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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

So what can we do to avoid a collapse?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hudson Taylor”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1 Peter 2:12)

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

Prayer does not fit us for the greater work;

prayer is the greater work.

(Oswald Chambers)

It has become our custom in recent years to start the new year with an appeal for prayer.  We regularly remind our readers of the need for partners to pray for mission workers, unreached people groups, the suffering church and crisis situations, and we believe prayer is the key to releasing God’s power and presence into challenging situations.

This year we make no apology for another appeal to prayer, but with one change: we’d like you to pray for us.  Ever since we started we have had a small group of committed prayer partners who pray for our needs, and as we’ve grown we’ve depended on the prayers of these friends even more.

Last year we turned a corner in our understanding of the role Syzygy can play in supporting mission agencies with member care, and this was largely in response to seeking God about the future of Syzygy.  In response we have established a network of experienced member care workers in different parts of England (sorry, rest of the UK, we’re working on serving you too!).

Now we need to pray for the work for them to do.  In the past we have served around 150 mission workers each year through training, debriefing, advice and practical support – now we have the capacity to serve a significantly greater number but we need to pray for them to come to us, and for us to be able to help them.  You can find out how to support Syzygy in prayer through our Get Praying! page, but we’d particularly like to draw your attention to the PrayerMate App.  We send out a new prayer request every day for you to get on your phone.

Will you please pray with us that God will send these people our way, so that we can equip ever more mission workers to be effective and resilient?



What does Good News look like to them?

In the world of mission there is a continuing debate of whether we should demonstrate the gospel, preach the gospel, or do both (often referred to as “wholistic” mission)*.  Advocates of the first argue that there is no point in preaching the gospel to people who are going to die of hunger, while advocates of the second say there is no point in giving people hope in this life if they have no hope for the next.  Proponents of wholistic mission try to find a mid-point and do both.

The picture is muddied even by the example of Jesus.  One the one hand it is clear that Jesus had compassion on people because they were needy (Matthew 9:36), yet the previous verse said he proclaimed the gospel and healed people.  His famous mission statement in Luke 4 says that he came to preach good news… and then proceeds to focus on the poor, the imprisoned, the blind and the oppressed.  In other words, the socially disadvantaged.  Then later in the same gospel he says “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) which sounds profoundly soteriological.  In Acts 11 Peter calls Jesus a man who went around doing good and makes no mention of him preaching the kingdom.

One way to square this circle is to ask ourselves what Good News actually is.  Evangelical Christians would customarily describe it as “Christ died for your sins”, but of course before Jesus died, Good News must have meant something else.  In Luke 9, Jesus sent the Twelve out to proclaim the kingdom of God (Jesus’ usual message) and heal, but in verse 6 we’re told they ‘preached the Good News’ and healed.  So the Good News is not merely the Kingdom even though it includes a call to repentance (Mark 6:12).  For some people, Good News looked like healing.  For others it was food, or deliverance from demons.  Good News embraced their immediate needs as well as their eternal needs.

What does Good News look like for the people we meet?  Seen from their perspective, it may not primarily be salvation.  They might have more immediate concerns.  These might be a bed for the homeless, a meal for the hungry, a community for the refugee, healing for the sick, comfort for the bereaved, friendship for the lonely.  This is why so many Christian compassion ministries exist in the UK and abroad.

Christmas is a time of year when Christians invite their non-Christian friends and neighbours to church services, or send them overtly evangelistic Christmas cards.  But if we’re not showing them what Good News looks like throughout the year, our preaching might seem to them a bit shallow.

* There are of course many facets to mission including discipleship, social action, advocacy, creation care….  but the ‘show and tell’ model is a simple one to use.

The runup to Christmas is often a busy and demanding time.  Decorations to put up at home and work, festivities to prepare, carol concerts to attend, presents to buy, meals to share, nativity plays to endure, church services to plan… The list goes on and on.  So much for celebrating the Prince of Peace.

But this is just one more symptom of the crazy demanding world we live in.  A world in which technology means we are available to our colleagues and customers 24/7.  A world in which we’ve almost forgotten that until 1994 shopping on a Sunday was almost impossible in the UK.  A world in which everyone expects more but has less to give.

For mission workers life balance is always hard, for many reasons.  Our kids have needs which are different because they’re growing up in a different culture.  The spiritual dynamic of the place we work saps our energy.  There never seems to be enough money or people.  The constant turnover of co-workers is emotionally demanding.  Coping with life in a foreign culture can be exhausting.

How do we balance all these competing demands for our attention?

First, we should decide what is important to us.  Family, friends, children, ministry, work, hobbies, health, God are all important and need to be in the mix, but what is the proportion and priority?  It will look different for each of us and we need to decide what is the most appropriate in our circumstances.

Then we need work out (on average) how much of our attention to allocate to each element in the mix, and when.  Some of this is already done for us, if we have for example a 9-5 job, or we need to be at specific church services on Sundays.  But we may be able to be creative.  For example, if you find date night hard to do with your partner because you have kids and can’t get babysitters, why not arrange a date lunch once a week when you both set aside time for a long, leisurely lunch together while the kids are at school?

Then we must be disciplined in protecting that time.  Some of us deliberately cannot access work emails on our phone.  Or make a point of turning the phone off at certain times so we can’t be interrupted.  We can put things in our calendars and say “Sorry I’m busy that day” without telling people why we’re busy.

If you need to get your life back into balance you are welcome to talk to someone from Syzygy.  Just email to get in touch.  And we can recommend a weekend retreat on the subject at beautiful Penhurst Retreat Centre in East Sussex.  If you can fit it in.

At Syzygy we come across far too many Christians who are pulled in so many directions because they find it hard to say no or find it easy to overcommit.  If we are going to be known for having “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10) we need to get that life into balance.


Is this going to help you survive?

We have written about the challenges of re-entry on a number of occasions but so far we have not introduced our readers to the RAFT.  This helpful analogy was introduced by David Pollock who was an expert in transition.  His point was that the RAFT helps us leave well, so that we don’t feel we have unfinished business when we arrive back in our passport country.

Imagine a RAFT made of four logs lashed together.  Each log represents a different aspect of an emotionally-healthy departure.  They are:

Reconciliation.  It can be tempting when we know there is tension between us and someone else to just leave it, since we won’t be seeing them again.  But St Paul writes “Live in peace with everyone, as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18).  In other words, whether it’s your fault or not, you take responsibility for sorting it out.  Take the time to restore damaged relationships, to repent and ask (and offer) forgiveness.  Failure to do this can lead to a feeling that there is unfinished business which prevents us getting closure.  Unresolved issues can also overshadow the development of new relationships in our destination.

Affirmation.  Often people want to thank us for what we’ve done and what we’ve meant to them.  It may not fit our culture well and we might be embarrassed to hear people say nice things about us (let’s face it, we usually wait till the funeral to say them) but in some cultures it’s appropriate to honour people publicly and effusively.  Likewise we should be prepared to honour others and thank them for their work, welcome, and contribution to our lives and ministry.  Give cards or farewells gifts to people so they have something to remember you by.  It demonstrates that we value people.

Farewells.  Make sure you say goodbye properly to everyone.  Not just with one large party where you don’t have time for anybody, but with individual meals.  Make sure you give people quality time.  Try to finish your ministry responsibilities long before your departure so you have time for everyone – and for recovering from the emotions of saying so many goodbyes.  Also say goodbye to buildings, places, pets that have been special to you, and belongings you will be leaving behind so that you are consciously severing any nostalgic links you have to places as you move on.  And hold a ‘decommissioning’ service.  Transition is easier to cope with when there is a ritual element to it, so leaving well should include a way of handing over well.

Think Destination.  In the busyness of saying goodbye, selling or giving away belongings and handing over ministry, it can be easy to forget the flip side of leaving – re-entry.  Good preparation for re-entry can help ease the transition by resolving in advance all the issues about where you’re going to live, school your children, what support you will need as you transition and who will provide it.

By building a sturdy RAFT, you will have more chance of surviving the perilous journey ahead!


For further advice on leaving the mission field, see our helpful Guide to Re-Entry

Shoots of hope?

Officially, winter starts next week in the UK.  Yet at the end of November, when branches are bare, flowers have died, and leaves are turning to mud in the gutters, it feels like it’s already here.  Days are short, temperatures dropping and our moods drop too as we brace ourselves for the cold and damp.

But even in the midst of such gloom we carry out small acts of hope.  Autumn is the time for planting bulbs.  In November, before the ground freezes, we plant the bulbs which will start growing roots ready to burst into flower in the spring.  We know that in a few months our hearts will be lifted by the snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and tulips which will turn our drab winter gardens into a riot of colour.  We plant in hope.

Mission workers are no stranger to this feeling.  Most of us work in environments where we see little response, yet we carry on sowing the seed of the word of God.  As Alex reminded us a couple of weeks ago that this can often take years to come to fruition but we keep sowing it in faith anyway.

Sadly our supporters sometimes expect the harvest to come quickly.  “How many people have you led to the Lord this year?” they might ask.  Churches may threaten to withdraw funding if there is no evidence of people turning to Christ as a result of our labours.  This can put us under pressure, make us worker harder, pray harder, preach harder, even succumb to the temptation to coerce people into coming to church.

There is a short parable in Mark’s gospel which can encourage us in this situation.  Tucked away between the more famous parables of the sower and the mustard seed, this one is about the growth of the seed.   It’s short enough to repeat in full:

This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.

(Mark 4:28-29)

He does not know how.  The growth of the seed is not dependent on the farmer.  He plants it, waits patiently, and reaps the crop in due time.  Let us not worry about the mechanics of what is going on in people’s hearts.  That’s God’s job.  We plant the seed, he makes it grow.  And we are privileged, in partnering with him in his mission, so be called his fellow-workers (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).  So let’s concentrate on our part of the work, and leave him to do his bit.


This week’s guest blogger is Sarita Hartz, writer, former mission worker, and missions coach.

I came home after a long day in the IDP camps, tired and sweaty with barely enough energy to make myself a sad bowl of pasta (for one) before I curled under the covers.  I was journaling when I looked up and saw the largest spider I’d ever seen crawling across the ceiling.  I unsuccessfully tried to kill it with a broom, then worried for hours about where this alien antichrist arachnid could be when I finally breathed an exasperated prayer, “God, if you could please just send my husband.”

Then the tears fell.

I’m not typically a woman who’s afraid of killing spiders on her own. I’m strong and mostly fearless, but the loneliness of life overseas as a single woman was overwhelming me.

When I was younger, I was determined no one would keep me from my calling.

When I left for Africa, I wasn’t sure I would ever get married. But I knew if I pursued God with my whole heart He would fulfill His promises to me. I was independent, strong-willed, and let’s face it…a lot idealistic. But I needed some of that brash naïveté to be crazy enough to strike out on my own overseas.

One of my biggest fears has always been I won’t fulfill my purpose.

I didn’t want to be a woman who’d never lived her dreams or fell into her man’s dreams and slowly became flimsy, like a cut out of a paper doll, a thin representation of her former self.

As I spoke across the country about my ministry in Uganda I’d often hear women say, “I was going to go to Thailand to work in sex-trafficking but I met my husband and we had kids and you know...”

They didn’t regret their kids obviously, but there was a wistfulness in their voice that frightened me.  It seemed women were always having to choose between having a husband or living their dreams.

Equally so, many young women used to come up to me and say, “I could never do what you do because I don’t have a husband,” or “I want to get married, so I can’t move to a remote village where there aren’t any single guys.

I wanted to call bulls*#$!

I wanted to shake their shoulders and say, “Yes you can! Don’t limit yourself!’  You can break the rules. Except in our culture we haven’t taught them they can.

Don’t let the enemy make you believe the lie that you can’t be used or you can’t pursue your call unless you’re married.

Or that you can’t run off to a war zone because you need to stick close to the “dating pool.”

I moved full-time to a remote region of northern Uganda as a single woman, at the age of 26, with my own nonprofit and no husband. (Not too many single bachelors there) But statistics say:

“Singleness is the fourth most common reason appointees don’t make it to the mission field or take a long time getting there.” (Pioneers International Report) 

This makes me incredibly sad. This means we’re sending the wrong message to our singles. We’re quietly withdrawing our support unless they’re married in ministry.  Still, I’m proud to say that:

1/3 of missionaries are single and 80% are single missionary women (AIM)

You go girls! (Cue Beyoncé).  That means you’re carrying much of the global worker force, ladies. Well done! We really need you!

Yet being single in missions presents its own unique challenges including safety issues, suffering, loneliness, sexism, misconception by others, cultural oppression in patriarchal societies, temptations for sexual partners, being emotionally manipulated into cross cultural marriages, torn between family back home, higher levels of burnout, and grieving the diminishing possibility of marriage.

People might assume “life might be easier” for singles, but living overseas that proves less true.  In a recent survey I conducted amongst nearly 60 single women, many common threads emerged of how being a single woman missionary is especially difficult.

And you can read the results on Sarita’s own website!

J O Fraser (courtesy

The following story is adapted with permission from ‘Mountain Rain’ by Eileen Crossman.

In 1908 James O. Fraser set sail to China to serve with the China Inland Mission, now OMF International, and based himself in Yunnan province.  When he had enough language to begin sharing the gospel he started to talk to groups of people in the market places, on street corners or in tea shops.  He took with him copies of Mark’s Gospel and some tracts for those who could read and wanted to know more.

One day, during a visit to an area four days journey away, Fraser was in a crowded market.  He often used a little table for his booklets which he would sell cheaply or sometimes give away.  That day someone knocked into his table and the booklets fell, some into puddles, some trodden over by mules and some grabbed by people in the crowd.  A six year old boy quickly stuffed a copy of Mark’s Gospel down his shirt and disappeared into the crowd. The boy’s father, Moh, was a pastry cook who had sent him to sell his cakes in the market.  His son thought he might be interested to read the book and took it on the long journey back over the mountain trail where it “began a quiet revolution in that remote mountain home.”

Five years later, Fraser, on another of his many journeys to share the gospel in mountain towns and villages and while en-route to another destination, arrived worn out at nightfall in a small town. In his diary he records that he spent the next day “mostly in Bible reading and prayer, alone on the mountains.  Felt I needed it. Asked God to give a blessing in the evening – my first visit to the place.”

Heading back into the town he saw a group of performers setting up in the market place.  As they hadn’t started their show yet, Fraser got out his accordion and starting singing.  After a crowd gathered he shared the gospel with them.  Despite some opposition, about a hundred people listened late into the evening.

James closed by asking if anyone wanted to know more about Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.  A man stepped forward saying he wanted to follow Jesus.  He said he had come to believe that He was the Son of God.  Inviting James back to his shop the man showed him “a small, well-read copy of Mark’s gospel.”  It was Moh.  He told James how his son had come home with it five years earlier. Moh had read the little book many times and was “stirred by the story” and had longed to learn more.

Fraser nurtured this new disciple whose testimony aroused a lot of curiosity and not a little persecution and who went on to point many to Christ in that region.  He recalled later that he “never knew a braver man in his witness for Christ.”

Fraser became instrumental in a wonderful work of God among the Lisu people whom he dedicated his life to bringing the gospel to.  With no written language, Fraser created a script and together with others worked on translating the Bible into Lisu.  I spoke recently with a mission worker serving in Yunnan who told me that today even local authorities say the Lisu are a Christian people group.  The church there has taken root since it was planted through the efforts of Fraser and others in the early and mid 20th century.

Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  God says of His word in Jeremiah 23:29 that it is ‘like fire…and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” John Stott wrote that ‘The Word of God will prove its divine origin by its divine power.  Let’s let it loose in the world!”

Recently I gave a MicroSD card loaded with the New Testament, evangelistic messages and some songs to a man I’ve been witnessing to here in South East Asia.  A friend told me about a woman living in the Middle East who has given loads of Mp3 players containing the Bible to shut-in maids.  I also just heard about a nominally Muslim man in central Europe given a Bible to read by a friend.  His wife, more religious, didn’t want him to read it, believing it would contaminate them so she kept hiding it from him.

However, every time she hid it she’d read a bit from it. One day she read Matthew 5:27-30 where it is written, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).  She was amazed and deeply struck that Jesus cares about women.  Her heart was opened to the gospel and she came to Christ.  She said she’d never heard of a God like that, who cares so much about women that He put this teaching in His holy book.  Now they are both committed Christians serving refugees.  Not a passage you would have expected to be key in someone coming to Jesus!

Whether it’s in print-form, through storytelling, audio, video or braille, we must continue to distribute and teach the Bible, so it can have its powerful impact on individuals and communities.  Bible translation is also still much needed with, according to Wycliffe Bible Translators, approximately 1.5 billion people without the Bible in their heart language. While there is a lot of needed and exciting work happening in world mission, none of it is more important than the communication of God’s Word by which people can discover Jesus and learn to live as His disciples.  What God says in the Bible can cause revolutions in hearts and homes, destroy the power of lies and deception, explain who we are and how to live and ultimately draw people to God Himself.  By all necessary means may we press on to ‘hold out the word of life’ (Philippians 2:16) so that more people may experience its divine, transforming power in this broken world.

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


This week marks the centenary of the communist revolution in Russia, a process that was supposed to bring liberation to millions of oppressed workers but also brought terror and oppression to millions of innocent bystanders, not only in Russia but across the globe as the Soviets exported their revolution to eastern Europe, southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.  While intelligentsia, bourgeoisie, merchants and managers all suffered purges, Christians have often been specifically targeted by communist regimes.  Possibly up to 20 million Christians died at the hands of the Soviet Union, and many millions more under other communist regimes.  Communist governments to this day continue to oppress Christians, particularly in North Korea.

Ever since Karl Marx commented in 1843 that “Religion… is the opium of the people”, communism has singled out Christianity for being an oppressor itself and keeping the working classes firmly entrenched at the bottom of the social ladder, and there may well be some truth in this.  For example, the whimsical hymn “All things bright and beautiful”, published in the revolutionary year of 1848 by Mrs C F Alexander, contains the lines:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Hardly encouraging the proletariat to become upwardly mobile!  Founder of the Chinese Republic Sun Yat-Sen, himself a Christian, allegedly observed that the gospel contains enough dynamite to blow up all the existing social structures in Europe.  Yet somehow the Establishment of the church allied the gospel to the elites in society, when the initial first century believers were mainly slaves or the urban poor.  So over the centuries, Christianity switched sides, although there were many notable exceptions, particularly amongst the monastics (think St Francis of Assisi) and the non-conformists (Elizabeth Fry, Dr Barnardo, George Müller).

Yet until very recently, when elements in the church have attempted to embrace the restructuring of society so that the poor and marginalised begin to become empowered, they are usually lambasted as communists, like the liberation theologians of Latin America.  Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Brazil during the military governments of the 1960s-80s pointed out:

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

It seems that for centuries, Christians have valued order, stability and power, and assuaged their consciences by donating to the poor.  A truly radical church would possibly make communism redundant: abolishing slavery, establishing economic equality and becoming a protector and advocate for the vulnerable and marginalised.

Today many thousands of mission workers throughout the world are trying to do just that – working as agricultural advisers, advocates for social justice, campaigning against homelessness, modern slavery and people trafficking, working in prisons and refugee camps.  They need more people to join them, to fund them and pray for them.  There is a huge need across the world which the church should be meeting.  Can you put your career on hold for a few years to go and help?  Or cancel your next holiday so you can donate some real money?  Give up an hour of television a week to pray for world mission?

In a sobering passage in Matthew 25, Jesus said to his followers:  “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”  Today, where do we have the opportunity to serve Jesus in one of his most ‘distressing disguises’?[1]

[1] Mother Theresa of Calcutta in Where There is Love, There is God

You just have to be there!

A mission worker I know recently commented on Facebook –

I’ve often been a little shame-faced that frequently my main contribution to whatever I’m doing is not necessarily my skill at the task, but the fact that I’m doing it enthusiastically.

Sometimes I tell people the story of the time I was taken by a mission worker in Mozambique to a rebel camp to ask for permission to run a food-for-work programme in the area.  While we were visiting, they brought us a boy who had been accidentally shot and asked if we could help.  Using our Land Rover we drove, very slowly, the 25 miles along bush tracks to the nearest Red Cross field hospital.

They were unable to help, as the bullet was too deeply embedded for them to operate.  So they cleaned the wound and sent us away.  As we were leaving, we happened on a UN peacekeeping convey and our intrepid mission worker flagged them down and asked for help.  They told us to take the boy to their own hospital, with modern facilities not normally available in Mozambique.  They radioed ahead to the hospital and by the time we got there the doctors were ready to operate.  They saved the boy’s life.

I tell this story because to me it demonstrates that you don’t need a lot of skills – you just have to be there and be willing.  OK, we had a car, and one of us could speak Portuguese, but a lot of unskilled people made a difference to that boy.

Of course, ‘just being there’ can result in a lot of ignorant, short-term amateurs running around doing their own thing, and sometimes that can do more harm than good.  But in an era when many mission agencies advertise specific roles for Bible translators, water engineers, agricultural advisers and accountants, it can seem rather exclusive and overlook the very valuable character qualities of the willing enthusiast, who may not bring skills, but brings good attitude.  While we have a desperate need for highly-skilled professionals in certain roles, this can also lead to a comment I often hear at mission events: “I don’t think you want me.  I haven’t got any skills.”

Which of course is not true, and I’ve helped people analyse their social, academic and workplace history to help them see that they have a number of portable skills which could translate into a role in mission.  But there is still a role for willing volunteers who don’t bring specific skills with them.

My discouraged Facebook friend closed her comment positively with this quote from Ann Voskamp:

Enthusiasm always blazes within the best life — because enthusiasm comes from entheos — which literally means “God within”.

Let’s recruit a few more enthusiasts!