Brazil – what happens when it all goes wrong?

BrazilBeing defeated 7-1 in a football match is an unmitigated disaster, particularly when it’s at home in the semi-final of a world cup.  Recently Andy Murray crashed out of Wimbledon after apparently being upset in the locker room just before the start of the match.  Mark Cavendish crashed on the finishing straight of the first stage of the Tour de France.  And we won’t even mention the Ashes.

All of these defeats have a profound impact on those involved.  As well as having to cope with the huge personal disappointment, they have to relive the event as they comment on it over and again in television interviews.  Some of them will lose their jobs as a result, and possibly even their livelihoods.  All of this is worked out in the shame and humiliation of the public eye.

But what happens when mission workers have to face a disaster of their own causing?  Perhaps they thought that because they’re working for God they were exempt from complying with local regulations and a hefty fine threatens to close down their ministry.    Maybe they trusted people and didn’t put in place adequate checks on their integrity, resulting in malpractice in their church.  Or through pride, arrogance or stubbornness they fell out with their own colleagues and split the team in two.  Perhaps they have failed to maintain their car properly, resulting in a fatal accident.  Maybe they’ve failed to look after their own health, or their marriage.  Sadly such occurrences are far more common than you might think, and often the mission workers have nowhere to turn to for help.

Nobody like accepting responsibility for failure.  We try to blame someone else, and if there’s no obvious human, Satan is always a useful scapegoat.  Mission workers fear that if they own up to their own faults, their agencies and churches might stop supporting them, and they may lose their funding.

In mission, we don’t tend to handle defeat and failure well.  We often don’t face up to it, or we try to sweep it under the carpet.  But, unlike banks, mission workers are not too big to fail.  In fact, a timely admission of error can be appropriate and healthy.

Agencies and churches should work to create a supportive and honest environment in which failure can be admitted, repentance made, and lessons learned.

Syzygy provides confidential debriefing and pastoral support for mission workers, particularly those who feel they have nobody else to talk to.  For more information email info@syzygy.org.uk.

TCKS coming ‘home’

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

It’s a while since we discussed TCKs, and since we reviewed reverse culture shock a few months ago, this might be a good opportunity to focus specifically on how this affects TCKs.  TCKS are Third Culture Kids – people who spent a significant part of their formative years growing up in a culture which was not that of their parents.  They don’t fully fit in either in their parents’ home country, or the country (or countries) in which they grew up, so they form their own third culture which features aspects of both.  Where the parents are mission workers, they are also known as Mission Kids (MKs).

Among the many huge challenges facing TCKs is the question of where home is.  They can often experience significant confusion over the issue, particularly when they’ve lived as mission kids in more than two countries.  But they seldom agree with their parents that the original sending country is home.  This complicates returning to the sending country, whether temporarily for home assignment or permanently, as in relocating for educational reasons.

Home... or away?

Home… or away?

Parents can easily talk about this as ‘going home’, which it may well be for them, but for the children, it is more like going to a foreign country.  They may be familiar with aspects of it but it is probably not home.  They are leaving home!  Their wider family in the sending country, and also in their ‘home’ church may reinforce this view, asking children who are already feeling lonely, bewildered and homesick how it feels to be ‘home’.  It’s not surprising if they occasionally get a hostile response.

Recognising that any such transition is a huge challenge for young people is the first step in dealing with it.  Some of our top tips for helping TCKs cope with this transition are:

  • ensure that the parents can spend more time than usual with their children, since they are a key point of stability in a different world;
  • connect with old friends back home through social media to maintain meaningful relationships;
  • bring with you favourite toys, furniture and food supplies so that you can continue to celebrate where you’ve come from;
  • meet with people from their host culture in the new country, and connect with other TCKs who have already made the transition;
  • continue to speak in the language of your host country to reinforce your connection with it;
  • take children and teens to Rekonnect – a summer camp specially designed for TCKs;
  • ensure that key features of life and culture in the new country are explained.  Don’t take it for granted that TCKs know how to tie shoelaces or button a dufflecoat if they didn’t have shoes and coats as they grew up!
TCKs in Brazil - Pam and her four sisters

TCKs in Brazil – Pam and her four sisters

One of Syzygy’s trustees, Pam Serpell, herself a TCK who grew up in Brazil, wrote a dissertation on this subject for her degree, and has given us permission to publish it here.   In her research she discovered that TCKs who reflected back on their experience of relocating to the UK used words like depressed, misunderstood, belittled, lonely, excluded, trapped and even suicidal.  This will not come as a surprise to those who have already been through this transition, but indicates how seriously the challenges for TCKs need to be taken.

Pam also looked at what helped prepare the TCKs for the transition, supported them through it, and what else they thought might have helped.  She clearly felt there is a need for sending agencies to do more to help prepare TCKs, perhaps through a formal orientation programme, and to support them through it.  Fortunately, in the 10 years that have elapsed since she did her research, many agencies have made great progress in this area.

Yet despite the evident challenges involved in being a TCK, Pam concludes:

All the people who took part in my research expressed being grateful for their upbringing and the experiences they had in ‘growing up between worlds’ and I would encourage any TCK to concentrate on the benefits of their experience and look for the positives.

You can read a pdf of Pam’s dissertation here.  As with all material on the Syzygy website, it is available for reuse where appropriate as long as the author receives due credit.

School for TCKs

This month our resident adult TCK Gill Gouthwaite reflects on her experience of being educated abroad.

So how did I become so fabulously educated, growing up in the wilderness of a third world country?  All of us went to Brazilian primary school, and for secondary transferred to an International British School.  That meant going where the British school was, in second-biggest metropolis in the world.

Going to a British school overseas was glorious.  It was the poshest school in town, and we studied in company with the state President’s grandchildren.  I remember one boy announcing to me that his grandmother had funded one of the largest bridges in town (I’m still not entirely sure what he wanted me to do with that information. Ask her for money?).  Another had received kidnapping threats, so he had two bodyguards whenever we went on field trips.  Of course it did mean we got dead good birthday presents from our school friends, but then we had to wear a bizarre uniform: pinafores and blazers are weird in a country where jeans and a t-shirt are the standard school uniform.

It also meant we lived away from home in a special house, called the hostel (nicknamed the mental hospital).  We were looked after by the lucky missionary couple who pulled the short straw to look after that madhouse.  It was unique.  Having people who aren’t your parents making decisions about your life is surprisingly stressful on a kid.  I dreaded spending time with them so much that I would rather go to school if I had the flu (through no fault of that unfortunate longsuffering couple’s, may I add).

In Brazil there were always bars on the windows, which to me meant we were trying to keep someone out.  Whoever that someone was, they presumably wanted to attack me (hence the bars); it happened on the news all the time.  So I kept the door to my room open so I could run out into the (in my head) safer communal areas of the house in case that happened.  The only problem with my cunning plan was that Auntie Betty* (our housemother) used to vacuum every morning, including on Saturdays.  Today I can applaud her cleanliness, but at the time I cursed it (not with actual curse words, I was a missionary kid after all; but I think she got the gist…).

The day that I asked (I say I asked, but it might possibly have come across as a criticism) why she was ironing my nightgown, we finally had our bust-up.  I got told off for being rude to her, and from then on I decided to keep my opinions and my feelings to myself.  For years after that crying was hard for me – it was just a sign of weakness.

So the salient feature for school for me wasn’t actually school, which was excellent by any standards, but the separation it entailed, and the differentness that it gave us.  Like so much in life, it wasn’t the experience itself that mattered so much as the people I met, and their reactions to me.

*name changed

……………………………..

Editorial comment

Education for their children is one of the biggest concerns of most mission workers who have young children.  The trauma of long-term separation, the risk of compromising a child’s future by not giving them the best educational opportunities, and the sheer cost of some of the alternatives weigh heavily on many people’s hearts.  However many TCKs grow up to be well-rounded, sociable people who look back on their school experience as a time of building lasting relationships with people from all around the world.

Options for educating TCKs include homeschooling, using the local education system (and quite frankly many people’s concerns that the schools in the countries they’re serving in don’t reach the standards of their sending country are frequently unfounded), leaving children ‘at home’ with friends or relatives, sending children to international schools in a major city or sending them away to boarding schools (Christian or otherwise).

There are no easy answers as the ideal situation will depend on each family, and the options available to them.  However we recommend that you read the excellent articles published on the website of our good friends at Oscar.

Mission report: Brazil

The entertainment at a children’s party

In July we asked you to pray for the Soapbox short-term trip to Brazil which was being led by Tim.  Five very full but successful weeks later we’re happy to thank you for your prayers which made a huge contribution to this trip.

Two separate groups totalling 16 people, most of them teenagers, had an excellent mission experience, most of them for the first time, which will have a significant impact on their lives.  Discovering genuine poverty for the first time, taking responsibility for activities, and relating responsibly to underprivileged children were some of the positive outcomes.

Building under way

The teams were working in a home for children who have been removed from their families for their own safety or protection, which is run entirely by local Christians with very little outside support.  Although the children are housed, fed, clothed and educated, they do not have much else, so were really appreciative of the interest shown in them by others from overseas, who played with them, taught them some English, and took them out on trips.  Some of us also formed lasting supportive relationships with the children which will continue now we are back in England.

Also, the teams accomplished an immense amount of practical work:

  • Built, plastered (with professional help) and painted a wall to prevent children falling off the patio
  • Paid for a builder to complete the final section of the perimeter wall and concrete an area of waste ground so that the children can play on it safely
  • Painted the main hall of the building
  • Built a set of sturdy steps to give children safe access to the upper play area
  • Repaired damaged perimeter walls and cracks in the patio paving
  • Replaced the lock on the main door which wouldn’t easily open when shut, or vice versa
  • Replaced broken glass in windows
  • Fitted locks and handles to many doors and cupboards
  • Made numerous repairs to plumbing, furniture and lighting
  • Provided new furniture for the bedrooms
  • Provided new cups, plates and cutlery for the children
  • Bought a new DVD player and some dvds
  • Took out an amazing quantity of sports equipment, games, craft materials and clothes

Painters at work

Happily there were no cases of accident, tummy upsets, serious injuries, culture shock or homesickness, so praise God for watching over us!

This was in many respects the highlight of the year for these children who, while being well-cared for, lack people to take an ongoing interest in them, play with them, and help them develop.  The shelter at which they stay runs a ‘godparent’ scheme whereby local people are partnered with a child and take them out, give them presents, and potentially work towards adopting them.  However many children don’t have godparents to help them, and some are too old (12 or over) to be attractive to potential godparents, who generally seek younger ones.  Please pray that more godparents will be found.

We cannot publish any photos of the children, for their own protection.

Please continue to pray for the children, who will miss us as their lives go back to normal  routine until next summer when another team will visit, and for us too as we settle back into our UK lifestyles (or not!).

Short-term mission trip: Brazil

Brazil is a massive country which takes up half of South America and crosses three time zones.  Bustling cities give way to vast expanses of jungle, beautiful beaches, rugged mountains and endless plains.

Brazil is also home to some of the biggest cities in the world – and some of the largest slums.  It has a population of nearly 200 million and is one of the worlds biggest economies but it is estimated that there are also 8 million street children in Brazil.

This summer Tim is leading TWO short-term teams organised by SoapBox to Belo Horizonte, the country’s third largest city, to support a local Christian ministry which works with children with a variety of needs who can no longer live with their families.

The teams will be building walls, repairing a leaky ceiling and painting the living areas.  They will be staying at the same home as the children so there will be plenty of time to play with, teach, and encourage the children.  Please pray for them all as they undertake this expedition to communicate the love of Jesus to some of the world’s poorest  and neediest people.

 

KEY DATES

20th July        Team 1 leaves England

7th August      Team 1 leaves Brazil

12th August    Team 2 arrives in Brazil

25th August    Team 2 arrives in UK

 

TEAMS

Team 1 (A youth group from Ashwell, Baldock and Royston in Hertfordshire): Jen (co-leader), Amy, Callum. Kia, Millie, Rosie, Rufus, Tom

Team 2: Helen (co-leader), Jennie, Jono, Marie, Sam, Val

KEY PRAYER POINTS

Pray for:

  • the team to know Jesus working in them and through them
  • God to work in the lives of the many hurt children they’ll be helping
  • health and safety as they do manual work they’re not used to
  • protection and safety as they travel
  • leaders to be able to do an excellent job and work well together
  • team members who are under 18 to be able to cope well away from home
  • them all to be able to cope with the culture shock of experiencing a different world

 

This expedition is organised by SoapBox, a charity which provides opportunities for short-term mission projects throughout the world.  It has a childcare programme that operates in the countries where they have practical aid projects. They also work in UK prisons and schools.

 

Short term mission: preaching the good news

Source: www.freeimages.com

As I write this blog, I’m thinking a lot about short-term mission.  I’m writing new material about short-term mission for our series of online-guides to doing mission well.  I’m preparing to brief one of my trustees who is coming with me on a visit to Zambia later this year, and I’m preparing to train a youth group I’m leading on a short-term expedition to Brazil in the summer.

A lot of effort goes into short-term mission, and one of the questions that is repeatedly asked is ‘Why not just send the money?’  It’s a question that people like me are used to hearing, and we justify the time, effort and funding involved in doing short-term mission by talking about partnering with an overseas church, encouraging believers in other countries, gaining a bigger picture of life in different parts of the world, and seeing people growing in faith and character as they serve others.  But the question itself reveals a pragmatic and materialistic mindset.

Yes, if we wanted to get the job done, we would send the money.  I’m going to Brazil in July with the primary goal of building a wall.  I’m sure there are people in Brazil who can do that.  But there’s so much more to it than that.  It’s about relationships.  My relationships with the people who will fund, support and pray for me.  My relationship with the team going with me.  Our relationship with our sending churches and agency.  Our relationship with the Brazilians we will serve.  Our churches’ relationship with them.  And above all, our relationship with our God who sends us.

God is a sending God.  He sent Joseph into Egypt to save lives (Gen 45:5) and sent Moses to the Israelites to deliver them from Egypt (Ex 3:14).  These images speak of God sending a rescuer, and his ultimate response to humanity’s dire need was to send Jesus (Luke 4:43, John 8:42, 1 John 4:10) to rescue us.  Jesus called some of his disciples apostles (Luke 6:13) – the word means in Greek someone who is sent out – whom he then sent out to make more disciples (Matthew 28:19).  God sent Ananias to minister to Paul (Acts 9:11), who in turn was sent to preach the gospel (Galatians 1:1).  He wrote in Romans 10 about people who haven’t heard about God:

How can they call on the One they have not believed in?

And how can they believe in Him who they have not heard of?

And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

And how can those preach unless they are sent?

We go because we are sent, not merely to build a wall but to preach the gospel.  We may not be able to communicate effectively in Portuguese but we hope by our actions and attitudes to demonstrate the love of Jesus and the truth of the gospel.  Our relationship with God will hopefully be reflected in our relationship with the people we serve, and lead them into relationship with God too.

Money talks, but it can’t preach the gospel.

Anyone considering doing some short-term mission might like to read the Syzygy Guide to Doing Short-Term Missions Well, one of a series of guides designed to help people prepare for missions, whatever stage of their journey they’re at.

A celebration of life as a Mission Kid

This week Gill Gouthwaite reflects on her multi-cultural childhood in Brazil…

Growing up an MK is marvellous.  It’s a gift of many facets.  Some of the facets are bright and clear; others are, well, a bit hazier…

I was born into three countries, to parents of different nationalities.  We lived in Brazil. Where we lived it got so hot that if we parked the car in the sun we couldn’t touch the seatbelt handles without burning ourselves.  When it rained I’d be soaked to the skin in 20 seconds if I couldn’t find shelter.

It was great being an MK though, because it helped me appreciate my life in ways that would have been very difficult if I’d been brought up monocultural, or indeed if I’d had less awareness of my own fortunate position in the world.

There are five of us children – all girls, all blonde.  When we met anyone new they always loved us.  ‘Five?’ they’d say, ‘All girls? They’re so cute/sweet/adorable/such darlings/like dolls!’  They’d gently stroke our heads.  Then, as they caught a glimpse of my father, they’d remember that none of us would grow up to carry on the family name.  The astonishment they expressed reflected both the improbability of having five fair-haired children of the same gender, and a touch of horrified compassion for my heir-less parents.  The reaction was simultaneously flattering and insulting.

Now that self-effacing Britishness has entered my bones, it’s embarrassing to admit how great it was to grow up being automatically popular, even though I knew it was because of where I came from.  Of course, returning to Britain, where I had to explain that missionary parents did not go from house to house with tracts (very often), was a bit of a culture shock.  The difference in the way people treat you without reference to anything you’ve actually done does make clearer the passing quality of human praise.  Humbling.

The most beautiful aspect of my childhood, if I had to choose, would have to be insight.  As an MK I got entry into very different worlds, from the very poorest people and churches to the wide diversity of (always richer and better-educated, though not always particularly more content) churches in the UK where our mission was based, to the world of expatriates abroad, which I’m afraid I was always a little disparaging of… so how much real insight I got from that I can’t say!

I think that being exposed from early childhood to very different cultural expectations has given me a greater generosity towards those who see things differently from the way I do, and when someone does something to upset me it makes me look first for a source of miscommunication rather than assuming that they see things the same way I do.  Looking for common ground with people from all sorts of different backgrounds blossoms into a richness of life, relationship and experience which is what I value most about my upbringing.

Gill and her four sisters all have different perspectives on their childhood as MKs.  Gill is going to be a regular contributor to this website, reflecting on the blessings and challenges of such an upbringing, celebrating life and commiserating with those who are still struggling to adapt, often many years later.  We hope this will form the focus of an MK discussion, so if you’d like to join in the chat, please use the comments box. If you’d like to talk confidentially about your experiences, email mk@syzygy.org.uk