in their strengths, while being fully aware of their weaknesses and avoiding them?  And if they are still alive, have we thanked them?  And if not, how do we honour their memory?

In 1993, author Sebastian Junger was researching a book about the sinking two years before of a fishing boat in extreme weather off the east coast of the United States.  In an interview, Bob Case from the National Weather Service explained to Junger that conditions became unusually intense because of the freak convergence of multiple weather events creating a “perfect” scenario for catastrophic wind waves and rain.  From that conversation was born the term, “the perfect storm.”  You’ve probably seen, or at least heard of, the movie that followed.

Last week influential mentor Rick Lewis introduced a group of member care workers to his take on this.  He pointed out that the perfect storm for Christian leadership occurs where the systemic hazards in the church or agency they lead meet the vulnerabilities inherent in a leader’s personality.

By “systemic hazards” he is referring to the adverse conditions that coalesce around Christian leadership.  These conditions are sometimes simply a consequence of helping people deal with momentous issues of life, and sometimes they are dysfunctions of the communities that Christian leaders serve.  We all know that leadership is hard.  But it is made harder than it needs to be when systems function in carnal ways that are not reflective of the kingdom of God.  Very few Christian organisations are thoroughly hazardous to their leaders; but none are completely free of hazardous conditions.

By “vulnerabilities in a leader’s personality”, he is referring to those parts of the psyche that are still in the process of being brought into conformity with the image of Christ.  These are the weaknesses, old wounds, dark secrets, immaturity and foolish ways that quench leadership capacity.  All leaders – all people, in fact – have such vulnerabilities.  They are never entirely eradicated, but through the power of the Holy Spirit significant growth and healing can be achieved and the ongoing negative effects can be neutralised.

Leaders and systems form symbiotic relationships.  The individual and the community each affect the other both positively and negatively.  Human nature being what it is, the negatives tend to have an increasing effect over time, unless outside intervention is interposed.  The hazards in a system will exploit the vulnerabilities in a leader unless someone helps the leader to keep their feet while in the midst of the storm.  Mentoring helps Christian leaders navigate the perfect storm, leveraging their strengths to address their vulnerabilities so that the hazards present in Christian organisational systems are contained and systemic health promoted.

We are not going to give away Rick’s material in this blog!  Suffice to say that here at Syzygy we have seen several instances where the way an organisation is structured and motivated coincides with a leader’s character weaknesses to set that leader up for spectacular failure unless some sort of mentoring intervention occurs to support the leader in growing and the organisation in changing.

Those who wish to know more can contact Rick via us by emailing info@syzygy.org.uk or buying his helpful book Mentoring Matters which contains more information on this subject.

Source: www.blog.hotspot.com

I have commented before on the challenge of being distinctively Christian in an environment which requires certain legal and administrative practices of us (see Sleepwalking into obsolescence with due diligence).

Not only do we find ourselves forced to comply with legislative practices (often good) imposed on us by secular authorities, but in order to be seen to be delivering on that we often adopt secular business practices.  This is all too easy for those of us who were trained in management in secular employment before we joined the mission field.  And those of us who are already equipped with management and administrative skills are the ones most likely to be selected for senior leadership, which then reinforces further the use of secular practices in our organisations.

Not that those practices are necessarily wrong.  But they do diminish our distinctives.  Although we may have a distinctively Christian vision and ethos, the way in which we go about our day-to-day tasks often would have little to distinguish it from someone working (say) in a solicitor’s or a bank.

An example would be a typical Christian meeting, which will generally start with a prayer, and possibly a devotional.  It will then continue with a discussion which will probably include little formal acknowledgement of God’s presence with us, or seeking God’s advice and direction.

So let’s take a look at some of the practices of the early church which we might want to consider using:

  • They drew lots to select senior leadership from a shortlist (Acts 1:23-26)
  • They followed instructions given in dreams (Acts 16:9-10)
  • Corporate worship was part of the leadership practice (Acts 13:1-2)
  • They had discussions to decide policy but clearly understood that the Holy Spirit was involved in the conversation (Acts 15:28)
  • Disagreement was frank and public (Galatians 2:11-14) but apparently led to reconciliation (1 Peter 3:16)
  • They gave generously to the common cause (Acts 2:44-45)
  • Some organisational roles were filled by the choice of the people, not the leadership (Acts 6:3).
  • Lack of personal integrity was punished with termination (Acts 5:5, 10)!
  • They prioritised their spiritual activity (Acts 2:42)
  • People’s ‘private’ lives were clearly considered part of the person spec for leaders (1 Timothy 3:2-12, Titus 1:7-9)

You can probably think of more.  While some of these practices may not be an ideal fit for today’s society, it does for me raise the question of where we draw inspiration for our practices.  Yes, we have to keep accounts (and I’m sure Paul kept tabs on the money donated for Jerusalem) in a systematic and compliant manner, but the bottom line is (literally!) are we trusting God for the funds, or our fundraisers?  What is the role of prayer not only in our regular prayer meetings but in our routine practices?  How do we ensure that everything we do is ethical and faith-driven?

Let us determine to run our organisations in such a way that anyone coming in from outside will be struck by the distinctives not merely of our vision and ethos but also of our practices and routines.

A while ago I picked some delightfully fragrant flowers which I left in a vase in the kitchen for quite a while.  They filled the whole room with a sweet smell which was almost like incense.  It lifted my spirits every time I entered the room.  But after a short time the flowers, unsurprisingly, withered.  Yet the fragrance remained for a long time after.

I wonder what remains of us when we move on to somewhere else.  Is it a sweet fragrance or a bitter aftertaste?  Do people miss us or are they glad we are gone?  Paul suggests that this can work both ways.  He says in 2 Corinthians 2 that we are the “sweet aroma of Christ”, but points out that while the aroma is attractive to those who are being saved, it is repulsive to those who are not.  In the same way, the presence of Christians, the expression of our belief, and the tolerance of our faith are obnoxious to some.  And sometimes they have a point – our behaviour can actually repel people if we are too judgemental or outspoken.

A better approach is softly softly.  It is wise not to get drawn into arguments with people like this but simply to let them see our behaviour at its very best.  Proverbs 15:1 says “a gentle answer turns away wrath” and Peter encourages us to:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

(1 Peter 2:12)

Actions, as is often pointed out, speak louder than words.  They echo long after we have gone.  I wonder how much of aroma of Christ we leave behind in other people’s hearts.