Member Care for short-term mission

CBPPreparing for a presentation I was giving at a recent Short Term Mission Forum, I realised that this is an area which is often overlooked by both those organising short term mission and those providing member care.

Member Care workers seem to focus largely on long-term mission workers, to such an extent that looking through the Member Care books on my shelves I found that most of them didn’t even refer to short-termers.  Likewise, people organising short-term programmes can easily focus on the practical issues and neglect the personal care for the person going.

As part of my research for this presentation I produced some very quick and grubby statistics.  They are not academically robust and are merely a straw poll, but the results are shocking.  I found that only slightly more than 50% of the people going on individual short-term placements through an agency attended a formal pre-departure training event or a post-return debrief.  For short-termers going as part of a team those having training rose to 60%, but those having a debrief fell to just 40%.

Perhaps short-term gets overlooked because it’s not considered as hard as long-term.  Perhaps it can’t shake off the mistaken impression that it’s just an adventure holiday with a difference.  Yet the people going short-term may be younger, less mature, and less experienced in cross-cultural pressure than long-termers.  Moreover, in the course of their mission they may be exposed to challenging situations with which they’ve not had to deal before.  So in terms of the impact on them of short-term mission, and processing culture shock and preventing post-traumatic stress, good Member Care is critical to the well-being of those going short-term, whether on a summer team or on a placement which can last up to two years.

Three elements that are essential to provision of Member Care to short-term workers are:

Selection and preparation – While selection may have an element of screening people to make sure they are robust enough to survive their mission, it seems that it may in fact be quite perfunctory if the trip is only for a few weeks.  Perhaps the need to get people on board and justify the sending of the team may supersede good care.  And while training events may include cross-cultural training it may well focus on the practicalities of behaviour rather than the emotional challenge of adapting to life in a foreign culture.

In-field support – team leaders may not necessarily be trained or experienced in facilitating a supportive environment which can help short-termers adequately process the challenges they face and look to God for the resources they need to manage the transition.  Proactive support needs to be arranged.

Post-return debriefing – while recognising the challenges of getting everyone back together for a debrief event, it is important that people have the opportunity to review their experiences and unpack the issues raised as a result.

So what can agencies do to ensure better Member Care for their short-termers?  Here are Syzygy’s top tips:

  • Ensure that Member Care personnel have an input into the design and review short-term programmes.
  • Be familiar with and committed to the Member Care provisions of the Code of Best Practice in Short-Term Mission (the core value of partnership and paragraphs 1.5, 2.4, 2,7, 3.3-3.5, 4.1-4.5).
  • Review the Member Care Guidelines and reflect on how they apply to short-term mission.
  • Be committed to ensuring that every short-termer is provided with effective Member Care before, during and after their assignment. Bring in Member Care providers from other agencies if necessary.
  • Set appropriate targets to measure how many short-termers receive training and debriefing.
  • Build an effective and well-trained volunteer force to carry out individual training and debriefing in support of the full-time team.
  • Facilitate, fund or provide training for church members to be able to prepare and debrief their short-termers well.
  • Liaise effectively with sending churches to ensure that short-termers have an opportunity to debrief in their home church.

Why do we need to provide good Member Care?  Not merely because it’s good practice, prudent risk management, an effective witness to the people the short-termers are working with, or a good recruiting model since happy short-termers can evolve into long-termers.  Because we love.  Because we care.  Because we don’t want to be the unwitting cause of people’s long-term spiritual and emotional damage.  Or, as our friends at Missionary Care put it:

Because we don’t separate the Great Commission from the Great Commandment

Best Practice in Short-Term Mission

CBPSome of us will only just have come back from a summer trip abroad, but for others it’s already time to be thinking about what to do next summer, as it can take a long time to find the right agency and programme, get accepted, do the training, raise the funding and go.

One of the many dilemmas is how to determine which agency to go with, and as one way of narrowing down the alternatives Syzygy recommends you only pick an agency that complies with the Global Connections Code of Best Practice for short-term mission.  You can tell them because their publicity will carry the Code logo, and they’re listed on the Global Connections website.  They’re also highlighted in the Short-Term Service Directory, which is produced by Christian Vocations and is an invaluable resource for anyone considering a short-term trip.  While adherence to the Code is not necessarily a guarantee that your trip will be perfect, it does demonstrate that the agency has submitted itself to a peer-reviewed process checking how well its practices match the Code.

The code was developed nearly a decade ago in order to find a way of ensuring that agreed minimum standards are adhered to by agencies organising short-term trips.  The code was produced as the outcome of a number of consultations involving experienced practitioners and is a valuable statement of the values and practices the short-term mission world thinks are important.  It is kept up to date by the Short-Term Mission Forum on which Syzygy has a voice.  The Code includes a number of factors including:

  • Genuine partnership with local churches or mission workers that is driven by the local need, not our desire to send teams
  • Careful contextualisation of activities and accurate publicity
  • Authentic care for the team member reflected in careful selection, training and debriefing
  • Ongoing commitment to local partnership
  • Seeing personal discipleship as a key outcome for the team member
  • Careful monitoring of results in order to deliver continuous improvement
  • Adherence to meeting all legal obligations
Short-term mission can be great fun and make a huge difference

Short-term mission can be great fun and make a huge difference

The Code is regularly reviewed to ensure it reflects current standards, and a biennial review process checks that agencies which wish to be seen as operating under the Code do in fact comply with it.  That’s not to say that agencies which do not have the Code logo aren’t delivering great results – but there’s nobody out there checking up on them to confirm it.  Agencies using the logo will have procedures in place to deliver a well-rounded short-term mission trip and we recommend that you use one of them.

You can see the full text of the Code of Best Practice here.  Syzygy recommends that if you’re thinking of doing a short-term trip you read our Guide to doing short-term mission well first!

Helping your church become more mission-minded

empty church

Can an empty church afford an investment in world mission?

Many churches are not interested in global mission.  Sometimes it’s just a lack of exposure to it, or sometimes they’ve got their hands full with keeping Sunday services going and balancing the books, so they think they’ve got no time for what they see as optional extras.

This can be terribly frustrating for mission-minded people who are part of such churches, particularly if they’re not in a position of leadership and have little or no opportunity to speak into the direction of the church.  We’ve met people like this.  But before you jump ship and go off to find a church with a mission vision, ask yourself whether God has put you in that church to help them become more mission minded.  Here are some suggestions for things that the average lay person can do to help their church develop a passion for world mission.

praying handsPray.  While praying for mission workers yourself, pray also for your church to catch the vision.  Seek out key prayer partners in the church and ask them to pray with you.  If intercession is part of your church tradition, supply specific prayer requests for inclusion, so that people get used to praying for mission.  Attend church prayer meetings and always take the opportunity to pray for mission workers.

Make connections.  When mission workers you know are on home assignment, ask them to visit you, and invite friends round for a meal with them.  That way, people will begin to get to know mission workers for themselves.

Use resources.  Many mission agencies publish leaflets or online materials for you to use.  See for example OMF’s page Seven Ways to pray for mission workers.  Get copies and give them to friends.  Share links on your favourite social media platform.

Take people out.  If you’re going to a mission event, and you think it’s not going to be boring, take a couple of friends with you so maybe they can get enthused.  A good example would be GOfest or Passion for Mission but there are many others organised by agencies.  Or go to one of the big conferences as a church group, and invite people to visit the mission seminars or display areas.  Keswick is a great example of doing this well – and you get to enjoy the Lake District at the same time!

Serving as SendersGet some vision trainingOscar runs an excellent course called Serving as Senders.  Your church may not be ready for a full course, but how about organising a fundraising dinner and getting Oscar along to talk about it?  It’s a good way to get the ball rolling.

Tell your own story.  If you’ve had a powerful experience of mission, tell people.  Be careful not to do it, as people will become deaf to it if you’re the person who’s always going on about how great it was in Uganda (or wherever), but when it’s appropriate, take the time to explain what a life-changing experience it was for you.

Link into the church’s vision.  It can be hard trying to get the church interested in something it hasn’t got a vision for, but if they’re already running with something, join in.  So, for example, if they run a food bank, they’ve got a vision for helping the hungry.  Remind them that there are plenty of hungry people in other countries and they could get involved in that too.

Do a short term trip.  Invite people to pray for you while you go, show them photos when you get back.  Take somebody else with you, preferably an opinion-former within the church community.

Sadly, many churches fear that losing some of their best volunteers to global mission, coupled with the need to commit time, money and effort to supporting them is a drain on the church’s limited resources.  We prefer to see it as an investment which will feed back into a vibrant missional life of the church.  Pardoxically, giving people into world mission

You can find more resources for church’s on the Global Connections website.  Syzygy is always willing to work with church’s to help them develop a mission focus.  For more information please email info@syzygy.org.uk.

Featured mission: Kapumpe

kapumpe-logoMany of you will already be familiar with the excellent work of Kaniki Bible University College in Zambia.  What you may not be aware of is that after many years of working to support orphans in its local community through feeding, clothing and facilitating school attendance, not long ago Kaniki conceived a vision for providing its own primary school to increase the available facilities in the area.

God has provided amazingly for this new project.  Funds were donated, land was bought, buildings were put up by a mixture of local workers and visiting volunteers, and staff arrived.  The school is set to open next month and will add to the existing  educational opportunities in the area by raising teaching standards and increasing capacity.  You can read more about this amazing journey on their website.

But the work continues.  Kaniki still needs volunteers of all sorts – short term, summer teams, long term – to help with construction, teaching, admin, children’s work and a variety of other ministries.  The cost of volunteering at Kaniki is incredibly low, and good accommodation, food and mentoring are provided.

kopThere is also ample opportunity for getting to know the students, who come from a variety of African nations, for working in local churches and exploring this amazing country.  This is a well-managed project which will be ideal for people seeking to dip their toes in the waters of overseas mission.  You can find more information about volunteering at Kaniki here.  There is an ongoing need for volunteer teachers – click here or more information.

For over thirty years Kaniki has hosted volunteers, whether as individuals, couples, families or as part of organised groups.  They have contributed to the life of the college and in turn been profoundly affected by their experience of overseas mission there.  Many are now full-time workers overseas, others are key mission advocates in their home countries.

Two such volunteers are Tim & Gemma, who now run the Kaniki volunteers team.  They started out as students on a training programme at Kaniki, and subsequently went on to lead that programme before taking on responsibility for the whole community programme.  “Both our lives were changed forever when we came to Zambia on short-term mission,” they say.  “It turned out to be the start of an amazing journey and we would love other people to join us.”

Syzygy is happy to be part of facilitating volunteers at Kaniki.  For further information contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk or get directly in touch with Kaniki at kop@kaniki.org.uk.

Report from the Vocation Zone

68547_10151597577244603_1250709866_nDuring the week following Easter, Syzygy was represented at Spring Harvest by Tim, who was helping out in the Vocation Zone.  This is a project run by Christian Vocations in partnership with Spring Harvest, which aims to help people recognise their God-given abilities and understand where they can exercise them appropriately, whether in the workplace, church or overseas mission.

A steady flow of visitors to Spring Harvest came through the Vocation Zone, many of them looking at vacancies in Christian organisations which were displayed on the jobs wall, taking home resources such as the Short Term Service Directory, or using the computers to do some of the reflective exercises.  All these activities can lead to a discussion with an advisor (Paul, Tim and Rachel) who were available to help people think through issues and gain some focus for finding a way forward.

Many of the visitors to the Vocation Zone came because they were aware of dissatisfaction with their current role.  A lot of them were teachers, frustrated with bureaucracy; others were people in dead-end jobs looking for more fulfilment, and many were facing redundancy.

One such visitor was a man who had been in the same job for 20 years and he didn’t like it.  He wanted a change but didn’t know where to start.  We started him off with some of our diagnostic tools.  Having done a ‘career check up’ he had realised that his job wasn’t as bad as he had thought it was, and following a long conversation he discovered that he actually quite liked his job, but felt unsupported in it.  Added to that, the general level of change and uncertainty in his life had left him emotionally unable to deal with the challenges he faced.  Empowered by this understanding, he was able to develop a plan to engage better with his employers and develop his workplace skills.

527123_10151597525594603_2133469060_nSome of the visitors were people approaching retirement who were looking for ways to use their availability to serve God abroad, and a large number of the visitors were young people looking to do mission during their gap year.  Using the Christian Vocations resources such as the magazine Mission Matters and the mission vacancies listings we were able to point many of them to the mission field, including several who’d never considered going abroad or had thought their circumstances made it impossible.

Vocation Zone is an important part of events like Spring Harvest as it gives a mission-focussed edge in the context of many thousands of Christians coming together.  It is also at New Word Alive and Keswick, so make sure you drop by if you are ever at any of these events.  Our friends at Oscar run a similar Missions Advice Area at New Wine.  If you can’t get to any of these events, most of the resources are available online at www.christianvocations.org, and so are all the job vacancies, both in the UK and overseas.  Please pray for the hundreds of people impacted by Vocation Zone each year.

The need for debriefing

pastoralAfter three years of doing regular blogs about missions, often with a particular emphasis on stress, I am amazed to realise that I have not yet specifically blogged about that most vital of tools – debriefing.  I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in passing but that is in no way sufficient considering the significance of this powerful resource to help combat stress and culture shock in the life of the overseas mission worker.

Debriefing is the act of sitting down with a facilitator to reflect on past experiences and how we feel about them.  During the course of a mission trip, whether short or long-term, each mission worker undergoes new experiences (many of which are challenging or even dangerous) and comes into contact with new sensations, many of which may not be at all pleasant.  These challenges may well be repeated differently at the various stages of our experience: leaving home, arriving in a foreign country, changing assignment, moving to another part of the country and returning ‘home’ all require repeated adjustments to change.  While we stoically cope with all these challenges, each one contributes to the general level of stress we feel, and can create an inability to cope with more change and deal with relationship challenges responsibly.

To have the opportunity to reflect on what we found different, how we felt about it, and how that continues to impact our ideas and feelings helps us process our thoughts and emotions so that we are more aware of what’s going on inside us.  It helps us to recognise that the occasional tearful or angry outburst, or an inner deadness can be perfectly normal in some circumstances.  In the process of doing a debrief, which can take a few hours or several days depending on the complexity of the issues involved, we have the opportunity to restore a sense of balance and inner peace.

sweater-splitDebriefing is rather like dealing with a drawer which is so full of stuffed-in jumpers that it won’t close neatly any more.  Often we just shove our emotional responses down inside us, but there comes a time when we can’t deal with any more, and that can lead to emotional breakdown.  To tidy out the drawer, we take out every jumper, decide whether we want to keep it or not, and if we do, we fold it up neatly and put it back.  Then the drawer will shut properly.  The debriefer asks questions of the mission worker, which helps him or her identify and evaluate their feelings and decide what to do with them.

Proper debriefing can be vital to the long-term inner health of the mission worker.  Debriefing has been linked to improved resilience and decreased mission attrition (Kelly O’Donnell, Global Member Care).  Regular and appropriate debriefing can keep mission workers in peak condition, but it is also possible that failure to provide proper debriefing, particularly after a traumatic incident like a serious car accident or a hostage situation, can lead to long-term emotional damage and even loss of faith.

Syzygy recommends that all overseas mission workers make sure they have debriefs on every home assignment.  Ideally, it should be about 6-8 weeks after getting back.  This is the time when the initial joy of being reunited with friends and family is beginning to wear off and the challenge of reverse culture shock is beginning to bite.  It should take place in familiar surroundings if possible, and involve everyone who has been part of the mission experience – including the children, who sadly often get overlooked.

If your sending agency or church does not provide this for you, we are very happy to provide you with a debrief, with their agreement.  We specialise in providing this service for independent mission workers who do not have an agency and perhaps have not yet realised how much they need debriefing.  We conduct our debriefings at a time and place that is convenient to you in order to minimise the impact or travel and strange surroundings on your experience.  Please contact info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.

Why do overseas mission workers need support anyway?

This question might seem to many of us to have a perfectly clear answer, but it is evident from the number of mission workers who are (or feel) unsupported, particularly by their home church, that there is a significant problem.

Paradoxically, the problem often results from the success of local mission.  Many churches are active in their surrounding communities with a whole range of outreach and care programmes about which they are so enthusiastic that they genuinely can’t see why people would want to go off and ‘do their own thing’ while there is so much work to do here.

Add to that situation the success in recent years of getting people to understand that we are all mission workers, that everyone in the church has a part to play in reaching out to their family, friends and workmates, and you create a context in which overseas mission workers are not different or special (which is true), they’re just doing the same work as everyone else, but in a different context.  My friend Terry was quite rightly aggrieved when his church got him up the front to pray for him when he went off to do short-term mission in Thailand, but completely ignored him when he got a job at a spare-parts shop which he saw as an opportunity to reach out to non-Christians.

Terry saw no difference between his two missional roles, and if that is true, there is no need for different support levels.  But the difference in context is crucial: the overseas workers have deliberately moved away from their normal support mechanisms (church, friends, family and familiar culture) into a role which may be emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging, and which probably does not attract a salary.  So they have increased need for support, but less access to it.  This is a recipe for disaster.

To understand how need for support increases, let’s look at a scale of cross-cultural mission which clearly demonstrates why certain roles require more support.  It recognises that all Christians are called to mission, but shows how the context can vary.

1)      Christian has normal job in home town and uses existing family and workplace connections missionally

2)      Christian deliberately selects a job in a company with little Christian representation, OR moves into a different part of town with a view to being an active witness

3)      Christian moves to a completely different part of their home country, OR deliberately changes career in order to be an active witness

4)      Christian moves abroad to be an active witness.

It can be seen that in each progressive stage of mission the Christian is intentionally moving away from his/her natural comfort zone and support network, and therefore requires people to support them in the struggles their new home and/or vocation presents.  Becoming an overseas mission worker not only means setting up a new home in an alien culture and often using a foreign language, but doing all that together with learning a new vocation and being far away from the comforts of friends, family and familiar surroundings.  They may be experiencing significant stress when they are farthest away from those able to alleviate it.  That is why they need more support.  Failure to deliver it can lead to stress, burnout and attrition.

Churches, family and friends need to provide this support in the following ways:

Emotional – caring about the loneliness and isolation of living in a foreign country and taking active steps to help mitigate it and provide comfort

Spiritual – supporting mission workers in prayer, and particularly being aware that they may lack access to books, teaching and worship in their own language

Financial – mission workers may not only be forgoing a salary, they may have increased financial needs which they need help with

Practical – leaving elderly parents behind, renting out property and managing their practical affairs are all simple tasks mission workers need help with.

By ensuring good quality support for overseas mission workers, we are investing in the effectiveness and longevity of their mission.  With our coordinated and focussed help, they will achieve more and be less liable to burnout, which in the long-term is also making life easier for those church leaders who would otherwise have to pick up the pieces.

Featured Ministry: Passion for Mission

Many churches are passionately committed to sending, supporting, financing, praying and caring for the mission workers they send abroad.  But sadly there are other churches which do not have a tradition of sending people into mission, and although they may want to, they do not really know where to start.  Too many mission workers, when asked if their church is supporting them, purse their lips and say ‘Kinda’.  These are the sort of people Syzygy spends a lot of time with, helping them deal with the stress of trying to do too much on their own, coping with being inadequately resourced, and feeling isolated.

The ever-expanding list of Syzygy Guides to Doing Mission Well has just acquired a page dedicated to helping churches excel at supporting their mission partners.  Through this page we hope to equip churches with new ideas and resources.  It’s still in its early stages and will grow over the coming months, but it does already feature a link to this month’s featured ministry – Passion for Mission.

Our friends at Global Connections have put this site together with a view to placing a lot of resources under the same roof.  The site as a whole sets out to equip churches to do mission effectively, locally as well as overseas.  Presented in a variety of formats – article, blog, videostream, pdf – the site is easy to navigate and contains a lot of useful and relevant information.  It features interviews with key experts, and perhaps even more relevant, church leaders who’ve already led their churches into being passionate about mission.  The site also incorporates GC’s website and resources available through Christian Vocations.

We particularly like:

Go surf!

What are you doing this summer?

In the midst of freezing conditions in Britain, summer seems a long way off.  Students are still hard at work preparing for their exams, not thinking about what they’re going to do with the long summer break.  The rest of us are grimly trying to get through the winter.  If we spare a thought for summer, it’s to recognise that it’s still a long way off.

In fact, if you have any thoughts of doing short term mission this summer, it’s far from a long way off, and actually you really need to get your skates on if you’re going to discern where you’re going, with which agency, get through their application process and raise the funds you need.  The process is lengthy so you need to get started now, if you haven’t done so already.

The place to start is in the Syzygy Guides to Doing Mission Well.  We have a comprehensive guide on doing short term mission which will talk you through from start to finish.  It will point you to helpful websites, and outline everything you need to do be ready.

Another good place to visit is Christian Vocations.  They have a particularly good search engine which shows you who is doing what, and where.  There are also helpful articles to fill you in on some of the practicalities.  Or go straight to your own denominational mission agency, if you have one, or an agency where other people you know have had a good experience.  We recommend the following agencies:

That’s not to say that other agencies aren’t good, it’s just that we don’t have personal experience of them.  But do make sure that you select an agency which operates under the Global Connections Short Term Missions Code of Best Practice which will ensure that the agency has reviewed its activities in the light of sector standard best practice.

And you don’t have to be university age to take part in a short-term mission team.  Many agencies are specifically recruiting older people, who have the benefit of life experience and wisdom even if not all the energy of youth.  In many ways they can achieve more than their younger counterparts, so don’t rule yourself out.

So what are you doing this summer?  Doing the usual or doing something different?  Taking a break or taking a risk?  Go on, do something adventurous this summer which will change your world, somebody else’s world, and see God at work in you and through you.  But don’t leave it too late!

Working with Generation Y

While many of us are still coming to terms with Generation X, Generation Y sneaks up on us unawares!  Leaders in missions will be starting to encounter this generation, and they’ll be starting to realise that Ys aren’t quite what they expected.  People working in short-term have been dealing with Ys for quite a while now, so will be coming to terms with the fact that they do things differently to previous generations, but these people are now coming through into doing long-term where their differences will be rubbing their leaders up the wrong way.

Generation Y is the unimaginative name given to the generation following on from Generation X, and consists of those born (roughly) from 1980 to 2000.  They’re also called Generation Next or Millennials, but I’ll stick to Y as it’s easier to spell.  These people grew up connected, having mobile phones and computers from their youngest days.  Their families may have been broken, leading to a highly important need to belong, but their parents will have invested heavily in them so they are used to getting feedback and encouragement.  They also grew up after the end of the cold war, so they were promised peace, but now find that their lives overshadowed by the war on terror.  This can lead them to distrust authority and value honesty, authenticity and integrity.

What are these people going to be like as your co-workers? Their workplace expectations are not that different from those of previous generations, but they are far more reluctant to toe the line in the way their parents or grandparents might have done.  Older people might think of them as lazy, uncommitted, overconfident, disrespectful and impatient, but those are the flip side of great strengths:

Lazy?  These people are digital natives.  Because they grew up in a multi-media world they are able to surf Facebook, send text messages, listen to music and get on with their work at the same time.  But they don’t live to work.  They’re flexible and will be more concerned about getting the overall task done than by being at their desk at the right time.  They might be working at home at 10pm, not because they’re workaholics, but just because it works better for them.

Uncommitted?  Well, they’re not committed to things just because you think they ought to be.  Duty is not a word that features frequently in their vocabulary.  But they will be highly committed to things they believe in, even though it may not look like it to older generations.  Their desire for authenticity leads them to reject much that is latently hypocritical, but when they find something genuine, they will embrace it.

Overconfident?  Because they’ve had a lot of positive parenting, Ys believe in themselves, and because they’ve seen through authority structures, they won’t tolerate spending ten years doing the filing before they’re allowed to have an opinion.  They believe they have a contribution and they don’t understand why they can’t make it now.

Disrespectful?  They respect people, not positions, so if you aren’t confident as a leader and hide behind your position, they’ll see through you.  They respect people who show that they care, make wise decisions, and don’t try to give them corporate flannel.  If they speak out of turn, it’s only because they can see a problem and haven’t had a good answer for it.

Impatient?   Ys were born connected.  They get the answers they want off the internet in seconds.  They instant message their friends.  They just want to get on with things without being held up.

So as Ys become your partners in mission, how do you need to treat them?

Teamwork.  Their whole life is made up of connections, so the idea of working alone doesn’t exist.  They’ll share problems, bring in specialists, and network with anyone they need to.  So create a flexible team structure in which they can thrive and don’t tell them they can’t talk to someone in another office just because you have a territory dispute with another manager.

Managing.  Top-down hierarchies don’t work.  These people have had positive parenting.  Create for them an environment in which they can learn and develop skills.  Feedback to them regularly.  Don’t impose rules, explain reasons.  Don’t manage the process, mentor the person.

Communication.  Give them all the facts and explain why you’ve made a decision.  They need to know the reasons before they can believe.  Your answer doesn’t have to be 100% logical; you can bring in emotions as well.  Let them ask challenging questions.  When they see you communicate openly and honestly, and allow them to be part of the solution, they will trust you and become committed.

Fulfilment.  In the secular workplace, Generation Y is more concerned to find a job they can believe in than one that pays well (although they expect to be fairly remunerated!).  This is true in the Christian world as well.  You need to ensure that they believe in what they’re doing in order to get the best out of them, and try to make sure they feel they’ve been treated fairly.

Obviously, these are huge generalisations, and individual personalities differ greatly, but this information may help to explain to you why people under 30 seem to think and act strangely at times.  These generational characteristics may not be so pronounced in Christians, since they have also been subject to the unique influences of Christian discipleship and training in church, community and possibly Bible College.  However, they grew up in the same conditions as non-Christians, were educated together with them, and used the same media, so will demonstrate similar generational characteristics.  Get to know them better, and you’ll all end up working better together.

 

Featured ministry: Soapbox African Quest

Earlier this month five intrepid young people flew out to Zambia, and found that seven of their bags of luggage and equipment hadn’t arrived.  Cue wry smiles all round among the experienced travellers.  “Welcome to Africa!”

This is all part of the training for young people on the Soapbox African Quest (SAQ) missions training course.  For six months they will learn the art of cross-cultural mission not in a lecture hall in England, but in situ, living and working alongside African people.  Experienced Zambian pastors will give lectures, eat meals with them, and work alongside them in their churches and communities, as the students develop and hone the skills they will need to function effectively as mission workers.

The course, which has been running now for 15 years and has dozens of graduates, continues to be a key part of preparing people for the mission field.  It is specifically designed to mix academic study, personal discipleship, field experience, and practical training in the skills needed to help them survive – including bricklaying and motor mechanics.

Many of the students have gone on to become full-time mission workers, and most of them have maintained a passion for global mission, made regular short-term visits, and been involved in missions on the home front.  Several students have returned over the years to become leaders and pass on to a new generation the experience and understanding of mission that they have had.  And for all of them, there is the long-term impact of SAQ on their spiritual lives, as the continue to unpack the significance of their training, experience and learning.

It’s not all about the students, though.  SAQ has left a legacy of people who have met Jesus through their ministry, not only in the environs of Ndola but in neighbouring districts and countries as well.  Their outreach programmes have touched thousands of lives, whether through the gospel presentations, relationships they’ve forged, or the buildings they’ve constructed.  Several church buildings, widows’ homes, schoolrooms and orphanages have been raised through the participation of SAQ.  They’re even responsible for introducing clean water supplies to a number of villages.

SAQ is based in a purpose-built accommodation block at Kaniki Bible College in Ndola, where they are able to meet, befriend and work alongside a number of future church leaders from several African nations.  The SAQ block includes dormitories for the students and separate accommodation for the leaders, together with a communal lounge, kitchen and study room.  Staff and students live and work alongside each other, which adds to the discipleship aspects, as experienced leaders share their lives with the students.  Tim & Gemma Mills, who have led the team for the last two years, describe the experience: It is a pretty intense program.  Each day we work alongside the volunteers visiting orphans, those suffering from HIV/Aids and doing practical projects together in various communities.

SAQ is run by the well-known mission agency Soapbox, and you can find out more about it at its website http://www.soapboxtrust.com/New/SAQ/Overview.html.  We particularly recommend SAQ for people looking to do something productive with their gap year.  They will have a great experience, blending personal development with practical service to others.  The programme runs from January to June, leaving several months after the end of the academic year to prepare and raise funds.  It’s not too early to apply for the 2013 intake though!

 

The Light of the World

Jesus does not often share his titles with others. There is no reference in the Bible to other people being Prince of Peace, Bread of Life, Logos or the Lamb of God, so when he does, we should listen carefully.

Jesus himself is the Light.  John’s gospel makes this clear in six separate but related passages*, most notably in the first chapter, and in the powerful statement of Jesus I am the Light of the World (John 8:12, 9:5).  This imagery, echoed in the writings of Peter and Paul as well as John’s letters, builds on the famous Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, which are often read out at Christmas, such as:

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light;

those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them (Isaiah 9:2)

These prophecies feed powerfully into the birth narrative in Luke’s gospel as well, and light is an essential part of the Christmas imagery – the star, the angels, God’s glory shining – which we now express in candles and Christmas tree lights.  The light comes into the world, exposes the darkness, and shows people how to live.  Literally appropriate in the dark heart of a European winter, figuratively light has both an intellectual aspect and a moral aspect – we understand better and we behave more responsibly.  In the New Testament letters, ‘walking in the light’ thus becomes a metaphor for both theological learning and ethical  living.

This capacity to reform the world makes Jesus utterly unique.  Nobody else is associated with bringing light into the world.  It is an attribute of God alone, and underlying the imagery of light in the darkness is an implicit statement of the divinity of Jesus – only he is associated with God – is God – dwelling in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16).

Until he shares this with us. You are the light of the world, he says to his followers in Matthew 5:14.  He calls us children of light (Luke 16:8, John 12:36), thereby making us partakers in the divine nature and participants in the divine mission.  Our identity is wrapped up in his.  We are instructed not to hide this light but let it shine in front of people, something we are often reluctant to do in this politically correct generation.

How we live our lives will determine how effective we are in spreading this light.  The light has shone in our hearts and we are lights in the middle of this world (Philippians 2:15).  We are called to let this inner transformation inform our choices and impact our behaviour.  Let us therefore consider how we may go into the world, as the Father sent Jesus, to bring light to the people who still walk in darkness.

* John 1:4-9, 3:19-21, 8:12, 9:5, 12:35-6, 12:46

Generating personal financial support

Source: www.freeimages.com

Raising financial support is something that most of us working in the missions sector have to do, and yet few of us find it easy.  It is always a challenging issue.  It’s something we all need, and everyone knows we need, and yet it’s something we can find it difficult to talk about.  Options range between not talking about it at all, via aggressive fundraising, to self-supporting.  There isn’t necessarily a best option, or a right one, but the answer may depend on your theology or the attitude of the organisation you’re serving with.

There are three principal approaches to bringing in funds from outside (other than generating them yourself).  The George Müller approach involves telling nobody what is required, simply relying on God to provide, since he already knows your needs.  Müller built a massive orphanage complex in Bristol housing 2000 orphans using this approach, but it’s not for everyone.  Hudson Taylor, who was inspired by Müller, set a precedent for his organisation of answering questions about the needs, but stopping short of asking directly for money.  D L Moody was quite happy making a direct appeal to people for funding, and raised large amounts by this method, which remains popular in the USA and in US-influenced organisations.

It is important to realise that all of these methods are based on our trust in God, even the latter, which though requiring our active participation in the process, still recognises that the funds come from God motivating other people to give.  I personally have trusted God for my income for over 10 years (sometimes through paid employment which God provides) and I have never lacked for anything I needed.  Perhaps if we find our funds don’t stretch far enough, we should start by reassessing what our needs really are.

In Matthew 17:24-27 we find that Peter had a problem.  He needed to pay tax but he didn’t have the money.  So he goes to discuss the matter with Jesus.  But Jesus already knew what the problem was, even before Peter said anything.  He told Peter to go fishing.  Peter could do that.  He was used to it.  So he went and did what he was told to do.  He didn’t worry about the problem.  He just got on with the job.  As he did so, Jesus provided the money.

The significant points of this story are, for me:

  1. Jesus knows what the problem is
  2. Jesus might want us to learn a lesson in the process, but he provides what we need
  3. We participate in the solution (whether you interpret that as by prayer, or by working)
  4. We get on with our work

These are incredibly difficult times for mission workers financially.  Churches are cutting back on support, individuals are reducing giving as they feel financially squeezed, the pound has lost a lot of its value and inflation in many host countries is high.  I know many of us whose income has fallen by almost 50% in real terms in the last few years.  The outlook is gloomy, from this perspective.

Yet one has to wonder how small our God is if he cannot overcome a financial crisis.  Even in these challenging circumstances there are many stories of God miraculously providing.  As we and our supporters make sacrifices, God is able to use us.  As I discovered with my recent mission trip to Brazil, God provided every penny I needed, and more, so that I could generously bless the children I went to work with.  All thanks to the generosity of my supporters, and the generous God who motivates them.

So when we approach the challenge of fundraising, let us start by stirring up our trust in the generous God who loves us, called us, equipped us, and will provide for all our needs, and (as we learn in Philippians 4) all the needs of those who give sacrificially to support us.

A fuller discussion of fundraising methods is found as part of our online guides to doing missions well: click here.

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

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

Charlotte setting off for an island in Lake Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

Some would therefore see this year away as a failure.

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

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

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.

PERU (Tim with Oak Hall/Scripture Union)

LIMA
In Lima we met with former street kids now living in Scripture Union‘s refuge (supported by Oak Hall).  They put on a play for us showing how Jesus had rescued them from a life of bondage.  Many of them had been glue sniffers.  At first they don’t believe that people want to help them, and will only come to be fed, but as trust builds up they become willing to stay in the accommodation provided.  Kids who have been rescued go out to find more kids to bring in.  After one night in Lima we went to a conference centre in Chosica run by Scripture Union, where we rested from our journey, but couldn’t resist doing some painting!
KIMO
Kimo is a retreat centre in a lush river valley where the kids go for summer camps.  Many of them meet Jesus for the first time there.  To get there we had to cross over a mountain pass 16,000 feet up in the Andes.  The narrow, winding road had been partially blocked by a landslide, so there was a tailback lasting several hours while it was cleared.  When we got off the bus we then had to cross a river on a hand-pulled cable car.At Kimo we cleared land for building new accommodation for kids who will live there permanently and helped with restoring existing buildings.  On the way back we drank coca tea to help us cope with the altitude, and ate guinea pig and bull’s testicles!
CHINCHA
Chincha is a town on the edge of the earthquake zone.  Many of the concrete buildings in the centre were still intact, but in the suburbs poor people who can only afford mud bricks found their houses in ruins.  We helped with a feeding programme for the children, and cleared rubble so that people can rebuild their homes.Sadly some of the buildings were so shabby it wasn’t always clear which ones had been damaged by the earthquake.  Many people were just sitting around in a daze, desperate for water and blankets.  Bamboo mats, which were being used for makeshift walls, had gone up in price from US$2 the previous week, to $5 so many people couldn’t afford them.One little girl called Paloma had not stopped crying since her parents were killed in the earthquake 8 days earlier.  Her four-year old sister took her and put her hand in Anna’s and she soon cheered up.
KAWAI
At Kawai, which is on the beach south of Lima, there is another retreat centre and also a home where thirty former street kids are cared for. They had all come from Lima and had been moved to Kawai to get them away from the bad influences they once had.  None of them could go to school while we were there as the earthquake had caused structural damage to the building.   We played with them and took some strain off the harrassed house parents!  We also helped redecorate some chalets which are rented out to paying holidaymakers to make money to fund the ongoing children’s work there.

UGANDA (Roger & Mel with Soapbox)

Praying with a school girl at St. Johns Secondary School

On one of our first days in Kampala, the team visited a secondary school and attended the Christian Union meeting. Here we experienced the most vibrant of worship celebrations, led by the children themselves. After this the Soapbox team presented a medley of songs/ drama and testimonies, at the end of which an appeal was made for any who needed prayer. We were privileged to pray for some really needy situations in the lives of these children, many of whom had a relationship with the Lord, but were otherwise destitute. The girl in the photo was facing eviction from school because of not being able to pay the school fees. We could offer prayer and fellowship, but little else in the context where the need is so great. We had to remind ourselves of the ability of our God to meet the needs of all his children, and to trust in his unfailing love. In such a difficult context, the joy and delight in praising the Lord challenged our own worship. With so little, they were able to offer so much heartfelt thanks- how much more should we, in the comparative comfort of our Western lifestyles unreservedly worship the Lord with all that we have!

Coaching children at Shalom Primary School
We worked in association with Nakawa Baptist Church, situated in a slum area just outside Kampala. The Church here has set up a school at which around 150 children from the surrounding areas come to receive education. Most of these children are funded through Compassion and Soapbox Child Sponsorship Schemes, without which they would not have access to any formal education. The team spent several mornings with the children teaching them songs, bible stories and games. Here in this picture Roger is using his training as a football coach to conduct a basic ball skills exercise. The children loved the opportunity to train and to compete in these events. When the team left Nakawa, the coaching kit was donated to the church and several of the young Ugandan Christian men expressed their intention of continuing the activities with the children in an attempt to promote physical fitness and also as a bridge to building relationships with the children, from which foundation the gospel could be explained.

Visit to Mwana Primary School
The Soapbox team visited several different schools during the 2-week trip. Each time we would receive the warmest of welcomes, followed by a selection of activities aimed at sharing the Gospel message in a culturally appropriate way. On this occasion the school assembled all their classes in the covered courtyard area and we performed a series of presentation items based around the story of Noah’s Ark. Along with some moments of hilarity in some of the sketches we performed, on each occasion the Gospel of God’s love was presented and an opportunity to accept Jesus as saviour was given. We were very encouraged by the levels of responses and as well as sowing many seeds, we witnessed several lives changed by the acceptance of Jesus as Lord.

Door-to-door evangelism in Nakawa District
On a couple of occasions the team spent a morning visiting the local area around the church. We found the local residents very welcoming and ready to hear our message. Often we would sit down on the doorstep of the house and explain the message of God’s love from the bible. Sometimes quite a crowd would form, and a surprisingly large number of people came to accept Jesus as Lord. We also held an evangelistic event towards the end of our second week, at which many people came forward for prayer and to accept the free offer of salvation. Nakawa Baptist Church are well organised in terms of follow-up, and many of those who confessed Christ were given a bible at the following Sunday service. Our team had been privileged to sow the seeds, and we left with every confidence that our brothers and sisters in Nakawa would carry out the regular watering. As for the increase, we know that only God himself can save people and we continue to trust Him for that!