Source: www.freeimages.com

Last week we considered some of the steps you can take to support ageing parents while staying on in the mission field.  But no matter how good you are at doing that, there may well come a time when you have to leave the field and go to support your parents.  Today we’ll consider some issues which need to be settled so that you can know going back to your parents’ country is the right thing for you to do.

In a multitude of counsellors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).  This is not a decision to be made lightly, so involve people you trust: church leaders, friends, family (including your parents) and medical advisors.  Make sure you don’t just make a decision with your head, or follow your heart, but pray about it to see if together you can work out what God is calling you to do.  It was, after all, at a conference that James pronounced “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28)

Make the decision sooner rather than later.  It’s only natural for you to leave it as long as possible because you want to stay on in the mission field, but you will need to leave some time for you (and your family if you have one) to settle into life in your parents’ country before you have to throw yourself into looking after your parents.  You may need a year or two to navigate the challenges of re-entry, and if you find yourself acting as a full-time carer within days of getting off the plane, you probably won’t have the space to process everything you need to – and will have unresolved emotional issues as a result.

Be honest with your siblings and review each of your skills.  You may not actually be the best person to provide the personal care for your parents, but you may be great at organising it from a distance or handling their finances.  Your parents may prefer one of your siblings to see them daily rather than you.  But your siblings may assume that because they have full-time jobs (unlike you!) you have the flexibility to be there for your parents, unlike them.  Make sure your family understands that your calling is just as important and inflexible as their employment.  This applies particularly to single women in the mission field, who families often think are more readily available to provide care because they don’t have a husband and children, so the expectation of looking after parents often falls unfairly on their shoulders.

Nobody who has put a hand to the plough and then turns back is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).  With the best will in the world this harsh verse will be preying on your mind.  It will be quoted at you by Pharisees, and Satan will make sure you don’t forget it.  Have you betrayed your calling?  Did you love your family more than Jesus (Luke 14:26)?  This is why any decision needs to be thought and prayed through thoroughly.  Be convinced that this is God’s way of ending your time in the mission field (or taking an indefinite break) or this idea will continue to gnaw away at your soul and embitter you.

Finish well and say good goodbyes.  Treat this as if you are leaving permanently – because you may be!  People often leave the field ‘temporarily’, assuming that they will return when their parents no longer need their support, but in fact ageing parents can continue to live for decades, and by the time you are ready to return so much will have changed: you, your family situation, your church and agency, the needs of the mission and the country where you served.  Perhaps you won’t be wanted, and will have to deal with unsaid farewells and unresolved emotions in the future.  Better to leave well, and perhaps have a second bite at the cherry later, without holding on tightly to the hope of it.

There are huge emotional, spiritual and practical challenges involved in leaving the mission field to care for ageing parents.  Syzygy is experienced at helping people in these situations, and if you’d like to talk to us, either in person or via social media, email us on info@syzygy.org.uk.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Many overseas mission workers will be aware of the huge crisis lurking somewhere out there in the future when their ageing parents become sick, or simply are unable to look after themselves any more.

We know that at some stage we may have to weigh our desire to love, honour and care for our parents with the sense of calling we have which has taken us far away from them, and we need to work out what is the right thing to do when the time comes.  Do we  resign our position as mission workers and return to our parents’ country, or do we continue in our vocation and look for other alternatives for our parents’ care?  There are no easy answers, and even the Bible counters “Honour thy father and they mother” with “Let the dead bury their dead.”  But the decision is still out there, and most of us know it will come home to roost sooner or later.

Let us assume for the moment that most of us want to stay in the mission field.  After all, we have a sense of calling, there is a work for us to do here, and it’s our home.  If we had wanted to return to our parents’ country, we probably would have done so already.  So here are a few suggestions on how we can continue to support our parents from a distance, and so prolong our time in the field while not neglecting our parents.  Next week we will have a look at some of the issues involved in leaving.

  • First, can you arrange to take more frequent home assignments so that you can see your parents more regularly, keep personally updated on their needs and monitor their situation?  If you’re a family and can’t afford to fly everyone back once a year, can one of you take a couple of weeks each year to visit your parents while leaving the others behind?  Use these visits to spend valuable time with your parents, find out what’s really going on in their lives, and get to know their community.
  • Discuss the situation openly with your parents and siblings, so that you are all agreed who is to do what.  Make sure they all know that you’re not trying to shirk your responsibilities and are willing to do your share of the support from a distance.
  • Get a Power of Attorney over their affairs, so that you can act on their authority from a distance.  You will need this authority just to get information from their bank or doctor so make sure that you’ve registered a copy with them.
  • Get to know their neighbours, if you don’t know them already.  Who can help with the shopping?  Who will sound the alarm if the bedroom curtains aren’t opened in the morning?  Make sure neighbours know how to get in touch with you.
  • Get to know their doctor and discuss the situation with them so they won’t be surprised when you phone from abroad to ask a question.
  • Engage some professional care from an agency or a charity who can take in meals and help with cleaning, medication or helping your parents get out of bed.
  • Recruit your friends to be their friends.  While you’re on home assignment, hold suppers for your friends at your parents’ house if you can, so that you have a natural way of introducing them.
  • Get help from the church.  If your church is in their area, let your church leaders know the situation.  Even if your parents aren’t Christians they might welcome the contact.  And if they are Christians, make sure you are in touch with their church leadership too, so that they are fully briefed and can keep in touch with you from a distance.
  • Utilise technology.  Not only can you talk to your parents via social media, you can have webcams and movement sensors in their house so you can keep tabs on them!
  • Find out what resources are available in their community, and visit the social services and local charities.
  • Go through their house minimising trip hazards, adding handrails and improving lighting
  • Make sure you have sufficient savings to pay for a last minute flight home, as tickets can be very expensive if you haven’t booked in advance.

Hopefully, by planning carefully and engaging with your family and your parents’ community, you can facilitate their support from a distance rather than providing it personally.  And if you have any other suggestions for caring from a distance, please let us know!

I’ve recently met with a lot of people going through transition.  Whether they are leaving a posting, parting company with their sending agency, closing a ministry, going to a new country… people in mission relocate frequently and are no strangers to change.

People going through change often notice their physical reactions.  They may be unusually tired (beyond the usual jetlag symptoms) or unduly emotional.  This disturbs them, as they like to think of themselves as self-controlled, focussed people who don’t fall apart easily.  But something about leaving has rocked their boat, and they lose emotional equilibrium.  And losing emotional equilibrium rocks their boat further.  So they get tearful, or angry, or sleepy.  It’s a perfectly natural response to a stressful situation.  And relocation is stressful.

It’s like being a plant that has its roots pulled out of a nice snug pot, teased apart a little, and planted back in new soil, unfamiliar soil.  We all know that this needs to be done periodically to help the plant thrive, but you can be certain that the plant doesn’t appreciate the experience.  Most plants wilt a little, or drop a few leaves, before bouncing back with new growth.  Transition is seldom enjoyable.

There is the stress of packing things up, deciding what to keep and what to do with the rest.  There is the endless paperwork involved.  There are emotional goodbyes with people we love.  There is grief at losing relationships, guilt at having the freedom to move on, and bereavement as we leave projects and people we have worked with for years.  If things haven’t worked out there may be a nagging sense of failure, and if our departure is forced, there may be fear, anger and disempowerment involved.

There is also uncertainty about the future – where we are going to live, be church, work and relax.  We may be going to a different culture with which we are unfamiliar.  And we know from experience that transition is seldom one clean step – there are many moves, new starts and restarts until we can feel settled again.  And just as we think we’ve got there, another change rocks our boat, or some innocent comment or event triggers a memory and throws us back into crisis.

Recognising how the uncertainties and stresses affect us is the first part of the solution.  Understanding how the transition affects us reminds us we need to take steps to treat ourselves to familiar things – if you’re going to a major world city it’s quite possible that your favourite chain of coffee shops or restaurants has got there before you!  Doing familiar things helps us cope with the unfamiliar, so we can take refuge in our favourite meals, music or hobbies, and take time to talk with loved ones who support us through the change.

But above all connecting with God is important.  In the busyness of transition God often gets squeezed out, when he is needed even more.  He is the one unchanging constant in our ephemeral lives, and when everything else is upheaval he is the same – yesterday, today and forever.  Many of the Psalmists in times of difficulty and turmoil wrote songs to him reconciling their trust in his unfailing goodness with their unpleasant experiences.  Reading them helps us to connect with him in the midst of our turmoil:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea…

“Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

(Psalm 46:1-2, 10)

 

Anyone who is going through a transition and would like some support is welcome to contact Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk to arrange a conversation, either in person or via social media.

 

Anyone who has done any amount of walking in the hills will be aware that many footprints leave a mark on the landscape.

The least trod paths are denoted by shorter grass.  Those used a little more have grass worn away into bare soil.  More use starts to wear away the soil and form ruts, and this is where real erosion starts.  Water seeping down the mountainside finds its way into the ruts and runs more easily downhill, eroding the remaining soil.  Stones are exposed and come away, leaving a great gash in the mountainside which becomes an impromptu stream and needs repairing before irreparable damage is done to the landscape.

Mission workers may be less aware of how words can cut channels into their souls in a similar way.  Each negative comment can leave a footprint behind.  Repeated often enough they can become a rut which begins to shape our thinking.  Innocent words will run into that rut causing even more damage.

So a child who hears “You’re stupid” will be hurt.  If it’s said often enough she will get used to hearing it, and start to believe it.  Continue hearing it and even a casual comment like “We don’t do things like that around here” will be heard as “You’re stupid”.  The child will either become completely crushed, expecting people to realise she’s stupid, or she’ll fight back, and try and prove them wrong.  Both responses are unhelpful to her ongoing psychological health and the relationships she forms.

In the transactional analysis method of psychotherapy, expressions such as “You’re stupid” are known as scripts.  Like scripts for a play, they are written for us by an author, usually an authority figure like a parent, pastor or teacher.  We then repeat them in an inner monologue, reinforced by others repeating them, until we play the part that someone else has written for us.

Syzygy meets lots of mission workers who are acting out scripts.  Expressions like “You’ll never achieve anything”, “You should hurry up” and “You should work hard” have left a deep imprint in their soul.  Many of them have burned themselves out in the mission field trying either to live us to the scriptwriter’s expectations, or to prove the scriptwriter wrong.  Perhaps you’re one of them.

Recognising a script is half the battle to releasing yourself from it.  Realising that you don’t have to repeat it is the other half.  Just reading this blog has probably made you aware of the existence of a script in your life.  It may take some time to get the second half right, but at least you are now free to exercise some choice in whether you believe the script or not.  Now you can decide not to believe it, not to follow its instructions.

“It was for freedom Christ has set us free” wrote Paul to the Galatians (5:1).  Why wait to live in the fullness of freedom?  Free your mind now from the harmful effects of the negative words spoken to you!

 

Tim speaks about this and other issues affecting our identity in Christ in retreats and workshops called Managing the Stress of Mission.  The next one will be held at Penhurst Retreat Centre in August 2017, and they are available for use as part of team conferences and staff training days on request.

I am accustomed to undertaking some fairly demanding walks in the Lake District, and this week while at the Keswick Convention is no different.  Yesterday, what should have been a reasonably easy walk turned into a challenging scramble up screes and rocks after I missed the turning.  On returning to the point where I had gone wrong, I realised that the principal route looked like a side turning and the ‘wrong’ and more dangerous path looked wider.  There was no signpost.  Since “the broad path leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13) and with the lives of future fellwalkers in mind, I made an impromptu arrow to show them which way to go.

There are obvious evangelistic applications to this point, but also ones for discipleship, as we show others less experienced than we are how they can live a Christian life.  But there is also an application in mission: too often I have met the injured mission workers who got lost or had an accident along the way, because there was nobody to point them the correct way.

Syzygy is pleased to be working ever more closely with mission agencies to help them guide their mission partners effectively.  But many of the people we help have no connection to mainstream agencies.  Perhaps their church has sent them, bypassing an agency, though the church may have little understanding of how to support them in the field.  Sometimes (like me when I go hiking) they think they know what they’re doing only to find out the hard way they had no idea.  Or maybe they have just gone off and done their own thing without considering the challenges, just like the tourists I see walking up mountains like Scafell Pikes wearing sandals and taking no water with them.

This is why Syzygy seeks to work together with sending churches, and churches of those independent mission workers who are not looking to be ‘sent’, to help train them before they go.  They may not even think they need training, but our experience of picking up the pieces tells us differently.  People we have helped testify to the effectiveness of this.  One mission worker remarked later: “All that stuff you talked through with us, it was so helpful, because it was things we hadn’t even thought about that we needed to do.”

So we need your help to link us into churches who would like more information about how to support mission workers more effectively, and to alert independent mission workers to their need for preparation.  On our website we have a guide for churches and a guide for people going alone.  We want to do everything in our power to point the way effectively for those who are going.  Then, not only can they have a great experience of mission, they can help make the way clear to those who follow them.

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

 

A Plea from a Missionary

It has been really exciting to see a surge in church planting happening around the world. I believe that planting churches, or should I say, planting churches well, is probably the most effective strategy for reaching those without Christ that there has ever been. Now you know I’m pro-church planting, I’d like to share some thoughts and suggestions for those planting churches cross-culturally from the perspective of a missionary who’s seen the good and the bad. I’m particularly thinking of people church planting in the Global South (previously called the ‘developing world’) with their denomination or church network.

With more people than ever planting churches outside their own culture there’s a need for better training and preparation for cross-cultural mission. The kind of training that most mission organizations require of their workers. I’m pleased to hear this is being included by some church planting networks but it is often not the case. Church planting is too important to embark on without proper consideration of how to serve cross-culturally and how to avoid dependency on foreign influence and money.

So, in no particular order…

Stay humble. Take the posture of a learner who hasn’t arrived with a set of flawless principles and methods. Learn all you can about the country, people group, culture and religion before you go and continue to learn while you’re there. Listen well.

Study about serving cross-culturally before you go. Not all Bible colleges or church planting networks teach about working in other cultures but they really should as so many are now getting involved short or long term. Make sure teaching on ministering cross-culturally is part of your church stream or denomination’s training of church planters. Planting a church anywhere is hard work; doing it in a different culture to your own is even harder. The gospel challenges every culture but that’s no excuse for not aiming to be culturally appropriate in the way we minister.

Commit to learning the local language. Intentionally set time aside at the start to do this. Many get too busy too soon and write off the idea that they’ll ever be able to minister in the local language. It will be hard but the rewards and benefits are worth it as we identify with and show our love and respect to the local people in this way. Putting it bluntly, if the Mormons can be bothered, let’s make it a priority.

Learn from mission organizations. Some church planting networks tend to have little to do with mission agencies. Mission agencies have years of experience in planting churches and cross cultural discipleship and evangelism.

Learn also from organisations which have experience of community development and poverty alleviation etc. Wise up on effective ways to help the poor. Recognise that giving handouts is not helpful in the long run and much work has been done to understand better ways to walk alongside the materially poor or the oppressed.

Live in the town you’re planting in before you plant the church. No-one can specify exactly how long for but knowing a place and making relationships takes time. Planting a church just after arriving

communicates that we think we have a model of church we can just reproduce anywhere without knowing the place or its people. An exception to this could be when we start Bible story-telling or sharing the gospel in a community we don’t live in and this develops into a fellowship of believers.

Love the people. When we’re passionate about reaching a place with the gospel it’s easy to focus on all that needs to change and we can be quick to spot the many faults that exist. Look for things to appreciate. Determine to reject any tendency toward superiority over the local people. The hope is to reach people with the gospel; they know when they are a project rather than genuinely appreciated and loved.

Love the Church. Never forget the often huge price paid by local believers before you arrived. This must humble us. In many parts of the world believers have shed their blood for the cause of Christ or suffer for their faith in ways we never will. One church planted by foreigners made no secret of saying that the existing church in the area was boring. That is such a bad attitude and very ungracious.

Love local pastors. If there are other churches in the area get to know the leaders. Churches planted by foreigners are the source of much concern and often pain among many local pastors. Getting to know you and how God is leading you is very important. I know of one situation where almost whole youth groups, built up over years, have left locally led churches to attend a foreigner-led and funded church with lots of resources, free gifts and exciting programs. Not surprisingly there’s been hurt among local pastors.

Mind the money. Avoid building a building or equipping a building or funding a church’s activities or paying church staff using money sent from overseas. Better to start small with no building than to create dependency on foreign money. The hope is to plant reproducible churches. If what’s planted requires money and equipment that local people don’t have/can’t get it will never reproduce. Christianity is already viewed as ‘foreign’ in many places and using foreign money only compounds this belief. Seek to avoid dependency on foreign money and encourage the church to be self-supporting, giving sacrificially. A lot of churches in wealthier nations set up partnerships with churches in the Global South which mostly involve sending money and often lead to unhealthy influence over the activities, style and decision making of the local church.

Keep it simple. Avoid creating a model of ministry that looks foreign and can’t be replicated by local believers. Set only the priorities and let local people take ownership to decide later what extras they want. As others have noted, the book of Acts gives us some pillars to erect first: teach the Word of God, worship (in a culturally appropriate way), build a fellowship, break bread, be committed to prayer and encourage lives of service. From these pillars, more can be added slowly, together with local input and leadership.

I recently went to a new building in SE Asia that was ready for a congregation that didn’t exist yet. Built with foreign money, there were music stands, a drum kit, a sound system and a raised platform. This only exacerbates the view that Christianity is foreign and that ministry requires lots of money.

Make disciples that make disciples. I’m amazed that in all my Christian life I can recall only a few times I’ve heard anyone teach on how to actually disciple someone. We may get some people coming to our church but are they being discipled? Do they in turn know how to disciple other people? Obviously this is key to reproducing more churches. A healthy church takes responsibility for its part in fulfilling the Great Commission.

One last thing. It should be obvious but choose a name that works in the local language!

Alex Hawke

 

Editor’s note: Anyone thinking of going to plant a church in a different culture would also benefit from reading Syzygy’s guide to Going Alone.

 

 

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

Teamwork is something that has been on our mind quite a bit in recent months recently and we’ve blogged about it several times.  Today I want to have a brief look at conflict within the team.

Conflict is one of the principle avoidable reasons for mission workers leaving the field, whether conflict within their own team or with their agency leadership. This issue is a chronic festering ulcer in the missions world, which has existed since the dawn of missions nearly 2000 years ago (Acts 15:39), and will in all probability continue till its end, though that is no reason to not to try to resolve the situation.

Conflict exists for many reasons, and some of them are perfectly understandable such as the clash of cultures in multi-cultural teams. There is not necessarily anything wrong in this, but when different groups of people have been brought up with differing assumptions about the way the Kingdom of God works, there will be challenges as we work together in grace and humility to resolve such issues.

There will also be perfectly understandable character clashes. Sometimes people just rub each other up the wrong way. That’s normal, and not the issue. The issue is can they continue to love each other, serve each other, bless each other as they work together for the good of the Kingdom?

But much conflict comes from selfish pride, ambition, insecurity – yes, among the Christians! So the first thing each of us must do is think before we speak. Ask yourself why feelings of anger or frustration are rising in you. Has somebody injured your pride? Challenged your self-esteem? Why are you reacting?

Next we must listen. Who is speaking? Why did they express themselves that way? What are they saying in addition to their words? What pain are they speaking out of?

Then we must speak carefully. Often we can speak hotly, out of passion, and not think through our words. They can easily be misunderstood. How we express ourselves can pour water on the flames of disagreement, or petrol (Proverbs 15:1). Conversations can easily turn bitter, with expressions like “You always’’ becoming accusing. It is better to say “I get the feeling that…”

Finally, we must reconcile. Even if we cannot find agreement, we must try to stay in communion with one another. Sometimes after a robust conversation we need to go to the other person and make sure that we forgive each other for any harsh words. Taking communion together confronts us with our need to be in fellowship with one another, as Jesus teaches that it is important to put things right with one another before we come to God (Matthew 5:23-24) and the practice of saying the Lord’s Prayer together makes us keep short accounts as we recite “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us” together.

In an age when road rage is common and internet trolls seem to encourage meanness, Christians should be a shining example of disagreeing well, of valuing others despite having different opinions, and continuing to love those who disagree with us and forgive those who hurt us. Let us always remember that it is more important to love than to be right.

Hebron School, India, many years ago

It’s not just Tony Blair*.  Parents everywhere make the education of their children one of their top priorities, and mission workers are no different.  One of the major obstacles to people going in mission is the fear that their children’s education might be compromised as a result of their time overseas, and one of the major causes of attrition is mission workers returning home to get their children into their home country’s education system.

While many parents fall into the simple trap of assuming that education overseas cannot possibly be as good as the state education in their country of origin, the truth is often very different, and here are some of the possibilities you can investigate abroad:

Local schools.  Believe it or not, some countries have excellent schools!  Advantages: it is often cheap or even free, children engage with the language, history and culture of their country of residence, and make local friends.  Disadvantages: the final qualification may not be internationally recognised.

British schools abroad.  There are many schools overseas which follow the English curriculum.  Advantages: children stay within the English curriculum, facilitating UK schooling during home assignment and entry into the UK university system.  They make friends from within their home culture (though some of them may have a much higher socio-economic status than mission kids, leading to potential discontent).  Disadvantages: high fees, though many schools can be persuaded to grant bursaries as mission kids broaden the social profile of their school.

Find a list at http://www.expatandoffshore.com/british-schools-abroad/

International schools.  Most large cities have a number of private schools teaching in English, and some of them achieve very high standards.  Advantages: children engage with the language, history and culture of their country of residence while learning in English, and make international friends (though some of them may have a much higher socio-economic status than mission kids, leading to potential discontent).  Disadvantages: high fees, though many schools can be persuaded to grant bursaries as mission kids broaden the social profile of their school.

Christian schools.  In order to facilitate mission, there are Christian schools in many countries, often with boarding facilities.  Advantages: children are educated within a Christian environment and make international friends.  Disadvantages: many of these schools follow a US –style curriculum which may not be relevant to other nationalities.  If your child is a boarder you have the pain of waving goodbye to them at the start of every term.  More information about locations of Christian schools is available by emailing info@syzygy.org.uk.

Home education.  There are a wide variety of options for home education including online schools and written curricula, many of them Christian.  Advantages: children can stay at home while continuing their education, which may follow the curriculum of their passport country.  Disadvantages: discipline can be a problem, due to confusion between the role of parent and teacher, and one parent may in effect work full-time as a teacher.  Children can also be isolated from others their same age and not develop social skills through interaction.

We realise that educational choices are a minefield, full of pressure, doubt and ‘what ifs’.  Many agencies have a TCK advisor who can help you explore the options more fully.  But for us the key question is: if you can trust God for your ministry, can you trust God for your children’s future?  In conventional thinking, we are very much aware that university, job, security, and income all depend on how well we do at school.  However as Christians we have a different mindset: while we want the best possible education for our children we are very much aware that which doors are opened to them in life depends far more on the grace of God than on their exam results.  And a good education consists not only of grades but in walking closely with God, in the development of character, and in the ability to mix easily with people of different cultures.

*  “Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education” Tony Blair in a speech at Southampton University, 23rd May 2001

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

This quote from the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon does the rounds occasionally and draws a lot of attention.  It is waved about by missionary apologists trying to mobilise more workers for the overseas mission field.  It is quoted by tweeters to draw attention to global mission.

But put this sentence back into the context of the original sermon, and you will see that Spurgeon is not encouraging people to leave their homes and occupations to bring the good news to strangers on the other side of the world.  He is challenging every Christian who claims to love Jesus to tell their family, friends and neighbours –right where they are!

The text of his sermon is so good that the whole paragraph needs to be read:

If Jesus is precious to you, you will not be able to keep your good news to yourself; you will be whispering it into your child’s ear; you will be telling it to your husband; you will be earnestly imparting it to your friend; without the charms of eloquence you will be more than eloquent; your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of his sweet love. Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that. You either try to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus and a totally silent tongue about him.

 

Yes, the world still needs people to travel to the ends of it to bring the good news of Jesus to people who have no other means of hearing about him.  But we should not forget the many millions in our own neighbourhoods who do not yet know him.  Contemporary missionary challenges in western sending countries include thousands of refugees who have come to us recently, millions of non-European immigrants who have arrived in the last 60 years,  forgotten people groups like the Roma, marginalised tribes like the urban poor, and many other unreached groups in our midst including the indigenous unreached population.  The older translations of Mark tell us to “Go into all the world….” – a missionary being someone who is sent (as an emissary) on a mission.  Spurgeon reminds us that it doesn’t matter whether we go to the other side of the world or the other side of the street… as long as we go.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Blogging can be a frustrating activity.  I can spend days mulling over a good idea, hours finely crafting my prose, and finally release my most earth-shattering blog onto the internet, only to be met by the deafening sound of silence.  No comments.  No shares.  Not even a like.  Nothing.  It’s deflating.

Just like that deflating feeling most mission workers know when asked by some innocent church member back home “How many people have you baptised this year?”.  Most of us know the embarrassment of squirming a bit, thinking of some excuses (“that’s not really my role”) before reluctantly admitting the truth – none.  And for many of us, it was none last year, or the year before.

Our sending churches seem to expect a vast harvest, or at least a regular crop, of souls for the Lord.  When did mission become subject to arbitrary productivity statistics more fitting to a factory?  And why are these standards not applied to those working on the home front?

The reality is that western mission workers seldom produce significant numbers of ‘converts’.  We sow a lot of seed but seldom see the harvest, even though we continue to hope for a harvest.  Unlike Isaiah, who was told by God at the start of his long ministry that he would see no fruit.  We often hear sermons on the powerful call of Isaiah, his vision of the Lord in his temple, his enthusiastic response, but we seldom hear sermons on the passage which immediately follows:

Then the LORD told me to go and speak this message to the people:

You will listen and listen, but never understand.

You will look and look, but never see.

The LORD also said: Make these people stubborn!

Make them stop up their ears, cover their eyes, and fail to understand.

Don’t let them turn to me and be healed.

 

Would you have gone into the mission field if you’d known that was your mission?  Small wonder that within minutes of his enthusiastic “Here I am, send me!”, Isaiah’s response was “How long do I have to do that?”  No prophet wants people to ignore his message, as no mission worker wants her words to fall on deaf ears.

I am sure many of us can identify with this frustration.  We have spent years, sometimes decades, working hard in the mission field, with little harvest to show for it.  But we are not called to be successful.  We are called to be faithful to him who sent us and to the work he has called us to do, and we are called to bear fruit in our lives.  The obedient mission worker, persevering in adversity, has far more in common with Isaiah than with Jonah, who preached and an entire city repented immediately (Jonah 3:10), or the rare contemporary outbreaks of revival we hear about, but seldom experience in our own ministries.

So, if you have reaped little harvest, take courage.  Jesus told his disciples “Others have laboured so that you can reap.” (John 4:38)  Perhaps it is your role to plant the seed.  In impacting the culture, demonstrating the gospel by your lifestyle, encouraging and equipping local believers, softening a harsh spiritual environment through your prayer, and being a faithful witness, you are planting an immense crop for others to reap.  In many of the places we are called to, mission is a long-term, multi-generational enterprise.  Like a worker on a production line, you may weld the chassis but never see the car roll out of the factory.  But the car wouldn’t be any good without your humble and unlauded work.

He who has ears, let him hear.

I have often spoken in these blogs about prayer, because IMHO it is the number one need of mission workers, being the key to resolving other issues like housing, transportation, visas, cross-cultural stress, lack of funding, issues with co-workers, children’s educational needs and other headline issues.

But I have seldom asked for prayer for Syzygy itself.  Now things are changing; Syzygy is getting bigger and I’m getting busier.  We are on the verge of forming partnerships with other member care providers to help us meet the needs of agencies and churches as they support their mission partners.  We need money to fund this expansion and will possibly take on some part time staff or more volunteers.

So I am now specifically asking for prayer support to help us thrive as an organisation so that we can be even more effective in supporting world mission.  Every day we publish prayer requests on  the PrayerMate app which you can access via your phone.  If that doesn’t work for you, there is a prayer diary on our website which you can either access daily from your computer or print out and keep with your Bible.

Please commit to pray for us daily.  We need your help so that we can help others.

 

This is what we are about:

we plant the seeds that will one day grow;

we water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold promise;

we lay foundations that will need further development;

we provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our own capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.  This enables us to do something, and to do it well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, and opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.  We are workers, not master builders; ministers not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future not our own.

Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Source: www.freeimages.com

One of the challenges that faces church leaders, particularly when attempting to focus on world mission, is the extent to which their time and attention is demanded by their loudly bleating sheep.  The pastoral needs of church members are very high on a minister’s list of priorities, and many of their sheep will complain loudly if the pastor isn’t seen to be meeting them.

And very often it has to be the church leader personally, even though the church may have a fully-equipped pastoral team.  We may talk about the value of team ministry, but so often people want the top person to be personally involved in meeting their needs and are upset if she isn’t.  I often think of a story I heard about a woman who had been in hospital, and subsequently complained to the pastor that “Nobody  had visited her”, when in fact she’d had several visits from church members, some of them multiple times.  What she meant was that the minister hadn’t visited her!*

This dynamic forces the church leader into meeting perceived needs, in addition to all the genuine crises going on in the church.  The minister’s approval, and sometimes his actual employment, can be dependent on how well he is seen to be meeting these needs, so it is understandable if they take up a lot of the minister’s time and attention.  But what about the sheep in other folds, on other hills, whose bleating isn’t so easy to hear because they’re further away.

Overseas mission workers have pastoral needs too.  Although they may be members of an agency, that doesn’t mean those pastoral needs are met.  And some people don’t serve through an agency anyway.  But they are still part of their home church, with a reasonable expectation that the church (whether it’s the pastor or a team) will meet their pastoral needs.

These needs are often not addressed by agencies, who rightly do not see pastoral care as part of their responsibility (unlike member care) or by the local church which the mission partner serves through, which may not have the capacity to understand and minister to the issues going on in the mission worker’s life, as these issues may be very different from those of the indigenous church.  This lack of pastoral support can add to stress and contribute to burnout and attrition

Syzygy has a guide for churches which can help them understand the needs of their overseas sheep.  We also offer advice to churches who would like to support their mission partners more effectively, and bespoke training for those churches who would like to develop the skills of their pastoral team to care effectively for mission partners.  Contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

The fact that the sheep aren’t in your fold doesn’t mean you’re not their shepherd!

* Story found in Love, Acceptance & Forgiveness by Jerry Cook with Stanley C Baldwin (Regal Books 1979)

Source: http://friendsinternational.uk/

This weekend I was at an event organised by Friends International and was reminded how doing outreach to international students is such a strategic ministry.

Many students come to this country from places it would be hard for us to get mission workers into.  We could spend a lot of time, energy and money recruiting, training and sending mission workers for Creative Access Nations, where they then may have to spend many years learning language and culture before they can be effective in ministry.

Or we can put resources into reaching the students God puts on our very doorsteps, who can be equipped to go back to their home countries and take the gospel quickly and effectively to their own people.  What’s not to like about that?!

There are over 400,000 international students in the UK, many of whom have little opportunity to hear the gospel in their own country.  Yet we have a small window of a few years when it is easy, cost-effective and legal to tell them about Jesus.  If every university in the country had teams seeking to befriend international students and lead them to Christ, this task could be accomplished much quicker.

Unlike overseas ministry which requires a lot of preparation, student outreach is readily accessible to ordinary Christians and churches.  It doesn’t take much special training to make tea at an international student café once a month, help an international student improve their English or cook a meal for a hungry student.  And it’s something that doesn’t require a great commitment of time, just an occasional availability.

So where do you start?

  • Contact an agency working with international students, like Agape, Friends International, Navigators or UCCF and ask how you can get involved.
  • Make a point of welcoming international students to your church and asking how you can help them
  • Download resources from the Friends International website.
  • Pray that God will send international students to your church.

Outreach to international students is an ideal ministry for people who care about world mission but can’t for some reason go abroad themselves.  It’s an opportunity to be part of taking the gospel to the nations – who knows how these students are going to affect their nations by their godly wisdom and actions and by leading their compatriots to Christ.

 

A recent blog on the Crossworld website prompts me to comment on the issue of there being so few single men on the mission field.

It is of course not a new phenomenon in missions but its significance, as the author points out, is that it becomes hard to mentor men for maturity.  It can also lead to a church full of faithful women, which does not seem attractive to male unbelievers because it does not model an image of strong masculinity despite its focus on a male saviour.  So let’s consider some potential causes.

1) Statistics: There are generally fewer men in the church, so fewer are available to go, whether single or married.  In many UK churches the single women outnumber single men 4:1, so there are bound to be fewer single men going. Those single men who do go to the mission field are outnumbered even more, frequently by 8 or 9 to 1.  This increases opportunities for them to marry, so many do not stay single very long.  Thus the problem is perpetuated.

2) Ministry fulfilment: do men have more opportunities for ministry on the home side?  Although the percentage is steadily increasing, women still only make up about 1/3 of Anglican clergy in the UK[1].  In October 2015 Christianity Today reported that around 10% of US churches have women in the sole or senior leadership role (though twice that percentage attend seminary)[2].   Some traditions do not have any formal role for women in leadership.  Perhaps this means that men can more easily find an expression for their Christian service within their home church or denomination, so technically it is not that fewer men are going into overseas mission, but more women, as they seek an outlet for their desire to serve God which is harder for them to find at home.  But the result is that more single women go.

A bigger question is not why there are fewer single men in cross-cultural mission, but what are we doing about it?  Here are some suggestions:

Churches  –

  • Do you actively seek out men you think might have a future in the mission field and challenge them to go? Do you suggest to young men looking to start out on a career that they might consider a life serving God abroad, or even a few years?
  • Do you promote mission as an equal opportunity and not just for women? Do your male leaders model a mission heart or is it only your women who talk, pray or go in mission?
  • Do you tell stories in your sermons of brave and heroic men like St Paul, Francis Xavier or Robert Thomas who took the gospel to far-flung places at great cost to themselves because of their one true love – Jesus?
  • Do we teach a high view of singleness as a way to serve the Lord?  Do your young men have accountability relationships so they have an opportunity to focus their attention on developing godly character?

Agencies –

  • Do your placements seem attractive to single men?  What can you do to make your mobilisation more appealing to them?
  • Are you thinking through what their needs are? Do you try to send teams of men so that there are other men around for them to build friendships with?
  • Do you foster a culture which allows men to express their masculinity appropriately?  Can they truly “feel like a real man” when they are engaged in the activities you co-ordinate?
  • Do we mentor single men in the field so that they can be fulfilled in their singleness and not struggling?

And for all of us –

  • Do we unconsciously model disappointment if our sons sacrifice a good career to go into mission, while we think it’s a great opportunity for our daughters?
  • Do we think mission is a good place for those poor women who have not been able to find partners, but expect men to marry and settle down?
  • And do we pray that more single men will listen to the call of God on their lives and follow him to the ends of the earth – and do we encourage them to do so when we think he’s calling them?

Or was Gladys Aylward right (see John Piper’s Desiring God Podcast) – do the men called to the mission field just not listen to God as well as the women do?

 

[1] Statistics for Mission 2012

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2015/october/state-of-female-pastors.html

Source: www.freeimages.com

You are probably no stranger to that moment when you hit a button on your computer and nothing happens.  Perhaps a little icon rotates, or a dialogue box pops up that says “Processing…”  And you just sit there, uncertain whether to press the button again, or go and make a cup of tea.

Often the reason is the processor is overloaded with demands.  Perhaps it has to sort through a lot of junk to find the information it needs, or maybe you’re running several programs at once.  Sometimes there is a huge automatic download in progress (it’s usually Windows).  Whatever the reason, the demands on the system exceed its processing capacity.

It’s just the same with humans.  We don’t like to think we have limited processing capacity, particularly in a world where multi-tasking is so valued, but for mission workers there are often a lot of things going on at the same time.  Our heads are busy with the demands of operating in a foreign language, navigating traffic, managing family needs, planning for meetings, preparing sermons and liaising with co-workers.

Some of us are not equipped temperamentally to balance so many competing demands for our attention, and struggle to concentrate on any one of them because others keep surfacing at the same time.  In such circumstances it’s good to have times when we allow ourselves to close the office door or switch the phone off so that we can minimise the demands on our attention.

There may also be a lot more going on behind the scenes than we are aware of.  The pressure of living cross-culturally creates a lot of circumstances which we may think we are able to handle, but all add small amounts to the daily stress we suffer.  Did that person misunderstand me because my language is limited?  Did I fail to pick up subtle cues that I’m not used to?  Why do I have to wait so long in this queue?  Why do people drive like this?  Often these uncertainties create ‘feedback loops’ – situations that we keep mulling over, whether consciously or not, that also demand part of our processing power.

In order to deal with these issues which keep running in the background, we need to have a look at the task manager to get a better grip of what’s going on.  As we’ve remarked on previous occasions, regular retreat is an excellent way of doing this.  Even if we can only manage a day away at a quiet or spiritual place to reflect, we can still ask ourselves questions like:

  • How am I coping in this culture?
  • What are the stress points for me?
  • What are the ongoing issues in my personal life, team relationships and engagement with the local community?

This then equips us with a bit more knowledge so that we know which thought processes we can shut down.  We do that by reflecting on these issues and asking ourselves:

  • Why am I upset by this?
  • What can I do about it?
  • How is God equipping me to grow in this situation?

Many of these issues can be quickly dealt with once exposed.  One practice that is helpful to get into is to do a mini-reflection each night before going to bed.  We can ask ourselves simple questions like:

  • What upset me today?
  • Why?
  • Who do I need to forgive, or ask forgiveness from?
  • How do I resolve this?

But let’s not finish with the negatives!  We can also finish the day by reminding ourselves what brought us joy, what we can be thankful for, and where we saw God at work in, through and around us.

Just like our computers, a little bit of regular maintenance will help us to operate a little more effectively.

Source: www.freeimages.com

We have in the past written a lot about teamwork, partly because it is one of the holy grails of mission, and partly because it is so hard to achieve when building a diverse collection of individuals into a strong community that can weather the frequent arrivals and departures which are endemic to the mission world.

Jesus said that the world around us would know we are Christians because of the love we have for one another (John 13:35), but the cases are few indeed where the world outside our walls looks at us and observes “Those people really live well together.  I wonder what their secret is.”

Part of the problem is that to build an effective team we have to generate sufficient desire to come together that it overcomes that which separates us. Imagine a group of people standing far apart from each other in a circle, with the objective of coming close enough to each other to all hold hands. But each one is tied to a bungee rope which pulls them back to the perimeter of the circle. To hold hands, first they have to run with sufficient force to overcome the effect of the bungee rope, and then hold hands so firmly that they cannot be pulled apart.

So how can we overcome the effective of the cultural bungees which pull us apart? Many mission workers from the West often have an individualistic mindset which reflects the community in which they were raised but is often at odds with the more corporative-minded community in which they are serving and indeed the New Testament culture in which our faith was born. So we have to take steps to recognise the cultural challenges which can prevent us coming together.

First, we need to change our own mindsets (not other people’s!) so that we are committed to unity with the people we have been put with, whoever they may be. We need to work hard at getting to know them, building common ground and demonstrating commitment. By doing this I have built strong friendships with people from different backgrounds who I might have overlooked if I had more choice in selecting my community.

Secondly, agencies, churches and teams need to create a culture and vision which inspires people enough to overcome their differences. What will help us become genuinely committed to the team? When does it become something so good that we will give up other good things for it? We talked about this when thinking about how the disciples of Jesus were initially kept together despite their differences, because they had a common desire to be with Jesus. What is our common goal?

Finally, we also need to recognise what pulls us in other directions, and make tough decisions about what ties need to be cut, or how to reduce the pull of some of them by, for example, voluntarily limiting time interacting with people, things or places which may pull us away from our community.  Sometimes these things are valid and appropriate (for example the care needs of elderly parents back in the home country), though there are many links, hobbies, connections which we could reduce the impact of if we tried.

A fruitful team starts with you and me making a decision to commit ourselves to it – to run hard towards the rest of the team and hang on tight.  Vince Lombardi, NFL player and one of the most successful ever sports coaches comments:

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work.”

 

I know a chapel recently vacated by a group of nuns, who took with them the large cross which had been nailed on the wall behind the altar for many years.  Although the cross has now gone, it is still possible to see the outline of where it used to be, which reminds me that even where the cross has been removed, its shadow remains.  This can lead us to mistakenly believe that the cross is at the centre of our lives, when actually we are looking at its shadow.  Where is the cross missing in our lives and communities, even though its shadow remains?

If we do not return continually to the cross, and remind ourselves of our complete need for that one moment in time when Jesus dealt with the price for our shortcomings and excesses, and realign our lives to live out the impact of that great cosmic event, we can end up with an empty outline of Christianity which may appear structurally, liturgically and ethically Christian but lacks the authenticity of a truly redeemed lifestyle.

And this lifestyle starts with how we treat others.

In Europe today we are seeing the rise of intolerance.  Some groups are feeling threatened by other groups.  Some think their needs are being marginalised.  Some fear a loss of their cultural identity.  As a result, these people express themselves vocally, sometimes violently, against those they perceive to be different.  Similar fears can arise in missions teams around the world too, where one particular group or culture becomes dominant.  Others can easily feel marginalised and overlooked.

For example, singles can feel their needs are not addressed where those of families are prioritised (or vice versa).  Or where teams operate using English as their common language, those who don’t speak it well can feel they don’t have the ability to express themselves.  In other circumstances people who come from a culture where it is courteous to wait to be invited to speak often have no opportunity for their voice to be heard if others are accustomed to speaking their mind loudly and  frankly.

Fortunately these issues seldom boil over into rioting!  But they can lead to an undercurrent of discontent and add to stress and attrition.  Which is why we need to make sure that the cross isn’t absent from our missionary communities.  The shadow of it may be there, but sometimes the reality of it can be startlingly absent, particularly in the way in which we treat one another.

The New Testament is full of counter-cultural teaching on relationships.  Some examples are:

  • Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39)
  • Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)
  • Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:13)
  • Submit to one another in Christ (Ephesians 5:21)
  • If God so loved us, we ought to love each other (1 John 4:11)

It might be a good idea for us to start our meetings with readings of such scriptures, and reflect on how we can live out those commandments, in order to remind ourselves to “Be excellent to each other.” (William S Preston, Esq.)

Source: www.freeimages.com

Why are we still shooting our own people?

‘Toxic leadership’ is a phrase which buzzed around the mission world a few years ago, and then went away.  I haven’t heard it mentioned in a member care context for some time.  Perhaps we got bored with the issue.  Perhaps we thought talking about it for a bit resolved the problem.  Yet a number of incidents that have recently been brought to Syzygy’s attention remind me that, like Chernobyl, the fallout from one critical incident continues to have a devastating effect for many years.

  • Broken and hurting mission workers dealing with the pain of bullying and abuse, often for many years after the original incident.
  • Agencies losing good personnel for utterly avoidable reasons.
  • Churches grappling with supporting wounded mission partners who can’t easily be ‘fixed’.
  • People dismissed from their roles in circumstances that would count as unfair or constructive dismissal if they were UK employees.
  • Mission workers who have original or different ideas being victimised for challenging the status quo.

One influential member care agency uses the tagline “Because we don’t separate the Great Commission from the greatest commandment”.  Yet it seems that all too frequently in our eagerness to do the first, we don’t adequately care for our people, particularly if they have strong personalities or are not afraid to express their opinions.

A misguided model of leadership seeks to impose unity on a disparate group of mission workers  by demanding conformity, rather than building unity by valuing and affirming diversity.  Weak leadership imposes authority through domination rather than winning followers through serving.  Reluctant leadership abdicates, leaving the team without direction.  And people who speak out, complain, or even make constructive suggestions can be tagged as rebels, unfairly targeted, and removed from service.

In most cases, these situations result from structural weaknesses in our organisations rather than merely one or two poor leaders.  Often it’s not the result of deliberate;y abusive leadership but more to do with neglect of mission workers’ needs, lack of support or failure to intervene in difficult situations.   As Rob Hay wrote in 2012, “Mission is full of specialists and empty of trained, skilled and experienced leaders and yet up to 80% of people who go into mission not expecting to lead end up in some kind of leadership position.”  Sadly, it seems nothing much has changed in the last 5 years.

How do we resolve this situation which seriously impedes our efforts to fulfil the Great Commission?  First, sending agencies have to be committed to valuing the people they partner with.  Mission partners need to be seen as valuable yet often fragile people  who need to be nurtured and developed.  They are not an expendable commodity to be exploited.  Agencies invest so much money in the early years of mission workers – recruitment, training, support, language learning – that it is also economically foolish to ignore these issues.  If the agency were an international business, high attrition levels would not be tolerated.  These need to be monitored closely as they are often a sign that something is wrong.

Second, churches need to understand the difficult dynamics of cross-cultural mission and be proactive in supporting their mission partners and working with agencies.   They need to be willing to ask difficult questions, and challenge agencies when problems arise.  One of the most encouraging things I ever saw was a group of church members haranguing an agency leader at a public meeting because they felt the agency was letting down their mission partners.  I thought “I want those people on my support team”!

Third, mission partners need to be honest with their churches and agencies about the real issues.  Misguided loyalty to failing leaders and leadership structures needs to be exposed, or it will merely be covered up and somebody else will get hurt further down the line.  People who have been hurt by an agency can be tempted to slip away quietly and lick their wounds – but they need to be supported and helped to fight their corner so that they expose bad leadership and force organisational change.  And agencies need to determinedly debrief workers (preferably with the involvement of a third party) and be committed to frank exit interviews – the ostensible reason people give for leaving is often not the whole story.

Finally, agencies need to be committed to addressing the problem Rob raised, by committing to proactively developing the character development, leadership ability and management skills of all their leaders.  Often they appoint people to leadership who have strategic vision and fruitful ministries but little interest in pastoral care.  They don’t have to be pastors themselves, but do need to understand the need for in-field member care and take steps to facilitate it.

Resources that Syzygy recommends for dealing with the fallout from toxic leadership issues include:

  • The books A Tale of Three Kings and Honourably Wounded for mission workers wounded in action.
  • A personal debrief for mission workers still struggling with injuries inflicted in the field.  Email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.
  • Space to rest and reflect while receiving love and acceptance.  Syzygy can provide several options for this, and also recommends Ergata and Le Rucher.
  • Mentoring by Rick Lewis for leaders in mission.  A completely confidential, personal service aimed at developing godly character at the highest level in churches and agencies.
  • Reading Rob Hay’s 2012 paper on the Global Connections website and the associated reading list.
  • Bespoke consultancy aimed at identifying specific issues within an organisation and tackling the causes of it.  Email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

Being shot by one’s own side does not necessarily mean the end of a life of mission.  Given the right support, many people make a full recovery and are able to resume their lives and ministries, as I have done.  But wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t wound our own mission workers in the first place?

 

Life as a single mission worker can be a vibrant and thrilling experience.  Too often though we can experience more of the loneliness and vulnerability of being single.  It’s a bit like flying by yourself: challenging and a little bit risky, but great fun.

As we’ve remarked before in previous blogs about being a single mission worker, it can be only too easy for us to become lonely and isolated, and start to focus our attention on the one thing we haven’t got (a partner), and start to think that if only we could get one, everything in our lives would be great.  When we think about it sensibly, we realise that one frail, selfish, fallible human being can’t possibly be the answer to all our problems, and it’s actually unfair to place such an expectation on one human being.

So where do we find the answer?  Well it’s in God of course, and if there’s one thing we enjoy doing at Syzygy, it’s pointing people in God’s direction to get the answer to all their needs.  And that’s what we’ll be doing in Gloucester on 22nd April.  We’ve teamed up with Redcliffe College to bring you a day of discussing  the theology of singleness, the practicalities of living a single lifestyle on the mission field, and how we can be completely fulfilled as singles by finding our identity in Christ.

You can find out more (and register!) by clicking on this link to the Redcliffe website.