Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

There is one small but significant word which is often overlooked when reading – and preaching – on the story of the Good Samaritan: ‘down’.  In Luke 10:30 Jesus makes it perfectly clear which way the traveller was going: down.  ‘Down’ is repeated in verse 31 – the priest was going down the road too.

This does not immediately come to the attention of English speakers since we customarily use the expression ‘down the road’ to mean ‘along’.  But in this instance it is topographically specific: ‘down from Jerusalem to Jericho’.  And that road is indeed a downward route, which drops over a kilometre from 754 metres above sea level to 258 feet below.

Yet it is not the topography which is the point being made in the specific use of the word ‘down’, it is the spiritual implications.  Why were the priest, and by inference the Levite too, going down?  At that time, it was common for many of the priests to live in Jericho, with its abundant water supply, warmer climate and good supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, than in Jerusalem.  They would go up and stay in Jerusalem while it was their turn to serve in the temple, and then return home.  So these two had just finished whatever their ministry called for them to do, and were returning to their ‘normal’ life.  They were off duty.

The unspoken criticism of them is that their religious activity had not had any impact on their relationship with their fellow human beings.  They should have had compassion, but it took an outsider who wouldn’t even have gone to the temple to show them how to live with compassion on those less fortunate.  And ‘compassion’, in Biblical usage, does not mean the bland sense of “oh, what a shame” that it conveys in contemporary English, but means “to be gutwrenched”, so eaten up with feeling that we get a physical response to what we see and hear.

This speaks to those of us who find beggars coming to our church premises, or trip over the homeless sleeping under the lych-gate.  If our relationship with God counts for anything, it should be working itself out in our compassion for the needy.

And so it does, in many cases.  Churches are largely the impetus behind food banks in this country.  Many people working for overseas development agencies are Christians.  Many of those agencies have Christian roots.  And many of us give sacrificially to these agencies, making up the lion’s share of emergency donations in the UK.

But we can easily become weary of doing good.  Particularly when it hits closer to home.  How compassionate am I when a homeless person starts sleeping in the lobby of my block of flats?  How much do we care about the plight of Syrian refugees if compassion means Britain letting into our country hundreds of thousands of them like Germany has done, and having to build more homes, schools and hospitals (at taxpayer expense)?  When push comes to shove, our compassion hardens.

Next week, we’ll be looking at some Christian responses to the current refugee crisis, but in the meantime let us remind ourselves of the words of St Paul:

Let us not grow weary of doing good.

(2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

This term was used recently in a discussion by a colleague reflecting on how many mission workers return to the UK, whether permanently or short-term, with serious emotional or spiritual damage.  It may be somewhat overstated but nevertheless expressed well what many of us working in member care see regularly.  Quite apart from the normal stresses of living cross-culturally, many of these people had been victims of their own organisations and leadership.  Incompetence, error and even malpractice are far too prevalent in the senior echelons.

We at Syzygy are not happy to highlight the weaknesses we come across in churches and agencies, or the personal shortcomings of some of their leadership, but we come across this sort of situation quite frequently and from time to time we feel the need to bring it to peoples’ attention.  When mission workers are harmed by their own people/organisations, something is desperately wrong.  It is not honouring to God, it’s not loving to our brothers and sisters in Christ, not a good witness to the people we are working with, and it’s not a sensible way to treat what we all acknowledge is an extremely limited and valuable resource – our people.

So why does this happen?  We have already blogged about the fact that many leaders feel pushed into a role they’re not ready for, with the result that they either abdicate responsibility or become dictatorial in enforcing their authority.  Add into this the pressures of increasing age, the cross-cultural stress which most people in a mission environment work under, the shortage of finance and personnel in most agencies, and unrealistic demands of supporters and sending churches, contribute some compassion fatigue and some cross-cultural exhaustion, and the result can be a number of people who are not really fit to be on the field themselves let alone be in a position of managing others.

So what can we do about it?  Here are some suggestions from Syzygy’s own experience:

Specific training for leaders.  We suspect that few mission workers ever have the opportunity for personal development as they transition into a new role.  Professional training on such topics as managing people, communication skills and understanding team roles would be an appropriate part of such a package, as well as specific training on areas where new leaders self-identify as vulnerable.

Mentoring for leaders.  Leadership can be a lonely place.  There are issues you can’t talk about with your friends, and decisions you have to take alone.  Many leaders are aware they are struggling but have nobody they can honestly talk to about it: they may well be afraid that their church or agency will terminate their support if they think they can’t handle the pressure.  So facilitating somebody from outside the organisation to be an independent mentor for each leader would be a big step forward.

Downsize the agency.  Many agencies believe in perpetual growth, and to be honest there is always more work we can do.  But just because there is a need we don’t have to meet it ourselves.  Rationalising what we do, withdrawing from some areas or ministries, and reducing the number of team members may all be good responses to an overworked leadership.

Encourage better self-care.  No matter how busy leaders are, time when the phone is switched off, families relax together, people can go on holiday or retreat, or engage in hobbies is always worthwhile.

Provide better member care.  Member care in some areas is still unreliable.  More people with a pastoral role focussed towards the mission workers will help keep self-c are on the agenda.

Syzygy provides support for mission workers and agencies in all these areas.  For a totally confidential discussion email us on info@syzygy.org.uk.

William CareyWilliam Carey was a poor Northamptonshire shoemaker who is better known today as the ‘father of modern missions’.  Despite his humble origins he was an intelligent though uneducated man, who taught himself several languages, acquired skills as a craftsman, and became a schoolmaster and a Baptist minister by the time he was 25.

His studies lead to him becoming convinced that the mandate to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20) was binding not merely on the original 11 but on all subsequent disciples of Jesus.  In support of this argument he published in 1792 his influential essay An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, a powerful apologetic which challenged the received wisdom that God was perfectly capable of saving unbelievers without the help of his followers.  This discussion led to the foundation of a mission society which later became BMS World Mission.

Despite his bad health, low social standing, and rejection by the British authorities in Calcutta which forced him to move inland to live and work in a Danish colony, he was a determined plodder who achieved a great deal simply by working hard and keeping going.  Yet he was also a man of faith, and his maxim “Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God.” continues to be popular.

Many of the attitudes and values pioneered in the mission field by Carey have formed the bedrock of missionary practice over the last two centuries, such as:

  • Campaigning against cultural practices that harm people such as the caste system, suttee and child sacrifice;
  • Establishing educational establishments to help people out of poverty;
  • Language and culture acquisition as a means to sharing the gospel in a relevant way;
  • Bible translation and printing as a means of propagating the word of God;
  • Promoting agricultural development to improve people’s quality of life.

However, one practice of Carey’s which has remained largely unemulated by subsequent generations of mission workers is his willingness to support himself financially.  Carey worked for a living, earning money from planting indigo while also translating the Bible into a number of Asian languages for the first time.  The practice of mission workers taking employment to support themselves is only recently taking off again.

Hard-working and modest, one of Carey’s actions towards the end of his life indicates the quality of his character.  When disputes within the mission he had founded proved to be irreconcilable, rather than become dictatorial and contend with those who disagreed with him, he walked away, leaving the mission and continuing his work independently.

Among his great legacy to the world of missions, one that stands out is the words that he and some friends wrote together in the founding statement of their mission society.  They echo his wholehearted service for God and stand as a challenge to the values of mission workers to this day:

 “Let us give unreservedly to this glorious cause.  Let us never think that our time, or gifts, our strength, our families or even the clothes we wear are our own.”

WWL

Last week Open Doors published its influential World Watch List, in which it rates countries according to the degree of religious persecution.  Many of these come as no surprise, as once again North Korea tops the list.  But the news which gives most cause for concern is that the frequency and severity of persecution is clearly increasing.  For example, in 2013 the 50th country on the list scored 35 points.  This year, the 50th country had 53 points.  And frequently the reason that some countries are dropping down the list is not that conditions there are getting better, but that persecution is growing even faster in other countries.

This reminds us that despite what we might feel in the relatively secure West, the world as a whole is not a safe place to be a Christian.  The ongoing threat from global terrorism, dictatorial nationalism and religious extremism not only from ISIS and Boko Haram but also in, for example, India, reminds us that the unprecedented levels of comfort and safety that the West experiences is not shared either by the global church or the historical church.  For much of the church’s history, persecution has been the norm.

Persecution has even been seen as evidence that our faith is genuine – the world hates us because it hated our Lord (John 15:18-21).  In this passage Jesus said that the reason people persecute Christians is that they do not know the One who sent him.  Our response therefore, as well as supporting the oppressed and campaigning to protect them, should also be to strive to make sure that the persecutors really do get to know the One who sent Jesus.

You can read a summary of the report, order your copy of the World Watch List and find out how to pray for persecuted Christians by clicking here.  And remember:

There isn’t a persecuted church and a free church –

there is one church.

I was very busy, and I fell into the trap of thinking that my good works were more important than prayer.

This quote from Joseph Bernardin’s book The Gift of Peace does not need much elaboration, so this will be a short blog.  As we are still close to the start of a new year, we invite all our readers to reflect on this simple wisdom and review their own work/prayer balance.

God does not actually need workers.  He has angels to do his bidding.  He can speak and miracles occur.  He can self-reveal to unbelievers in dreams.  But God graciously chooses to partner with us so that we can be a small part of his governing the universe.

That partnership is not one of empowering us as independent agents to go off and work by ourselves in God’s name.  It is a partnership which calls us to share, participate, commune, together with God.  And we do that through prayer.

Syzygy is spending more and more time in prayer, for our own work, for God to send (and equip and sustain) more workers to bring in the harvest, and to intercede for mission workers.  Please join with us in this effort by sending us your prayer letters and becoming part of our prayer network.

My garden - afterMany years ago, before I worked for Syzygy, I worked as a gardener.  I learned all about plants, how to nurture and care for them, know the right place to plant them, and how to protect them from harm and help them thrive.  Careful preparation and nurturing led my plants to thrive and I designed and built beautiful gardens.

Since leaving that behind and working instead with mission workers, I have come to the conclusion that mission workers are rather similar to the plants.  They need careful preparation.  They need to be put in the right location for them to thrive.  They need protection and support – and occasional pruning so that they can produce more fruit!

One mistake that uninformed gardeners can make when growing trees is to stake them too firmly.  Aware of the possibility that strong winds might blow an immature tree over, gardeners can be tempted to tie their trees up so tightly that they can’t even move.  Which leads to a problem: the trees never need to develop sturdy roots.  So they grow up vulnerable, and not even the stakes can stop them blowing over.

A better technique is to stake them loosely – firm enough so that they can’t blow over but loosely enough to allow them to wobble in the wind.  The tree’s response is to send its roots deeper to stabilise itself.  Which results in a stronger, more resilient tree, able to weather storms and find water in times of drought.  It endures for decades, growing large, providing food and shelter for others, and sustaining the environment.

This, to me, is the essence of member care.  Not wrapping people up in cotton wool and protecting them from every potential hazard.  That only creates vulnerable mission workers.  The strong mission workers are those who have endured some hardships and setbacks, been supported and encouraged in the midst of this experience, learned some lessons and carried on.

Many churches and agencies have people who want to provide good member care, but don’t know where to start.  They care, but feel they don’t have the skills, or don’t fully appreciate their issues.  So here are our recommendations for getting into member care:

Go to the European Member Care Consultation – this biennial meeting takes place next in March 2016 in Germany and will provide workshops for beginners as well as masterclasses for the more experienced.  Book soon as the early bird discount expires next week!  Follow this link for more details.

Become part of your national member care network – many countries have member care networks.  You can find out about some of the European ones on the website of Member Care Europe; other continents can be found at the Global Member Care Network.  Such networks provide confererences and training for their members.

Read some books – we particularly recommend Neal Pirolo’s book Serving as Senders and Larrie Gardner’s Healthy, Resilient and Effective.  You can find more books on our reading list and we’ve recommended several which we find useful in other blogs.

Study for an MA – want to take it further?  Redcliffe College does an MA in member care which is ideal for refining your skills.

Spurgeon“Prayer pulls the rope below, and the bell rings above in the ears of God.  Some scarcely stir the bell for they pray so languidly.  Others give an occasional pluck at the rope, but he who wins with heaven is the man who grabs the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might.”

(C H Spurgeon)

As we come to the end of the year and reach that time when once again we take stock of where we are, and what God is calling us to in the coming year, we return once again to a subject we have commented on frequently – prayer.

It has long been our contention that prayer is the greatest need of every cross-cultural mission worker, as it is through prayer that we align our hearts to God to receive direction and equipping for our mission.  Through prayer we focus our attention on God providing for our daily needs for protection, provision and opportunity.  Through prayer we express our dependence on God so that we avoid the temptation to rely on ourselves or believe that what has been achieved is through our own initiative, ability or effort.  It helps us to remember the sobering words of Jesus:

Without me, you can’t do anything.

(John 15:5)

But it’s not only our own prayer that’s involved.  We all depend on the supportive intercession of our friends and family, churches and agencies.  Most of us recognise this by sending prayer letters at least once a month, and we value the many hours of prayer that people we don’t even know pour into supporting us in our lives and ministries.

Syzygy joins in by providing prayer support for mission workers.  We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to add us to your mailing list so that we can pray for you in our regular weekly prayer times.  Or you can send the occasional emergency prayer request to our prayer hotline.  In return, we ask you to join our small group of dedicated intercessors  who receive those emergency prayer requests.  It’s not onerous, as we usually send out only two or three emails a month requesting prayer.  You can find out more on our Get Praying page.

Is this peace? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

Is this peace? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

What a barmy army time of year to talk about peace!  With trees to be bought and decorated, a seemingly endless round of Christmas parties to be part of, nativity plays to prepare for (and endure), the right number and quality of presents to be bought, a perfect meal to prepare, often with critical relatives to impress, all while avoiding tempers flaring, tantrums from over-excited children and taking out a second mortgage to pay for everything.  Call that peace?

I think we’ve missed the point.

Peace is usually defined negatively in our culture – as the absence of something like war, noise, people, or work.  When we think about it, we often think about ‘getting away from it all’ and imagine a deckchair on a golden beach, or beautiful mountain scenery.  What does that have to do with peace in our daily life?

The birth of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) was announced by the angels as bringing peace to the world (Luke 2:14).  Yet Jesus himself said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34) – and that is closer to the experience of many of us, particularly believers living in North Korea, Nigeria or many parts of the Middle East.

Yet Jesus the peacemaker told his disciples “In this world you will have loads of trouble, but don’t worry – in me you can have peace…  My peace I give to you.” (John 16.33, 14:27)  He clearly didn’t mean the Hebrew meaning of Shalom – wholeness, health, calm, serenity, blessing, prosperity – because he knew the next day he was going to be flogged and nailed to a cross, and his followers would be hiding, discouraged and demoralised.  There’s no way that counts as peace.

But the incarnation heralded a new era in God’s dealing with humanity.  An era in which we can know peace with God through being reconciled in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19).  The power of Christ and the Holy Spirit at work in us enables us to make peace with ourselves, confronting our inner demons and knowing freedom from everything that has happened to us that prevents us becoming who God wants us to be.  It also gives us the ability to make peace with our enemies through forgiving them and seeing relationships restored.

Too often we don’t actually make peace; we try (and fail) to keep it.  Peacekeeping can prevent the outbreak of open hostilities but the wounds and injustice still simmer below the surface, and occasionally erupt out, hurting everyone around, including innocent bystanders.  That’s why peacemakers are blessed (Matthew 5:9) – because in making peace they demonstrate they, like Jesus, are children of God.

May all our readers know real peace amidst the turmoil of Christmas!

Episode 7 official poster (Source: www.starwars.com)

Episode 7 official poster (Source: www.starwars.com)

Star Wars is back!  This week the eagerly anticipated resumption of the epic double-trilogy starts with episode 7 –  Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is widely expected to become the biggest-grossing film of all time.

Since the ground-breaking arrival of the first film in 1977, Christians have argued over the content and symbolism.  Those in favour will claim that the Force represents the power of the Holy Spirit, Obi Wan Kenobi’s self-sacrifice and apparent survival beyond death (kinda) is a significant nod to Jesus, and Darth Vader is a clear manifestation of everything we think of as evil, from his character to his stereotypical dark clothing, and even he can be redeemed.  Others will argue that the Force can be used for good or evil, which is not part of a Christian cosmology.  There is no clear redeemer figure and no communication of the love of God or the depravity of humanity.

But the real issue is not whether the films reflect a Christian message or not, but the fact that they reflect a postmodern worldview which Generation X and Millenials have bought into in a way that an older generation can’t comprehend.  Millenials in particular think in a way that is in line with the underlying assumptions of the Star Wars galaxy, for example:

  • There is a spiritual aspect to life which we do not understand but we can tap into if we choose
  • Trade corporations are inherently evil and not to be trusted
  • Most politicians are selfish and will easily turn to the dark side
  • I have the ability to achieve much more than simply being a cog in the system

Contrary to popular belief, millennials are not antagonistic to Christianity (as long as it not prejudiced and bullying).  They are suspicious of organised religion but open to personal spirituality, and are open to following Jesus if he is presented to them appropriately.  The success of many vibrant, new church networks is partly due to numbers of millenials attracted to a warmer, livelier, less-structured style of church that helps them feel that they belong and are significant.  These movements often intentionally plant (or re-plant) churches that look in very different ways to tradition ones.

The problem is that most millenials have not heard of Jesus.  Unlike previous generations they were not taken to church or Sunday school as children, religious assemblies in school are discouraged, with the result that this generation is the least evangelised European generation for 1500 years.

Some of us may be aghast at that thought.  But the flipside of it is that they are also the least prejudiced.  They haven’t been bored to death by stories of Noah’s Ark and Goliath.  They haven’t been made to follow a lot of life-crushing rules.  They come to Jesus with a completely clean sheet and no preconceptions.  They don’t have problems with the existence of an unseen world or a benevolent force pervading the universe.  Ironically, this is probably the generation most open to the gospel in over a millennium.

May the Force be with you as you tell them the good news.

backpackerSyzygy has recently come across several cases of ‘orphaned’ mission workers, which reminds us how tough life in the mission field can get for some people.

These are mission workers who suddenly find themselves in the field without adequate support, and they are often desperate and tragic cases where people are unable to support themselves.  They frequently have a deep conviction that God has called them to serve in a certain place but are then unable to sustain themselves in ministry.  Such situations can come about for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • a supporting church closes, leaving mission workers with no funding
  • mission workers choose to go independently without proper support and cannot maintain themselves in the field
  • an agency withdraws from a particular region but the mission worker, feeling a strong sense of calling to the local people, declines to leave and stays on as an independent
  • mission workers fail to maintain good relationships with their supporters and over time gradually lose support, or are even dropped by their church because there is no communication

Such people sometimes come to Syzygy for help.  While we can debrief them and provide advice, we cannot do for them what they really should have done in the first place: build and maintain strong relationships which give them lasting support and accountability.  Sadly many mission workers go independently of churches, agencies and even their families because they are strong independent types, and in many ways they can be just what is needed for pioneering situations.  But it can make them reluctant to collaborate and listen to others.

Our advice to such mission workers is to return to your sending country (wherever possible) and spend time rebuilding the foundations that should already have been in place.  Advice for those thinking of going independently, and those who need to return and rebuild their support base, can be found in our Guide to Going It Alone.

Some of these ‘orphans’ are indeed so alone that they do not even have the funds to get themselves back to their sending country.  Sadly Syzygy does not have sufficient money to help them, though a visit to their national embassy may help them at least get a flight ‘home’.  Mission workers should always have an exit strategy before even going, and the question

What do we do if this all goes badly wrong?

should always be part of the pre-departure planning.  Sadly many people only start to plan for disaster once it’s already happened.

We recommend that a relative, church or agency always holds sufficient money in a designated account to pay for flights back for the whole family, and ideally enough to help with ongoing support costs through the transition too.  Setting aside such a large sum before going may seem impossible to mission workers on a tight budget, but it should be factored into the set-up costs.  Some may think that is not trusting God to provide, but we think it’s just trusting God to provide up front so that we have one less thing to trust God for when things all go belly-up in the field.

hist_beetle_driveIn 1955, a young Dutchman went to a youth congress in communist Poland carrying hundreds of Christian tracts to distribute.  During his visit he discovered an isolated evangelical church struggling to retain its morale in the face of communist persecution.  The young man, now known throughout the world by the name ‘Brother Andrew’, embarked on a life travelling to difficult and dangerous places, smuggling Bibles to a needy church, inspired by the words of Revelation 3:2 –

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

Driving his battered VW Beetle all over the Soviet bloc, Brother Andrew smuggled Bibles into communist eastern Europe.  But his exploits did not stop there.  He pioneered work into China, and then the Middle East and parts of central Africa.  Open Doors, the organisation he founded, has gone on to print Bibles, broadcast the Gospel by radio, coordinate international prayer ministry, keep the church informed about persecution  and become well-known for delivering practical support to the suffering church.  They also advocate on behalf of the oppressed, and their annual World Watch List is a must-have for Christians seeking information about how to pray for countries where Christians are oppressed.

60 years on from Brother Andrew’s first journey, Open Doors has become a worldwide agency working in over 60 countries through nearly 1000 workers – most of them national partners, because in the places they work people who are obviously foreign can’t always be effective.  Many of them work in challenging and dangerous places, training up new generations of church leaders and equipping the church to survive in the most hostile places on the planet.

All this is true to the adventurous spirit of Brother Andrew, who is famous for pointing out that there are no countries which are closed to the gospel.  There are of course countries from which it may be hard for Christians who preach the gospel to come back alive, but Brother Andrew has proved throughout his escapades in places like Palestine, Iraq, China and the Soviet Union, that God really can shut the eyes of the authorities and open doors.

Today tens of thousands of suffering Christians are supported and encouraged by Open Doors’ campaigns of aid and encouragement.  You can read more about these on their website, where you can find more details on how to pray for them and to join in the ministry.  As the UK CEO of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce said at a recent celebration of 60s of Open Doors’ ministry:

There isn’t a persecuted church and a free church – there is one church.

Or as St Paul put it: “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Let’s be inspired by the example of Brother Andrew and his many colleagues to relieve the suffering and pray for the parts that suffer.

20151128_122535We’re delighted to announce our latest arrival – a VW Passat estate, ideal for families of up to 5 with lots of luggage, yet comfortable and economical for those long motorway journeys.  It joins our Passat 4-door and the Toyota Previa in providing transport solutions for mission workers on home assignment in the UK.  You can read more about this valuable ministry on its own page.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our friends who donated their cars and gave money to help us get a car which will make returning mission workers who see it first at the airport say “Wow!” and not “Oh no…”

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

I recently stayed overnight in a typical British guesthouse where breakfast was an interesting experience.  Not because of the food, service or facilities, but due to the interesting social interaction – or lack thereof.

In a small dining room where guests sat at separate but adjacent tables, conversation was curiously stilted, as people were aware that their private discussions were being overheard.  A men’s football team tried to joke with each other about the previous night’s escapades without incurring the scorn of other guests.  A harassed father tried hard to keep his disobedient toddler under control without losing his temper.  A browbeaten woman took the opportunity to chide her husband at a time when he couldn’t answer her back.

It occurred to me that often conversations between mission partners can be similar.  We often refrain from saying the things that we’d really like to because we are aware that others are listening.  We don’t like to disagree in case we sow the seeds of dissent, or act as a bad witness in front of others.  So we bottle up the things we’d really like to say, and if we don’t blurt them out in a fit of self-indulgence they can build up inside us to such a point of frustration that they contribute significantly to our levels of stress.

Why do we do this?  Because we mistakenly believe that when Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers” he meant that we shouldn’t rock the boat.  But by failing to address relationship issues and by sweeping things under the carpet, we are not making peace, we are only keeping it.  Peacekeeping may prevent outbreaks of open hostility but it takes real peacemakers to bring reconciliation and harmony.

So how do we make peace?  First, we need to recognise that disagreement isn’t necessarily the same thing as disloyalty or rebellion.  There is such a thing as what the British parliament calls “loyal opposition”.  Somebody who has a theological, missiological or personal disagreement with you may actually love you, share your vision for ministry and be committed to your success.  Disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t on the same side as you.

Secondly, we should remember that leadership can be a lonely and vulnerable place.  Every objection can seem like a personal attack even if it’s intended to be a constructive suggestion.  To a leader, people who speak out can seem like critics, people who oppose can appear to be rebels.  If you’re going to disagree with somebody, ask yourself first how your comments will appear to them, and do your best to show them that you are not challenging them personally, or their position, just their decision.

Third, we should remember that if someone disagrees with us, they may actually be right.  It can be tempting to surround ourselves with people who always agree because it is so much more affirming and comfortable, but it’s also the path to bad decisions.  The person who disagrees with you may actually help you to come to a better decision, even if it can be hard work getting there.

Many mission workers carry unnecessary stress because they feel unable to speak their mind, whether it’s through concern that they might find their service terminated for causing trouble, fear that a person they challenge might lash out at them in pain, or because a misguided sense of loyalty tells them that they ought to agree with everything.  The current trend towards confidential personal debrief with a person from outside the mission worker’s agency is to be welcomed, because it gives mission workers an opportunity to get issues off their chest in a safe environment, and find a constructive way of dealing with unresolved issues.  If your agency does not provide this service, consider asking for it.

Syzygy offers a confidential debriefing service to any mission worker, whether serving with an agency, church network or fully independent.  Contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.  We find that it often helps people see past their immediate frustration and find long-term solutions to unresolved issues.

SpectreSpectre, along with the rest of the Bond franchise, thrives on the unique character of James Bond.  Although he is well-equipped with gadgetry, supported by incredible technology wielded by a highly supportive team, the success of the franchise is built around Bond’s own skill, versatility and ability to improvise.  This image portrayed frequently in the genre of espionage movies is quite possibly far from the real truth.

The image of the mission worker as a lone agent battling skilfully and heroically against incredible odds, is also far from the truth, but like Bond, it persists.  Churches talk about ‘our mission worker’ while ignoring the possibility of developing a relationship with the agency, team and local church the mission worker serves alongside.  The mission worker talks in terms of his ministry rather than that of the team or agency.  Candidates head off overseas independently of a sending agency and without having involved their church in the decision-making process.  And when an agency asks someone to lay aside their personal vision and work somewhere else for the good of the team, the mission worker resigns and carries on her work independently.

Such occurrences are not the norm in global mission, but nevertheless are far too prevalent, and Syzygy spends more time than we’d like helping people pick up the pieces after they discover that they’re not 007.  There is also little Biblical precedent for people ruggedly going it alone.  Jesus sent his followers out in pairs (Luke 10:1).  Barnabas and Saul set off to Cyprus as a pair (Acts 13:2), and when they parted they both found new partners (Acts 15:36-40).  Paul went on to build up a large team of co-workers including Luke, Timothy, Titus and several others (2 Timothy 4:-12).  Peter did not go to the house of Cornelius alone (Acts 10:23), and was quickly held to account for his actions by his church when he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 11:2).  In fact the only successful ‘lone ranger’ in Acts is Philip (Acts 8), and he only went on a short trip.

While pioneering mission may involve periods of solitude, particularly when working in creative access nations, agencies should always seek to send teams wherever possible.  Churches should remember that mission workers remain members away on secondment who need to still be included.  Mission workers should always bear in mind that no matter how individualistic and pioneering they are, they should always be part of a team comprising sending church, family and friends, sending agency and receiving church and agency if there is one.  This team is there to fund, pray, advise, assist and hold accountable.  Failure to put this team in place can result in too much burden falling on the shoulders of the mission worker, who consequently burns out, with bad results for themselves, their family, and the people they were working with and witnessing to.

It might seem spiritual to claim that one person plus God is enough to meet any challenge, but the New Testament church clearly did not believe that.  God calls us to live, serve and go as part of community.

CBPPreparing for a presentation I was giving at a recent Short Term Mission Forum, I realised that this is an area which is often overlooked by both those organising short term mission and those providing member care.

Member Care workers seem to focus largely on long-term mission workers, to such an extent that looking through the Member Care books on my shelves I found that most of them didn’t even refer to short-termers.  Likewise, people organising short-term programmes can easily focus on the practical issues and neglect the personal care for the person going.

As part of my research for this presentation I produced some very quick and grubby statistics.  They are not academically robust and are merely a straw poll, but the results are shocking.  I found that only slightly more than 50% of the people going on individual short-term placements through an agency attended a formal pre-departure training event or a post-return debrief.  For short-termers going as part of a team those having training rose to 60%, but those having a debrief fell to just 40%.

Perhaps short-term gets overlooked because it’s not considered as hard as long-term.  Perhaps it can’t shake off the mistaken impression that it’s just an adventure holiday with a difference.  Yet the people going short-term may be younger, less mature, and less experienced in cross-cultural pressure than long-termers.  Moreover, in the course of their mission they may be exposed to challenging situations with which they’ve not had to deal before.  So in terms of the impact on them of short-term mission, and processing culture shock and preventing post-traumatic stress, good Member Care is critical to the well-being of those going short-term, whether on a summer team or on a placement which can last up to two years.

Three elements that are essential to provision of Member Care to short-term workers are:

Selection and preparation – While selection may have an element of screening people to make sure they are robust enough to survive their mission, it seems that it may in fact be quite perfunctory if the trip is only for a few weeks.  Perhaps the need to get people on board and justify the sending of the team may supersede good care.  And while training events may include cross-cultural training it may well focus on the practicalities of behaviour rather than the emotional challenge of adapting to life in a foreign culture.

In-field support – team leaders may not necessarily be trained or experienced in facilitating a supportive environment which can help short-termers adequately process the challenges they face and look to God for the resources they need to manage the transition.  Proactive support needs to be arranged.

Post-return debriefing – while recognising the challenges of getting everyone back together for a debrief event, it is important that people have the opportunity to review their experiences and unpack the issues raised as a result.

So what can agencies do to ensure better Member Care for their short-termers?  Here are Syzygy’s top tips:

  • Ensure that Member Care personnel have an input into the design and review short-term programmes.
  • Be familiar with and committed to the Member Care provisions of the Code of Best Practice in Short-Term Mission (the core value of partnership and paragraphs 1.5, 2.4, 2,7, 3.3-3.5, 4.1-4.5).
  • Review the Member Care Guidelines and reflect on how they apply to short-term mission.
  • Be committed to ensuring that every short-termer is provided with effective Member Care before, during and after their assignment. Bring in Member Care providers from other agencies if necessary.
  • Set appropriate targets to measure how many short-termers receive training and debriefing.
  • Build an effective and well-trained volunteer force to carry out individual training and debriefing in support of the full-time team.
  • Facilitate, fund or provide training for church members to be able to prepare and debrief their short-termers well.
  • Liaise effectively with sending churches to ensure that short-termers have an opportunity to debrief in their home church.

Why do we need to provide good Member Care?  Not merely because it’s good practice, prudent risk management, an effective witness to the people the short-termers are working with, or a good recruiting model since happy short-termers can evolve into long-termers.  Because we love.  Because we care.  Because we don’t want to be the unwitting cause of people’s long-term spiritual and emotional damage.  Or, as our friends at Missionary Care put it:

Because we don’t separate the Great Commission from the Great Commandment

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Source: www.freeimages.com

Last week influential blogger Eddie Arthur kicked off an interesting discussion by suggesting that the Trustees of sending agencies, being by selection and temperament prudent and risk-averse people, are not necessarily the best people to be reimagining the future of mission agencies in an era when massive change is required.  I’d like to take this further and suggest that this issue can apply to leadership at every level: church, agency, field or team as well.

Each leader shares to some extent in the Trustees’ core obligations (as I see it) of ensuring:

  • good governance (Is the organisation operating legally and meeting its key objectives?)
  • effective strategy (Do we know where we are going and how we get there?)
  • good management (Can we achieve the above efficiently and economically?)
  • the well-being of our staff and fellow team-members
  • that the organisation and its members are being an effective witness to Jesus.

Those five issues will keep any leader busy enough without the concerns of all the daily challenges of running a team.  When do they find time to do all that?  And that, coincidentally, was one of the big complaints of managers in the merchant bank which I worked for 20 years ago – they never had time to stop and think!

In an increasingly litigious age, Trustees have been forced by the risk to their own personal assets and liberty to spend ever more time ensuring compliance.  This isn’t in itself wrong as it is important that issues such as safeguarding and health & safety have top-level buy-in.  But it does leave Trustees spending more of their meetings double-checking on their managers, leaving less time to strategise.  This ‘due diligence’ can lead to the unplanned obsolescence of the agency, unless a crisis occurs to force some urgent rethinking.  Hence the reference to sleepwalking.

One such crisis occurred in 2008.  It sent a shockwave through agencies as they had to grapple with significantly reduced income.  It forced some to consider closing down, or merging with other like-minded agencies.  They have started to pool resources and are making much greater efforts to collaborate with churches as a result of the financial crisis.  Yet this is only the start of a transition away from the 19th century model of missions from the West to the rest into a world with 360 degree mission where agencies become centres of expertise resourcing the sending church rather than sending agencies who do all the work themselves.

But how do we get from here to there if the leadership is bogged down in compliance?  Here are some of our practical suggestions:

  • Team leadership. Ensure that at every level leadership is made up of several people with different personalities and skills who can specialise in addressing different areas of responsibility;
  • Skills analysis. Knowing what resources are available to the leadership team, and where the gaps are, helps to focus the process of recruiting new leaders;
  • Create time. How often do we stop to reflect, pray and dream together?  Leadership teams need space to be able to go on retreat together, do awaydays, and get away from routine management issues;
  • Trust staff. Much of the report-gathering and checking implies that managers can’t get on with their jobs.  If they really can’t, retrain them or move them on, but resist the temptation to waste time micromanaging them.  Leaders have better things to do with their time.

It has been rightly observed[1], that in most Christian organisations, Trustees often spend more time managing than they should.  This means they fail to strategise effectively, so management does strategy on an ad hoc basis and pushes it up the line for approval.  No wonder most of us are sleepwalking.  Let’s wake up and dream where mission is going in the 21st century.

[1] Les Stahlke in Governance Matters (2003)

Sacred PathwaysDo you ever have the troubling feeling that while everyone around you in church is having an amazing experience of God, you are feeling nothing at all?  You wonder if there is something wrong with you.  Are you having a spiritual crisis?  Have you lost your faith?

Such thoughts can be common among all Christians, but can be a particular challenge for mission workers who may have a much narrower choice of churches, and find their ministry needs them worshipping as part of a church which is intentionally geared towards meeting the needs of the local believers.  This can make a significant contribution to levels of stress and mislead people into thinking they are not cut out for the mission field.

People feeling like this may find Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways helpful.  I’ve used it many times to help people understand why they may feel they don’t fit in.  Thomas’ simple theory is that we all meet God in different ways, so what works for one isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else.  He has come up with nine different types of people:

Naturalists, sensates, traditionalists, ascetics, activists, caregivers, enthusiasts, contemplatives, intellectuals.

Needless to say, people are not necessarily all one and none of the others, but a mixture, though a dominant type will probably be present.  The beauty of the names he gives is that they are readily accessible.  It’s pretty intuitive to know whether you are an activist or a caregiver, though he does go into an explanation of each in the book.

So what does it mean for the frustrated mission worker?  The first thing to say is that it’s not a licence to stop being part of a church!  It’s a tool to help you understand why your church doesn’t work well for you and what you can do about it.  So, for example, if you’re a naturalist you’re much more likely to meet God out of doors than inside, so make sure you get some nature in your spiritual life, possibly by going to a park to read the Bible.  If you’re a traditionalist you need some sort of routine, so if your church is the sort that does something different every week, compensate for that by introducing routine, or even liturgy, into your personal devotional time.

Sacred pathways is available from many online bookshops and you can read more about it on Gary Thomas’ website: www.garythomas.com/books/sacred-pathways where you can also download the study guide and read a sample chapter. The study guide gives helpful descriptions, examples of famous people who represent each type, scriptures and songs for aid in worship and suggestions of pitfalls one can fall into.

Let’s hope that this simple but effective understanding can help jaded Christians re-engage with God in a way that is suitable for their personality!

A long road ahead? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

A long road ahead? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

We’ve blogged a number of times about the challenges of being a single mission worker, and we wouldn’t want to imply we don’t care about married mission workers, so it’s time to write something about marriage.  In fact we here at Syzygy meet more married mission workers facing significant challenges in their marriage than we do single mission workers struggling with singleness issues.

Cross-cultural mission can take a heavy toll on marriage through such issues as long and unpredictable hours of work, the stress of coping with living in a different culture, missing family in the sending country or children away at boarding school, spouses’ differing competence in learning a foreign language, disagreements over education and childcare, lengthy time apart, and the spiritual dynamic of being in mission.  Husband and wife will probably cope with all of these issues differently, which can lead to tension and resentment if one partner seems to be managing better, or one seems to the other not to be pulling their weight.

As if that were not enough, many mission workers marry cross-culturally, which means both partners bring into the marriage their own unexpressed (and possibly even unacknowledged) preconceptions about marriage and what it involves (see Janet Fraser-Smith writing in Single Mission by Hawker & Herbert).  Karen Carr’s research indicates that a healthy marriage can increase mission workers’ resilience and help them thrive in their vocations, while a demanding marriage reduces a mission worker’s ability to cope with stress and may aggravate burnout and even lead to attrition.

A healthy marriage needs work, and there’s no need to be embarrassed about wanting a better marriage.  Taking time out to work on marriage is important, and we recommend that couples get away together regularly with the express purpose of having plenty of time to communicate, get to know each other better, and intentionally discuss issues which cause tension in their relationship.

To make this even more intentional, they could buy a book to work through together, and we can heartily recommend:

In Love But Worlds Apart (Grete Schelling & Janet Fraser-Smith, AuthorHouse 2008)

Love Across Latitudes (Janet Fraser-Smith, AWM 1997)

The 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman, Northfield 1992)

The Highway Code for Marriage (Michael & Hilary Perrott, CWR 2005)

The Marriage Book (Nicky & Sila Lee, Alpha 2000)

Other good ways of doing preventive maintenance on a marriage include:

  • Doing a Myers Briggs profile together. This may help couples understand why the two of them think or act differently, and why when they have different preferences, neither of them is wrong… just different!
  • Finding an older couple to spend time with, to pray together and discuss issues. Having people you can be honest with about the stresses in your relationship can bring perspective and support.
  • If time permits it, doing a marriage course together. There are several different models but we recommend the one which comes out of Relationship Central at Holy Trinity Brompton, which is called, unimaginatively, the Marriage Course.  It’s ideal for couples to do over 2-3 months on home assignment.

And finally, here are some handy day-to-day tips for continuing to work on a marriage while in mission:

  • A compliment is better than a complaint.
  • Make time to pray together each day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
  • Have a regular date night to keep romance fresh and make time to talk about your relationship
  • Don’t compare your partner with an ex/ideal/colleague, either in your mind or out loud, and take steps to make sure your partner knows you’re not doing this.
  • Don’t use expressions like ‘you always…’ or ‘you never…’ which only polarise a disagreement.
  • When you apologise don’t make excuses – “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t…” Just say sorry.
  • Talk your partner up, not down. You’re there to help them grow not to cut them off at the knees.
  • Say “I love you” at least once a day, and more often if you can – but mean it.
  • Remember that the only person you can change is yourself.
  • Marriage works better if you focus on your partner’s needs and your own shortcomings, rather than your partner’s shortcomings and your own needs.

And finally, don’t be ashamed to use the 12 words which can save a marriage:

I am sorry.  I was wrong.  I love you.  Please forgive me.

A mosiac of Jesus feeding the 5000 in the Basilica of Sant' Appolinare Nuovo in Ravenna

A mosiac of Jesus feeding the 5000 in the Basilica of Sant’ Appolinare Nuovo in Ravenna

John tells an interesting story about a boy who gave his lunch to Jesus (John 6:1-14).  The synoptic gospels all record the story, but leave this lad out, which is a shame because he’s not got a big part in John, despite providing dinner for over 5,000 people.

The story is familiar to many of us, and is often told in Sunday School.  The people are hungry and there are no convenience stores nearby.  Jesus says to the disciples “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13) but they realise they haven’t got enough money and the boy’s lunch, (which we hope he gave freely), is all they’ve got.  So Jesus takes all they have, and multiplies it.

There are several lessons which mission workers can learn from this.

What we have is enough. So often it seems that there is never enough, be it money, people, resources,  or equipment.  Whatever we’ve got, we always feel we need more.  We ask for it and pray for it.  Yet in this situation what was clearly not enough in the disciples’ hands was enough for God.  If we are experiencing shortages, let’s not try to solve the problem themselves – let’s take the problem to Jesus.  Which leads us onto point 2:

We can solve the problem – if we change our thinking.  Jesus told the disciples to feed the people.  So they could have done… if they’d had the imagination and the faith.  What are the big challenges in our ministry?  How can we see them from God’s perspective?  How can we increase our faith so that we can believe for God’s miraculous provision for us?

We come to God just as we are.  We know nothing about this boy – his age, his intelligence, his social status.  It is not relevant to the story.  The point is that what he had, he gave to Jesus.  We can often fall into the trap of thinking we need more skills, knowledge or qualifications before God can use us.  This boy came to Jesus just as he was and gave him everything.  That was enough.

Being willing gets us used by God.  This boy could have sneaked off by himself and eaten his supper.  But he got involved and offered Jesus a solution.  We don’t know what happened to him, but I expect he kept on telling that story for the rest of his life.  Perhaps he became a disciple and taught others about being available for God.  Having seen Jesus at work in his life, surely he couldn’t just walk away!  His faith would have increased as a result of what he’d seen.

Jesus cares.  He didn’t just shrug his shoulders and say that they should have planned ahead.  He was concerned about their hunger.  Which is why we can come to him with confidence when we tell him what we need.  He’s not going to give us a stone or a snake, but bread and fish (Matthew 7:7-11).

It makes a great story when we get home.  Can you imagine that boy telling his mother that he didn’t eat all his lunch but shared it with thousands of others?  Telling the big stories of God’s provision for us is an opportunity to be a witness to those who don’t yet know him.

So this week let’s not bother about what we haven’t got, or what we think we need.  Let’s come to Jesus in the confidence that in his hands, what we already have is adequate, and what he will do with it is more than enough.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

A discussion at Global Connections’ TCK Forum last week considered helping TCKs to use social media wisely – a challenge for all of us involved with raising healthy children.  We often remember that Jesus told us to be as innocent as doves in this world where we are like sheep among wolves, but we can so easily forget that he told us to be as wise as serpents too (Matthew 10:16).

In an age when children and teens are spending ever more time on the internet, at a time when we hear daily reports about online gaming, cyberbullying and sexting, how can we take steps to help our young people be safe?  And what is the role of sending agencies and churches in helping parents?

What can churches and agencies do?

  • Include in our orientation programmes information about social media so that parents are equipped to help their children understand internet security, particularly when skyping with grandparents and facetiming with schoolfriends.
  • Encourage the involvement of a few trusted adults so children can have positive relations with a small number of adults who aren’t their parents with whom they can talk honestly about challenges, e.g. godparents, uncles and aunties.
  • Encourage awareness of risk within the missions team – often the mission community consists of a team of up to 100 in-country partners who are automatically deemed ‘safe’ because they’re in the family. But how well do we know them?  Let’s not make inappropriate assumptions about people we don’t really know.
  • Include a social media policy within our safeguarding policies. This helps to put social media on the map and create an opportunity for us to talk about the challenges.
  • Help our adults to avoid denial. Many parents will say “My Jimmy wouldn’t do that, he’s a good boy” but the evidence is that Jimmy might actually be doing something online that would horrify his parents.  Let’s help parents realise there is a real danger online that can affect their children.
  • Include social media challenges in our re-entry training – we need to help parents understand that their children may have been shielded from harm by being in a Christian school, and that a secular school in their passport country may have a very different set of values among its pupils.

What can parents do?

Helping young people be safe focuses far more on our relationship with them than on the rules.  It is now widely recognised that rules limiting online time or having computers in a family room aren’t effective, as young people can simply get online on their phone in their bedroom, go round to a friend’s, or change the settings on their internet security.

  • Develop an open and frank relationship so that you can discuss sensitive issues with your children
  • Model forgiveness rather than condemnation when a child makes a mistake online
  • Learn to be aware of social media so that you can talk knowledgeably with your child about issues. Get on Facebook and find out about Minecraft!
  • Don’t spy on your kids’ internet activities – it communicates distrust
  • Focus on knowing your child, not what your child has been doing
  • Communicate that precautions you want them to take are not because you don’t trust them but may not trust people they interact with online
  • Most schools have a policy on cyberbullying – know it and use it
  • Don’t ban or limit gaming time but find out what they might be getting out of it and develop other ways of meeting that need
  • Don’t’ get too upset about the amount of time your kids spend watching online vids – it’s how they relax!

We have remarked before in these blogs that pornography is not the problem.  Likewise misuse of social media is a symptom of something deeper.  Many young people are sucked into bad things because of their need for acceptance and belonging in a community.  It is incredible hard for a godly teen to stand out from the crowd in a sexualised culture.  Helping them to feel valued, trusted and accepted will go a long way towards maintaining a healthy self-esteem which will help protect them against bad influences.

What resources are available?

  • CCPAS has an online course on internet safety
  • Childline has child-friendly resources on dealing with cyberbullying, sexting, and gaming
  • Safer Surfing is an Austrian website (your browser will offer to translate it) with good resources
  • Saltmine Trust has a drama presentation and interactive workshop for use in UK schools.