A recent article in the Daily Telegraph relates how a US scriptwriter says there are eight key elements of any story which guarantee that the film or television programme which uses them will be a best seller. Stories which fit the mould include such diverse productions as Frozen, Sex and the City, Last Tango in Halifax, Die Hard, Father Ted and Breaking Bad.
Dan Harmon describes the elements as forming a circle which brings the protagonist back to the starting place, but having changed along the way. The appropriate elements are that the lead character:
- is introduced
- wants something
- enters a new world
- adapts to that environment
- gets what they want
- suffers as a result
- returns to their previous world
- changes as a result
And of course, if it’s a Hollywood production, there’s a happy ending. This scenario could equally be, instead of a movie, the life cycle of a mission worker:
- we want to serve God
- we go abroad or into a new culture to do it
- we learn (slowly and painfully) to adapt
- in the process we are serving God
- but it costs us
- eventually we return to our previous world
- we have changed as a result of the experience we’ve had
For many of us, the changes we have experienced and the lessons we’ve learned help us to become more Christlike. Despite the hardships, the overall experience has been enriching and worthwhile. But for some of us, the fact that we have changed along the way makes it hard to enter our previous home. In fact it’s not home. We are overwhelmed by reverse culture shock. Moreover, some of the changes may have made us angry, bitter and resentful. We don’t feel comfortable alongside our old friends. We relate differently to our family. We feel we don’t fit into our church any more.
For those of us who haven’t experienced the Hollywood ending, there is hope. Syzygy has produced a one-day workshop to help us process our experiences and unpack our emotions. You can find out more about it by clicking on Crash Landing?
In the process we hope to be meeting with mission workers, doing some training and member care.
Having visited Thailand several times we feel very much at home there and are looking forward to being back. We love the food and the smiling, welcoming people, many of who have little to smile about. Despite the glitz and opulence of cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai where the tourists go, many people live in abject poverty in huge slums and it is estimated that over a million people work in the sex industry. Some of the people we are visiting live and work with such people, living alongside them in slums or working with those scraping a living from scavenging on rubbish dumps. For us, it’s a privilege to get alongside people like this and support them in their amazing ministries.
Please pray for:
- safe and punctual travel
- good sleep and recovery from jetlag
- effective training
- wisdom and sensitivity in dealing with issues
Our journey starts on 22nd January, and ends with a return to the UK on 5th February, just three days before heading off to Turkey… but that’s another story!
Fruit is a well-known biblical metaphor. Jesus tells us that bearing fruit glorifies the Father (John 15:8), and Paul says we are joined to Christ so that we can bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4). Jesus makes it clear that the fruit is the evidence that we are disciples (John 15:8) – or not (Matthew 7:20). Whether we understand the fruit to be a metaphor for our activity (Colossians 1:10) or our character development (Galatians 5:22-23), it is clear that if we’re genuine disciples of Jesus, fruit is the outcome.
When we think of fruit, we probably have in our minds fruits like peaches, grapes, apples, apricots or strawberries, which we can just pick and pop in our mouths. They are the ready-meals of the fruit world. But other fruit requires a bit of work to it. While we can eat grapes just as they are, they can also be made into wine. Apples can be made into pie. Corn, a slightly different type of fruit, can be made into bread, a much more pleasant form of carbohydrate. But to achieve this, the fruit needs to be crushed, chopped or ground. A totally different experience.
Another type of fruit is coffee. Most of us never even seen the coffee fruit on the plant, but we enjoy the end product. But to get to us, the coffee fruit has a terrible experience. First, the fruit is stripped off the bean and discarded. It has no value to us. The bean is then fermented, and rinsed in large quantities of water. Then the bean is roasted and, finally, ground up and brewed using hot water.
Suddenly being fruitful doesn’t sound quite so attractive. And many of us are no stranger to processes like those the coffee bean undergoes – we often feel like we’re in deep water, walking through fire or being ground to bits. When things like this happen, we can often wonder if we’ve got it all wrong, and begin to doubt our faith. We discussed the theology of this last week, but suffering is an ever-present reality in the lives of most Christians, and is clearly the biblical norm. All the writers of the New Testament letters expected their correspondents to be undergoing varying degrees of difficulty, if not active persecution. One even tells them to ‘count it pure joy’! (James 1:2) This is because even though the process is unpleasant, the outcome is good. James tells us that as a result we will be ‘perfect and complete’ (James 1:4).
The careful processing, roasting and brewing of a fine coffee results in something remarkable. A simple berry has been turned into a refreshing drink which invigorates and stimulates. Taken in moderate quantities it is beneficial to concentration, alertness and general health, and may even contribute to longevity. Even its aroma is attractive. The next time we undergo some sort of trial, let us remember what the coffee goes through to bring some joy into the life of its drinker, and remember that our suffering is part of the process of bringing joy to the Lord, as in the flood or the furnace we are made more like Jesus.
We’ve all seen them – fences to stop people falling. Usually accompanied by large signs saying ‘DANGER’. Authorities put them up to stop people getting hurt, for people’s own protection. It makes sense. We don’t want anybody to get hurt do we? We should make them alert to the risks, and if possible even put barriers in their way for their own safety. Yet in some places, such as the spectacular Victoria Falls, there is no protection at all. Inevitably, in such locations, people use their own discretion and sadly there are accidents.
This resembles the world of mission. There are too many times when people intrepidly go abroad in mission, unaware of the dangers, underestimating the risks, without sufficient support, and accidents happen. People struggle with health-damaging stress, become emotionally or spiritually wounded, give up and come home, or maybe even lose their faith. Many of the people that Syzygy works with have suffered some degree of avoidable injury. We do our best to help them recover so they can resume their ministry. We are privileged to be able to be part of this process, but we’d rather not be.
Too often we are like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, when we’d rather be the fence at the top.
Prevention is better than cure. That’s why we’ve compiled a series of guides for doing mission well, so that people planning to serve God cross-culturally can be made aware of the issues involved and how they can plan to deal with them. Because we’d much rather prevent the damage occurring than pick up the pieces afterwards. Another way in which we help is by providing training and support to churches, so that they can support their mission workers better. The more the sending church is involved with the mission workers, the more likely they are to thrive. The church is a critical yet often overlooked partner in providing support.
This year Syzygy’s goal is to be able to talk to more churches to help them support their mission workers. We can run vision events and training days. We have partners who can provide ongoing relationships to act as a resource centre to churches. But we need the first contacts. Our biggest challenge is that church leaders can be (rightly) suspicious of people coming in from outside telling them how to do their jobs.
This is where you come in. We need advocates in churches to introduce us and vouch for us, so that we can make those initial contacts. Please talk to your church leaders and let them know about us. You can point them to the part of our guides that is written specifically for churches. And please let us know – we’d love to give them a call!
Then perhaps we can function more like a fence than an ambulance!
At this time of year many people send out round robin letters to tell everybody they don’t see regularly what they’ve been doing throughout the year, and we’re no exception. It’s been an excellent year for us and we praise God for his grace to us as we seek to serve him in supporting mission workers worldwide. During the year we passed the milestone of our tenth birthday and were amazed to look back and think that 10 years ago we could not have imagined what God would do in us and through us.
We’ve had the joy of continuing our co-operation with other agencies and networks such as Global Connections and the European Evangelical Mission Association, together with several of their forums, and to forge new links with other agencies for whom we’ve been able to provide advice and consultancy.
We’ve successfully developed new training modules including workshops on how to thrive as a single mission worker, how to deal with ongoing challenges following re-entry, and understanding why many mission workers allow themselves to become stressed. We’ve also supported individual mission workers going to the field and returning to the UK. We’ve taken these into a number of contexts, speaking at several conferences (including the European Member Care Consultation) and at bible colleges.
We continue to provide pastoral support to mission workers both remotely while they are in the field and in person when they are on home assignment, doing debriefs and home assignment reviews. This can be a terribly challenging task, as our clients are often badly wounded by their experiences, but it is also incredibly fulfilling. We also provide information about different resources and advice on various topics such as immigration and tax continues.
Our website has continued to attract attention, racking up a record number of hits and followers on both Facebook and Twitter. A new guide to retirement has joined our growing collection of Guides to Doing Mission Well. In case you missed some of our blogs, we introduced some new concepts into missiology, such as understanding where we really find our identity, knowing why mission workers can be more vulnerable to burnout in their fifties, how to pray for mission workers using household objects, and using sweets to help us understand where we are in cultural adaptation. Over the summer we had a mini-series on how the Protestant Work Ethic has had such an unhelpful impact on western Christianity. We considered the movie Avatar as a metaphor for Gen Y, reviewed some excellent books and considered what happens when Jesus doesn’t fulfil our expectations.
We continue to have some good reviews of our book for single mission workers and continue to sell many copies of it. We’ve upgraded two of the three cars which we lend to mission workers on home assignment, and received donations from several individuals and trusts which helped us achieve this. And we gained a new volunteer, Barry, who drives our cars to wherever they are needed.
Of course, we can’t do this on our own, and we’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of our many supporters who have helped, prayed, volunteered, funded and provided publicity for our services. We recognise that we cannot do this without your help – and God’s – and we appreciate your partnership with us. Thank you for helping us help mission workers worldwide.
This week, Christians will celebrate the momentous event in human history when God stepped into his own creation to live and die as one of us. It matters not one bit that it may not have happened in December (or January if that is your tradition), or whether the inn was really a guest room, or whether there were kings present, or donkeys, or snowmen. The important thing is that it happened.
It happened because God was so concerned about the plight of selfish, ungodly humanity that he did what only he could to bring us back into relationship with him. Or as St Paul puts it “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The whole point was to restore the broken relationship so that humanity could live at peace with God. Jesus came to make that possible. That is why we celebrate him as “The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
For this reason he is the ultimate role model for mission workers. We may follow the examples and tenets of the founding father of our agencies or movements, or other heroes of mission, but only because they point the way to the one who has gone before all of us. He left his home, learned the language, and adopted the culture and customs of his mission field. He laid down his life in obedience to his calling, and he raised up followers to continue the spread of the message.
At the end of his letter to the Romans Paul writes “the gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ… has been made known to all the nations” (Romans 16:25-26). The world has grown bigger than the Roman Empire of Paul’s day and many more tribes and peoples have been located who have not yet heard the good news. The missionary imperative to tell the great glad tidings still rings out to us. Many of the carols and readings that we use in our worship at this time of year encourage us, like the magi (Matthew 2:2), to come and worship Jesus. What better way to do that than to bring others with us to discover the Saviour for themselves?
Karl Dahlfred’s recent blog on ‘Why missionaries can never go home’ prompts us to introduce you to another missiological breakthrough from Syzygy – the Confectionery Theory of Cross-Cultural Adaptivity.This is our version of the excellent Pol-Van Cultural Identity Model which provides a way of understanding how people fit into the culture around them. In this model we use sweets as a visual aid – and the best bit is that you can eat the visual aids while doing the presentation. The drawback is that our model is still culturally-embedded: you may have different sweets in your country!
Most of us will grow up as Maltesers*. They look the same on the outside and are the same on the inside. Every Malteser is alike. So as we grow up in our home culture, people who meet us will see the way we dress, and hear how we speak, and assume that since we’re the same on the outside (more or less), we’re the same on the inside – we share common cultural assumptions about the way the world works.
But when we first go abroad into the mission field, no matter how much cross-cultural training we’ve had, we’re like Haribos. On the outside, they have different shapes, and they taste different. In the same way, on the mission field, we probably look and sound different to the nationals, and we think differently, which is why it’s so easy to assume (erroneously, of course) that people from another culture are ignorant/stupid/uncivilised – because they think differently, and we don’t understand why they can’t see things the way we do. That’s why we can so easily suffer from culture shock – because we can feel like a fish out of water.
But slowly, over the course of time, we begin to understand our host culture, and start to think in the same way as the nationals. That’s when we become M&Ms – still looking different on the outside, but the same on the inside. So nobody looking at us would think we’re a national, but we’ve learned to think and behave like them. Which is really good when you’re in the mission field.
Then we go back to our ‘home’ country. But we’ve changed on the inside. So although we look like everybody else on the outside, we’re different on the inside. Everyone assumes we fit in, but we feel displaced. ‘Home isn’t home any more. This is when we can get reverse culture shock.
So what do we do about it? Some people would suggest that our goal is to try to become a Malteser again. But that’s not possible unless we can forget our experiences abroad and unlearn every lesson. That’s why returning mission workers can never really go ‘home’. Trying to be a Malteser will only lead to frustration and disillusion.
The alternative is to try to thrive as a Revel. They look reasonably similar on the outside, but inside they’re different. It’s notoriously difficult for mission workers to do this, because everyone around them expects them to be Maltesers and can’t understand why they’re not. So they try hard to fit in, even when they don’t feel like they do. This can be dispiriting, and Revels can even end up leaving the church in frustration.
Syzygy’s response to this situation is to create Crash Landing, a day workshop for returned mission workers experiencing the challenge of life back in a ‘home’ country that doesn’t feel like home any more. We’ll explore these issues, look at questions of our identity, and try to identify strategies for thriving. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
* Other types of confectionery are available.
-  Pollock DC, Van Reken RE (2009). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Paul’s vision of a Macedonian man (Acts 16:10) asking him and his co-workers for help initiated Paul’s ministry in Europe. It is also an excellent paradigm for modern global mission.
It is at the invitation of the local believers, not the instigation of the mission workers. Today, except in frontier missions where we have no knowledge of local believers, we should be seeking to partner with indigenous churches, agencies or believers. How often do we go to a local group with a good idea and sell it to them, and they are too polite to say no even though they don’t want it and they know it won’t work? It is much better for us (and more empowering for them) to go and sit at their feet, and ask them ‘What do you want for your community, and how can we help you achieve it?’ We need to seek their guidance and advice, respect their decisions, submit to their leadership, and be ready to leave when they feel that we’ve done what they need us to do.
We are invited to help, not take over. It seems that we often marginalise the local believers and do all sorts of things for them, when they may be capable of doing things for themselves. We turn up with our education, technology, and Biblical understanding, but leave our respect behind. A genuine partnership asks ‘How can we do this together?’, and seeks to release everyone into the ministry that God has for them. In many cases we may bring skills and resources which they do not have, but that does not entitle us to take control.
Our work should be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul hadn’t even thought of going to Macedonia. He and his friends had tried several times to go into different parts of what is now Turkey. In this vision, God expanded their boundaries. He took them into something different. How willing are we to contemplate doing something different rather than doing the same old thing in the same old way? Let us be open to the Holy Spirit guiding us into God’s appointed ministry for us.
God is already at work and lets us join in. The spread of the gospel in any country will have started before we get there. Paul didn’t bring the gospel to Europe; there would have been several small communities of believers which may have traced their roots back to the crowds of Jewish worshippers who had flocked to Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot (Acts 2:10). God was already on the move and gave Paul and his friends a chance to join in. Let us not be so arrogant as to assume we are taking God in with us.
West isn’t necessarily best. In large parts of the world Christianity is seen as a western faith. Yet this incident reminds us that the gospel was originally brought to Europe by people from the Near East. Europeans would still be pagans (and in many respects we still are!) if mission workers from another continent had not come to teach us. Let’s remain teachable.
Who is today’s Macedonian? Who today is calling us to go and help them? We looked at some of the options a few weeks ago – and they include remote unreached tribes, people in the 10/40 window, and urban slum dwellers. Are we open to the possibility that there are people hungry for the gospel who we haven’t even considered?
Paul’s vibrant and controversial ministry opened up a new mission field right across Mediterranean Europe. He was driven by the desire to preach the gospel where it had not been preached before (Romans 15:20). Let’s follow his example and seek out new frontiers for the kingdom!
A few weeks ago we celebrated the Fall of the Wall. For much of the latter part of the 20th century Berlin was divided in two by this physical barrier, which also by allusion applied to the Iron Curtain which divided much of central and eastern Europe from the west.
Walls don’t necessarily create division but they certainly perpetuate it. They keep people apart. They stop trade and traffic. They divide families, prevent the exchange of ideas, and contribute to misunderstanding. The Berlin Wall did all those.
The Wall only stood for 28 years but its shadow continued to hang over Europe much longer. For a whole generation after its demolition, it continued to exist in the mind of churches, agencies and mission workers. It was, in effect, a stronghold, even though it no longer existed, because it affected missional thinking on both sides of the boundary.
In the west, many mission workers viewed eastern Europe as a new mission field. They ignored the rich religious tradition, the oppressed but faithful churches, the many heroic believers who continued to be a witness to Jesus throughout the communist times, and assumed that the lack of Bible colleges and seminaries meant that the local believers were immature and biblically illiterate. They moved in with money and programmes and sidelined locals who didn’t get on board with their projects.
But it wasn’t only the westerners who made mistakes. Often the believers in central and eastern Europe resented the intruders and refused to work with them. They let them get on with making their mistakes rather than helping them. They looked down on the westerners who had money and programmes but were not interested in important things like relationship and culture.
Therefore much mission in eastern Europe was characterised by division and mistrust. Granted, this was not always the case, but it was the dominant theme which emerged at the conference of the European Evangelical Mission Association as it took stock of the last 25 years since the Fall of the Wall. Yet the same conference heard much good news. We met leaders of many thriving churches from a dozen countries in eastern Europe. We heard stories from eastern European mission workers to several Asian countries. Mission leaders from all over Europe got together to discuss strategy, training, education and member care. And most of all we were greatly encouraged to hear of a new paradigm that has begun to emerge.
In her opening presentation, Anne-Marie Kool cited the example of the Chain Bridge in Budapest, the city where she has lived and worked since 1987. She pointed out that it was built through cooperation between east and west and at the time was a symbol of progress and unity. Inspired by a Hungarian nationalist, it was constructed by local builders and engineers consulting with an English designer and a Scottish chief engineer. It brought together the two diverse communities of Buda and Pest for the first time, and stopped the great expanse of the Danube preventing traffic flowing easily from east to west and back again.
This could be the dominant image to emerge from the conference – that having demolished a wall which kept us apart, Europe is now in the process of building a bridge to bring us all closer together as we reach out to take the gospel to diverse communities across Europe and beyond. A new spirit of genuine humility and cooperation, based on mutually respectful relationships, is starting to emerge. At Syzygy we welcome this strategic development, and look forward to the result becoming even more elegant, beautiful and functional than the Chain Bridge.
50 can be a challenging age for anybody. On reaching half a century, we have to start coming to terms with ageing, knowing that most of us are now over halfway through our lives.
Perhaps we are no longer able to play 5-a-side with the teenagers, or we are starting to have to make regular nocturnal visits to the toilet or coming to terms with the fact that our body tells us we can’t have children. We may need varifocal lenses or hearing aids. At the same time, we may be dealing with the drama of our children leaving home, or confronting the tragedy that we might never get married, and dealing with the pain of caring for elderly parents. So there is a lot for us to take on board.
At the same time, we are rising to the peak of our professional responsibility. We may be in senior management positions, elders in a church, pillars of our community, trustees of various organisations. We are expected to mentor younger people, act as consultants and advisors, and start ‘paying something back’ into the community. People expect our behaviour to be better than when we were teenagers (“You’re old enough to know better!”) and there is less tolerance of our mistakes as we are assumed to be more mature. But there’s also that nagging doubt that we’ve built on shifting sand. Will our life’s work last? Have we devoted our lives to something worthwhile? Will our children thrive? Or in others words:
The pressure of responsibility and expectation on us rises, just as our energy levels are starting to fall.
The crisis can take a number of forms: a stress-related health incident, ministry burnout and resignation, moral failure, crisis of faith, divorce – and all these hazards lurk out there waiting to trip up the unwary mission worker. For no obvious reason an apparently exemplary worker will suddenly crack under pressure and fall to pieces, injuring many others with the fallout. Lives are damaged, churches shattered, faith rocked. Broken and hurting people return to their sending countries haunted by words like failure and defeat.
So how can we prevent this happening?
Mission workers can:
- Ensure you maintain a vibrant relationship with God, taking time off work if necessary to devote time to God.
- Remember to say no to additional responsibilities if you do not feel called to take them on.
- Take time to reflect regularly on your identity. Are you a Martha or a Mary? Which way round is your dynamic triangle flowing?
- Have a frank relationship with an accountability partner or mentor.
- If you’re married, make sure you take regular steps to invest in your relationship. If you’re not married, make sure you learn to thrive in your singleness.
- Learn to delegate effectively so that you don’t have to cope with excessive busyness as well as excessive responsibility.
- Rejoice that though we are physically decaying we are growing more godly (2 Corinthians 4:16)
- Take a break at the first sign of stress-related illness.
Churches and agencies can:
- Take active steps to ensure their mission workers are not overworked and take regular holidays and study leave
- Use regular appraisals to ask challenging questions about spiritual, emotional and physical well-being
- Encourage mentoring
- Organise training to help mission workers understand what makes them tick and why they may be tempted to overwork.
- Ensure mission workers are sufficiently well-funded to be able to take holidays.
- Have a good member care team in place
- Send out family and friends to support and encourage.
- Ensure that mission workers take regular and sufficient home assignment and have regular healthchecks
- Recognise that cross-cultural living can take its toll on people’s health and spirituality
- Provide practical support to help reduce the pressure on mission workers
Here’s a simple yet creative idea for a mission prayer meeting. Don’t just do the same old boring thing of praying through each paragraph of a newsletter. Do something a bit more original. Take a selection of common items you’d find about the house. Ask yourself what they represent, and if it might look different from your mission worker’s perspective. Pray into it. Here are some simple examples you could use.
Mobile phone – this represents their ability to communicate. Whether writing or phoning home, communicating with locals in their language or dealing with colleagues in a third language, mission workers often have difficulty in understanding and making themselves understood.
Toilet roll – we don’t need to go into details but life in a country your immune system didn’t grow up in can be full of nasty diseases.
Car keys – in many parts of the world roads are even worse than Devon’s! Vehicles may not be up to safety standards and there are no working time directives limiting the hours professional drivers spend behind the wheel. Travelling, whether by car, bus, motorbike or cycle can be hazardous.
Bottle of water – we take utilities for granted but many mission workers live in parts of the world where the power can go off for days at a time, or there is no running water.
Family photograph – many mission workers are separated from loved ones. Children may be at boarding school, or elderly parents may be left behind at home.
Chillies - the food is often very different from back home, and can take a lot of getting used to. Some people may have allergies to particular types of local food, or may be unable to get food they need such as gluten-free.
Fan - many mission workers live where the weather is extreme, and for some seasons of the year almost unbearable.
Bible - the reality of life on the mission field is that mission workers can become spiritually dry. They may be engaged in spiritual battles and face great opposition, or the spiritual dynamic of the dominant religion may have an impact on them.
Wedding ring – marriages come under great strain on the mission field, as one partner may have a vision for being there, and the other is tagging along, or perhaps one does better with the language with the other lagging behind. Conversely, there are also pressures of a different kind on singles in the mission field.
Bowl – in many countries beggars are everywhere, and foreigners can stand out as targets. It can be easy to get compassion fatigues, or to be worn down by the constant high profile.
Dictionary – mission workers usually need to learn a second language, and sometimes a third. This can be time-consuming and daunting for those who are not naturally gifted at it.
Passport - paperwork is a continual problem. Visas, work permits, driving licences, residence permits all have to be obtained (without resorting to corrupt expedients) and periodically renewed. This can be emotionally demanding, with many repeat visits to crowded government offices where you can queue for hours to find that the person you need to talk to is not there.
Credit card – money is frequently a source of stress for mission workers. Most of us rely on the divinely-inspired generosity of a small group of supporters to provide for the often quite substantial ministry costs we have. Sometimes we have to leave the mission field for financial reasons alone.
Book - many mission workers use their professional skills as theologians, medics or educationalists, and need to keep their knowledge and qualifications up to date. Yet finding time to read academic journals, let alone take CPD courses in the midst of a demanding role can be very difficult.
Toy - children can suffer in the mission field, and that has a huge impact on the parents. Without support, children can easily become the mission worker’s Achilles heel.
DVD - mission workers need to relax too! Yet often they find they have too much work, or feel guilty if they stop to enjoy themselves.
Office ID card – for many mission workers, the single biggest source of stress is their colleagues. Often coming from a variety of cultures, with a common language that they aren’t all gifted in, and with a variety of church backgrounds and missiological viewpoints, it can be extremely hard to form a team in which everyone gets on well. Arguments and even personal disputes can become commonplace.
Please use this information to pray into the situations of the mission workers you support. The advantage of this method is that you can use it to pray anywhere, anytime, for your mission workers. For example, if you’re waiting for a bus, look around you and seek inspiration. What do you see? Cars – pray for your mission worker’s safe travel in a world where roads and transportation may not be as good as ours. A dog – pray for safety from being bitten by rapid dogs, or mosquitos, or lions. A pillar box – pray for their good communication with family, church and friends back home.
Try this way of praying for mission workers and your prayer life may never quite be the same again!
25 years ago today, the Berlin Wall was breached. Few of us alive at the time can forget the emotional scenes of Germans from both sides of the barrier greeting each other freely, without risk of being shot. The Wall had divided the city since 1961 and was a symbol of the Cold War division of Europe into two ideologically distinct halves. The fall of the Wall was a dramatic change in European geopolitics which had been unthinkable only a few months before.
Berlin was a microcosm of global issues and the fall of the wall was a turning point in modern European history. It brought down with it the Iron Curtain, and shortly afterwards the Romanians overthrew their dictator, and other communist regimes fell in eastern Europe. Within a few years, The Czech Republic and Slovakia had parted company, Yugoslavia had violently fractured and the Soviet Union broken up. The impact of those events still affect millions of people today – just think of the current conflict in Ukraine.
Berlin itself wasn’t the start. The roots of the popular overthrow of communist regimes across eastern Europe began with the election of a Polish pope in 1979, which gave a new legitimacy to the Roman Catholic church in Poland. The trades union Solidarity stood up to the communist government. Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika. Prayer meetings started in East Berlin.
Christians played a significant part in this movement and continue to do so. New liberties allowed Christians to meet freely and take the gospel to their neighbours. Western mission agencies and churches could enter countries freely where only a few years before Brother Andrew had been smuggling in Bibles in his battered VW. Protestant churches were planted where previously there had been no evangelical witness. Church buildings were reconsecrated and put back into use. Eastern Europe began to send its own mission workers to other countries, and today it provides the world with significant theologians and leaders.
At this time there will be many retrospectives. The current issue of Vista has an excellent review. Syzygy is proud to be helping the European Evangelical Mission Association run a conference called Revolutions in European Mission, which will take place in Bucharest in two weeks’ time on the anniversary of the Romanian revolution. Not only will it review the successes and failures of the last 25 years of mission, but it will ask important questions about how we do mission in the future. You can read more about it here.
Today a million tourists have taken away most of the Berlin Wall, though its location is remembered in the paving on the Berlin streets where it once stood. On this important anniversary we rejoice with the people of central and eastern Europe, recognise what it cost many of them to gain their freedom, and pray that they will use it well.
This is the attention-grabbing tagline of a book with a much milder name, A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards. Written in 1980 to counter the threat of authoritarian leadership in the church, it has become a minor classic which has proved highly therapeutic for victims of domineering leaders.
We have mentioned before in these blogs how some mission leaders can be ill-equipped for their leadership role, which is why Syzygy is committed to leadership development and mentoring, and are looking at other ways of supporting leaders. Sadly, many Christian workers have been hurt by leaders who, uncomfortable in their role, resort to domineering or manipulative leadership styles to enforce their authority, brutally crushing ‘rebellion’ and marginalising the ‘rebels’. We know, because we’ve been there. And reading this book was part of the recovery.
A Tale of Three Kings traces the life of King David, first as a young man working for a tyrant, and later as a king overthrown by his ambitious son, Absalom. These are the eponymous three kings. Edwards uses them as types – Saul as an insecure leader who wrongly feels threatened by anyone competent, Absalom as a proud, ambitious achiever quick to claim power that is not his, and David as a humble, broken leader who will not fight to take what is not his, nor to keep it. He argues that despite the great suffering caused to him by both Saul and Absalom, David is the only one of the three who acts righteously throughout.
The answer to the opening question is “You get stabbed to death.” Because in the brokenness, the dying to self that pain brings, you kill the Saul within you whose fleshly response is to retaliate. That is what helps equip you to become a leader. The minute you pick up the spear and throw it back, you become another Saul, Edwards argues. Moreover, he argues that it was David’s suffering at the hands of Saul that equipped him to become a great king, because he saw first hand how a tyrant destroys.
Saul’s response to the challenge he perceived from David was to destroy. In doing so, he revealed his own character weakness. As Edwards puts it,
Outer power will always unveil the inner resources, or the lack thereof.
This book is not to everyone’s taste, and its literary style takes a bit of getting used to, but for the Davids among us it brings great comfort, and to the Sauls and Absaloms, a thought-provoking challenge. Many people who think they are Davids will be brought up short to discover how much Absalom is in them! The book deserves its subtitle A Study in Brokenness because that is exactly what it is, as it aims to help us study the brokenness (or lack thereof) in our own lives. A helpful section at the back makes this specifically personal by asking such questions as:
- Who throws spears at you? How does God want you to respond?
- What needs to happen to put your own inner Saul to death?
- Sauls see only Absaloms. Absaloms see only Sauls. Neither can recognise a David. How can we distinguish the one from the others?
- David considered the throne to be God’s, not his own to have, to take, to protect, to keep. Could you say the same about what God has given you?
‘Re-entry’ is a term that is frequently used for mission workers returning to their ‘home’ country. It conveys the sense of a spacecraft coming back into the earth’s atmosphere, which is the most risky part of the whole voyage into space. This imagery was used successfully in Marion Knell’s book Burn Up or Splash Down which talks about how to re-enter successfully. We’ve also got a section on re-entry in our Guides to Doing Mission Well.
But what happens when it goes wrong? Instead of a gentle, parachute-assisted splashdown it feels more like a crash landing. Many mission workers experience a profound sense of disorientation when they return. They feel like they don’t belong in the place where they always used to. They no longer fit in. They’re not at home. And this is profoundly unsettling, because it’s the place they feel they really should fit in. It’s rather like being in that 1960s sci fi film in which a spaceman finds himself on a duplicate earth by mistake – it looks just like home, but it doesn’t feel right.
With appropriate support some people adapt successfully after a few months. But many don’t, and they continue to struggle with a sense of alienation. They can become angry, frustrated or disillusioned. Their churches don’t really know how to help them move on. They feel isolated, unable to connect with family and friends.
These can be entirely normal reactions to re-entry, but unaddressed they can become unhealthy. But where can people with these problems turn for help? Syzygy has produced a one-day workshop called Crash Landing? which is specifically tailored for returned mission workers who have struggled to feel at home in their ‘home’ country. It helps to answer such questions as:
Where is home?
How can I thrive when I feel I don’t belong?
Why don’t I fit in and what can I do about it?
How do I relate to a church which doesn’t share my values?
Crash Landing? will equip people with the skills and resources needed to be able to begin the process of adapting to living in this in-between world and help them to find a way forward.
Crash Landing? will be held in Birmingham on Saturday 21st February 2015. It is available at a cost of just £25 including lunch and refreshments. To register for Crash Landing? click here. For further information email email@example.com
The recent case of a friend on a visit to a country in west Africa whose bag was stolen (ironically, inside the Ministry of Justice!) prompts me to write about some simple steps we can all take to enhance our security as we travel. This particular case was a perfect storm of coincidences which made my friend unusually vulnerable, but taking some precautions will help minimise the risk of serious problems.
Country-specific advice - look on the UK government website for specific information about security and health risks before you go – https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Embassy – make sure you know where the nearest embassy/consulate of your country is and have its phone number in your phone. If there isn’t one, make sure you know which country handles your country’s affairs and have their details.
Phone numbers – memorise or have a handwritten list of the numbers you can’t afford not to have with you, such as your office, the airline, your hotel , the embassy and your mum/husband.
Documentation – keep a photocopy of your passport (the information page and the visa page) and tickets in a safe place in case you lose the originals. Sometimes people will tell you to leave the originals in a safe but in many countries it’s illegal not to have the original documentation on you at all times. If your passport is stolen, report it to the embassy immediately and get a police report. The embassy can issue a replacement, and if there’s no embassy where you are, you can get a permit to travel to get you to the nearest one.
Insurance – take a copy of your insurance certificate with you so you can contact your insurer easily if you need to.
Power of Attorney – make sure somebody in your home country has a power of attorney registered with your bank so that they are authorised to cancel your credit cards and ask for replacements to be issued.
Marriage certificate – If you are a married woman, make sure all your documentation is in the same name, or carry a certified copy of your marriage certificate with you. A passport has a handy space for an ‘also known as’ name which is worth using.
Expensive jewellery and gadgets – don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose, unless you really need it.
Mobile – don’t take an expensive smartphone unless you need the screen. If you’re just planning to phone and text, take a simple phone which will be less attractive to thieves.
Medicines – if you have important medication, make sure you know where it is. Have a copy of a prescription so you can get some more if you need to.
Money – have small amounts of cash in different pockets and bags so that if you lose some, you don’t lose it all. Carry a dummy wallet with a few notes, an old credit card and some photos so that you can hand it over if necessary without losing everything. Keep the important things in a money belt.
Laptops – these are particularly vulnerable to theft. Have a password and some sort of encryption for secure documents. Keep a full backup on a memory stick in a separate place.
Luggage – it’s a good idea to pack things like money, medicines and data sticks in separate bags, so that if one bag is stolen, you haven’t lost everything. Keep things in pockets too in case all your luggage goes missing.
Credit cards – have a written note of the card numbers and the phone numbers you need to call to cancel them. Don’t even take them with you if you don’t have to. Carry a spare out-of-date credit card to serve as a decoy in a robbery.
Obviously, taking these precautions won’t prevent theft, accident or illness, but they should help you deal with it better!
In Romans chapter 6, Paul uses strong visual imagery to ram home a theological point – slavery*. This would have made a lot of sense in his day when slavery was a significant part of the Roman economic structure and everybody would have been fully aware of the issues. Many of the early Christians would have been slaves; a few were slave owners and most of the rest would have aspired to own slaves. At the time Paul was writing, possibly a third of the population of Rome were slaves.
Everyone knew that slaves had no freedom to choose. They were quite literally the property of their owners and were not legally recognised as people. They were assets which could be bought or sold. They had to do exactly what they were told, or they were punished.
Imagine then a slave, let’s call him Maximus, who has recently been sold by his former owner, Brutus. One day his new owner sends him out to do some shopping, but on his way to the market he meets Brutus, who tells him to go off on an errand for him. What is he to do? He knows he shouldn’t, but he’s afraid of Brutus who is a violent man, so he goes. Of course, when he gets home late, he’s in trouble and his new owner wants to know where he’s been. What can Maximus say to defend himself? He’s a pawn in a power struggle who has ended up satisfying nobody.
Paul uses an argument just like this to put us in the place of Maximus. Why are we still obeying sin when we have a new master? Sin used to control us (Romans 6:17) but then we were bought (the Greek word exagorizo, which is usually translated ‘redeemed’, literally means “bought from the market”). So we no longer have to obey our old master. In fact, when he turns up, demanding obedience, we can tell him where to go, because we have a new master. And Paul encourages us to obey him, so that we wholeheartedly belong to him (6:19).
All of us struggle to break the habits of our former lifestyles. We learned sinful thoughts, attitudes, words and behaviour from our old master, and even though he now has no power over us, we’re in the habit of living in a way that would please him. The new master has different standards, and we should make a strenuous effort to live in a way that shows we are now living according to his standards. So the next time the devil comes knocking, remind him it’s a done deal and he’s not in charge any more.
Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, for sin shall not be master over you. Though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
(Romans 6:12-18, edited)
*Health warning – it never does to take biblical imagery to extremes. Certain aspects of the slavery motif can be problematic (e.g. did God do a deal with the devil to ‘buy’ humans out of satan’s control? Are we slaves or free people?). The Bible writers used imagery like this to convey a general example, not an exact parallel.
Sending a mission worker out into the mission field is rather like sending an army into battle. You don’t just stroll out and pick a fight. It pays to be well-prepared. Plans are laid. Training is given. Strategy is developed. Support is put into place. Scouting is done. Weapons are provided.
Yet we all know only too well that no matter how much preparation is done, there can always be a chink in the armour. Like King Harold’s woefully inadequate eye protection, or Achilles’ badly-designed army boots. One small weakness which can result in a devastating defeat.
For many mission workers, their Achilles’ heel is their children. Most of us go into the mission field prepared to make sacrifices for God. Few us of want to think of our children as those sacrifices. It’s all very well for us to risk everything for our beliefs, but to ask our children to risk everything requires a whole new level of faith, and many of us struggle to get there. I’ve known mission workers pack up and go home not because they couldn’t cope with getting malaria regularly, but because they couldn’t cope with their children getting it. It’s not uncommon for mission workers to return to their sending country because they can’t get the right education for their children in the mission field. Or because their kids are not adapting well to living abroad and want to go home.
I’m not criticising them for those choices. It’s right to look after the kids. At the other end of the spectrum we’ve all come across TCKs (Third Culture Kids) who’ve been completely messed up by being brought up abroad and struggling to fit in. Some have even lost their faith as a result. That’s a tragedy.
So whether we stay or go, we need to be aware of the potential impact of serving in world mission on the kids, and take steps to remedy it. Mission workers, agencies, churches and family all have a part to play in this. Here are five things that we can all do to make sure that TCKs are part of the army not part of the problem.
Pray – many of us forget to pray for the kids when we’re praying for the family. So it’s not surprising they can become the Achilles’ heel. Pray for their health, happiness, education, sense of identity, safety and most of all their own personal, genuine walk with God.
Be informed – read books like Families on the Move or keep in touch with websites like:
Find excellent resources from the TCK Forum. Ask sending agencies what they’re doing to support your mission workers’ kids, and keep the pressure on them to deliver.
Education – this is always an issue of great concern. Despite the British tendency to assume that education abroad is significantly inferior to ours, some countries have extremely high standards of education. There are also international schools in many cities, Christian boarding schools in many countries and even boarding schools in the UK willing to make very generous scholarships to TCKS. There are also a significant number of Christian and secular home-schooling programmes available. You can read more about this on the Oscar website.
Healthcare – nobody enjoys the thought of a child being sick. Good health insurance is vital, one which pays for medical evacuation to a first-world country if necessary. However TCKs may be no less safe in the field than they would be in the parents’ sending country, the risks may just be different.
Support – from simple things like remembering birthdays and Christmas to making sure that TCKs get an opportunity to connect with each other through events like reconnect or websites like those listed above, make sure the family knows what support is there for them. There are also plenty of TCK specialists around who can provide care or counselling if necessary. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
TCKs don’t have to be sacrifices. With appropriate care and support, they can thrive and make the most of their international experience as global citizens.
God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with His, and, for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose.
Some of us will only just have come back from a summer trip abroad, but for others it’s already time to be thinking about what to do next summer, as it can take a long time to find the right agency and programme, get accepted, do the training, raise the funding and go.
One of the many dilemmas is how to determine which agency to go with, and as one way of narrowing down the alternatives Syzygy recommends you only pick an agency that complies with the Global Connections Code of Best Practice for short-term mission. You can tell them because their publicity will carry the Code logo, and they’re listed on the Global Connections website. They’re also highlighted in the Short-Term Service Directory, which is produced by Christian Vocations and is an invaluable resource for anyone considering a short-term trip. While adherence to the Code is not necessarily a guarantee that your trip will be perfect, it does demonstrate that the agency has submitted itself to a peer-reviewed process checking how well its practices match the Code.
The code was developed nearly a decade ago in order to find a way of ensuring that agreed minimum standards are adhered to by agencies organising short-term trips. The code was produced as the outcome of a number of consultations involving experienced practitioners and is a valuable statement of the values and practices the short-term mission world thinks are important. It is kept up to date by the Short-Term Mission Forum on which Syzygy has a voice. The Code includes a number of factors including:
- Genuine partnership with local churches or mission workers that is driven by the local need, not our desire to send teams
- Careful contextualisation of activities and accurate publicity
- Authentic care for the team member reflected in careful selection, training and debriefing
- Ongoing commitment to local partnership
- Seeing personal discipleship as a key outcome for the team member
- Careful monitoring of results in order to deliver continuous improvement
- Adherence to meeting all legal obligations
The Code is regularly reviewed to ensure it reflects current standards, and a biennial review process checks that agencies which wish to be seen as operating under the Code do in fact comply with it. That’s not to say that agencies which do not have the Code logo aren’t delivering great results – but there’s nobody out there checking up on them to confirm it. Agencies using the logo will have procedures in place to deliver a well-rounded short-term mission trip and we recommend that you use one of them.