Single mission workers – what the church should know

Source: www.freeimages.com

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!

A boy, a baker and the power of the Word of God

J O Fraser (courtesy www.omf.org)

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.

“We need teachers!”

A few weeks ago we shared some of the options for educating mission kids abroad.  Today our guest blogger, Debbie Drew, shares her appreciation of the role of teachers, and the need for more of them at mission schools like Kathmandu International Study Centre (KISC).

Sometimes when I am sharing about our need for teachers to teach children like ours, people respond, “I would be willing to come to Nepal, but I’d want to work with the Nepalis not the expats”.  I understand the sentiment; the desire, given the sacrifice of career, salary and closeness to family and friends, to make a difference where it matters most and to be among the neediest.  But that also reflects a limited view of the impact a school like KISC has.  I see it in two ways.

KISC aims to provide excellent education, primarily to the mission community.  It exists to nurture and educate our children.  “Third culture kids” (TCKs) is a term coined to describe children raised in a culture other than their parents’, such as children in the military, business and diplomatic circles as well as overseas mission.  Research has shown some unique traits in these children.

They can connect with many cultures, but can struggle to feel ownership of any.  They become skilled at building connections quickly because they live in a place where friends come and go frequently, but they live with the perpetual grief of missing friends who have moved on.  This way of life can build resilience and flexibility, but TCKs can also feel they don’t know where home is, they can find long-term relationships difficult due to the frequency of transitions and they can struggle to reintegrate back into their passport country.

KISC provides an understanding international community that accepts, understands and supports these children through all they face. All four of our children, each very different in character, absolutely love being part of KISC.

The second impact KISC has is that it enables the parents to work in Nepal.  I could fill a book with the amazing stories of the work people are involved in… kick-starting businesses, anti-trafficking work, supporting the young Nepali church and so on.  If the school wasn’t here, most of the parents wouldn’t be either.  The impact is immeasurable.

I found tears streaming down my face whilst writing this, as I’ve reflected on all God has provided for our children, usually against the odds.  Sometimes I’m tired of the pace of change and uncertainty we’ve been through and worry what the long-term effects on our children will be.  Will we have regrets about the choices we’ve made?  It’s upsetting to see their already small community of friends come and go.  It’s hard not to be distracted with wondering if we will have enough teachers next year.  And I know they miss out on some things by not being in the UK (even though they gain in other areas).

And yet I know that God cares for our children and time and again has provided for them.  I am especially encouraged by their outlook on the world – they are truly global citizens that care passionately about war and peace, justice and the environment because they have seen first-hand the effects on people.  They have learnt that God is with them in the tough times.  And don’t we all have to trust our children into God’s hands whatever our situation?

KISC (and most other mission schools like it) desperately needs staff.  You can find more information on the KISC Facebook page or at www.kisc.edu.np/vacancies.
Debbie is a Trustee of KISC, and together with her husband Chris and their four children, serves as a mission worker in Kathmandu with International Nepal Fellowship.

Seeing beyond the picture frame

Seeing beyond the picture frame

In our day to day lives, it can be a struggle to look beyond the picture that we see. There’s a framework of life we live within; often defined by our routine, job, commitments, ministries. This keeps us occupied and consumed; it’s what we see and know and experience. This framework is the same one in which we are tempted to box God into, and even then we often don’t see what he’s doing when it’s right in our very midst. Our view is narrow, partial, incomplete, limited by our eyesight and perspective.

While taking a walk at Killerton House, Devon, I came across this beautiful frame that had been positioned to capture the landscape ahead. It was strange how this frame didn’t obstruct or interrupt the view, but rather made it more striking, forcing me to take note of that which was within the frame, and that which was beyond it. The frame also had no influence on squashing or restricting the landscape beyond – it couldn’t contain the whole picture. This frame only tells part of the story.

The photograph above is equally inadequate at demonstrating the vastness of the surroundings. There is still so much beauty spilling out that doesn’t make it into the frame, or even the edges of the photo, and so much stretching further still beyond the horizon, faded by the cloud cover, and transcending beyond the reach of the human eye.

This prompted me to reflect on how God is always at work beyond what we see. In Ephesians 3:20, we read of how God is able to do ‘immeasurably more that we can ask or imagine’ (NIV) – ‘superabundantly’ (AMP). There are no limits to God’s power, goodness, and grace at work. He isn’t confined by a frame, there is no horizon, because there is no ending! There is always a ‘beyond’ that we can’t comprehend.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

This is a humbling scripture to read – because it reminds us that we haven’t got much of a clue when it comes to God’s ways and thoughts – and the extent of our cluelessness is measured by how much higher the heavens are than the earth! And yet it is also deeply encouraging; we can rest in certainty that while we cannot see the whole picture, it is held in the hands of a God of unfathomable goodness, justice, mercy. A creator who breathes life, and has redeemed our lives.

This view gives us just a glimpse of his beauty and splendour, and we can rejoice in knowing that he is intimately part of the small picture that we see, yet his majesty and hand at work extends so far beyond this. This encourages us to rest in him and trust that he knows what he’s doing with our lives and with this world, both of which can overwhelm us at times. He’s at work in the seen and the unseen. For now, we know in part, but one day we will know in full. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

 

In praise of prayer groups

prayJ O Fraser, missionary to China with OMF in the early part of the 20th century*, learnt much about prayer while reaching out to the Lisu people, coming to realize the vital part that the prayers of those back in the UK had to play in seeing fruit in his labours. To his main prayer support team he wrote:

I am not asking you just to give ‘help’ in prayer as a sort of side line, but I am trying to roll the main responsibility of this prayer warfare on you. I want you to take the burden of these people upon your shoulders. I want you to wrestle with God for them.

We are currently on ‘home assignment’.  One of the highlights has been visiting 3 prayer groups which are so kindly praying regularly for us.  We’ve been touched, humbled and blessed meeting with them. One of these groups has met in some form for 60 years and another for 40 years!  Two of the groups adopted us after we’d left the UK and met us for the first time recently.  They have faithfully followed our news and when we met together asked us great questions and prayed fervently.  They were precious times.  Reflecting back over the last two years we’ve become more aware of the spiritual battle we’re in and recognize more than ever the need to have people interceding both for us and the people we’re reaching out to.

If you’re in a prayer group or praying regularly for cross-cultural workers be encouraged that your prayers really have an impact.  Keep going!

If you’re not in such a group, could you join one or start one up?  Many mission organizations have prayer groups scattered around the country.

If you’re a mission worker make sure you’re sending specific prayer requests to your church or prayer groups regularly and let them know of answered prayer, something we’re often prone to forget.

OMF have a helpful booklet, ‘How to Pray for Missionaries’ and this blog post also gives some great points for prayer: http://seagospel.net/seven-things-to-pray-for-missionaries/

One final word from J.O. Fraser:

Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase; and this increase can be brought down from heaven by believing prayer, whether offered in China or in England. . . . If this is so, then Christians at home can do as much for foreign missions as those actually on the field. . . . What I covet more than anything else is earnest, believing prayer.

pray

Where is home?

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

This week’s guest blog is from Agnes Bruna, a lifelong mission worker who is a volunteer with Shevet Achim in Jerusalem.  Here she discusses her own experience of that classic challenge for long-term mission workers: an increasing confusion about what ‘home’ is!

Soon I will be spending a month in the UK on vacation.  I’m looking forward to it, though it will be the first time I’ll be in the UK without having a fixed address to stay. Weird!

It got me thinking about where home is.  Jerusalem, where I live and work, has a surprising number of Dutch people and when people ask me where I’m from, I confidently say: from The Netherlands.  After all, I have a Dutch passport to prove it, right?  Actually, not so confident.  My Dutch is slowly but surely disappearing.  I have no idea what goes on in The Netherlands – I haven’t lived there since 1973!  When I talk to Dutch groups about our work here, I get indulgent smiles at the mistakes in my Dutch.

So, do I identify with the UK?  After all, I lived there longer than I lived in Holland.  My English accent is (according to my wonderful American friends and co-workers) distinctly British.  My children and grandchildren live there.  And this is where I go, of course, for my holiday.  The church I consider my “home church” is in England.  On the other hand, less and less people respond to my blogs.  I don’t know what is going on in my friends’ lives unless they’re faithful Facebook posters.  I am very blessed that my children are good in staying in touch, through Facebook and Whatsapp, and some of my grandchildren are getting old enough to occasionally contact me on Whatsapp.

Or does the Middle East increasingly feel like home?  I feel privileged to live in the historic city of Jerusalem.  The Old City walls are very much a part of my daily life whether I go for a coffee at Christ Church café, try to find bargains in the souks, meet up with friends, or simply go to church.  I know more about the workings of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority, I can now more or less confidently navigate Iraqis and Syrians (and the odd Iranian) through Israeli and Jordanian border crossings and airports, I have been several times in northern Iraq.  My fluency in Hebrew has come back, I understand and speak more and more Arabic and Kurdish, and the culture here feels normal.  Whatever normal is!  Hey, I even found a reliable dentist here just behind the Arab Souk.

So what is home?  To me home is where I find Jesus working in wonderful and mysterious ways.  And where I find fellowship.  And to me it doesn’t matter whether I discuss visas in Hebrew so we can save children’s lives, live in a predominantly English-speaking Christian community, worship in Arabic, pray for and with each other in multiple languages and styles, or back in the UK worshiping and praying with you all in English.  As it says in Hebrews 13:14, John 18:36, and several other places, God’s Kingdom is not of this world.  We do not belong here, even though Jesus has put us here for a time.

Where you go, I’ll go

Where you stay, I’ll stay

When you move, I’ll move

I will follow you

Who you love, I’ll love

How you serve, I’ll serve

If this life I lose, I will follow you, yeah

I will follow you, yeah.

(Chris Tomlin)

 

Guest blog: Keep on keeping on!

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

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

At the 1968 Summer Olympics John Stephen Akhwari ran in the marathon representing Tanzania. Part way through the race he fell badly and dislocated his knee. He valiantly kept running as best he could and finished last. He was asked why he had kept going. He replied, “My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race. They sent me to finish the race.”

As those serving cross-culturally we face a whole variety of things that can distract, frustrate, upset or disappoint us. At times we may feel really discouraged and be tempted to give up. Like you I’ve faced some disheartening circumstances and various challenges to my faith and call, even recently. I often return to Hebrews 12:1-3 where we find both stunning reasons to keep running our race and some ways to do that. Whether we’re doing fine or experiencing deep discouragement or uncertainty I hope this will be fuel for the journey, some help to keep us keeping on.

Jesus is worthy. He sits ‘at the right hand of the throne of God’ v2. We keep going because Jesus is worthy of praise, glory and honour that He’s not receiving from most of the people we see around us. If this doesn’t motivate me to keep going then I am definitely not here for all the right reasons. Ultimately what we experience in the course of our race, the trials, the risk-taking, the frustration is worth it first and foremost because Jesus is worth it. Other people’s lack of response to the gospel message must not take my eyes off Him. I can still worship; He is always worthy, always wonderful and faithful. Also, if we think this is about us then we’ll either be proud or feel defeated, both of which hinder us from running our race.

Jesus understands. v3 exhorts us to ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ Jesus suffered way more than we ever will. It’s a huge comfort when I’m weary or discouraged to know that Jesus has been here and has ‘shared in our humanity’, Heb 2:14. Have we been lied to? Taken advantage of? Persecuted for doing what’s right? Misunderstood? Had our loving efforts rejected? Jesus knows. We follow the Suffering Servant and He’s promised to be with us. He understands both us and the broken people around us. This has a way of drawing us nearer to Him as we identify even a little with his sufferings and know he has identified with ours.

Throw off hindrances and sins. Athletes run or play with just the essentials so nothing gets in the way. Is grumbling hindering our teams? Is self-pity weighing you down? Are we neglecting private prayer and worship? Are we giving in to sexual temptation? If it’s pride let’s see Jesus as worthy and as the one who endured the cross. There’s no room left for pride when we’ve seen Jesus for who He is.

It’s a classic strategy of Satan to accuse us and make us feel condemned. V2 says Jesus sat down in heaven. His great work of redeeming us from the power and penalty of sin was done and He’s alive to reign, live in us and work through us. So accept God’s forgiveness anew, remembering we’re free from condemnation and don’t have to carry the burden of sin and failure. I laughed out loud when I first read this from Martin Luther, “When Satan tells me I am a sinner he comforts me immensely since Christ died for sinners.” Ha! The simple fact of the gospel disarms one of Satan’s best tactics every time.

Some of our hindrances aren’t sinful but they’re distracting or have become idols, taking the place of Jesus in our priorities. Social media may be doing that for some of us. Or ‘ministry success’. To all these hindrances, temptations and sins I’m learning to say: ‘Jesus is better.’ The temporary reward I feel indulging in these things is like dirt compared to the infinite value of Jesus and the satisfaction he alone can bring.

Let’s regularly ask God what hinders us from running the race, confess and repent. Be ruthless and get help. I’ve seen sin lead to people leaving their field of service causing hurt and lasting damage and leading to less ambassadors for Christ reaching the unreached.

Stick together. The use of athletic imagery here and in Paul’s letters isn’t supposed to imply we run solo. ‘Us’ appears several times in these few verses along with ‘we’, ‘our’ & ‘you’ (plural). Clearly it’s written to a group exhorting them to do these things together. Having the support of other believers is crucial to staying on course. The encouragement Ellie and I get being a part of a small team and a house church here is immense. Praying together, sharing struggles, helping each other move house, worshipping together. Are you connected regularly with some supportive fellow runners? People with whom you don’t feel you have to pretend? Christian community is also where we remind each other of the glorious truths of the gospel and can confess our sins and get help with the things that are entangling us.

Pace yourself. That we are to ‘run with perseverance’ (v1) tells us that it’s going to be hard. And that this is a marathon not a sprint. Knowing this we need to pace ourselves. A number of mission organizations encourage their workers to work only 2/3 of the day. If you’re working in the evening, take either the morning or the afternoon off. Also one person’s rhythm is different from another’s. Things like having young children or living with a medical condition or being older also impact on what’s a sustainable pace for different people. Plan rest days or breaks into the coming months.

Fix your eyes on Jesus (v2). Staying focused on Jesus requires us to be intentional. Regular prayer, worship and reading of scripture are key as is fellowship with others who love Him. Rest, exercise, friendships, a healthy work/life balance will all help us keep going but none are as important as our ongoing, close relationship with Jesus. During the Hebrides revival Duncan Campbell wrote:

These are days of much activity in the field of church and mission work, but no amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King himself. The devil is not greatly concerned about getting between us and work; his great concern is getting between us and God. Many a Christian worker has buried his spirituality in the grave of his activity.

Our attention easily moves to ourselves, our organizations, our methods, our shortcomings. We wonder if our faith is big enough or how we compare to others. Problems can seem overwhelming. Regularly, intentionally gazing at Jesus brings right perspective and we start to see what could be instead of what is right now. And if we lose our focus on Jesus we have nothing of lasting value to give to the broken world around us.

Verse 3 indicates that if we ‘consider him’ we won’t lose heart. The recipients of this letter were facing trouble. We face trouble. It can push us toward Jesus. It must if we’re to keep going. It’s challenging to keep loving & keep serving. We’re not supposed to be able to do this without God. We’re going to need to get on our knees before that difficult meeting, about that awkward relationship, about that broken person who doesn’t seem to be changing.

We need vision to keep going. Ultimately Jesus is our vision, over and above whatever particular vision God may have given us for our various different ministries. He’s our source, our sustainer and the giver of our purpose. We can keep running because of who Jesus is and what He’s done. Our sin forgiven, a message burning in our hearts, carriers of His presence, secure in our identity. I’m sure also many of us would testify that ministry vision, ideas and inspiration have come when we’ve been seeking Jesus.

Finally, keep an eternal perspective. Heaven is real. Knowing where we’re going changes how we live. Future glory outweighs present suffering for the sake of the gospel. We can face trials, hurt, discouragement, even persecution unto death because we know what’s coming. For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, v2. He knew it was worth it: God would be glorified, we would be redeemed and with Him forever and that coming joy spurred Him on to endure the cross. May both the coming joy of being with Him and the desire that those we serve be there with us spur us on too.

The witnesses in verse 1 are the heroes of chapter 11, and maybe 1000s of others since, who have finished their race. It’s like they cheer us on: “Keep going, keep getting up; it’s worth it! Nothing done in Jesus’ name will ever, ever be in vain!” The sacrifices may be great but the reward will be greater.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON!

Alex

Alex Hawke

Why we need Member Care

too-valuable-to-lose_174_248This month’s guest blogger is Jonathan Ward, Director of the Entrepierres Centre for the Care of Francophone Christian Workers in France.

Back in 1997, the ground-breaking research in Too Valuable to Lose suggested that on a world scale, 5% of missionary personnel leave the field every year, and that 3% (representing 12,000 per year) of the attrition was deemed to be permanent, premature and preventable.  That was before the turmoil we have experienced since 9/11, plus the economic crisis in recent years.  My guess is that attrition rates have significantly increased since then.

Things have definitely changed since my parents went to the mission field in the 1960s.  It has been my observation that there is today an increasing number of missionaries coming from fragmented backgrounds, broken relationships and painful experiences, resulting in poor interpersonal skills, insufficient conflict resolution skills, problems with trust and authority, a distorted view of God, an inadequate theology of suffering, and difficulty with forgiveness.  What does this imply?  A greater need for careful assessment and ongoing care.

Mature? (source: www.freeimages.com)

Mature? (source: www.freeimages.com)

One of the many issues that I see is the failure of missionaries to mature, impacting their relationships and their resilience.  Here is a sample of the symptoms: anger boiling below the surface; feeling easily offended; over-reacting to trivial things; insisting on one’s own way; harbouring grudges.  On the other extreme, they let people walk over them, give in too quickly and let difficulties fester inside, leading to depression or simply giving up.

The issue is character development and spiritual maturity.  I believe these are inseparable, in the sense that one cannot be spiritually mature without being emotionally mature.  For instance, one must be both spiritually mature and emotionally mature to come through the storms of life with one’s faith strengthened rather weakened and one’s view of God enhanced rather than diminished.  One also needs to be both spiritually mature and emotionally mature to manage and overcome the hurts and disappointments that inevitably come from working closely with others.

Obviously, mature people are more effective as missionaries and stay longer on the field.  Member Care can contribute helpfully and significantly through counselling, training (such as the Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills workshop, and spiritual direction, coupled with on-going mentoring, accountability and follow-up.

Are you interested in becoming involved in Member Care? Sign up for the Member Care Europe newsletter, and take a look at the events and resources on this website, including the MA in Member Care offered by Redcliffe College. In particular, be sure to attend the European Member Care Consultations that happen every two years. The next one will be from March 14 to 18, 2016.

Jonathan Ward, Entrepierres Centre, www.pierresvivantes.org

Resilience – learning how to bounce back

951860_stress_v_2This week’s guest blogger is our old friend Rick Lewis, an experienced mentor of Christian leaders.

In my work as a mentor of Christian leaders I regularly find myself in conversations with extraordinarily able people who are struggling with low energy levels as a result of becoming emotionally drained.  Of course, this is not a condition experienced only by Christian leaders – any one of us can become emotionally drained.  Yet I would contend that the nature of leaders’ roles within Christian organisations exposes them to vocational hazards beyond the normal range that not only bring them to exhaustion but also tax their ability to bounce back.  This has made the matter of resilience for Christian leaders one of the most critical issues for sustainable ministry and ministry today.

Even if you agree with this assessment of the special stresses and strains experienced by Christian leaders, you may still be wondering about the most constructive ways to address the problem.  Nobody I know is perfectly resilient, but some leaders I’ve mentored do seem to do better than others.  What can be learned from them?

Drawing from observations I have made and linking them with insights from the Bible, I want to suggest ten factors conducive to personal resilience.  These factors could be developed in the context of a mentoring partnership, or applied in some other process of support for leaders.  I want to stress that the resilient leaders I have in mind were not immune to becoming emotionally drained.  The point is that when they did become drained, they were able to bounce back in a relatively short period of time to a state of energy, hope and joy, making their ministries healthy and sustainable.

My top resilience factors, in no particular order, are these:

  1. Supportive relationships of love, trust and encouragement – “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
  2. Wise care of one’s physical health – “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)
  3. A metanarrative that provides a basis for hope – “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord ’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)
  4. Positive role models – “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” ( Hebrews 13:7)
  5. Realistic assessment of and confidence in one’s abilities & strengths – “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)
  6. Willingness to develop and draw on others’ strengths – “But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.” (Deuteronomy 1:12-13)
  7. Self-restraint to manage strong feelings and impulses – “Do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret —it leads only to evil.”  (Psalm 37:7-8)
  8. Capacity to construct and implement realistic plans– “The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’ Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’”  (Nehemiah 2:4-5)
  9. Engaging regularly in reflective practice – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
  10. Humility before God – “’God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:5-7)

Rick_LewisI have resisted listing renewal by the power of the Holy Spirit as a separate item because it is of a higher order than any of these factors. In fact, the ministry of the Holy Spirit to restore our inner being is behind all that I have presented and extends well beyond it. In the end, the resilience we need as Christian leaders comes from the Lord. Yet it is good for us to remember that there are wise ways in which we can cooperate with his grace at work in our lives to run the race he has marked out for us to the very end.

This blog originally appeared on www.anamcaraconsulting.com.au where you can read a full version.

Guest blog: getting a driving licence

govt office

Who’s next?

This week’s guest blogger is a good friend of Syzygy who has not written for us before, but we are not going to identify her as we do not wish to shame publicly the country in which she is working – Ed.

Today I decided to tackle one of the jobs that had long been on my “To Do” list: convert our UK driving licences to local ones.  The website states that this is a simple process.  So with that in mind I headed down to the Ministry.

It is possible to pay someone to go and convert your UK driving licence for you, but the going rate is about £55 so I decided that I would do it myself.  As the only female and the only foreigner in the area I was somewhat of an oddity (no change there!).  But people were very helpful in pointing me to the correct queues to stand in.  The process requires a number of steps, all of which can be expedited by paying a middleman extra money to push your paperwork to the front of the queue.  But I decided that I did not want any special privileges – I am often uncomfortable with the way a foreigner will/can queue jump while nationals are expected to patiently let them through.  So I dutifully joined the line.

The man with the key has gone...

The man with the key has gone…

There were many different steps in the process, which involved various trips up and down the stairs of the building and into different offices to get my papers stamped.  At one point there was a little confusion as to whether my husband had to be present for his medical to be signed off (he didn’t) and as to whether we needed to take a driving test (phew, we didn’t).

All went smoothly, if at a rather pedestrian pace, and I made friends with the others in the queue alongside me, until I had to head upstairs for the Big Man to sign off my licence.  I presented him with all the paperwork required and he asked me questions about what we were doing here and then demanded letters from the different hospitals I have worked in and from our local employer, all of which I knew were not really required.  When I left his office (with unsigned papers) the man next to me explained that he had been wanting me to pay a “facilitation fee” to complete my licence.

This is something we do not do.  I was rather unsure how to proceed after this.  However, the doctor who had completed my medical form was affronted on my behalf at being asked to pay more than I should and he decided to act as an advocate for me, stating that I would not get the licence without his help.  This basically involved him escorting me back to the Big Man’s office and speaking up for me – to a somewhat humbled official!  As a result after a further 5 different office visits (a total of 12 different stages) and 4 hours later I left with two new driving licences.

The official handshake

The official handshake

This it was an important lesson for me – the feeling of helplessness in the face of power and bureaucracy and even though I knew I was in the right, I was powerless to change the situation.  My naivety at trying to be treated just the same as locals when unfortunately in this country my skin colour affords me both privilege and extra hassles!  The realisation that the lower down office workers helpfully completed their jobs, with no fuss or demands, however, those with the power often use this to their own advantage and abuse their position.

I was so thankful to the kind young doctor who spoke up against this for me.  Without him I think I would have left empty handed.  Indeed many of my friends have since told me of their 5 day efforts to get a licence or being made to take a driving test  – all because they too would not pay a bribe.  This situation is a sad reality replicated across many countries in so many situations.  Those in power often wield it unevenly.  The services they should provide equitably often become only available to those with a friend in the right places or with the money to pay, leaving those who are low down in society, the poor and uneducated, without a voice to speak out and needing someone who will advocate for them.

An interesting ebook on Bribery and the Bible is available from www.missionarycare.com

Creation Care as an Integral Part of Mission

Today’s guest blogger is David Gould, Creation Care Advocate for OMF International, who has a suitably seasonal reflection on good news for a broken world.  

We live in a broken world.  Humanity is now consuming the earth’s resources at a rate that would require 1.6 planet earths to be sustainable (WWF Living Planet Report 2012).  This is expected to increase much further because global population is projected to grow from 7 billion now to between 9 and 10 billion by mid-century, and because of the understandable aspirations of millions in the developing world to share in this unsustainable level of consumption.

This will add significantly to global energy demand.  Our growing use of carbon-based fuels has become a major factor behind climate change.  In September, Arctic ice reached a record low, 18% below the previous record low in 2007; in recent years we have also seen unprecedented weather events across the globe – drought, flooding and storm – that have caused loss of life, of homes, crops and fresh water; acidification of the oceans, disease, no-choice migration and family and community break-up.  But this is just the beginning of what might happen if we don’t change our ways.

The increasing acidification of the oceans is causing severe stress in coral-based eco-systems; this and excessive and destructive fishing practices are threatening the survival of many marine fisheries; and dam building, pollution and soil erosion are having a similar effect on fresh-water fisheries.  Our relentless destruction of tropical forests and other ecosystems is also threatening our sustainable future.

What has all this got to do with mission?  In OMF we have a long tradition of responding whole-heartedly to crisis events such as famines, earthquakes and tsunamis; we have also seen the Lord blessing medical mission in Thailand and elsewhere.  This work continues; should we see creation care in a similar light?   The Lord is calling people into mission with gifts and skills that until recently may not have been recognised as having ‘mission potential’ – water and electrical engineers; specialists in agriculture, animal husbandry, waste management and marine biology; town planners; educators, researchers and missional business people.  How can their work contribute to OMF’s vision of seeing indigenous, biblical church movements in each of the people groups of East Asia?  And how can this vision be realised among ecological migrants and in the megacities of the future?

As we explore integral mission in these challenging contexts we also need to figure out what it means to ‘walk the talk’.  Our methodology of mission is just as important as its outcomes.  Simply as a matter of survival and loving our neighbours as ourselves, the way we live affects everyone else – we live in a single, closed world system.  How can we reduce our own consumption and ecological footprints to sustainable levels?

Then there are the challenges of theological education and disciple-making.  How can we contribute to a biblical understanding of God’s call to all of us to care for creation?

The prophet Joel speaks directly into our situation: ‘listen, all who live in the land:
 has anything like this ever happened in your days, or in the days of your forefathers?’ (Joel 1:2).  Joel was responding to locust invasions of the land; he calls us not to despair or to deny what is happening, but to repentance and trust in the Lord for both the immediate future (2:18-27) and the distant future (2:28-32).

So is creation care just another ‘issue’ – an ‘enthusiasm’ for some of us that the rest can ignore?  Or is it foundational to our life of hopeful worship, service, mission, good enjoyment and Sabbath rest?  A helpful book is ‘Salvation Means Creation Healed’ by Howard Snyder; this explores ‘the divorce between heaven and earth’ in much of our theology; the effects of sin on our relationships with God, with each other, the rest of creation and with ourselves; the healing mission of God; and the church as healing community.

Other helps include:

Lausanne call to action on creation care

A Rocha – Living Lightly

Christian Ecology Link

Climate Prayer’ and ‘environmentguardian’ on Facebook

Dave Bookless, Planetwise: Dare to Care for God’s World

Calvin B. DeWitt, Earthwise: A guide to Hopeful Creation Care

Based in Singapore, David’s responsibilities include reminding OMF fields that creation care is part of Jesus’ commandment to preach good news to ‘all creation’ (Mark 16:15) and helping them develop strategies  for realising this mandate.  Please feel free to contact him with any comments or queries at Int.CreationCare@omfmail.com

Guest blog: Mission initiatives in Bulgaria

Celebrations in Bulgarian churches? (source: www.freeimages.com)

This month’s guest blogger is Valentin Kozhuharov, who lectures in missiology at the University of Plovdiv and is a consultant on missions to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Since the changes of 1990 (and before that no religious life was possible in Eastern Europe because of the persecutions the communists systematically carried out against Christians and any other religion), the church in Bulgaria has grown rapidly and fruitfully.

The Orthodox church has mostly been occupied with restoring its internal ecclesiastical life, so mission has not been its main goal of church work, but anyway this church organised a nationwide network of Sunday schools, undertook various charitable activities and started (only in the last 7-8 years) mission in prisons, orphanages, old people’s homes and other social institutions.  It even started “external” mission by sending a priest to South Africa in July 2010 to plant an Orthodox church in Pretoria.

The amount of mission work, which has mostly been done in a bit chaotic way, needed systematisation and theoretical-practical foundations, and in the diocese of Veliko Tarnovo a mission department was opened in January 2010 and a missionary document has been developed: “Principles of mission for the Bulgarian Orthodox church”.  In June 2011 the Principles were considered by the Holy Synod, and now in several diocesan centres the bishops have appointed mission educators to further develop mission strategy in their dioceses and to practically carry out missionary activities.

The evangelical churches in Bulgaria have been more active in the so called “social mission” where they carried out mission work in almost all social institutions in the country dealing with children and the disadvantaged (children’s homes, prisons, orphanages, old people’s homes, hospitals, etc). In many areas the Orthodox church and the evangelical churches have competed with each other in these mission fields, and often they would oppose the mission work of the “other” church; in some instances the Orthodox church used the authority of the state to oust the “sectarian” Christian organisations (as they treated the evangelical churches in the country).

This made Christians of both the Orthodox and the evangelical churches to think, and to come to practical recommendations, about mission of Christian unity where all the churches in the country are able to combine resources and efforts in their God-commanded mission work in society.  In the last two to three years, in many social institutions these Christians work together with the same marginalised and needy people and children.  Still the day when they all will be working together in one spirit and one heart is far away, but a good start has been made.

Valentin Kozhuharov

Bulgarian missionaries take part (and some of them took the leading role) in the newly-established Orthodox Mission Network which aims to increase mission awareness within the Orthodox churches in Europe and to initiate true missions on their territories.  Bulgarian missiologists develop theoretical issues of mission, and for the first time missiology has been taught as a theological discipline since February 2011 in one of the university theological faculties.  These missionaries and missiologists cooperate with many other missionaries and missiologists both Orthodox and non-Orthodox and both in Europe and worldwide.

Please pray:

  • for Valentin as he lectures on missiology and stimulates a passion for outreach among all Bulgarian denominations
  • for the gospel to flourish in Bulgaria
  • for more mission workers, both foreign and local, to train and inspire the church

For more information about praying for Bulgaria visit the World Prayer Map

Is “failure” at short term mission always a bad thing?

This month’s guest blogger is Charlotte Wright, who shares a retrospective on an ‘unsuccessful’ short-term experience.

Charlotte setting off for an island in Lake Victoria

I spent a year in Uganda working with a mission agency after university, with the aim of considering longer term mission work.  I thought I had an idea of what life in Africa could be like, but my expectations were wildly misplaced!  I had the opportunity to go as part of a team, but as I had significant other overseas travel experience, the agency were happy for me to go out on my own and “tag” onto another team already in place.

Looking back, my faith was very shaky at that time, but I was certainly not aware of it.  Once I was resident in my first location, the loneliness of mission work set in and I felt totally isolated, despite there being lots of people around, both African and from overseas.  I missed my life in the UK – my family, being able to go out for a drink with friends and also playing sport, especially as women taking part in sport was frowned upon by those around me.  I was told that I could not wear trousers as it was not culturally appropriate and I really fought this rule – I simply couldn’t understand how this might upset people, despite being told that it would!  On the back of this, my faith faltered and I realised later that this was because I had always used friends and family to prop up my faith rather than relying solely on God.  I simply wanted to go home!  Thankfully however, I am stubborn and refused to give up.  I rode the loneliness out and I also had friends kindly organise to come out and visit me which was a massive lifeline.

After 4 months I moved to a different location and found myself with more emotional support from other mission workers around me.  My faith started to recover and I felt a little more settled.  However, I found myself time after time questioning the long term beliefs of the African women around me – I couldn’t understand why they would be happy to be so subservient to men…. My western views often caused upset and anger from those around me.

Over the final six months, I took part in a biblical foundations course and God spent significant time putting my faith back together, for which I will always put as my major lesson from the trip, learning to rely solely on God and nothing else.  Once that foundation was in place, I found I could withstand so much more.  However, being forced to preach most weeks was very difficult, as I never felt called to preach and I found this very stressful.

Looking back over the time I spent away I am not sure that I was a blessing to those around me……. I clashed with the culture, did not enjoy the subservient role that women are obliged to take and generally missed being at home.

Some would therefore see this year away as a failure.

However, God used the time to rebuild my faith, for which I will be forever grateful, and I have also developed a passion for the African culture and country.  I have subsequently come home to be involved in financially supporting mission as well as understanding how difficult mission workers can find things whilst away, hence my involvement in Syzygy.  I would therefore not say that the experience was a “failure”, just a massive learning experience as well as strengthening my faith hugely over the time.

Charlotte Wright is a stockbroker who is Chair of the Syzygy Trustees.

Guest blog:- Embracing or opposing Europe?

This month’s guest blogger is Raymond Pfister, Director of Ichthus21, the European Institute for Re/conciliation Studies, a Christian organisation devoted to the development of Europe.

It is in John 3:16, possibly the most known Scripture of all, that we are constantly reminded that “God so loved the world…”.  Except Europe maybe, I have been wondering, when listening to the reasoning and attitude some evangelical Christians have adopted towards the old continent?

There is really no doubt possible, is there?  God actually loves Europe… not because it is such a nice place to visit during our next vacation, but because the people who live in Europe have been created in the image of God and are all in need of redemption.  There can be no doubt either that European (just as much as national) institutions are God’s servants (cf. Romans 13), yet we know that they are far from being immune against failure, corruption and power abuse.  God’s ultimate sovereignty will certainly prevail.

If the life and mission of the Christian Church is about following the example of Jesus, one does not become light of the world (not even in Europe) by way of isolationism or salt of the earth (not even in Europe) by way of avoiding the risk of contamination.  Jesus came to a world of sinners and identified with them.  He knew that this was the only way he could really make a difference.  In order to reach out to people it takes the will to embrace and the resolution not to turn your back.  Jesus never hesitated in the name of love to be part of us, even though he could have been tempted to think that he would be better off without us – is he not so different after all?

On the one hand, the European puzzle is made up of a great variety of people with cultures, languages and traditions of their own.  On the other hand, there has probably never been a greater movement of people within Europe than in our own time.  From the Scandinavian North to the Iberian Peninsula, from the British Isles to the Baltic States, people are coming together and experiencing diversity and difference as never before.

The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about adopting that kingdom mentality which allows us to see the broader (European) picture as opposed to a narrow-minded, monocultural reality.  The Christian faith empowers us to engage the other (European) with compassion instead of fear.  This Gospel of hope is about building bridges, not walls of separation (we have had enough of them in Europe!).  The Kingdom of God cannot be understood without a strong concept of group solidarity replacing the search of our own particular interest.  Kingdom mentality confesses that we are stronger together and that it is possible to live together regardless of gender, ethnicity, economic circumstances or even political preference.

Why are evangelical Christians living in Europe more fascinated by missionary journeys to fields afar, while missing the chance to really change our European societies?  Can we afford not to have our mentalities changed by the power of the Holy Spirit?  Resisting the Spirit leads to despair; walking in the Spirit leads to hope.  I believe that those who follow Jesus are a people of hope.  It is precisely hope Europe needs, as we have been reminded by the recent HOPE FOR EUROPE Congress in Budapest (9-13 May 2011).  Help is however first needed for the helpers themselves – local churches in Europe need to be equipped in order to have a real European agenda, in word and deed, for the 21st century.

Raymond is passionate about Europe.  He is available to talk at churches, conferences and Bible colleges on the subject.  He can be contacted through his website or at contact@ichthus21.eu.

Enculturation or resistance – a dilemma for Nepali believers

Nepal“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” Hebrews 12.14

In a country where 95% of the population is Hindu, we live in an environment where almost all our Nepali neighbours, colleagues and friends are Hindu.  This weekend was Holi, one of the multiple Hindu festivals that punctuate the calendar here on an almost weekly basis.  Like many such festivals, its origins vary greatly, but in Nepal it is associated with the god Krishna who is known for his playfulness and his charm with women.

The festival, appropriately known as the festival of colours, is celebrated by showering friends and family with water and coloured powders.  Excitement builds as brightly coloured water pistols of different sizes appear in the shops.  Many find it hard to wait for the day itself, and for up to 2 weeks beforehand children and teenagers will delight to throw water balloons at unsuspecting passers-by.  Our boys were thrilled when visitors left a gift of two water pistols for them.  We were less thrilled at having to face the issue as to whether or not they should be allowed play Holi, even as several other missionary families from school planned water parties for the day.

These festivals however raise serious questions for many Nepali Christians.  Their frequency and their interwoven-ness with social life here are a significant challenge to separating oneself from Hindu religious practice and ritual, something the church feels is essential to its identity.  Hinduism is a religion that embraces multiple deities, religious teachings and practices, and many Hindus are happy to include Jesus Christ in their pantheon of gurus and leaders.  The church feels it is important to take a stand that clearly reflects their faithfulness to Christ as their one and only Saviour, without the confusion of practices that may have Hindu origins.

Weddings are an example of an occasion that is steeped in Hindu rituals, and thus it is that Christians not only marry in a church ceremony, but that the brides also generally wear a Western style pink or white gown. The fear is that the traditional red and gold wedding sari may carry some significance for Hindu observers and prevent them from clearly distinguishing the Christian faith.  Dashai is the largest Hindu festival in Nepal, lasting several days and involving much animal sacrifice and the exchange of Hindu tikka between family members.  Associated with long holidays and much socializing, non-Christians tend to liken it to our Christmas (we beg to differ!).  But for many Nepali Christians, it is a time of real conflict, feeling isolated from their community and being torn between their family and their faith.  To borrow the allegory, imagine if you as an individual had to choose not to participate in any aspect of the Christmas festivities your friends and family enjoy: the parties, decorations, meals, gifts, let alone the religious ceremonies.  The church is aware of the immense pressure and sense of isolation that many feel at this time, and so usually organises several days of events at churches for Christians to attend and enjoy together, including meals served with meat (butchered, not sacrificed) as a treat.

Some outsiders criticise what they see as the church’s inability to distinguish between cultural and religious practice, and its failure to explore a truly Nepali expression of Christianity.  They fear that this attitude only reinforces the concept that Christianity is a foreign religion and that Nepali Christians are not truly Nepali, an accusation frequently made by Hindu fundamentalists.  But I am not sure that any of us non-Nepalis can fully understand their experience as a minority (at times, persecuted) faith in this country, nor their struggle for recognition in a land where the ‘secular’ government provides massive subsidies for Hindu sites and festivals.  Many Nepali Christians report that even in this day when Nepal is supposed to have freedom of religion, some Christians experience being cut out of their inheritance, denied land that is rightfully theirs, or being thrown out of their families because they have converted.  It is not an easy or light choice that people make, and they usually endure far more than we ever will for their faithfulness to Christ.

So what to do about our boys valid hopes to try out their new water pistols, and join in the water fights and fun outside our apartment for Holi?  At church, we referred the matter to our Nepali pastor, who gently but unwaveringly stated that none of the other children from the church would be playing Holi.  After the service, the church showed a film and provided snacks for the congregation as alternative entertainment for the afternoon.  Our family instead braved the streets again and went home for our ‘traditional’ sabbath nap.  When the boys woke up, the children next door were already out on the empty lot waiting for Mark to start a game of baseball.  Grabbing mitts and bat, the boys headed out, water pistols left lying in our storeroom, waiting for another day.

This blog is an edited version of an article by Deirdre Zimmerman, a long-term development worker in Nepal, where she lives with her husband Mark and two sons.  To read the full version, follow this link.

Guest blog: Post-secular Europe?

This week’s guest blogger is Rev Dr Martin Robinson, Principal of Springdale College: Together in Mission.  This article first appeared on www.eurochurch.net in September 2010.


Tom Wright, the recently-retired Bishop of Durham and leading New Testament scholar, marked his retirement bygiving a significant interview to the BBC in which he reflected on the situation of the Church of England.  During that wide ranging interview he picked on the theme that we are not becoming more secular, in fact if anything we are becoming more religious.

What he described applies to Europe more widely.  In a world of ‘posts’ – post-empire, post-modern, and post-Christian – we can now add post-secular.  A number of European commentators have picked up on this theme.  Europe is increasingly post-secular.

How do we make sense of such a situation?  How can we have lost touch with the founding roots of Europe and become post-Christian and yet now be rejecting the root of that criticism, secularism itself?

The clue lies in the contrast between being ‘religious people’ and ‘spiritual people’.  The people of Europe don’t think of themselves as ‘religious’, by which they mean to identify with a particular religious organization or institution but they can think of themselves as ‘spiritual’ by which they mean interested in God, in prayer, in a sense of wonder and mystery about life.

The root of this rejection of religion lies partly in the ancient European worry about religion as embodying conflict combined with a more recent rejection of institutions of all kinds  – whether they be political, social, or even educational.  We are now radically individualistic with all the angst that such a choice produces.  More worryingly there is also a gradual severing of the relationship between the idea of spirituality and the idea of morality.  You can be a ‘spiritual’ person without having to think too deeply about a particular moral code beyond the requirement to do no harm.

The depth of this shift of sentiment helps to illustrate the painful lesson that the church has learnt these last 20 years: the answer to the question of the decline of the church does not lie in a particular programme or model of the church.   Instead we have to learn how to do mission – in our cultural context – deeply contextualized and profoundly local.

In a recent interview with a church leader in Wales, I learnt that most of the historic churches in Wales are still declining but that a few  congregations in their midst were seeing good growth.  One or two of the smaller historic denominations are beginning to turn the corner and that some of the newer and independent churches are seeing remarkable growth.  The single factor that connects these very different expressions of church is the willingness to connect with and to serve at a deep level the communities in which they are located.

One of my students who is exploring the growth of some ‘traditional’ congregations in Scotland is making the same kind of discoveries in that very different context.  The exploration of this kind of mission is precisely what Eurochurch.net as a network of practitioners and thinkers is committed to locate and debate.

Martin Robinson