Posted by Tim on June 17th, 2013
Sadly, many overseas mission workers are wounded in the course of their ministry – as a result of burnout, spiritual fatigue, enemy action and sometimes even ‘friendly fire’. Many of them return to life in their sending country with a deep sense of loss for the ministry they have left behind, and mourning for the lost relationships. Often their churches do not know how to help them, and the agencies one might expect to be able to help them have often been part of the problem, so there is no opportunity for supportive dialogue. Syzygy often meets people who still have unresolved issues many years after the field. They don’t know how to handle their hurt, or even explain it to themselves let alone others.
Dr Marjory Foyle spent 30 years as a mission worker in India and Nepal, initially as a medical doctor and then as a psychiatrist. Her work on understanding the need for better care for mission workers led her to become one of the founders of the member care sector. Her seminal work Honourably Wounded (Monarch 2010, ISBN 978-0825463334) is a small book which has had a major impact on how churches, sending agencies and mission workers understand and deal with the emotional and psychological damage that can be caused to workers on the mission field. To those who have been wounded in action, it has been a huge comfort to know that someone understands and can help.
Much of mission workers’ inability to cope well with stress is due to the false conception of ‘laying down our lives for the Lord.’ This is often taken to mean that we deny ourselves everything wholesome and enjoyable in order to get on with the task we have been given. Marjory points out that:
“dedication and commitment to God, while essential if we want to go on with God, do not mean the wholesale denial of the real person within, but provide us with freedom to expand, develop, and enjoy the good things God has created”.
Marjory’s book is highly readable, honestly addressing difficult situations, and bringing good psychiatric awareness to the layman. It covers a wide range of subjects including depression, culture shock, occupational stress and interpersonal relations, and it has an extensive bibliography which is also informative. Marjory’s extensive experience of missions, and of the problems people can encounter has fed into a very practical resource. She has a clear understanding of the dynamics or the relationships between family members, colleagues and the local culture and places all this in a firm biblical context.
While Marjory’s biblical understanding informs every chapter, the final one – a God’s Biblical Model for Member Care - makes it abundantly clear that God doesn’t want his workers burning themselves out and is passionate about their health. She writes of mission workers: Because there is always such a lot to do and they feel personally responsible, they overwork and use up a vast amount of physcial and mental energy with inadequate recharging of batteries.” This book is her response to that problem.
If you have been wounded in action, or are trying to help someone who has been, this is the single best resource you can buy.
Tags: attrition, culture, Marjory Foyle, stress, support
Posted in Book review, Member care, missions support, stress and burnout | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on June 10th, 2013
Jesus’ last message
In the book of Acts, there’s quite a lengthy story about the trouble that Peter and John get into for preaching the resurrection of Jesus after the healing of a lame man in his name (Acts 3-4). The ructions go all the way to the top, and they end up being hauled before the authorities to account for themselves, where Peter preaches a bold message. And then as the national and religious leaders begin to debate what to do with them, Luke adds a delightful little phrase:
They recognised them as having been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
Of course, it may just be that realising they were Galileans they remembered seeing Peter and John with Jesus. But I like to think it was more. I wonder if they saw something in their boldness, their integrity and eloquence that reminded them of Jesus. Had Peter and John begun to resemble Jesus?
After three years of living with Jesus, it’s highly likely that some of his mannerisms and expressions had begun to rub off on them. Even subconsciously, we emulate key authority figures in our lives. But this could have been so much more. Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit (as Jesus promised them in John’s gospel) they were beginning to undergo inner transformation. They were being reminded about what Jesus had told them (John 14:26). They were doing what he had done, and saying what he had said. They were becoming like him. And it showed.
They had been with Jesus
The great mystery of this is that the Father and the Son have set up home with us (John 14:23). Not merely that they moved into our neighbourhood, or visit our church on a Sunday morning, but that they have settled in. Most of us fail to actively cooperate with them. We treat them like lodgers, who live in a room at the back of the house. We see them occasionally, and sometimes we may have a chat, but effectively they live separately lives while under the same roof.
They want more. They want to be treated as part of the family. They want to belong with us. Jesus says he wants to come in and eat with us (Revelation 3:20). Note that he says this not in an evangelistic way to unbelievers, but as an offer of deeper fellowship to Christians. This is an intimate relationship, living together cheek by jowl, talking things over, doing things together, just like Jesus would have done when he was living with his disciples. And when we cultivate this intimacy, we become more like him.
Do the people you work with see Jesus in you? Not merely the Christians, who might be looking to see him in us, but the non-Christians. The policeman at the roadblock, the customs official, the taxi driver or the shop worker.
If they don’t, it’s probably because we haven’t been with Jesus.
Tags: local believers, outreach, retreat, St John, St Peter
Posted in Devotional, Evangelism | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on June 3rd, 2013
Sunrise in Mozambique
One of the things that Syzygy loves to do is to get out in the field and visit mission workers. It helps us keep an up-to-date perspective on the challenges they are facing, and learn more about the challenges of cross-cultural ministry in the 21st century. By conducting research in the field we are able to keep our advice and our blogs relevant and appropriate. Field visits also give us a wonderful opportunity to meet with overworked mission partners and help be part of restoring their strength and energy.
This month Tim is going to Mozambique. He’s going to stay with our old friends Aaron & Sarah Beecher at Tariro where he’ll be doing some biblical teaching at a conference for the staff and students. He’s also going to be running a workshop for mission workers in the region (see our recent article Staying Healthy) and we hope this will lead to further opportunities to meet and encourage people we’ve not yet connected with. Often when we’ve done events like this before, the participants request individual conversations which can keep us busy for the rest of the week!
Being familiar with some of the challenges of living and working in the area (Tim spent a year there, many years ago, before moving on to Zimbabwe), we anticipate that there will be many challenges in counselling people, dealing with issues arising from long-term cross-cultural fatigue, workplace conflict and reconciliation issues. Mozambique is a difficult place to minister, with little opportunities for r&r or even good in field fellowship with other mission workers. So we anticipate this will be a far-from-easy trip. And we’re not going anywhere near a beach!
A long walk home
Tim’s schedule involves flying out on 4th June, changing flights in Cairo and Johannesburg before arriving in Beira the next day. Staying Healthy takes place at Tariro on 8th June and the staff conference will be a few days later. Tim leaves Mozambique again on 17th June.
Please partner with us on this ministry trip by praying for:
safe travel, and making the right flight connections
the successful delivery of Staying Healthy
useful and constructive connections to arise from Staying Healthy
wisdom and anointing in counselling, advising and helping mission workers
God-given appointments we haven’t yet made
health, vitality and wisdom throughout the trip
clear communication with everyone!
We hope to bring you occasional updates via Facebook and Twitter during Tim’s visit. If you don’t already follow us, click on the link so you don’t miss out.
Tags: attrition, culture, long-term, Mozambique, stress, support, Syzygy, Tariro
Posted in Africa, cross-cultural, debriefing, Member care, missions support, stress and burnout, Syzygy | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on May 27th, 2013
Finding transport for a short visit to the UK can be one of the biggest headaches for mission workers. With a need to travel around the country to be reunited with friends and family, visit conferences and churches, often with equipment for presentations and personal luggage, public transport just doesn’t do the job. But it’s too expensive to rent a car for 6 to 8 weeks, not long enough to justify buying one, and even if somebody lends them a car, the cost of insuring it for just a few months can be prohibitive. What to do?
Syzygy has its own solution to this problem – we have our own car ministry. Our two cars – a Fiesta and a Galaxy – are loaned to mission workers for up to six months. There’s no insurance to arrange and the cars are delivered to the mission worker wherever they want them – even to the airport. All they have to do is get in and drive away, and if they are too tired to do that after a long flight, we’ll even drive them to their destination. You can read more about this ministry here.
Many mission workers coming from a variety of mission fields have testified to the fact that this ministry is a huge blessing to them, and that they could not have done their home assignment without it. The fact that over 40 people last year asked to borrow one of our cars indicates what an important service it is. It is our privilege to serve them in this way.
The costs of this ministry have increased significantly in recent years, largely due to the rising cost of insurance. The Fiesta costs Syzygy over £200/month to run and the Galaxy nearly £300. It has always been our hope to make this service available free of charge to mission workers, but in recent years we have been forced by these rising costs to ask them for donations to help with the running costs.
If more people became involved in supporting this work we would be able to reduce the amount that we ask mission workers to contribute. Is this something your church or youth group could be involved in and so have a practical impact on world mission? This could well be a way for your group to establish contact with mission workers for the first time. There is no lower limit (or upper limit!) on the amount raised as every pound will make a difference. Here are some examples of the sort of costs that we face. Could you or your church be inspired to meet one of them?
||Cost for the Fiesta
Cost for the Galaxy
|10 litres of fuel
|A pair of tyres
|One month’s insurance cover
|One month’s running costs
Will you help us to Keep a Missionary Mobile? You can give through our Everyclick account, at Give.net, or through Stewardship (if you have an account with them), or by sending a cheque Payable to Syzygy to 46 Wingate Close, Birmingham B30 1AA. If you would like a Gift Aid Form, or would like to set up a standing order to our bank account, please email email@example.com for the details.
Tags: attrition, car ministry, stress, support, technical
Posted in Member care, missions support, strategy, Syzygy | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on May 20th, 2013
Many mission workers slowly lose the capacity to perform well over time. The reasons for this are many but can include:
- the cumulative effects of living in a foreign culture
- long-term workplace stress
- toxic relationships with colleagues
- sense of isolation and lack of support
- the physical demands of living in a different climate
- spiritual stagnation resulting from years of giving out while not receiving.
These issues, like the proverbial frog in a pan of boiling water, can sneak up on us unawares and drain our vitality, our joy and our ability to serve God. We soldier on, not realising there’s a problem until one day we wake up and realise we just can’t go on any more. The result can be physical illness, long-term fatigue or burnout.
Sadly, Syzygy meets with too many people in this situation. If these issues remain untreated, they can even lead to psychological damage and loss of faith. The resulting attrition is toxic to individual servants of God and prejudicial to effective mission. We aim to prevent this happening.
Syzygy exists to help mission workers maintain themselves in peak condition to serve, and as part of this we have developed a one-day workshop designed to be delivered in-field to mission workers as a routine checkup. Staying Healthy for the Long Haul will look at core issues like our identity in Christ, and help us to understand what makes us tick. We will examine our motivations – which may in fact not be the ones we think they are! Equipped with a better understanding of ourselves, we will then consider the steps we can take to help us cope with stress more effectively, learn how to take care of ourselves better and make suitable changes to our lifestyle so that we become more resilient and able to continue serving effectively.
The first of these workshops will be delivered in central Mozambique on 8th June 2013 and is available free of charge to anyone working in overseas missions, whether they are serving as an independent mission worker or with an agency. If you would like to attend, and are able to get to Centro Tariro, which is 13km east of Gondola on the Beira Corridor, you are welcome to participate. It will run from 10:00 till 16:00 and a light lunch will be provided. We only ask that you register so that we know how many people to prepare for. To register, just click here and complete a simple form.
We hope to make this workshop available in other countries in the coming years. If you would like to host one, please get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The workshop is also suitable for delivery in the UK as part of home assignment retreats or briefings for new mission workers.
Tags: attrition, culture, Mozambique, stress
Posted in Africa, cross-cultural, Member care, missions support, stress and burnout, Syzygy | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on May 10th, 2013
There can be no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson, who announced his retirement from Manchester United last Wednesday after an incredible 27 seasons, is an extraordinary character. Love him or loathe him, it is impossible to deny his impact on MUFC and his achievement as the club’s most successful manager, despite many other great names having held the same position. He has won the Manager of the Year award more times than any other British manager. The news of his retirement hit news headlines and front pages, and the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson even did a prime time report analysing his qualities as a leader – ‘I’ve yet to see [a leader] to match Sir Alex’, he commented.
This is something that leaders in mission agencies might want to reflect on. Probably more flawed and controversial than many of us (how many of us have kicked a boot at one of our team members?!), Fergie nevertheless has a number of qualities we would do to emulate:
A long-term view. As well as staying in his post for an incredibly long time (he was MU manager before many of his current players were born!), he has also taken a long-term approach to team development. While the success of the team has often revolved around star players like Keane, Cantona, Ronaldo and Beckham, Fergie has always brought new players in to ensure a broad and deep skill base, even rebuilding the team when necessary. He recognises that his players are only with him for a few years, and he plans beyond that time frame.
Perseverence. It hasn’t always gone well. Some years have yielded no silverware at all, and there have been calls for his resignation, particularly in the early days. MUFC won nothing in his first three seasons, their best result being runner up in the league. But he remained focussed, and over time has delivered an unparalleled collection of trophies. Results are more often delivered over time than in the first few years.
Ability to manage volatile people. Let’s face it, most of his players are young, overpaid prima donnas. Many of them have personal issues, particularly with anger. They’re not ideal team players. Their egos can get in their way. Does that sound a bit like your team? Fergie didn’t change them – he channelled them. He gave them a vision of what they could achieve together and enabled them to raise their expectations above their own personal goals.
We should also take note that there are aspects of his character however that are completely incompatible with Christian mission. For example, his leadership style is utterly uncompromising – ‘My way or the highway’ – which while delivering excellent results does not always deliver good relationships. It is widely rumoured that many of his best players ultimately moved on because they didn’t like the changing room environment his iron hand created. But this did not seem to matter significantly to him, since there were always plenty of new players to replace them. As one member care agency comments – The Great Commission should not be fulfilled at the expense of the greatest commandment.
All of his success of course, has been achieved on the back of a massive investment budget which has turned Manchester United from a football team to a global brand. Maybe developing inward investment should be our first priority!
Whether we like Sir Alex or not, or follow his team, we would do well to study his leadership style and cherry pick the best of it. He understands how to motivate and inspire people.
Tags: football, leadership, management. Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United, Nick Robinson, UK
Posted in Europe, strategy, teamwork | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on May 6th, 2013
A happy landing? (Image: SXC)
Overseas mission workers need to be aware of developments in taxation which may affect you as a result of the publication of the Statutory Residence Test (SRT) which came into force on 6th April 2013 and is causing a lot of concern in the missions community. This is important as you may find yourself hit with a large income tax bill which you didn’t expect.
The SRT is an attempt to codify into law the various provisions and allowances which have grown up around whether you are considered to be resident in the UK or not. This is significant because UK residents are taxed on their global income, and non-residents only on their UK income. The new test may inadvertently catch out some mission workers who receive their income overseas but spend a lengthy time in the UK for home assignment, or to have a baby. This is because in previous years a rolling total of days in the UK was allowed before becoming automatically resident, so the calculation for residency was an average of more than 90 days per year over a four year period; now it is a total of more than 90 days in any given tax year.
The test has three parts:
- whether you are automatically non-resident;
- whether you are automatically resident;
- if neither of the above, whether you are resident or non-resident according to whether you have sufficient ties to the UK
The details of these are complicated, as you would expect. We’ve tried to simplify them for you, but make sure you read the provisions for yourself to check your situation. There are complicated definitions, and special provisions where a stay in the UK straddles two tax years. But in a nutshell, one tax advisor commented: “We feel that it is much easier to become unintentionally resident than before, and harder to cease residence again.”
How much will your visit cost you? (Image: SXC)
You are automatically non-resident if:
- you have lived and worked abroad for 2 years, and return to the UK every year for no more than 16 days; or
- you have lived and worked abroad for 4 years, and return to the UK every year for not more than 46 days; or
- you work full-time abroad and return to the UK for less than 91 days and the number of days on which you do more than 3 hours’ work in the UK is less than 31.
You are automatically resident if:
- you spend 183 days or more in the UK. This test is of vital significance for mission workers on home assignment for more than six months; or
- you have a home in the UK for a period of more than 90 days, and you are present in that home for at least 30 days, and you have no overseas home or an overseas home in which you spend more than 30 days.
To help you through this process, we have produced two flow charts helping you through the tests. Click on the links below to see a pdf.
Automatic overseas test Automatic UK test
These are not definitive and you should consult the HMRC website for yourself. You should take advice from your agency, or if you don’t have one, an accountant.
Our recommendations are that you investigate this situation thoroughly before you spend more than two weeks in the UK, keep records of when you travel to the UK and how many days you spend here, and a log of the amount of working hours you do each day and where you stay. Craziness!
The fundamental implication of all this is that we may be seeing the end of year-long home assignment (which is a trend already under way anyway). Anyone who does a home assignment of more than 90 days will clearly be resident and liable to UK taxation. This of course is no change from the current situation, but the formalisation of the rules will make it harder for agencies and individual mission workers to ‘forget’ them.
You can read the full text of the new provisions here: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/budget-updates/11dec12/stat-res-test-note.pdf.
Tags: home assignment, residence, UK
Posted in Europe, For Your Information, re-entry | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on April 29th, 2013
You’re probably already aware that the Genesis account of creation tells us that God rested on the seventh day, but have you realised that God actually blessed it, and made it ‘holy’ (Genesis 2:3)? God blessed humanity, and some of the animals too, but didn’t call us holy. So the seventh day is clearly something important.
Holy doesn’t necessarily mean sombre or sacred, it can also mean separate or special. The first thing God called special was a day off! That says something about the significance of taking a regular day off. You may know of the importance that the Jewish people have historically attached to their Sabbath, and while it has become somewhat rule-encrusted (as you will find if you ever go to Israel and get in a lift on the Sabbath – it stops on every floor so you don’t have to ‘work’ by pressing the button!) the traditional Jewish celebration of God, the Word and family is a good way to focus on what is really important in our lives. Many Christians who have followed their example and tried to avoid work, shopping, DIY and other leisure activities on the Sabbath have discovered the blessing of a complete day of rest.
Of course, many Christians in ministry are not able to take their Sabbath on Friday/Saturday/Sunday as they are often ministering in church. They may try to take a day off in lieu during the week, but this doesn’t always work so well as children are in school, colleagues who are still at work make phone calls, church members have needs and the general temptation to shop, catch up on emails or do the housework can eat away at that precious time with God and family.
Many of us, of course, believe that every day is Sabbath, in the sense that it is a day dedicated for serving God, but while it is true, this understanding has helped to undermine the sense of setting aside a day for stopping and restoring the soul. But this one day off a week, whenever we take it, is part of God’s plan to help us avoid becoming workaholics and burning out with constant striving. It is important to get rest. Recently I was involved in preparing the job description for my church’s new minister, and I wrote into it ‘You will take one complete day off each week’ because I believe that without stopping and recharging the batteries regularly, we can quickly run them down.
God, of course, did not need to recuperate from creating the entire universe. The Hebrew word Shabbat from which we get ‘Sabbath’ implies sitting, being still, or stopping. We might easily in modern language say ‘chill’. I can just imagine God and Adam, lying on recliners by a pond somewhere, having a drink together and chatting. Some gentle hanging out together. We should remember that Adam was created on the sixth day of the week, and on the seventh, like God, he chilled. Adam’s first day on the job was a day off! The result was that he started his work rested and refreshed. He didn’t need the Sabbath to recuperate from the previous week; he had it to prepare for the coming one.
Which is why our ministry works best if it flows from our place of rest rather than drives us to it.
Tags: Sabbath, stress
Posted in Devotional, Member care, stress and burnout | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on April 22nd, 2013
In his book Being Single (2005, Darton, Longman & Todd), Philip B Wilson makes the following statement based on his research:
For many Christians who are single, church is not a welcoming or a comforting place to be.
The same could be said of many sending agencies as well. Failure to nurture single mission workers can result in a cohort of lonely, unfulfilled and spiritually stagnating people who feel marginalised and who often believe the only answer to their unhappiness is to find the right life partner.
Given that many single people are destined to remain single for the rest of their lives (particularly women, who in most agencies and churches significantly outnumber the single men), any community which fails to affirm and accept singles risks hurting, stressing, alienating and possibly even rejecting a substantial part of its membership.
On behalf of single people everywhere, Syzygy has come up with a few suggestions to help both church and agency consider how they can promote wholeness for singles and avoid inadvertently creating a culture which assumes marriage is good and anything else is therefore bad. Here is our list of the top five dos and don’ts.
- Use the word ‘family’ indiscriminately, as in “We are a family church” or “We want to attract more families”. While church should be family in the widest possible sense (Luke 8:21), using the word too loosely can repel those who are not a happy part of a nuclear family. It is good to affirm families, but in doing take care so not to denigrate the rest of the church.
- Expect marriage to be the answer to every problem that single people have. It isn’t the answer to the problems of married people!
- Marginalise single people so that they are kept on the fringes of the community. They have as much right to belong as everyone else. Affirming them creates an environment in which all people can be valued.
- Assume that single people are lonely and unfulfilled until they ‘settle down’. Many of them have a vibrant relationship with God, a fulfilling career and ministry, a good social life and they are very happy in their singleness (Matthew 19:12).
- Matchmake without permission. Single people can be offended by the assumption that they must be in want of a partner, even if they’re not in possession of a good fortune. While matchmaking can be done out of care and compassion, it can communicate that you assume there is a deficiency in the life of a single person.
- Promote discipleship. The closer we all grow to God, the more we realise that our real fulfilment is found in loving and serving God, and not in finding the right partner.
- Pray that single people might be fulfilled in their singleness. We frequently pray for God’s blessing on couples and families, so why leave out the singles?
- Foster a caring, sharing community in which all people can develop meaningful relationships with others and nobody feels left out or uninvolved. Encourage people to look out for one another’s needs (Philippians 2:4).
- At significant seasonal events (e.g. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving) and on Sunday lunchtimes, encourage the community to open its doors to others rather than exclude them. Single people often find it really hard to go home after the joy of church fellowship to eat a ham sandwich by themselves.
- Welcome single people into leadership. Because singles are often thoughtlessly lumped in together with young people due to their assumed ‘interim’ state , their giftings and abilities can be overlooked and they are often used simply as drones who are there to provide a labour force.
Syzygy continues to blog about the needs of single people, not because their needs are greater than those of people in relationships, but because their needs are more likely to be overlooked and unmet. Syzygy is in the process of writing a book together with Dr Debbie Hawker which hopes to address these needs, and Tim is leading a retreat for single mission workers at Penhurst Retreat Centre in September. Click here for more details.
Tags: Church, Debbie Hawker, prayer, stress
Posted in For Your Information, Member care, Singles, stress and burnout | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on April 15th, 2013
A Huarani guide
I recently heard this story told by Elizabeth Elliot, the missionary and author:
Two young Americans with high adventure in their hearts arrived in the city of Quito, Ecuador on their way to the “Great Amazon Rain Forest” east of the Andes. They were going on a six weeks trek and planned to write a book about their experiences. They had every imaginable supply that they thought they might need for this adventure. They had been to an army surplus store before they left home and bought everything the salesman told them they would need.
They described their equipment to me with great pride and I could see that it was not going to be of much use. I wanted to tell them that what they ought to have was a guide, but they had asked only for help on the language and not for advice. So off they went, full of confidence. Perhaps they found their way all right, survived, and even wrote the book. I never heard from them again.
What we really ought to have is the Guide himself. Maps, road signs, equipment is useful, but infinitely better is someone who has been there before and knows the way…
Many of us spend a lot of our time sitting in meetings planning and strategising, While those activities are necessary, they are no substitute for following the Guide, listening to His advice, and going where He leads even when we can’t see why he’s going there.
Can we change the way we do our meetings? Instead of opening with a brief prayer for guidance and closing by asking God to bless our decisions, can we spend more time listening to God than we do to each other? You will recall that last week I reminded us that the famous missionary call of Barnabas and Saul came not when the church leaders were strategising but when they were worshipping. If we engage in God-focussed activities in our meetings, it will not be surprising if God participates in them.
The Lord is my Guide… He leads me in the right paths. Even when the going is tough, I am not afraid because He is with me.
Elizabeth Elliot is one of the foremost missionaries of her time. After spending many years working among the indigenous people of Ecuador, she became a renowned author and teacher. You can read more about her at www.elisabethelliot.org.
Tags: culture, Ecuador, Elizabeth Elliot, prayer, training
Posted in Devotional, Latin America | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on April 8th, 2013
During the week following Easter, Syzygy was represented at Spring Harvest by Tim, who was helping out in the Vocation Zone. This is a project run by Christian Vocations in partnership with Spring Harvest, which aims to help people recognise their God-given abilities and understand where they can exercise them appropriately, whether in the workplace, church or overseas mission.
A steady flow of visitors to Spring Harvest came through the Vocation Zone, many of them looking at vacancies in Christian organisations which were displayed on the jobs wall, taking home resources such as the Short Term Service Directory, or using the computers to do some of the reflective exercises. All these activities can lead to a discussion with an advisor (Paul, Tim and Rachel) who were available to help people think through issues and gain some focus for finding a way forward.
Many of the visitors to the Vocation Zone came because they were aware of dissatisfaction with their current role. A lot of them were teachers, frustrated with bureaucracy; others were people in dead-end jobs looking for more fulfilment, and many were facing redundancy.
One such visitor was a man who had been in the same job for 20 years and he didn’t like it. He wanted a change but didn’t know where to start. We started him off with some of our diagnostic tools. Having done a ‘career check up’ he had realised that his job wasn’t as bad as he had thought it was, and following a long conversation he discovered that he actually quite liked his job, but felt unsupported in it. Added to that, the general level of change and uncertainty in his life had left him emotionally unable to deal with the challenges he faced. Empowered by this understanding, he was able to develop a plan to engage better with his employers and develop his workplace skills.
Some of the visitors were people approaching retirement who were looking for ways to use their availability to serve God abroad, and a large number of the visitors were young people looking to do mission during their gap year. Using the Christian Vocations resources such as the magazine Mission Matters and the mission vacancies listings we were able to point many of them to the mission field, including several who’d never considered going abroad or had thought their circumstances made it impossible.
Vocation Zone is an important part of events like Spring Harvest as it gives a mission-focussed edge in the context of many thousands of Christians coming together. It is also at New Word Alive and Keswick, so make sure you drop by if you are ever at any of these events. Our friends at Oscar run a similar Missions Advice Area at New Wine. If you can’t get to any of these events, most of the resources are available online at www.christianvocations.org, and so are all the job vacancies, both in the UK and overseas. Please pray for the hundreds of people impacted by Vocation Zone each year.
Tags: Christian Vocations, Church, long-term, outreach, Short Term Mission, Spring Harvest, UK
Posted in Europe, Featured ministry, Missions Report | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on April 1st, 2013
Much effort goes into careful planning of mission, as we seek to determine God’s plan, we pray about who to send where, and we set up, train and support teams. Few would argue that this diligence is excessive, and we would be rather scornful of those who don’t plan carefully. We expect them to have all sorts of difficulties, and when they do, while we don’t rejoice we may have a smug ‘I-told-you-so’ moment.
Yet it seems that much mission does in fact happen by accident. I’m 20 years into my life as a mission worker, and I just intended to take a year out. I’m sure the same is true of many others. Noah was probably just getting on with his life when God made him a ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:5). Lot would appear on the surface to have been only interested in his cattle (Genesis 13:11-12) but he ended up being a missionary in Sodom (2 Peter 2:8 says he was a ‘righteous man tormented by their lawlessness’). One of the Bible’s most successful missionaries, Jonah, even tried to run away from his new calling.
In the New Testament, Philip was minding his own business when God sent him to tell an Ethiopian about Jesus (Acts 8:26), and Peter was on a ministry trip visiting the church in Joppa when he was invited to preach to a Roman centurion (Acts 11). Barnabas and Saul were in a worship meeting when they were spontaneously sent (Acts 13:2). Paul and his friends had to walk through Turkey trying out various options before they realised where they were supposed to be working (Acts 16:6-10). And in the modern era, many of our famous mission workers didn’t end up where they thought they were going to be, or just went, like Jackie Pullinger, on the prompting of the Holy Spirit and got on with it when they arrived.
The point I am making is that (to paraphrase John Lennon) mission is what happens while you’re busy planning your mission. Mission is how we deal with the people we sit next to on the train on the way to our mission meeting, or the people who want to talk to us when we are too busy planning. Mission can take place in a variety of settings. While you are sitting all day in a government office waiting for the man with the key to return from a funeral, are you just getting frustrated or is this God’s way of using you to be a witness to those around you? When you are kidnapped, has your mission been derailed, or merely diverted? Is this God’s plan for you to be a witness?
Mission is taking the opportunity to reach out to people wherever and whenever we are and all it requires is for us to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to prompt us (like Philip in Acts 8:26) and to be ready to tell our story (1 Peter 3:15). It often happens spontaneously and unplanned, or so it appears to us, but in all those scriptural examples above, God was at work and it was all part of his plan. It just wasn’t part of the people’s plans. This is the essence of Mission Dei – that God is already reaching out to the lost and graciously allows us to help .
So when we are making plans for our mission, it’s worth remembering Proverbs 16:9 – We make our own plans, but the Lord decides where we will go.
Tags: Jackie Pullinger, Mission Dei, prayer, training
Posted in Evangelism, strategy | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on March 25th, 2013
One of the ongoing challenges for mission workers is the need to ensure spiritual input. One of the major reasons for burnout is that we continually give out at a faster rate than we take in. So we need to make sure we have ample access to good quality teaching.
There is an extent to which, due to isolation or security needs, some mission workers can’t meet together easily for Bible study, and the local churches in which we minister are not always geared to meeting our needs. But the internet makes good resources much more accessible than the days when our churches used to post us cassettes of the sermons. One such benefit is the podcast, which can vary in length from five minutes to over an hour, and is an easily accessible resource that can be used in a variety of contexts: while setting aside time for study, or travelling, jogging – even on a flight.
Many churches now put their sermons out as podcasts, and even if the quality is not always consistent, it does have the benefit of keeping you in touch with what’s going on in your sending church. But you can get them from other churches as well. You might like to try, for example, Holy Trinity Brompton, Mars Hill, Gold Hill Baptist Church, Saddleback Church, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, or Willow Creek.
Some famous speakers podcast regularly, sometimes even daily, though the quality of these can be variable. Try out Mark Driscoll, Joyce Meyer, N T Wright, Max Lucado, David Pawson or (from beyond the grave!) Derek Prince. Even classics such as My Utmost for his Highest and The Practice of the Presence of God are available as a podcast.
Other organisations such as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable programme and Christianity magazine also have regular and thought-provoking podcasts, and Member Care Media, which we have highlighted before, issues daily podcasts aimed specifically at the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of overseas mission workers.
Individual podcasts can be downloaded from the website appropriate to your preferred church or speaker (as linked above), but it’s a lot easier to subscribe to them through iTunes, or go to One Place, a Christian resource for bringing lots of Christian teaching resources together online. You can download podcasts to your computer or phone, and though for some people download speeds at home are often a challenge, you can get round this by going to an internet café or office where they may have a better service. If you’re in a country where you need to think about security, make sure you regularly alternate between different cafés.
There are of course many more online resources such as Bibles, commentaries and guides, sermon resources, audio books and devotionals, and Oscar has a full list of these.
Tags: CANs, mobile phone, podcast, social media, technical
Posted in Devotional, Member care, Tech notes | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on March 18th, 2013
Much confusion lies around the right of British overseas mission workers to access NHS services when they are back in the UK for a short visit. Since most of us serving God abroad are not wealthy, this is of vital significance (perhaps literally) since we do not have the resources to pay for private treatment. The general rule is that British citizens who live abroad are not allowed free use of NHS services unless they have been in the UK for 12 months. BUT there is a specific exemption for mission workers. Click here for further information from a booklet by the Department of Health and read regulation 20 on page 42.
People acting as Missionaries (i.e. doing religious and social work) overseas for an organisation principally based in the United Kingdom, regardless of whether they are drawing a salary or wage or receiving any kind of funding or financial assistance from that organisation, are exempt from charges.
This booklet also makes it clear that the spouse and children of such a person are also exempt, even if travelling to Britain independently.
However, many providers of NHS services are not aware of this exemption, so it would be worth your while printing a copy of this page out and taking it with you when you visit the doctor or hospital. You should also take a letter from your agency confirming that you are a mission worker. If you do not have an agency, try taking a letter from your church instead.
The Department of Health booklet also talks on page 60 about accessing GP services, for which there is no minimum residency requirement. Rather than trying to find a new GP who doesn’t know you, try if you can to see a family doctor with whom you already have a relationship. GPs who have been seeing patients for a number of years are often willing to keep them on the books even when they move abroad.
Stewardship has a very clear and helpful briefing paper about this. Our ever-dependable friends at Oscar have a very informative article by Richard Kellow about what can go wrong if you are honest enough to tell your healthcare provider that you have not been resident in the UK for the last 12 months, but as you read it be aware that the regulations have changed since he wrote it, and there is an update beneath it. Oscar also have a draft generic exemption letter on their medical advice page.
Tags: healthcare, NHS, Oscar, Stewardship, UK
Posted in Europe, For Your Information | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on March 11th, 2013
The Wilderness of Judea
The Synoptic Gospels all record that Jesus went out into the desert and spent 40 days there in prayer and fasting prior to the commencement of his ministry. That is a significant retreat, but going into the desert was not an uncommon thing to do in his day – John the Baptist had lived in the desert, and various Jewish monastic communities thrived there. Later on, Christian ascetics would move there, and eventually many Christian monasteries started.
The desert is a place of transformation. It represents the end of human existence. Hunger and thirst, heat and cold render it inhospitable to humans, and the existence there of wild animals and outlaws makes it dangerous. Yet here at the extremity of human survival, we meet God. Both Moses (Exodus 3) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) had powerful experiences of God in the desert which equipped them for future ministry.
But why go into such a place where survival is difficult? What drew them there? Surely it’s about more than just getting away from it all?
For the ancient Israelites, their first corporate experience was in the desert, and as they wrote their Scripture and told their stories that experience embedded itself in their cultural assumptions. Yes it was dangerous – “were there not enough graves in Egypt?” they asked Moses (Exodus 14:11) – but in their extremity, they met God.
Water from the rock
In the desert God provided them with food, water, protection and guidance. With their human existence hanging by a thread, they learned that with God, the desert is a safe place. Most significantly, it was in the desert that they heard the voice of God (Deuteronomy 4:22-27). It is not a coincidence that one of the Hebrew words for desert – midbar – can also be translated “He speaks”.
Today we don’t need to go into the desert to meet God. We can meet God anywhere. When we are at the end of our human endeavour, God provides. When we have run out of strength in battling our human nature: controlling our tongue, managing our sex drive, mastering our temper – whatever our personal challenge is, that’s when we can turn to the grace of God to help us. Perhaps that’s one meaning of Jesus’ teaching “If anyone wants to follow me, let him take up his cross…” (Luke 9:23). It’s when we finally admit we can’t make ourselves better people, or do a better job, and allow the Holy Spirit’s transforming power into our lives instead.
In my experience, too many cross-cultural mission workers are trying too hard to do more than they can or to be someone they’re not. It drives many of us to burnout as we reach the limit of our ability to keep on striving. That’s when we need to abandon ourselves to God to care for us. We need to stop gritting our teeth and carrying on, and start letting God work in us and through us. We need to let go of the illusion of strength and competence we project around us, and allow God to move through our brokenness and vulnerability.
The Spring of En-Gedi
The Gospels record that Jesus was in the habit of regularly going off by himself to pray. That’s how he expressed his total dependence on the Father to teach him what to say (John 8:28) and show him what to do (John 5:19). His entire ministry flowed from this dependence. It is a ministry model we would do well to implement for ourselves. We can’t always make the time to get away for an extended retreat, but we can take steps to do a retreat in daily life, and I’ll detail some of these in a future blog.
It is thought that David wrote Psalm 23 while hiding from Saul at the spring of En-Gedi, in the Judean wilderness. It is a beautiful, refreshing stream in the desert (Isaiah 35:6). Only when we are in the middle of the wilderness will we truly appreciate how God “leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3)
Tags: desert, John the Baptist, King David, retreat, stress
Posted in Devotional, stress and burnout | 2 Comments »
Posted by Tim on March 4th, 2013
After three years of doing regular blogs about missions, often with a particular emphasis on stress, I am amazed to realise that I have not yet specifically blogged about that most vital of tools – debriefing. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in passing but that is in no way sufficient considering the significance of this powerful resource to help combat stress and culture shock in the life of the overseas mission worker.
Debriefing is the act of sitting down with a facilitator to reflect on past experiences and how we feel about them. During the course of a mission trip, whether short or long-term, each mission worker undergoes new experiences (many of which are challenging or even dangerous) and comes into contact with new sensations, many of which may not be at all pleasant. These challenges may well be repeated differently at the various stages of our experience: leaving home, arriving in a foreign country, changing assignment, moving to another part of the country and returning ‘home’ all require repeated adjustments to change. While we stoically cope with all these challenges, each one contributes to the general level of stress we feel, and can create an inability to cope with more change and deal with relationship challenges responsibly.
To have the opportunity to reflect on what we found different, how we felt about it, and how that continues to impact our ideas and feelings helps us process our thoughts and emotions so that we are more aware of what’s going on inside us. It helps us to recognise that the occasional tearful or angry outburst, or an inner deadness can be perfectly normal in some circumstances. In the process of doing a debrief, which can take a few hours or several days depending on the complexity of the issues involved, we have the opportunity to restore a sense of balance and inner peace.
Debriefing is rather like dealing with a drawer which is so full of stuffed-in jumpers that it won’t close neatly any more. Often we just shove our emotional responses down inside us, but there comes a time when we can’t deal with any more, and that can lead to emotional breakdown. To tidy out the drawer, we take out every jumper, decide whether we want to keep it or not, and if we do, we fold it up neatly and put it back. Then the drawer will shut properly. The debriefer asks questions of the mission worker, which helps him or her identify and evaluate their feelings and decide what to do with them.
Proper debriefing can be vital to the long-term inner health of the mission worker. Debriefing has been linked to improved resilience and decreased mission attrition (Kelly O’Donnell, Global Member Care). Regular and appropriate debriefing can keep mission workers in peak condition, but it is also possible that failure to provide proper debriefing, particularly after a traumatic incident like a serious car accident or a hostage situation, can lead to long-term emotional damage and even loss of faith.
Syzygy recommends that all overseas mission workers make sure they have debriefs on every home assignment. Ideally, it should be about 6-8 weeks after getting back. This is the time when the initial joy of being reunited with friends and family is beginning to wear off and the challenge of reverse culture shock is beginning to bite. It should take place in familiar surroundings if possible, and involve everyone who has been part of the mission experience – including the children, who sadly often get overlooked.
If your sending agency or church does not provide this for you, we are very happy to provide you with a debrief, with their agreement. We specialise in providing this service for independent mission workers who do not have an agency and perhaps have not yet realised how much they need debriefing. We conduct our debriefings at a time and place that is convenient to you in order to minimise the impact or travel and strange surroundings on your experience. Please contact email@example.com for further information.
Tags: attrition, Church, Kelly O'Donnell, long-term, Short Term Mission, support
Posted in debriefing, stress and burnout | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on February 25th, 2013
Is this the future for Middle Eastern churches?
Two years on from the outbreak of the Arab Spring, it’s worth pausing to take stock of what has happened so far, particularly since recent the military conflict in Mali against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the ongoing civil war in Syria have drawn attention to the region once again.
Readers will recall that early in 2011 a democratic uprising in Tunisia, largely facilitated by the use of social media in organising, communicating and publicising, triggered a number of popular uprisings in the Near East/Middle East/North Africa (NEMENA) region. Since then, not a single county in the region has been unaffected by some form of protest, and the ongoing conflicts continue to destabilise the entire region and threaten to spill over into west and central Africa, the Caucasus and central Asia. Several countries have experienced major unrest and the results have been mixed – certainly not the democratic success that liberals were hoping for! Here’s how they stack up:
Successful change of government: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen
Top down change in response to the uprising: Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia
Civil war: Libya, Mali, Syria
Authoritarian crackdown: Bahrain
The key questions for us at Syzygy are not so much about the politics but about the impact of these disturbances on a) Christian mission and b) the national church. It should be remembered that most of the countries in the NEMENA region were not particularly hospitable to Christians before the Arab Spring, and many of them had no significant Christian population. Overt Christian mission was not possible in any of these countries.
The breakdown of law and order in the Arab Spring uprisings caused many mission agencies to withdraw their teams from most countries in the region in 2011. The risks of becoming inadvertently caught up in the conflict, or of being specifically targeted by extremists were considered too great. In many of these countries the overseas mission workers have still not returned, or if they have, their actions are hampered by the need to take security seriously. This has an impact not only on their Christian witness, but on the vital humanitarian and development work they have been doing.
The prospects for the national church have been even worse. The possibility of Sharia law being introduced (in Egypt for example) is a major threat to their ability to meet together openly and have their minority rights protected. In the event of civil war the Christians are more vulnerable because often they are not able to rely on support from a wide family network (who may have ostracised them), or because they may be seen as covert allies of western democracies whose influence is opposed by Islamic extremists. In Syria, where the minority Alawite regime has in the past been reasonably tolerant of Christians because they too were a minority, the rebels can even see the Christians as the enemy, particularly as they have not taken sides in the war. There is nobody to protect the believers from extremists who want to lynch them and burn down their buildings.
Here are some recent headlines about what is still happening to the suffering church in the region:
- Church burned, Christians stoned by Egyptian villagers (17th February)
- Christians sentenced for (allegedly) proselytising in Algeria (13th February)
- Christians in Sudan face victimisation by the Government (12th February)
- Internally-displaced Christians in Mali face starvation (11th February)
- Iraqi Patriarch claims Arab Spring resulting in bloodshed (9th February)
- 200,000 Syrian Christians have been displaced by war (1st February)
Yet God continues to do amazing things throughout the region. There are reports of miraculous protection of Christians and church buildings. Many people are finding Christ through the internet, or satellite tv and radio broadcasts. We reported last year on ‘The Beautiful One’ who meets people in their dreams. Nevertheless, as we observed on this website in 2011, these are precarious times for the church throughout the NEMENA region.
- Pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters, that their faith will be strengthened and they will be comforted in their suffering.
- Pray that mission workers will feel assured of God’s protection, have wisdom in avoiding detection, and be able to get on with their ministries unencumbered.
- Pray that revival will break out as people commit their lives to ‘The Beautiful One’.
- Donate to Christian relief agencies providing humanitarian aid in the region.
Tags: Algeria, Arab Spring, Egypt, extremism, Iraq, local believers, Mali, social media, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia
Posted in Africa, Central Asia, For Your Information, Middle East, Suffering church | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on February 18th, 2013
I once heard a story about a colonial expedition into the African interior. On the first day, they made excellent progress through the forest. By the end of the second day, they had travelled much further than they had expected. But when the third day dawned, the African porters steadfastly refused to move. No amount of cajoling or beating from the European leaders could change their minds. “We have travelled a long way from home,” they explained. “And we are waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”
Whether this story is true or not, it deserves to be. It is true that our souls cannot travel as fast as our bodies do, and we ignore this truth at our peril. One of the reasons so many mission workers suffer from fatigue, burnout and breakdown is that we don’t plan in regular times to stop and wait for our souls to catch up. Tony Horsfall, himself a veteran mission worker who is now a celebrated author and speaker, learned this the hard way, as have many of us who have suffered burnout in one way or another.
Tony uses his own experience to encourage us to slow down and wait for our souls to catch up. Using the story of Jesus sitting alone by a Samaritan well, he points out the importance of regular rest in our lives, as exemplified by our Lord, whose frequent breaks from ministry for rest and prayer enabled him to cope with extraordinary demands on him. Tony invites us to
Come and sit by the well for a while. Take some time out to reflect on how you are living and working. Watch Jesus and see how he does it. Listen to what the Spirit may be saying to you deep within, at the centre of your being; and maybe, just maybe, God will give you some insights that will change your life and sustain your ministry over the long haul.
Working from a place of rest is well-written and easy to read, with short chapters that don’t weigh you down. But the content is not light, as Tony covers such issues as The Discipline of Stopping, Remember the Sabbath and Drinking from the Well. This book can help us discern what God wants us to say “yes” to, and when to say “no”; it can help us learn to build margin into our lives so that we work from a place of rest.
I wish I had been familiar with the concepts in this book before my health broke down and took me out of my overseas ministry early. This book is a must-read for all mission workers who think they are too busy to stop and rest, and particularly for those who don’t think they need to.
Working from a place of rest is available online from its publisher BRF for just £6.99, as well as Christian bookshops and online retailers.
Tags: stress, Tony Horsfall
Posted in Book review, Devotional, Member care, stress and burnout | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on February 11th, 2013
There has been much paper expended over the years on how to be a good leader, and it’s an important subject. Without secure, conscientious, compassionate, visionary leaders, our churches and agencies can easily become stressed, fractured and ineffective. But even the best leaders cannot lead an effective ministry without good followers, and since most of us are destined to remain followers rather than become leaders, it’s good to put some time into discovering how to be good followers rather working on developing leadership potential which may only end in frustration.
Being a good follower used to be equated with not rocking the boat, doing what you were told and not speaking out, but I suspect this definition was peddled by insecure leaders who interpreted every query as a challenge to their personal authority and slapped such ‘rebels’ down hard. These days the leader/follower relationship is a lot more complex and subtle, with less power being wielded and mentoring and envisioning the order of the day. So what key values do the followers need to develop in themselves in order to excel at it?
Serve leaders as God’s anointed people. As mission workers, we often talk about working for God, but then don’t accept the people he appoints as our supervisors. If they’re his representatives, we should honour them as such (Colossians 3:22-24). Although that verse technically refers to slaves, it makes the point that inward obedience to those in authority is a godly attitude.
Don’t complain about the problem without being willing to be part of the solution. We’ve all heard this before, but from a leader’s perspective it’s so much harder to work with someone who says “This isn’t working” than someone who says “I’ve got an idea for how this could work better.” That person becomes a co-worker rather than a critic.
Following is not transactional. Too many of us make our following conditional: we follow if we agree. The Bible doesn’t make a case for blind obedience to godless or foolish commands (Daniel 6:10) but it does make it clear that we should obey and submit to leaders (Hebrews 13:7) and respect them (1 Thessalonians 5:12). The minute we start thinking “I’ll be a good follower when he’s a good leader” we have stepped outside our God-given brief as followers
Being honest is not being rebellious, but the context and manner of our honesty can be. There are inevitably going to be times when we disagree, but we can handle it well. If you feel with all integrity you have a harsh challenge to make, do it in private like Nathan did to David (2 Samuel 12:7). David’s response could have been ferocious, but he knew Nathan’s love and support for him despite the fierce rebuke.
Leaders need prayer. It’s easy to believe we’d do a better job than our leaders, but how many of us actually help them to a better job? Yet as the most prominent members of the community, they have to cope with pressure, demands and spiritual attack (2 Corinthians 11:27-29). Praying for them helps them (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Buy into a bigger vision than your own personal one. If you’re going to be an effective follower, you sometimes have to subordinate your own plans to those of the leader. For 40 years in the wilderness Caleb dreamed of owning the land he had seen when as a spy he had sneaked into Canaan, but he didn’t make a rush for it as soon as the invasion started. He waited a further five years until the invasion was over before he asked for it. He had helped secure other people’s inheritance before he gained his own. (Joshua 14:6-15)
If you have to leave, you leave alone. There may come a time when it’s right to leave, but that doesn’t mean leading a rebellion. When David had to leave Saul’s court for the sake of his life, he didn’t take his friends with him or make an announcement, he just quietly slipped away. (1 Samuel 19:11-18)
Much effort has gone into analysing the leadership style of Jesus, and devising universal rules of management from the results. Yet the management gurus always overlook the fact that Jesus, too, was a follower. The perceptive centurion observed that Jesus was a man ‘under authority’ (Matthew 8:9), and Jesus said he didn’t come to do his own will, but the will of ‘him who sent me’ (John 5:30). He even said he didn’t speak on his own initiative (John 12:49).
The more closely we follow in the footsteps of the world’s greatest follower, the more we will become better followers of God, and the leaders he appoints over us.
In a future blog we will discuss how to act righteously when dealing with a destructive of manipulative leader.
Tags: following, King David, prayer
Posted in strategy, teamwork | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on February 4th, 2013
When planning to serve God abroad, one of the decisions we have to make is what to do with our houses. Many of us let them out, either commercially or to friends, and the principal advantage of this is that we have somewhere to come back to, when (and if) we retire. It can also double as a source of income, and somewhere to keep our furniture and other personal belongings. However, there are also plenty of drawbacks to letting out our homes. Lengthy periods without a tenant, or tenants who fail to pay the rent or abuse the property are some of the most obvious, but there are many other pitfalls.
We have discovered that most sending agencies and churches decline to give advice about letting one’s house out, since they are reluctant to be seen to be giving financial advice. So we have produced this blog as a guide to some of the challenges involved in letting out property while you are abroad. It is important to stress that this is not advice on what decisions to make, and you should consult professional advisers where appropriate. A fuller version of this blog can be found on our briefing papers page.
Issues concerning tenants: you may need to think about the type of tenants you want to attract. Do you want long- or short-term tenants? Professionals? Students? Do you let the house furnished, in which case your furniture can be damaged – I heard of a tenant who threw away a mission worker’s dining table because she didn’t like it, and left the sofa in the garden! If you let it unfurnished, where do you store your furniture?
Financial issues: one challenge may be getting a mortgage, particularly as you may not have a regular stream of income so lenders may be reluctant to take on your risk. A buy-to-let mortgage may solve this, but may be more expensive. An Independent Financial Advisor can help you with this. If you already have a mortgage, you should check that by letting you’re not invalidating the terms of your mortgage. You also need to recognise that part of the risk of renting is having periods when you have no tenant.
Agent issues: if you engage a professional agent to administer your letting for you, be aware that a commission of 10-17% of the rent may actually cream off all your profits. They may also charge you high fees for sending out plumbers or decorators. But they do have insurance, and knowledge of the legal situation which can be a minefield. Leaving this responsibility to a busy sibling or elderly parent may be a heavy burden.
Maintenance issues: looking after your property becomes harder when you are overseas. Little repairs which you would normally do yourself will have your tenants calling out a professional who may charge you a significant fee. How are you going to maintain the garden? Expect the tenants to do it? Pay for a professional gardener? Replace it with low maintenance shrubs?
Tax issues: You will be liable to pay tax on the rental income you get, although you can claim your legitimate expenses as tax deductible. Under HMRC’s Non-Resident Landlord Scheme, agents are normally required to pass on rent net of basic rate income tax, but if you are living abroad with little likelihood of having to pay UK tax, then you may apply for your rent to be passed on gross. A qualified accountant can help you with this.
Legal issues: Lessors are responsible for health & safety compliance, and failure to do so is a criminal offence which can result in a prison sentence and/or a substantial fine. And that’s only for non-compliance.
And finally: Don’t become emotionally involved with your property; no one will look after it as well as their own home; so don’t be upset with the state of the property at the end of the tenancy.
In conclusion: when letting your house out, our recommendations are that you should consider:
- consulting an Independent Financial Advisor for help getting the right mortgage. You can find a list of IFAs here
- engaging a reputable agent and having a formal tenancy agreement with your tenant
- using a chartered accountant to prepare your tax return
- having a solicitor briefed to help you in an emergency
- opening a savings account with 6 months mortgage payments
- checking out various ‘moving house’ related services at Oscar
Syzygy would like to acknowledge the help of Mike Frith of Oscar and letting agent Chris Scupham in producing this paper. For more specific information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Finance, UK
Posted in Europe, For Your Information | No Comments »