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!

Do single men really not go?

A recent blog on the Crossworld website prompts me to comment on the issue of there being so few single men on the mission field.

It is of course not a new phenomenon in missions but its significance, as the author points out, is that it becomes hard to mentor men for maturity.  It can also lead to a church full of faithful women, which does not seem attractive to male unbelievers because it does not model an image of strong masculinity despite its focus on a male saviour.  So let’s consider some potential causes.

1) Statistics: There are generally fewer men in the church, so fewer are available to go, whether single or married.  In many UK churches the single women outnumber single men 4:1, so there are bound to be fewer single men going. Those single men who do go to the mission field are outnumbered even more, frequently by 8 or 9 to 1.  This increases opportunities for them to marry, so many do not stay single very long.  Thus the problem is perpetuated.

2) Ministry fulfilment: do men have more opportunities for ministry on the home side?  Although the percentage is steadily increasing, women still only make up about 1/3 of Anglican clergy in the UK[1].  In October 2015 Christianity Today reported that around 10% of US churches have women in the sole or senior leadership role (though twice that percentage attend seminary)[2].   Some traditions do not have any formal role for women in leadership.  Perhaps this means that men can more easily find an expression for their Christian service within their home church or denomination, so technically it is not that fewer men are going into overseas mission, but more women, as they seek an outlet for their desire to serve God which is harder for them to find at home.  But the result is that more single women go.

A bigger question is not why there are fewer single men in cross-cultural mission, but what are we doing about it?  Here are some suggestions:

Churches  –

  • Do you actively seek out men you think might have a future in the mission field and challenge them to go? Do you suggest to young men looking to start out on a career that they might consider a life serving God abroad, or even a few years?
  • Do you promote mission as an equal opportunity and not just for women? Do your male leaders model a mission heart or is it only your women who talk, pray or go in mission?
  • Do you tell stories in your sermons of brave and heroic men like St Paul, Francis Xavier or Robert Thomas who took the gospel to far-flung places at great cost to themselves because of their one true love – Jesus?
  • Do we teach a high view of singleness as a way to serve the Lord?  Do your young men have accountability relationships so they have an opportunity to focus their attention on developing godly character?

Agencies –

  • Do your placements seem attractive to single men?  What can you do to make your mobilisation more appealing to them?
  • Are you thinking through what their needs are? Do you try to send teams of men so that there are other men around for them to build friendships with?
  • Do you foster a culture which allows men to express their masculinity appropriately?  Can they truly “feel like a real man” when they are engaged in the activities you co-ordinate?
  • Do we mentor single men in the field so that they can be fulfilled in their singleness and not struggling?

And for all of us –

  • Do we unconsciously model disappointment if our sons sacrifice a good career to go into mission, while we think it’s a great opportunity for our daughters?
  • Do we think mission is a good place for those poor women who have not been able to find partners, but expect men to marry and settle down?
  • And do we pray that more single men will listen to the call of God on their lives and follow him to the ends of the earth – and do we encourage them to do so when we think he’s calling them?

Or was Gladys Aylward right (see John Piper’s Desiring God Podcast) – do the men called to the mission field just not listen to God as well as the women do?

 

[1] Statistics for Mission 2012

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2015/october/state-of-female-pastors.html

Flying Solo?

Life as a single mission worker can be a vibrant and thrilling experience.  Too often though we can experience more of the loneliness and vulnerability of being single.  It’s a bit like flying by yourself: challenging and a little bit risky, but great fun.

As we’ve remarked before in previous blogs about being a single mission worker, it can be only too easy for us to become lonely and isolated, and start to focus our attention on the one thing we haven’t got (a partner), and start to think that if only we could get one, everything in our lives would be great.  When we think about it sensibly, we realise that one frail, selfish, fallible human being can’t possibly be the answer to all our problems, and it’s actually unfair to place such an expectation on one human being.

So where do we find the answer?  Well it’s in God of course, and if there’s one thing we enjoy doing at Syzygy, it’s pointing people in God’s direction to get the answer to all their needs.  And that’s what we’ll be doing in Gloucester on 22nd April.  We’ve teamed up with Redcliffe College to bring you a day of discussing  the theology of singleness, the practicalities of living a single lifestyle on the mission field, and how we can be completely fulfilled as singles by finding our identity in Christ.

You can find out more (and register!) by clicking on this link to the Redcliffe website.

 

 

Podcasts for single mission workers

IMG_20160812_084512One of the (many) challenges single mission workers face is finding resources to help them in their challenge to live a rich and fulfilled life without a life partner.  Sometimes their perception of a huge hole in their life where their life-partner should be can become so overwhelming that it dominates every aspect of their life, and often there is little in the way of resources to help them refocus their attention on the amazing possibilities and opportunities of being single.

Now Syzygy has partnered with Member Care Media to produce a series of 5 short podcasts which include some essential teaching for single mission workers.  We hope that these introductions to material shared more fully in our regular retreats for singles at Penhurst Retreat Centre will help single mission workers thrive in their singleness and learn to see it as a blessing rather than a challenge to be overcome, or even better, ended.

The podcasts can be found on the singles page of Member Care Media, and the subject matter includes:

  • An introduction to singleness and why it is a challenge for so many mission workers
  • Biblical characters who were successfully single
  • A Biblical perspective on why singleness isn’t intrinsically bad
  • Unpacking the ‘gift’ of singleness
  • Strategies for a fulfilling single life

It is our hope that these resources will be used by single mission workers worldwide, to help them get the most out of their singleness.

Another resource we produced a couple of years ago is the book Single Mission, which we believe is the first book by single mission workers about single mission workers for single mission workers.  Many agencies have used it as part of their training and orientation – and not only for their singles!  It has been greatly appreciated by married people too, who have used it to learn about the challenges of being single later in life which they may not have experienced.  Why not try it out?

 

Are singles treated like children?

Struggling to grow?

Speaking at the European Member Care Consultation last week on helping single mission workers thrive in the mission field prompts me to post a little taster of what I’m talking about.  In some ways singles are like plants: we want to grow, but sometimes the conditions aren’t right.  Some things stop growth – like shade, stony soil, poor drainage, and competition for nutrients will stunt the growth of plants, so there are certain things which make it harder for single to thrive.  In this short blog I want to consider the extent to which single mission workers are (sometimes inadvertently or unwittingly) given the impression by colleagues, both expat and national, that they are second-class citizens in the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes they are not really respected, just because they are single.  In many of the cultures where we serve, marriage and parenting are highly esteemed, which means that those who are still single aren’t really thought of as grown up.  I was once told by a Zimbabwean: “What do you know?  You have no wife – you are just a boy!”  While we can’t do much about the local culture, we don’t have to let local Christians have their views shaped by secular value.  Can we teach them something of the sacrifice single mission workers are making?  How they are trusting in God (not in many children) for care during their old age?  How they depend on God alone for comfort and encouragement since they have no ‘soulmate’?

And it’s not only local culture which can give the impression that single mission workers are not really valued.  Sometimes the sending agencies inadvertently include even long-serving singles with short-termers, probably due to the assumed ‘temporary’ nature of their singleness.  But this just undervalues people.  One single woman told me:

I am a 37 year-old woman with 37 years of life-experience and 32 years of being a follower of Jesus.  Yet too often I am treated like part of a youth group and left out of important decision-making discussions in which married couples with similar or less experience/abilities are included. 

Too often singles are left out of important discussions.  How many singles find their way into leadership positions?  The church or agency might claim they are valued, but too often their absence from leadership structures betrays that they are often considered to be no more than children.  Sometimes they’re even asked to look after the toddlers while the ‘adults’ have an important meeting!  But where there are couples present for the important meeting, surely one of them should look after their own children, rather than disempowering the singles.

So questions for churches, sending agencies and receiving teams:  Have you personally encountered any of these challenges?  How did you feel?  Are you aware of single mission workers you are responsible for who are facing these challenges?  How can you support them effectively?  Can you change the organisational culture to demonstrate you value them?

Syzygy is leading a retreat for single mission workers at Penhurst Retreat Centre where issues adversely affecting them will be unpacked, and suitable responses considered.  Please do let people know about it!

Singles in a Moslem Context

crowd_aloneOur blog two weeks ago about the challenges facing single mission workers in Moslem contexts has prompted some of you to ask what the answers are.

Well you won’t be surprised to find that there are no easy answers!  That is because people are different, contexts vary, and the living conditions differ considerably across the Moslem world.  What may work for an introverted woman living openly as part of a Christian team in Cairo may not work at all for an extraverted man living in an isolated setting in Malaysia.  Yet there are three key issues which need to be addressed for singles to stand a chance of thriving:

1) Good preparation.  Training and placement are crucial.  An agency must take time to get to know their candidate and consider how he/she will respond in a given culture or team context.  They need to put them in a team setting that is right for them, and above all make sure that the candidate is warned about and prepared for the challenges of working in a Moslem context.  Just knowing in advance that it will be difficult can help the single mission worker.

2) Good field support.  Team leaders need to be aware of the challenges facing singles, so that they can provide adequate in-field support, make sure the whole team is equipped and motivated to provide a nurturing and supportive environment, and ensure that decisions about field placement and housing are taken appropriately.  Having a good supportive team, where there is a significant level of social and spiritual engagement, and a good mix of single and married people, helps with a sense of community.

3) Good ongoing care from family, church and agency.  Awareness of the specific issues, and providing focussed care and support will help the single mission worker cope with the difficult situation.  Taking particular care to be there, whether in person or by using social media, for people at times like holidays, Christmas and Valentine’s Day when they can be particularly vulnerable will be of great help.

Souce: www.sxc.hu

Souce: www.sxc.hu

Having said that, there are some particular practical suggestions we can make for thriving in a difficult environment.  They may not be appropriate in every location, particularly for those people working in creative access nations, but we hope that they can stimulate a conversation about finding a way forward.

Establish a ‘religious’ identity – in some countries priests, monks and nuns are treated with respect, and are accepted as singles who have devoted their lives to religious service.  It may be possible in some places to wear a clerical collar, a pectoral cross and allowing oneself to be addressed as called ‘Father’ or ‘Sister’.  Protestants often shy away from religious clothing and prefer to dress in plain clothes, but does this lead to the impression that we are just ordinary people instead of religious workers?  Accommodation needs could also be met by having a same sex singles house or compound modelled on a monastery or convent so the community can make the religious connection.  Some people however consider this might be giving a fraudulent impression that we are something we are not.

Establish a married identity – many single mission workers divert unwanted attention by wearing a wedding ring.  This can reduce molestation and cut the number of unwanted marriage invitations.  However, although some people report significant success with this tactic, others think it’s fundamentally dishonest, and can lead to problems when we have to admit that we’re not actually married.

Spiritual support – single people may benefit from having more spiritual support from the team, perhaps establishing a ‘home group’ for them or encouraging them to find mentors and prayer partners.

(Source: www.sxc.hu)

(Source: www.sxc.hu)

Transport – since many people find buses and taxis threatening places, their transport needs should be considered, perhaps by employing a team driver and a team minibus, or ensuring people live in the same part of town so that people can easily be escorted home.

Self defence – many singles report feeling vulnerable walking home by themselves after dark.  Knowing they have the ability to protect themselves if attacked may help them feel less vulnerable.

Practical support – teams should be aware of the need to provide practical support to newly-arrived singles.

Social activities – team should organise social events where it is possible for singles to mix freely with children, marrieds, and people of the opposite sex. Regular retreats should be organised in places where it is safe for singles to be seen together.

In summary, singles working in the Moslem world face some significant challenges which can exacerbate the usual challenges single mission workers face.  However, of all the people we have spoken to on this subject, most of them are positive about serving God abroad as a single person.  Few of them said it had been easy, and many reported significant emotional challenges, but most said that it was still worth while.

Ever since the time of St Paul, single mission workers have been going into challenging situations to share the love of God, because they love God more than they love comfort, security and home.  They have made a huge contribution to the spread of the gospel, and we honour them for it.  We pray that with better support the current generation can stay in the field even longer, and be even more fruitful in their lives and ministry.

50 shades of moral compromise

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

The release this weekend of the film of the popular porn book 50 Shades of Grey prompts us to talk about an issue that has been on our minds for a long time – the prevalence of pornography in the mission field.  It is widely known that easy and unaccountable access to pornography over the internet has made it much easier for Christians to succumb to this temptation in secret, and though accurate figures are hard to obtain and often anecdotal it is clear that many Christian men regularly access internet porn as do a significant number  of women.  Some years ago a psychologist involved in screening candidates for the mission field reported that up to 70% of men and 30% of women applying for the mission field had intentionally accessed pornography in the previous year.

Pornography is an issue for the church, because it robs us of our self-esteem, our sense of mission and our integrity.  It can leave us with a sense of guilt despite asking God for forgiveness, because it makes us feel unclean.  It can undermine our relationships by objectivising people and it can distort our understanding of sex as a gift for expressing intimacy and commitment by making it all about unaccountable self-gratification.  It can promote trafficking and slavery while many of us are actively involved in fighting these dreadful crimes and helping the people who have escaped.  When exposed, it can lead to the loss of ministry, breakup of marriage, damage to the faith of fellow believers and mission workers leaving the field.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Yet pornography is not the problem.  It is only a symptom of deeper self-esteem issues.  People may turn to pornography for any number of reasons: married people may have an unfulfilling or non-existent sex life, singles may find it hard to control sexual urges for which they have no legitimate outlet, and people who are depressed, frustrated or insecure may turn to pornography for the quick feel-good buzz caused by sexual climax.

We write these things not to judge, but to offer help.  Here are some of our tips for overcoming the temptation to use internet porn:

  • Talk to God honestly about your sexuality and ask for the Holy Spirit to help you bring it under his lordship
  • Try to think of every older person as your parent, same-aged people as your siblings, and younger people as your children. That helps correct the pornographic mindset that objectivises people as tools for our own self-gratification
  • Read books such as the immensely popular “Every man’s/woman’s battle” series
  • Give somebody else access to your computer so they can see what you’ve been looking at
  • Meditate on verses such as Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 1:10 and do a Bible study on the Greek word ‘pornos’ and its cognates
  • Have an accountability partner who doesn’t do porn. It’s harder to get forgiveness from a friend than it is from God!  Other people who do porn can just reinforce each other’s sense of ‘failure’
  • Reflect on the damage done to millions of people by pornography. Visit  a refuge program and talk to people who have been enslaved by the sex industry
  • Use accountability software on your computer such as Covenant Eyes and visit websites like www.safersurfing.eu for advice and support
  • Reflect on what drives you to porn. Has somebody punctured your ego or left you feeling unloved?  Talk to a counsellor about it.
  • Exercise the old-fashioned virtue of self-control (1 Corinthians 9:25, Galatians 5:23, 2 Peter 1:6)

Sygyzy is willing to talk to anyone, male or female, in complete confidence about their pornography issues.  Please contact us on xxx@syzygy.org.uk.

I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own.

 (Ephesians 4:1)

Singles working in a Moslem context

GMCCThis week finds Syzygy in Turkey, taking part in the Global Member Care Conference.  This event brings together people involved in supporting mission workers from all over the world.  The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Member Care in Hard Places’, and we will be looking at how we can effectively support people working in a variety of contexts including:

  • countries where it is extremely dangerous to live openly as a Christian
  • places where disasters have occurred
  • helping people who have suffered significant persecution

Syzygy’s contribution to this useful debate is a workshop entitled “Single Mission Workers in Moslem Contexts”.  We will be looking at the unique pressures on single mission workers that living and working in the Moslem world can cause, and consider ways in which they can be prepared and supported more effectively.  Our research shows that many single mission workers serving long-term in such contexts continue to serve faithfully for many years, though they can suffer significant levels of stress which can impact on their physical and emotional well-being.  We have found that the most significant issues they struggle with include:

dark portraitLack of social status: Single people living outside their parents’ home are an oddity in the Moslem world.  Whether they are thought of as strange, or pitiable, or just an object of curiosity, mission workers of both sexes can struggle with standing out from the crowd.  They may even be suspected of being spies!  Having a spouse and children (particularly boys) adds to social status.

Lack of opportunity to make single friends: Whether it’s local people or other mission workers, it can be a challenge to have social relations with other singles.  For those keen to meet potential spouses, it’s even more so difficult as some societies will place significant restrictions on single people’s opportunities to meet.

Being vulnerable to abuse: Many women commented that their singleness makes them open to being stared at, commented on, propositioned or harassed as they have no man to protect them in a macho world.  Several considered their status to be little more than that of prostitutes and suggested that local men think they are available.

fragile 2Loneliness: While this is common to many single mission workers, it’s exacerbated in a social environment where it can be unsafe to go out alone, and where social mixing with married colleagues can be open to misunderstanding.  Being the only single person on a team can add to a sense of isolation.  Additionally, in a context where there is a powerful spiritual dynamic, not having a partner to pray with and encourage can increase the sense of loneliness.

Lack of security: Several women commented that they felt unsafe going out at night.  This had an impact on their ministry and social lives.

Together all these issues add up to one key factor: isolation.  While some mission workers are naturally better at dealing with this than others, and some learn to develop effective strategies for dealing with isolation, they can still feel deeply the effects of isolation.

There are clearly implications in all this for selection, preparation and in-field support that need to be thought through carefully before sending single mission workers to Moslem cultures.  Needless to say, their wellbeing hinges on receiving effective support from family, church and agency.  In fact, if these three groupings are simply aware of the challenges single mission workers face by ministering in a Moslem context, they may start to implement more effective solutions.  In a couple of weeks’ time, we’ll post some of our suggested solutions.

A review of Syzygy’s year

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

At this time of year many people send out round robin letters to tell everybody they don’t see regularly what they’ve been doing throughout the year, and we’re no exception.  It’s been an excellent year for us and we praise God for his grace to us as we seek to serve him in supporting mission workers worldwide.  During the year we passed the milestone of our tenth birthday and were amazed to look back and think that 10 years ago we could not have imagined what God would do in us and through us.

We’ve had the joy of continuing our co-operation with other agencies and networks such as Global Connections and the European Evangelical Mission Association, together with several of their forums, and to forge new links with other agencies for whom we’ve been able to provide advice and consultancy.

We’ve successfully developed new training modules including workshops on how to thrive as a single mission worker, how to deal with ongoing challenges following re-entry, and understanding why many mission workers allow themselves to become stressed.  We’ve also supported individual mission workers going to the field and returning to the UK.  We’ve taken these into a number of contexts, speaking at several conferences (including the European Member Care Consultation) and at bible colleges.

We continue to provide pastoral support to mission workers both remotely while they are in the field and in person when they are on home assignment, doing debriefs and home assignment reviews.  This can be a terribly challenging task, as our clients are often badly wounded by their experiences, but it is also incredibly fulfilling.  We also provide information about different resources and advice on various topics such as immigration and tax continues.

avatarOur website has continued to attract attention, racking up a record number of hits and followers on both Facebook and Twitter.  A new guide to retirement has joined our growing collection of Guides to Doing Mission Well.  In case you missed some of our blogs, we introduced some new concepts into missiology, such as understanding where we really find our identity, knowing why mission workers can be more vulnerable to burnout in their fifties, how to pray for mission workers using household objects, and using sweets to help us understand where we are in cultural adaptation.  Over the summer we had a mini-series on how the Protestant Work Ethic has had such an unhelpful impact on western Christianity.  We considered the movie Avatar as a metaphor for Gen Y, reviewed some excellent books and considered what happens when Jesus doesn’t fulfil our expectations.

We continue to have some good reviews of our book for single mission workers and continue to sell many copies of it.  We’ve upgraded two of the three cars which we lend to mission workers on home assignment, and received donations from several individuals and trusts which helped us achieve this.  And we gained a new volunteer, Barry, who drives our cars to wherever they are needed.

Of course, we can’t do this on our own, and we’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of our many supporters who have helped, prayed, volunteered, funded and provided publicity for our services.  We recognise that we cannot do this without your help – and God’s – and we appreciate your partnership with us.  Thank you for helping us help mission workers worldwide.

Middle-aged mission workers in crisis?

Souce: www.sxc.hu

Souce: www.sxc.hu

50 can be a challenging age for anybody.  On reaching half a century, we have to start coming to terms with ageing, knowing that most of us are now over halfway through our lives.

Perhaps we are no longer able to play 5-a-side with the teenagers, or we are starting to have to make regular nocturnal visits to the toilet or coming to terms with the fact that our body tells us we can’t have children.  We may need varifocal lenses or hearing aids.  At the same time, we may be dealing with the drama of our children leaving home, or confronting the tragedy that we might never get married, and dealing with the pain of caring for elderly parents.  So there is a lot for us to take on board.

At the same time, we are rising to the peak of our professional responsibility.  We may be in senior management positions, elders in a church, pillars of our community, trustees of various organisations.  We are expected to mentor younger people, act as consultants and advisors, and start ‘paying something back’ into the community.  People expect our behaviour to be better than when we were teenagers (“You’re old enough to know better!”) and there is less tolerance of our mistakes as we are assumed to be more mature.  But there’s also that nagging doubt that we’ve built on shifting sand.  Will our life’s work last?  Have we devoted our lives to something worthwhile?  Will our children thrive?  Or in others words:

The pressure of responsibility and expectation on us rises, just as our energy levels are starting to fall. 

50s crisisA simple graph can demonstrate this.  The red line indicates the rising burden on us; the blue line the declining energy levels.  And the point where they cross is where disaster is waiting.

The crisis can take a number of forms: a stress-related health incident, ministry burnout and resignation, moral failure, crisis of faith, divorce – and all these hazards lurk out there waiting to trip up the unwary mission worker.  For no obvious reason an apparently exemplary worker will suddenly crack under pressure and fall to pieces, injuring many others with the fallout.  Lives are damaged, churches shattered, faith rocked.  Broken and hurting people return to their sending countries haunted by words like failure and defeat.

So how can we prevent this happening?

Mission workers can:

  • Ensure you maintain a vibrant relationship with God, taking time off work if necessary to devote time to God.
  • Remember to say no to additional responsibilities if you do not feel called to take them on.
  • Take time to reflect regularly on your identity.  Are you a Martha or a Mary?  Which way round is your dynamic triangle flowing?
  • Have a frank relationship with an accountability partner or mentor.
  • If you’re married, make sure you take regular steps to invest in your relationship.  If you’re not married, make sure you learn to thrive in your singleness.
  • Learn to delegate effectively so that you don’t have to cope with excessive busyness as well as excessive responsibility.
  • Rejoice that though we are physically decaying we are growing more godly (2 Corinthians 4:16)
  • Take a break at the first sign of stress-related illness.

Churches and agencies can:

  • Take active steps to ensure their mission workers are not overworked and take regular holidays and study leave
  • Use regular appraisals to ask challenging questions about spiritual, emotional and physical well-being
  • Encourage mentoring
  • Organise training to help mission workers understand what makes them tick and why they may be tempted to overwork.
  • Ensure mission workers are sufficiently well-funded to be able to take holidays.
  • Have a good member care team in place
  • Send out family and friends to support and encourage.
  • Ensure that mission workers take regular and sufficient home assignment and have regular healthchecks
  • Recognise that cross-cultural living can take its toll on people’s health and spirituality
  • Provide practical support to help reduce the pressure on mission workers
  • PRAY!!!

Praying creatively for your mission workers

Here’s a simple yet creative idea for a mission prayer meeting.  Don’t just do the same old boring thing of praying through each paragraph of a newsletter.  Do something a bit more original.  Take a selection of common items you’d find about the house.  Ask yourself what they represent, and if it might look different from your mission worker’s perspective.  Pray into it.  Here are some simple examples you could use.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Mobile phone – this represents their ability to communicate.  Whether writing or phoning home, communicating with locals in their language or dealing with colleagues in a third language, mission workers often have difficulty in understanding and making themselves understood.

Toilet roll – we don’t need to go into details but life in a country your immune system didn’t grow up in can be full of nasty diseases.

Car keys – in many parts of the world roads are even worse than Devon’s!  Vehicles may not be up to safety standards and there are no working time directives limiting the hours professional drivers spend behind the wheel.  Travelling, whether by car, bus, motorbike or cycle can be hazardous.

Bottle of water – we take utilities for granted but many mission workers live in parts of the world where the power can go off for days at a time, or there is no running water.

Family photograph – many mission workers are separated from loved ones.  Children may be at boarding school, or elderly parents may be left behind at home.

IMG_0715Chillies – the food is often very different from back home, and can take a lot of getting used to.  Some people may have allergies to particular types of local food, or may be unable to get food they need such as gluten-free.

Fan – many mission workers live where the weather is extreme, and for some seasons of the year almost unbearable.

Bible – the reality of life on the mission field is that mission workers can become spiritually dry.  They may be engaged in spiritual battles and face great opposition, or the spiritual dynamic of the dominant religion may have an impact on them.

Wedding ring – marriages come under great strain on the mission field, as one partner may have a vision for being there, and the other is tagging along, or perhaps one does better with the language with the other lagging behind.  Conversely, there are also pressures of a different kind on singles in the mission field.

Bowl – in many countries beggars are everywhere, and foreigners can stand out as targets.  It can be easy to get compassion fatigues, or to be worn down by the constant high profile.

Dictionary – mission workers usually need to learn a second language, and sometimes a third.  This can be time-consuming and daunting for those who are not naturally gifted at it.

(Source: www.sxc.hu)

Source: www.sxc.hu

Passport – paperwork is a continual problem.  Visas, work permits, driving licences, residence permits all have to be obtained (without resorting to corrupt expedients) and periodically renewed.  This can be emotionally demanding, with many repeat visits to crowded government offices where you can queue for hours to find that the person you need to talk to is not there.

Credit card – money is frequently a source of stress for mission workers.  Most of us rely on the divinely-inspired generosity of a small group of supporters to provide for the often quite substantial ministry costs we have.  Sometimes we have to leave the mission field for financial reasons alone.

Book – many mission workers use their professional skills as theologians, medics or educationalists, and need to keep their knowledge and qualifications up to date.  Yet finding time to read academic journals, let alone take CPD courses in the midst of a demanding role can be very difficult.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Toy – children can suffer in the mission field, and that has a huge impact on the parents.  Without support, children can easily become the mission worker’s Achilles heel.

DVD – mission workers need to relax too!  Yet often they find they have too much work, or feel guilty if they stop to enjoy themselves.

Office ID card – for many mission workers, the single biggest source of stress is their colleagues.  Often coming from a variety of cultures, with a common language that they aren’t all gifted in, and with a variety of church backgrounds and missiological viewpoints, it can be extremely hard to form a team in which everyone gets on well.  Arguments and even personal disputes can become commonplace.

Please use this information to pray into the situations of the mission workers you support.  The advantage of this method is that you can use it to pray anywhere, anytime, for your mission workers.  For example, if you’re waiting for a bus, look around you and seek inspiration.  What do you see?  Cars – pray for your mission worker’s safe travel in a world where roads and transportation may not be as good as ours.  A dog – pray for safety from being bitten by rapid dogs, or mosquitos, or lions.  A pillar box – pray for their good communication with family, church and friends back home.

Try this way of praying for mission workers and your prayer life may never quite be the same again!

Book review: Redeeming Singleness

Redeeming SinglenessOne of the most challenging issues for single Christians, including mission workers, is the church’s seldom-questioned assumption that marriage is good.  The church rightly celebrates marriage, parenting and fidelity but the corollary to this assumption is the implication that singleness is wrong.  If married people are defined by what they have, singles are defined by what they don’t have, and that can be seen as an underlying deficiency.

This means that those who are married often fail to affirm and celebrate singles, while the singles can spend their lives feeling that they are somehow abnormal.  Unchecked, this negative attitude can undermine their spiritual wellbeing and come to dominate their thoughts and emotions.

Barry Danylak’s book Redeeming Singleness tackles this challenge head on.  It is one of the very few quality resources that Syzygy regularly recommends to single people at our events (along with our own Single Mission!).  At one such event recently, after we outlined Danylak’s proposition, one person in the audience commented “I feel really angry that these things are not being taught in our churches.”

We share that concern, which is why we recommend Barry’s book.  Academic without sacrificing readability, Redeeming Singleness propounds a positive theology of singleness that is absent from most churches today, despite the huge heritage of single people serving effectively in mission and ministry over the centuries.

David Hayward @ Naked Pastor.tumblr.com

David Hayward @ Naked Pastor.tumblr.com

Danylak starts by acknowledging the high importance attached to marriage in the Bible, particularly in the Genesis account where it is apparent that marriage has the duel function of companionship (Genesis 2:18) and procreation (1:28 and 2:24).  However he soon moves into explaining that it was important for people in the Old Testament to be married because they had no concept of the afterlife.  They lived on in their descendants (hence the significance of the genealogies) and in the land which they passed on to their descendants.

Thus, for an individual in Israel to be devoid of spouse, children, and land, such as Naomi on her return to Israel, was to feel the weight of divine judgment (Ruth 1:21-22).

Having established this base, Danylak shows how the prophets, particularly Isaiah, pave the way for a New Testament refocussing.  The woman who cannot have children is promised that she will have more ‘children’ than a mother (54:1-5).  The man who cannot have children (56:2) is promised something better – a lasting place and an eternal memorial.

Barry Danylak

Barry Danylak

Danylak then goes on to unpack Jesus’ frequently overlooked statement that, if you can handle it, it’s better to live a single life for God (Matthew 19:11-12) and then follows it up with an analysis of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 to demonstrate that there is significant esteem given to the single lifestyle by these two Jewish rabbis who, given their cultural background, might be expected to do exactly the opposite:

What is striking in Paul’s counsel to his Greco-Roman audience is that, while his perspective on sexuality and sexual ethics is so clearly rooted in the moral tenets of Old Testament law, his response on the question of marriage and singleness appears to be anything but a traditional Jewish perspective. 

goWhat happens to the blessing to Abraham?  It’s fulfilled in his ‘seed’ Jesus and in the ‘children’ of Jesus.  What happens to the blessing on Adam and Eve when they were told to ‘Go and multiply’?  This commandment is nowhere reiterated in the New Testament.  It is replaced by ‘Go and make disciples’, and in doing so, the followers of Jesus inherit the blessing.

This book is an excellent contribution to the well-being of single people.  It helps them overcome the implicit stigma of living a single life and be able to embrace their singleness through finding scriptural affirmation.  It fully demonstrates that while marriage may be normative in Christian culture, it is not the only way of living, and that singleness is equally, though differently, blessed.  Danylak concludes with:

Singleness lived to the glory of God and the furtherance of his kingdom testifies to the complete sufficiency of Christ for all things.  The Christian is fully blessed in Christ, whether he or she is married or single, rich or poor, in comfort or distress.

This clear, concise Biblical teaching needs to reach a wider audience, so that single Christians will be encouraged and the church will be equipped to bring balanced teaching to facilitate a Christian culture fully supportive of both single and married people.

 

Redeeming Singleness (ISBN 978-1-4335-0588-1) is available from all good online retailers both as a hard copy and ebook.

Local Church, Global Mission

LCGMIn these days, with the global village growing ever smaller and ever better connected, with just six degrees of separation between us and every human being on the planet, and increasing awareness that the actions of one country can have inadvertent knock-on effects on countries on the other side of the planet, it is somewhat surprising that many UK churches are turning inwards like never before.

Preoccupied with keeping the church going, finding new volunteers to run an increasing array of services for its members while many volunteers are already too busy, and daunted by the amazing quantity of mission opportunities right on their own doorstep, many churches choose to ignore the divine mandate to

Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

(Matthew 28:19)

Going into all the world?

Going into all the world?

As if to assuage our consciences we rightly point out that in the original Greek “Go” is not an imperative, and it should more accurately be translated ‘as you are going’.  Some argue that we don’t need to go because we can start making disciples on our own doorstep.  But we still need to do the “all nations” bit, and while many people from around the world come to our country as refugees, students or economic migrants, there are still billions waiting at home for us to go to them.

Local Church, Global Mission is a new initiative aimed at helping local churches facilitate global mission by identifying, training, sending and supporting mission workers to complete this unfinished task.  On 7th June in Nottingham they are having their first conference and this is an excellent opportunity for churches to find out more about sending people into global mission, whether they are already active or contemplating doing it for the first time.  You can find out more about the conference on their website.

Syzygy is supporting this event by having an exhibition stand there, helping to present a seminar on supporting singles in mission, and selling our book Single Mission.  We encourage you to come along and join us.

Jesus said:

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

In other words, the sooner we get the job done, the sooner we can all go home.

Housing for Home Assignment

to letHousing for home assignment is frequently a huge headache for mission workers.  In fact, it’s probably the single biggest challenge, though for many mission workers, their family and church may not even recognise this.  So for starters, here’s a summary of the challenges:

If you’re single – You may end up moving in with your parents.  While this is potentially demeaning for any adult, it may also put pressure on your relationships (particularly if your mum keeps asking when she’s going to need to go shopping for a hat).  Or you may end up in a spare room at a friend’s house.  This can be great fun when it works, but you may be acutely aware that it’s not your home and you need to work around somebody else’s space.  At other times singles can end up in a succession of different places, often staying with strangers, which can be emotionally demanding no matter how hospitable they are.

If you’re a couple – People take couples’ needs more seriously than singles, recognising that you need your own space.  You’re more likely to get a home of your own, but it’s still not always easy.

Sharing accommodation isn't always easy

Sharing accommodation isn’t always easy

If you’re a family – The bigger your family, the bigger the challenge.  It can be very hard to stay with friends due to the lack of space, but the rising cost of renting in the UK means you may not be able to afford somewhere large enough, and lack of space can put pressure on your family relationships.  Families sometimes find themselves living far from friends, church and family, because they have to take what accommodation they can get.  It doesn’t help the children form a positive impression of their parents’ home country.

Syzygy recommends that mission workers get a place of your own if this is at all possible.  It gives you the private space you need to process all that’s gone on in your life on the field, and to deal with the pressures of adjusting to life in the UK (see Reverse Culture Shock).  But renting is expensive, and it can be very hard to get a rental contract for less than a year, so there are a number of different solutions:

Multi-generational occupancy can be fun

Multi-generational occupancy can be fun

Live in your own house – If you own a house, ask your tenants to move out so that you can live in it.  It can help with a settling back into your ‘home’ but the challenge with this option is that your income drops though you still have to pay the mortgage.  You also run the risk of not being able to let it again when you leave, although you can take the opportunity to do routine repairs which may help you get a better rent.

Save up money while you are overseas to set aside to pay rent when you return.  Living back in your sending country may be significantly more expensive than being in the field, so setting aside a little every month (yes, I know it’s hard!) can help with this.

Ask your family/church/agency to help pay for the rent.  Don’t be shy!  They may not even have realised it’s a problem and could be happy to help.  Churches in particular may need to be reminded of your needs.

Time-share a rental with other mission workers from the same church or town.  You might be able to find other people sent from the same town as you who can synchronise their home assignment with yours, so that you can get a year’s rental agreement and take six months of it each.

Borrow a home from someone going overseas.  Agencies can help arrange this, even if you’re not a member, as their short term mission workers will need to fill their homes while they’re abroad.  Do some networking with other agencies in your field before you leave.  Christian Home Exchange Fellowship may also be able to help.

Ask Syzygy.  We know of one or two housing options that we can’t publicise, but contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

Ask Oscar.  The mission worker’s second favourite website (after this one!) has lists of the various options, including agencies and private lettings.  Just click here.

Other long-term solutions can include forming partnerships with other mission workers to buy a property which can be used like a time-share, or if you know a number of mission workers from related churches in the same area, you may be able to encourage the churches to club together to buy a property for use as a mission home.  One church I know bought a small development of flats and now rents most of them commercially, giving the church an income while they leave one flat permanently available for mission workers.

It’s also really important to gather a team around you, if you don’t have one already, who will prepare your accommodation.  A group of friends, relatives and supporters who can source, rent and clean a home before you return, make sure it’s furnished and has food in the fridge, is a real blessing.  Some churches collect and store everything from sofas to cutlery so that it can be used to kit out a rented house.

One thing that is important to stress is that having the right accommodation for your home assignment is a crucial element in managing the stress involved in returning to the UK, and it is well worth investing the time, energy and finance in finding the best solution.

Christmas – the happiest time of the year?

ChristmasAccording to contemporary mythology, Christmas is the happiest time of the year.  A time for giving, celebrating, and enjoying being with family.  Many seasonal songs perpetuate that myth.  Yet for many people it is far from that.  Coping with the various personal tragedies which can afflict humanity, Christmas is merely a mirror of the joy they don’t have.  So often church only seems to make it worse, enthusiastically buying into the seasonal activities while blissfully unaware of the isolation this can cause.  Christmas can be the most unhappy time of the year.

It can be an extremely difficult time for those who have been bereaved, divorced or abandoned, particularly if that has occurred in the last year.  For them this celebration will be a mockign memory of former happy times.  Other people will be lonely, having no special person to share it with, and it’s interesting to reflect on how many popular Christmas songs indicate that the presence (or absence) of a key loved one is a crucial factor in whether Christmastime is happy or not.  Some people will have no children but will be longing for their own children to treat, and they burn with pain each time somebody says ‘Christmas is all about the children’.  With so much activity centred on the children, those who want them can feel that it just makes their lack harder to bear.  Christmas can be the most lonely time of the year.

crackerWhile the celebrations of many who do not have family, or have a key part of their family missing, are overshadowed by their lack, many of those who do have family will also be suffering.  Perhaps loved ones are estranged, or relationships are tense, with a threat of arguments or even violence over Christmas.  Others are weighed down by the burden of expectation, needing to get along with in-laws or deliver a perfect Christmas experience of food, presents and decorations, perhaps while lacking the time or the finances to do it properly and fulfil everybody’s Christmas dreams.  Christmas can be the most uncomfortable time of the year.

Others will have no home at all, relying on shelters and hoping for mild weather, or will have no food to eat, or will be unable to afford to heat their homes.  Others will be refugees, wondering if their community can survive international conflict or natural disaster.  Christmas can be the most painful time of the year.

It is no coincidence then, that the child whose nativity we celebrate was not born into a perfect family Christmas.  The were forced to be away from their home by a dictatorial empire, and quite possibly were ostracised by family due to the suspicions surrounding Jesus’ paternity.  With no place to call their own, they found rough shelter in a strange town and Mary gave birth in uncomfortable and humiliating surroundings.  Soon afterwards they were political refugees, on the run from an oppressive tyrant murdering innocent children who might grow up to overthrow him.

Yet Jesus came to bring hope and comfort to those who suffer.  In this age through his church, and in the future in heaven, he promises better for us.  For those of you who feel lonely, uncomfortable or in pain at this time of year, we offer some words of encouragement:

  • Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God; blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be satisfied; blessed are you who are crying, for you shall laugh.  (Luke 6:20-21)
  • To those of you who can’t have children, don’t say you’re all dried up; I’ve got something better for you – a name that will last forever (Isaiah 56:4-5).
  • Look!  God has come to set up home with humanity… and he will wipe away every tear, and there will be no death, or mourning, or crying or pain any more.  These things all belong in the past (Revelation 21:3-4).

And for those of you who are fortunate enough to be enjoying a happy, festive occasion, maybe you’d like to spend a few moments considering how you can share your company, food and joy and with those for whom Christmas is a season to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Nelson Mandela

NelsonThe world is celebrating the life and mourning the death of one of the greatest people of the 20th century.  Lawyer, politician and freedom fighter, he became an unwitting poster boy for the anti-apartheid struggle during his 27 years in prison, but only became a truly global icon when the world discovered the extent of his magnanimity once he was released.

Eschewing violence and embracing forgiveness, possibly only his graciousness and leadership prevented South Africa descending into chaos as the apartheid regime was dismantled.  It is impossible to overstate his critical significance at this turning point in his country’s history, and in the many tributes people have been referring to him in the same way as they also talk about Gandhi.

Free Nelson MandelaBorn during the First World War and given the name ‘Nelson’ by a teacher in a time when it was thought normal for government employees to give Africans  new names that meant nothing to them, he embraced black South Africa’s struggle for freedom from white rule, and his activities resulted in his imprisonment.  Much has been made of his subsequent refusal to seek revenge or preach violence, and his determine to forge a new South Africa in which all races could find a place.

Some weeks ago as Syzygy was preparing a lecture which involved some reflections on healthy male sexuality, we conducted some internet research on who young men might choose as role models.  Some of the more disappointing results included wealthy industrialists, actors (more for their characterisations, one suspects, than for their personal qualities) archetypes such as cowboys, bodybuilders or famous lovers, and fictional characters like Indiana Jones and Dr Who.  Few politicians were even mentioned, and yet one name stood out from the crowd of mediocrities – Nelson Mandela.

Mandela rugby shirtMany single Christian men, including mission workers, struggle to know how to embrace their masculinity, since stereotypes like father or husband are not available to them, and many of the other examples cited above might not appeal to them.  Strong male characters are notably absent from many of our churches, and even the popular perception of Jesus as ‘meek and mild’ undermines the masculine strength he exuded which drew men to seek his company.  Perhaps it is the appeal of Mandela that he offers us a rare balance: strong but gentle.

Nobody would doubt his masculinity – he fathered six children – yet he reportedly even as President made his own bed and was courteous to his servants.  Those who met him frequently report that he seemed genuinely interested in him and he remembered details of their family lives at subsequent meetings.  He fought his battles courageously, respected his enemies, held high office with humility, was resilient in adversity and magnanimous in victory.

He was, of course, not a saint, nor a saviour, and certainly not a messiah.  Yet Christian men could do a lot worse than emulating Nelson Mandela.

Single Mission

2010000393024_Cover-970The moment single mission workers across the world have been waiting for has finally arrived: our new book Single Mission is now available!

Being single can bring massive challenges for mission workers.  Feeling lonely, isolated or misunderstood, or even being taken advantage of can cause self-doubt, resentment and can even lead to people leaving the mission field.

Written by Dr Debbie Hawker and Tim Herbert, Single Mission aims to encourage and equip single mission personnel, and to help them be strong in their faith, effective in their ministry, resilient and content with their lifestyle.

The best book about singles I have ever read.

If you care about mission personnel who are single, read this book so that you can support them better in their ministry.  Better still, buy a copy to send to them.  One church missions pastor said:

“The worldwide church has been waiting for this book… Our church will buy copies for all our overseas mission partners, both married and single, to help us all better understand the dynamics of single people in mission.”

Chapters have been contributed by over single 30 women and men from six continents and their stories include issues such as sexual temptation, adopting, the death of a husband after just two weeks of marriage, internet dating, pressure from family and church to marry, and plenty of tips on how to thrive in cross-cultural mission as a single person.  Some stories are sad, some are humorous, all are thought-provoking.  With chapter headings like Sacred Sexuality, What not to say to single mission workers, Loving and serving God, and Why aren’t you married?, let these stories of modern-day mission encourage and challenge you in your faith.

Other professionals supporting mission workers have said:

  • It fills a massive gap.
  • Wow!  This book does not hold back on issues not normally talked about! 
  • I’m glad to see that you aren’t shrinking away from the more difficult subjects.
  • We will certainly use it as a resource for training, preparing and supporting our mission workers.

You can read a review of Single Mission here.

Single Mission costs £8.99 plus £2.00 for postage and can be bought in the UK through the Global Connections shop, where you can pay online, or by emailing Tim Herbert.   Books are also available to buy online in the United States from Condeo Press and Single Mission is also available as an ebook.

All profits will be used to support mission personnel worldwide, through the work of ARREST and Sygyzy.

Serving as Singles

Andy MurrayThis week’s blog is not a reference to the tennis championships at Wimbledon, but a consideration of the needs of single mission workers serving the Lord cross-culturally.

Not long ago, the HR director of a UK mission agency told me that they recommend that all their married mission partners do a marriage refresher course while they are on home assignment.  This is good practice as it will help them think about the damage caused to their relationship by their time in the field, and help them strengthen their marriage to be more resilient in the future.

However the same agency makes no similar recommendation to its single mission partners for dealing with their singleness!

And, to be honest, even if they did, it wouldn’t be easy for their mission partners to find the appropriate resources.  Marriage enrichment courses abound.  You can find them run at retreat centres or in many churches (see Relationship Central for more information).  Yet where do you find any resource to help singles?  It’s an issue that is not adequately addressed, despite the increasing number of singles in our churches.

mi1Syzygy is very happy to be able to redress this balance.  We are happy to be partnering with Penhurst Retreat Centre, whose amazing ministry we have profiled before, to provide a 48 hour guided retreat for single mission workers in early September.

Serving as Singles is a celebration of singleness in ministry.  This retreat will be an affirming time helping single mission workers embrace their situation in life, look to Christ to provide our needs, and discuss strategies for coping with the difficult aspects of being single. There will be time for teaching, discussion, prayer, silence and laughter. It is open to all singles involved in mission whether unmarried, divorced or widowed.  Above all, we will be pointed back to Jesus as the lover of our soul, to spend time with him, listening to what he has to say to us.

Penhurst is a quiet, cozy retreat centre deep in the lovely Sussex countryside, which provides plenty of opportunity for rest and reflection.  It is an ideal place for an event such as this.  To book your place, visit the Penhurst website.  But do it quickly, as places are strictly limited!

Nurturing singles

crowd_aloneIn his book Being Single (2005, Darton, Longman & Todd), Philip B Wilson makes the following statement based on his research:

For many Christians who are single, church is not a welcoming or a comforting place to be.

The same could be said of many sending agencies as well.  Failure to nurture single mission workers can result in a cohort of lonely, unfulfilled and spiritually stagnating people who feel marginalised and who often believe the only answer to their unhappiness is to find the right life partner.

Given that many single people are destined to remain single for the rest of their lives (particularly women, who in most agencies and churches significantly outnumber the single men), any community which fails to affirm and accept singles risks hurting, stressing, alienating and possibly even rejecting a substantial part of its membership.

On behalf of single people everywhere, Syzygy has come up with a few suggestions to help both church and agency consider how they can promote wholeness for singles and avoid inadvertently creating a culture which assumes marriage is good and anything else is therefore bad.  Here is our list of the top five dos and don’ts.

Don’t:

  • Use the word ‘family’ indiscriminately, as in “We are a family church” or “We want to attract more families”.  While church should be family in the widest possible sense (Luke 8:21), using the word too loosely can repel those who are not a happy part of a nuclear family.  It is good to affirm families, but in doing take care so not to denigrate the rest of the church.
  • Expect marriage to be the answer to every problem that single people have.  It isn’t the answer to the problems of married people!
  • Marginalise single people so that they are kept on the fringes of the community.  They have as much right to belong as everyone else.  Affirming them creates an environment in which all people can be valued.
  • Assume that single people are lonely and unfulfilled until they ‘settle down’.  Many of them have a vibrant relationship with God, a fulfilling career and ministry, a good social life and they are very happy in their singleness (Matthew 19:12).
  • Matchmake without permission.  Single people can be offended by the assumption that they must be in want of a partner, even if they’re not in possession of a good fortune.  While matchmaking can be done out of care and compassion, it can communicate that you assume there is a deficiency in the life of a single person.

jump-727739Do:

  • Promote discipleship.  The closer we all grow to God, the more we realise that our real fulfilment is found in loving and serving God, and not in finding the right partner.
  • Pray that single people might be fulfilled in their singleness.  We frequently pray for God’s blessing on couples and families, so why leave out the singles?
  • Foster a caring, sharing community in which all people can develop meaningful relationships with others and nobody feels left out or uninvolved.  Encourage people to look out for one another’s needs (Philippians 2:4).
  • At significant seasonal events (e.g. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving) and on Sunday lunchtimes, encourage the community to open its doors to others rather than exclude them.  Single people often find it really hard to go home after the joy of church fellowship to eat a ham sandwich by themselves.
  • Welcome single people into leadership.  Because singles are often thoughtlessly lumped in together with young people due to their assumed ‘interim’ state , their giftings and abilities can be overlooked and they are often used simply as drones who are there to provide a labour force.

Syzygy continues to blog about the needs of single people, not because their needs are greater than those of people in relationships, but because their needs are more likely to be overlooked and unmet.  Syzygy is in the process of writing a book together with Dr Debbie Hawker which hopes to address these needs, and Tim is leading a retreat for single mission workers at Penhurst Retreat Centre in September.  Click here for more details.

Working towards a healthy sexuality

SEX is written in large letters throughout western society. In a reaction to the buttoned-up days of yore when the whole issue was swept under the carpet resulting in a lot of repression, the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s got everything out in the open (often literally!) where it has remained ever since. Many churches today shy away from even discussing these issues, for fear of seeming old-fashioned or intolerant. This by default allows the secular world to set the church’s priorities and values concerning sexuality. So Christians can easily find themselves in situations where they are sexually compromised, due to lack of clear teaching and adequate support.

This is a challenging issue for mission workers, and particularly for single ones, who may have to grapple with issues of loneliness, isolation and lack of emotional intimacy in a world which makes sex sound like it’s the answer to everything. So single mission workers can become vulnerable to inappropriate relationships, use of pornography or fantasy, and confusion about their sexuality. Many of us resent the lack of opportunity to engage in sexual activity and to have children, which leaves us feeling guilty, weak and demoralised.

So how do we, together as a Christian community, work towards a healthy sexuality for all?

First, we need to recognise that although many of us have strong unfulfilled desires to be spouses and parents, our primary identity is not in our family (or lack thereof) but in Christ. While family in its broadest sense is a huge part of our relational existence, our identity as children of God is even more significant. This is what Jesus modelled. He does not appear to have had any problem with his singleness despite the fact that it was even more counter-cultural in his day than it is in ours. If our awareness of our identity in Christ is not giving us a strong sense of self-worth and positive self-esteem despite our circumstances, we need to discuss this with a friend, pastor or counsellor. When Jesus said that he came so that we could have overflowing life (John 10:10) he was not speaking only to those in ideal domestic situations.

Secondly, we need to expose the lie that we are sexual beings. Believing this Darwinist half-truth makes us vulnerable to all sorts of sexual influences and makes us feel somehow incomplete if we are not having a fulfilling sex life. The truth is that God created us to be relational beings, and sex is only one of the capacities we have for relating. If we concentrate too much on this one, it downplays the other valuable ways we have of relating to others. We need to have healthy, open, honest, safe, accountable relationships with others – single and married, same sex and opposite, young and old – if we are to maintain a strong social community which leaves us feeling valued and esteemed. If we can achieve this, sex ceases to be so significant as a short-term bolster for our self-esteem.

Third, we need to be emotionally intelligent. When we become aware of urges which we can’t control, we need to ask ourselves where they are coming from. Some might be purely physical impulses which need to be mastered, but these can be complicated by a raft of self-esteem issues. When we are tired, unwell, lonely or fatigued, we often want a ‘shot in the arm’ to raise our spirits. This can take a variety of forms: alcohol, chocolate, retail therapy, recreational drugs and sexual activity. These are short-term fixes which may leave us feeling better for a bit, but don’t resolve deeper issues which affect our behaviour. We need to be aware of what we are feeling and what positive things we can do about it.

In practical terms, what does this all look like? Here are some suggestions for ways in which we can work towards a healthy sexuality:

  • Maintain a healthy spiritual life. It’s harder to give in to sexual temptation if you’re walking with God.
  • Learn Bible verses which promote self-esteem. Write them on post-it notes and leave them in handy places.
  • Be accountable. Find a friend who you can confess to and pray with.
  • If you feel you need a safety valve like masturbation, ask yourself whether you control it, or it controls you.
  • Install an internet accountability monitor on your computer.
  • Be an active part of community. Even if you’re an introvert, you need friends.
  • Avoid unhelpful locations like red-light districts.
  • Don’t mistake strong, supportive same-sex friendships for romance.
  • Be physically active. A tired body will be more likely to want to sleep than find sexual fulfilment.
  • Find resources. Our friends at Member Care Media have some excellent podcasts about healthy sexuality (www.membercaremedia.com, click on Emotional Health and then Addictions and Dependencies).  Every Single Man’s Battle by Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn is a good book for men to read.

Syzygy is willing to talk confidentially to anyone who needs advice on this, and can recommend a number of experienced counsellors if necessary. For more information email info@syzygy.org.uk