Featured Ministry: Open Doors

hist_beetle_driveIn 1955, a young Dutchman went to a youth congress in communist Poland carrying hundreds of Christian tracts to distribute.  During his visit he discovered an isolated evangelical church struggling to retain its morale in the face of communist persecution.  The young man, now known throughout the world by the name ‘Brother Andrew’, embarked on a life travelling to difficult and dangerous places, smuggling Bibles to a needy church, inspired by the words of Revelation 3:2 –

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

Driving his battered VW Beetle all over the Soviet bloc, Brother Andrew smuggled Bibles into communist eastern Europe.  But his exploits did not stop there.  He pioneered work into China, and then the Middle East and parts of central Africa.  Open Doors, the organisation he founded, has gone on to print Bibles, broadcast the Gospel by radio, coordinate international prayer ministry, keep the church informed about persecution  and become well-known for delivering practical support to the suffering church.  They also advocate on behalf of the oppressed, and their annual World Watch List is a must-have for Christians seeking information about how to pray for countries where Christians are oppressed.

60 years on from Brother Andrew’s first journey, Open Doors has become a worldwide agency working in over 60 countries through nearly 1000 workers – most of them national partners, because in the places they work people who are obviously foreign can’t always be effective.  Many of them work in challenging and dangerous places, training up new generations of church leaders and equipping the church to survive in the most hostile places on the planet.

All this is true to the adventurous spirit of Brother Andrew, who is famous for pointing out that there are no countries which are closed to the gospel.  There are of course countries from which it may be hard for Christians who preach the gospel to come back alive, but Brother Andrew has proved throughout his escapades in places like Palestine, Iraq, China and the Soviet Union, that God really can shut the eyes of the authorities and open doors.

Today tens of thousands of suffering Christians are supported and encouraged by Open Doors’ campaigns of aid and encouragement.  You can read more about these on their website, where you can find more details on how to pray for them and to join in the ministry.  As the UK CEO of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce said at a recent celebration of 60s of Open Doors’ ministry:

There isn’t a persecuted church and a free church – there is one church.

Or as St Paul put it: “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Let’s be inspired by the example of Brother Andrew and his many colleagues to relieve the suffering and pray for the parts that suffer.

Spectre

SpectreSpectre, along with the rest of the Bond franchise, thrives on the unique character of James Bond.  Although he is well-equipped with gadgetry, supported by incredible technology wielded by a highly supportive team, the success of the franchise is built around Bond’s own skill, versatility and ability to improvise.  This image portrayed frequently in the genre of espionage movies is quite possibly far from the real truth.

The image of the mission worker as a lone agent battling skilfully and heroically against incredible odds, is also far from the truth, but like Bond, it persists.  Churches talk about ‘our mission worker’ while ignoring the possibility of developing a relationship with the agency, team and local church the mission worker serves alongside.  The mission worker talks in terms of his ministry rather than that of the team or agency.  Candidates head off overseas independently of a sending agency and without having involved their church in the decision-making process.  And when an agency asks someone to lay aside their personal vision and work somewhere else for the good of the team, the mission worker resigns and carries on her work independently.

Such occurrences are not the norm in global mission, but nevertheless are far too prevalent, and Syzygy spends more time than we’d like helping people pick up the pieces after they discover that they’re not 007.  There is also little Biblical precedent for people ruggedly going it alone.  Jesus sent his followers out in pairs (Luke 10:1).  Barnabas and Saul set off to Cyprus as a pair (Acts 13:2), and when they parted they both found new partners (Acts 15:36-40).  Paul went on to build up a large team of co-workers including Luke, Timothy, Titus and several others (2 Timothy 4:-12).  Peter did not go to the house of Cornelius alone (Acts 10:23), and was quickly held to account for his actions by his church when he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 11:2).  In fact the only successful ‘lone ranger’ in Acts is Philip (Acts 8), and he only went on a short trip.

While pioneering mission may involve periods of solitude, particularly when working in creative access nations, agencies should always seek to send teams wherever possible.  Churches should remember that mission workers remain members away on secondment who need to still be included.  Mission workers should always bear in mind that no matter how individualistic and pioneering they are, they should always be part of a team comprising sending church, family and friends, sending agency and receiving church and agency if there is one.  This team is there to fund, pray, advise, assist and hold accountable.  Failure to put this team in place can result in too much burden falling on the shoulders of the mission worker, who consequently burns out, with bad results for themselves, their family, and the people they were working with and witnessing to.

It might seem spiritual to claim that one person plus God is enough to meet any challenge, but the New Testament church clearly did not believe that.  God calls us to live, serve and go as part of community.

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.

Tech notes: podcasts

1084232_headphonesOne of the ongoing challenges for mission workers is the need to ensure spiritual input.  One of the major reasons for burnout is that we continually give out at a faster rate than we take in.  So we need to make sure we have ample access to good quality teaching.

There is an extent to which, due to isolation or security needs, some mission workers can’t meet together easily for Bible study, and the local churches in which we minister are not always geared to meeting our needs.  But the internet makes good resources much more accessible than the days when our churches used to post us cassettes of the sermons.   One such benefit is the podcast, which can vary in length from five minutes to over an hour, and is an easily accessible resource that can be used in a variety of contexts: while setting aside time for study, or travelling, jogging – even on a flight.

Many churches now put their sermons out as podcasts, and even if the quality is not always consistent, it does have the benefit of keeping you in touch with what’s going on in your sending church.  But you can get them from other churches as well.  You might like to try, for example, Holy Trinity Brompton, Mars Hill, Gold Hill Baptist Church, Saddleback Church, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, or Willow Creek.

165809_headphonesSome famous speakers podcast regularly, sometimes even daily, though the quality of these can be variable.  Try out Mark Driscoll, Joyce Meyer, N T Wright, Max Lucado, David Pawson or (from beyond the grave!) Derek Prince.  Even classics such as My Utmost for his Highest and The Practice of the Presence of God are available as a podcast.

Other organisations such as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable  programme and Christianity magazine also have regular and thought-provoking podcasts, and Member Care Media, which we have highlighted before, issues daily podcasts aimed specifically at the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of overseas mission workers.

Individual podcasts can be downloaded from the website appropriate to your preferred church or speaker (as linked above), but it’s a lot easier to subscribe to them through iTunes, or go to One Place, a Christian resource for bringing lots of Christian teaching resources together online.  You can download podcasts to your computer or phone, and though for some people download speeds at home are often a challenge, you can get round this by going to an internet café or office where they may have a better service.  If you’re in a country where you need to think about security, make sure you regularly alternate between different cafés.

There are of course many more online resources such as Bibles, commentaries and guides, sermon resources, audio books and devotionals, and Oscar has a full list of these.

Why every mission worker needs to use social media

Source: www.freeimages.com

Many mission workers (particularly ones of a certain age!) are completely unable to understand the fascination with things like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (other social media tools are also available) yet these applications are considered almost indispensible to a younger generation.  Together they are referred to as social media, and they have become a key feature of how people relate to one another, keep in touch, form community and express themselves to the world.

For a lot of mission workers there is not the perceived need to be involved in this seemingly self-obsessed activity in which many people can spend a significant amount of their time.  Why would you want to, when there’s already so much work to do?  Here’s why: one of a mission worker’s greatest needs is to be able to communicate effectively.  We all need to ensure that our supporters buy into the work God has called us to, know what to pray for, and how they can support us, particularly in an emergency.  Many of us spend up to 10% of our time communicating with our supporters, which may feel like a distraction from the work we’re here to do, but if we communicate effectively, we maintain the support that keeps us doing that work.  Using social media enables us to communicate quickly and effectively to a large number of people, and the added bonus is that it’s free!

Facebook now connects over 400 million people.  You have a ‘status’  which tells people what you’re doing, or more frequently how you’re feeling.  If you’re having a difficult time, just type ‘FRUSTRATED!!!’ into your status and see the rapid and empathetic response you get!  Facebook also gives you an opportunity to post photos of what you’re doing, and if you have family on different continents, grandparents can see how their grandchildren are growing up.

Skype is an internet application which allows you to use your computer or mobile to make free phone calls to another.  The quality is highly dependent on your connection but it’s a great way to talk to people on the other side of the planet!  You can also use a webcam to see the people you’re talking to, although this can damage the audio quality.  If you have a good enough connection, you can also try conference calls, which cuts down the need for international travel.

WordPress is a simple way of building a website using templates already created for you.  You can keep it simple, and just have a blog page, or build something more complicated if you feel adventurous.  You’re reading a WordPress screen right now.  You can use it to tell people what you’re thinking, doing or feeling.  It’s important to many people as a way to express themselves and it’s a great way of communicating with supporters.

YouTube is an easy way of posting videos onto the internet where anyone can watch them.  You can use it to show people where you live, where you work, and what you do.  Using it helps maintain the link with your supporters.  Record a simple greeting to your church once in a while, upload it to YouTube, and the church can show it during a meeting.  If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a video’s worth a million.

Twitter only allows you 140 characters to communicate with ‘followers’, but its brevity is its strength.  It forces you to distill your thoughts when you might be tempted to ramble on.  In urgent need of prayer?  Send a text to Twitter and hundreds of followers can be praying within minutes.  Use it to post links to your blog, other websites, or just tell people what you’re thinking.  Be careful not to overdo it as your followers may get bored with constant tweeting.

Of course, your ability to use all these tools will be highly dependent on the quality of your connection, but even if you’re using 56k dialup it’s still worth having a go.  See Adam’s post from last March for help on making the most of this, or try using your mobile either to surf or to connect your computer to the internet.

Please remember that if you’re in a creative access nation some of these tools can be risky to use, but BlackBerrys are pretty secure devices and so is the IronKey which we reviewed last year.  You can also use a false name known only to your friends, and password protect your video postings so that only your closest confidantes can watch.  But still be careful what you put out on public media.

Next month: Adam will explain how to get started on Facebook

Secure communication – the Holy Grail of mission workers in CANs

One of the principal challenges for mission workers in Creative Access Nations is the security of communications.  All of us have heard stories of people whose visas have been rescinded because the word ‘Christian’ in an email has been traced back to them.  The risk of their communications being intercepted and something incriminating being found is a major concern to mission workers in large parts of the world, as it is not only their own ministries which are vulnerable, but the work of the mission and the safety of local believers.

Syzygy is therefore happy to bring to your attention something which may solve this problem once and for all – the IronKey.  This is a flash drive which inserts into the USB port on any computer.  The difference is that we believe it to be significantly more secure than anything we have found to date.  While nothing is ever completely secure, the physical structure of the IronKey prevents it from being taken apart for analysis, and it is utterly durable.  The data on it is 256-bit encrypted, which is a military standard.  If it detects any unauthorised attempt to decode it, the data on it will be destroyed.  We believe that it is so hard to get into, that it will just not be worth anyone’s while to invest the resources necessary.

The IronKey is of particular value to missions workers in CANs because it contains its own browsing software and virtual keypad, so that it can be used in any internet cafe in the world without passwords being hijacked or an IP address being traced.  Emails are completely secure as the recipient can only open them when armed with a predetermined code.  This of course means that you can’t instantly email everyone in the world securely, but with a bit of planning you can have a new level of confidence in the security of your communications with your family, church and mission headquarters.

For those of you who are interested in the full details, our Technical Adviser Adam Brown has written a product review – just click here.  Or read more of the official stuff at https://www.ironkey.com/