Please give generously!

moneyGiving is not unique to Christmas.  Many other cultures give generously to others at the times of their major festivals, but of course what is unique for Christians is our message that God gave first – “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son…” (John 3:16).

Just as people give reciprocal gifts at Christmas, God’s generosity inspires us to give back to him – not out of obligation, or a misplaced desire to repay the debt, but out of sheer gratitude for the exuberance of his own generosity.  We can never repay this generosity and one popular prayer acknowledges this: “All things come from you, and of your own we do give you”, referencing 1 Chronicles 29:14.

At this time of year much of this generosity rightly overflows to those who have little: the residents of refugee camps; the homeless and destitute in our major urban centres; those fleeing from natural disasters; the elderly who may often be alone.  This year there is another group joining them – the overseas mission worker.

Not that they’re actually homeless (yet), but financial challenges in major donor countries over the last decade have reduced giving to mission workers significantly.  Rising unemployment has cut giving.  Financial uncertainty has cut giving.  Lower returns on pension yields have cut giving.  People in the west feel that they are not as wealthy as they were, and are worried about their future, so there is a tendency for them to cut back on giving, rather than “giving beyond their ability, despite their [perceived] deep poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).

This year the situation has worsened because of the fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit referendum.  Since this affects every penny sent by UK churches to mission workers overseas, each mission worker might have seen their income fall by over 10% in six months, depending on where they live.  This could be the difference between continuing in mission and returning home.  For a mission worker on an allowance, say, of £18,000 a year, that’s £150/month wiped out.

“Where is their faith?” you may ask.  It’s in your pockets (see our blog Was Hudson Taylor Wrong?)  So please give generously this Christmas to mission workers – and keep on giving generously throughout the year.

 

Who will lend?

to letNot so long ago Syzygy was contacted by a mission worker who had spent several decades overseas in ministry.  With little remaining support from his ageing friends, and a regular contribution from a church he had been part of a long time previously, he had been able to survive in the field on his small income.  But now forced by ill health to return to the UK, he found himself homeless.  He couldn’t afford the rent on a flat until he qualified for benefits, and had no remaining money to buy somewhere.

There are many people in similar situations, whose time serving abroad has cost them everything, and with no remaining support are unable to find a home once they come ‘home’.  So somebody (probably Myles Wilson but I can’t find the quote in writing) has observed that:

The single best thing a mission worker can do to plan for their retirement is to buy a house before they go abroad.

Simple!  Buy a property, let it out, and use the rent to pay off the mortgage.  If you stay abroad for the 25 year life of the mortgage, you have a free home when you get back.  If you come back sooner, at least you have somewhere to stay while you get settled.

But letting is not without its challenges, and anyone considering it should read our Briefing Paper which looks at the pitfalls as well as the benefits.  One of the greatest challenges is actually getting a mortgage.  These days, banks are so risk averse that overseas mission workers, with no regular salary and no fixed UK abode, may find it hard to qualify for one.

So we’re delighted to be able to tell you about Kingdom Bank, run by Christians who understand the situation of mission workers.  Because of their knowledge of the missions world, they’re willing to be a little more flexible than other banks in considering how they secure the value of their investment in your property.  And they are actually keen to support you in your ministry by helping you get the right buy-to-let mortgage terms that work for you.

If you are interested in exploring this option, you can contact Kingdom Bank on 0115 921 7250, visit their website or email them at info@kingdombank.co.uk

Please remember the value of your investment can go down as well as up!

Disclaimer: please note that Syzygy is not recommending Kingdom Bank, merely pointing our readers in the direction of this service which may or may not be right for them.  Please take financial advice from a qualified advisor.

Helping TCKs rekonnect

rekonnectThird Culture Kids (TCKs) face many challenges in their young lives.

They don’t really know where they belong, and have a vague feeling that they don’t fit in anywhere.  At the end of each term, some of their friends leave school for good.  Their grandparents are strangers.

Perhaps one of the worst experiences for them is when their parents decide to go ‘home’ for a visit back to the country they came from.  If you’re 10, and you’ve grown up in the country where your parents work, the country they came from certainly isn’t home.  It’s a weird place which is usually cold or wet (often both) where you have to wear lots of clothing you’ve no idea how to do up.  The bananas and pineapples taste disgusting because they’re not freshly picked.  You have to wear a seat belt in the car, or maybe even sit on a special child seat.

Your parents keep dragging you to boring church meetings where people you don’t even know keep asking you if it’s nice to be back home.  Other kids laugh at you because you’re wearing clothes that were bought in a country where fashion looks different.  Nobody explains how things work, and everybody just assumes that you fit in normally.  But you don’t, and you can’t explain why.  You can’t tell your parents because you don’t want them to worry.  So you just cry on the inside and wait till you can go back home again.

So what can be done to help TCKs survive ‘home’ assignment?  In addition to reading our guide on how to make home assignment work for kids, if you’re bringing TCKs to the UK this summer, book them into a rekonnect action holiday.  Run by people experienced at working with TCKs, these camps in rural Derbyshire provide a safe place for kids to talk about their experience, learn about life in the UK and most importantly celebrate the diversity they all share.  Meeting with other TCKs helps kids normalise their experience and realise that they’re not the only people who don’t fit in – in fact they’re just the same as lots of other TCKs who immediately understand what they’re going through.

There are two TCK holidays – one for TCKs aged 13-18 years which runs from 25-29 July, and one for kids aged 6-12 from 8-12 August.  You can find out more by clicking on the links, or going to the rekonnect webpage, or emailing the administrator at rekonnect@gmail.com – but don’t leave it too late, they’ll book up fast!  So do your kids a favour and make ‘home’ assignment a better experience for them.

Do we really need to learn the language?

keyboardI recently ran into a mission worker (let’s call him Bill, which is not his real name) who had been a mission worker in a foreign country for a couple of years, together with his wife.

Since the language of that country is somewhat complicated, I asked how he was getting on with learning it.  His reply was one I have never before heard:

We didn’t bother with language lessons; we have a full-time interpreter.  If we want to phone out for a pizza, it’s easier to get her to do it.

Many of you will be involuntarily cringing at the very thought of this.  Honestly, it happened.  Bill had been in country for two years and couldn’t even order a pizza.  Do you think that’s right?

At Syzygy we think learning the language serves a number of purposes:

  • it shows respect for the people we have come to serve
  • it opens up communication with those who don’t speak English
  • it helps us understand their culture better
  • it creates missional opportunitiess as we practice
  • it equips us to read road signs, magazines and books and understand TV and radio
  • it helps us share the gospel with everyone around us
Pick a language!

Pick a language!

Yet many independent mission workers don’t take language learning seriously, if they bother at all.  Most agencies require their mission partners to make a significant effort, and it’s not uncommon to do a year of full time language study, gradually reducing that as ministry takes over.  But even with discipline, it can take many years to achieve fluency, and many of us settle for adequacy.

The British by and large have a poor reputation for language learning, and we are fortunate that the global prominence of our transatlantic cousins means we often don’t need to bother, but most of us feel it’s important to make an effort.

I frequently hear Brits say that they’re not very good at languages, but when they have to haggle for a chicken, or negotiate their way through the visa office, their need focusses their attention and they do a pretty good job.  Their attention is focussed even more effectively when their mission agency requires them to speak the language to a certain standard within a given time, and threatens to send them home if they don’t achieve it.

But how much effort is really necessary?  Is it appropriate to rely on interpreters all the time?  Or just hope that there’ll always be somebody around who speaks English?  While such attitudes may have overtones of neo-colonial arrogance, we seem to be entering a postmodern era world where many mission workers will only stay a few years in the field before moving on.  If that is true, do we really have time to invest a year in language learning?  Do we really need to strive for proficiency like the old-time lifelong mission workers did?

These days, there is little excuse not to try to learn at least a little of the language.  With online courses and dvds so cheap, and even online translation apps available, it’s possible to pick up a few words easily, and lay a good foundation even before you get on the plane.  It doesn’t really take a lot of effort to make a good start, and once you are in the field being able to speak just a few sentences in your target language will generate such goodwill in your community that people will be much more willing to listen to the message you’re trying to communicate, whichever language you end up using.

Ordinary Residence Tool

NHSThis is just a quick update to alert mission workers to the fact that the ORT has now been published.  The purpose of this is to help UK health authorities to work out whether they should be charging patients who live abroad for the cost of their hospital treatment.  You can read the background to this important issue on our briefing paper on the subject of Accessing NHS Services.

You can access the ORT at the government website and you can see the questions you will be asked if you have been living abroad.  How you answer them will determine whether the hospital thinks you are entitled to free treatment, so we suggest you plan your answers carefully.

 

A very British heresy

How hard is enough?

How hard is enough?

Pelagius was the first British theologian that we know about, and although he is little known today he has provided the British church with one of its favourite heresies.

In the late 4th century Pelagius went to Rome and was dismayed at the prevailing view, taught by people like Augustine, that the fall of Adam and Eve affected the whole of humanity to the extent that we are all terminally corrupted by it and unable without the grace of God to turn from evil and accept God.

Pelagius thought that the sin of our forebears affected only them, and that God’s grace had given us the Bible, freewill, and intellect, so that we are perfectly capable of living righteous lives should we so wish.  After all, why would Jesus tell us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48) if it is not possible?  In essence, his message to humanity was “Must try harder”.  Surely he has a point?

Though the views of Pelagius were quickly denounced and eventually condemned as heresy by the followers of Augustine, they persisted, particularly in Britain and Gaul, because they seem so natural.  In fact they have even been referred to as the natural religion of natural man.  But the basic idea is humanity trying to make itself acceptable to God.

Pelagius - hero or heretic?

Pelagius – did he have a point or was he completely misguided?

Pelagius of course missed the whole point.  It is completely impossible for humanity to make itself acceptable to God.  Though we should aim to live out our salvation through a transformed life that is pleasing to God, we achieve this through the grace of God at work in our lives, not by gritting our teeth and trying harder.  If we’re doing that, we haven’t learned from the mistake of the Pharisees.   Living right is not a prerequisite for salvation, it is a response to it.

Yet the attraction of Pelagianism persists.  Over a millennium later it re-emerged in the Arminians, in the teaching of John Wesley, and was embraced by some significant Pentecostal and non-conformist movements.  It still affects many of us today, particularly as many of us refute Augustine’s idea of original sin.  How many Christians believe that human beings are basically good, if somewhat marred?  That’s Pelagianism, or at least semi-Pelagianism.  How many of us believe that humans have a choice in their salvation?  That there is a little kernel of good deep inside of us that can make right choices?  That is Pelagianism.  Because even that ability to make a decision is making a contribution to our own salvation, and denying our total dependence on God’s grace.  Yet this heresy remains popular because we find it so hard to cope with the idea of a free gift of grace that we have done nothing to deserve.

Of course, Pelagius completely ignores some key Bible verses on the sinfulness of humanity such as Psalm 51, Romans 3:10, 3:23, and 5:12.  Yet the opposite error to Pelagianism is to fall into licentiousness, arguing that we cannot help sinning because we are totally depraved.  The correct way is to find a middle path, recognising both our sinfulness and the work of the Holy Spirit transforming our lives into the image of Jesus.

What do you think?  Did Pelagius have a point?  Or all we all completely affected by original sin?  How do you feel about this?  How do your answers affect a) your relationship with God and b) how you live?

R C Sproul wrote a very helpful article on this – read it at http://www.bible-researcher.com/sproul1.html.

A new spring?

WP_000678Spring is a beautiful time of year in northern Europe.  Its early signs come well before its culmination in all its vibrant colours.  Snowdrops peep out of the frozen ground, followed by crocuses, daffodils, primroses and bluebells.  Deciduous trees grow bright new leaves and the dull grey clouds break apart to allow patches of blue sky and bright sunshine.  A wide variety of shrubs and flowers burst into blossom.  The days lengthen and the air grows warmer.

This season lifts the spirits of those of us who have toiled through a long, dark winter, and the joy is expressed in ancient festivities which have become Easter and Whitsun (Pentecost).  The drama of this transition embedded itself deep in the psyche of the Europeans who have recycled it in art, literature and religion.  C S Lewis used it to good effect in describing the change on the landscape that came when the frozen winter kingdom of the White Witch thawed into the realm of Aslan.

Statue of Aidan at Lindisfarne

Statue of Aidan at Lindisfarne

We even use this imagery in our history – The Dark Ages is the name we give to the period following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, when the pagan winter engulfed ‘Christian civilisation’.  Areas we now know as France, Italy, Spain and Britain were occupied by Franks, Goths, Vandals and Saxons – the names of some of them passing into posterity as those hostile to ‘civilisation’.  The so-called Christian empire was overrun, leaving just a few isolated monastic communities to keep the light of faith burning in the sea of darkness.  But those communities did not retreat into their bunkers and look inwards; they went out to their hostile neighbours and spread the word of God, often paying with their lives.  Men like Boniface, Aidan and Columbanus ensured not merely the survival of Christianity, but its dominance, as pagan Europe turned into Christendom.

A thousand years later, the process was repeated.  Christendom, already a decaying empire, fell to the ‘barbarian’ hordes.  Humanists, secularists, nihilists and many other tribes overran it, leaving the population confused and vulnerable.  By the 20th century many had consigned Christianity to history.  It was just another primitive civilisation which had collapsed.  Yet the faithful continued to keep the flame burning brightly.

The 21st century is a second missionary era, when the saints once more are called to go to the postmodern ‘barbarians’ and take the message of God to them.  People come from across the world to bring us the truth that so many have forgotten.  All across Europe missionary endeavour is bringing enlightenment to the lost.  Many churches are experiencing significant growth.  People are turning to God in numbers not seen for centuries.  A new spring is upon us.

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!

Singing in the rain?

Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain"

Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”

England has a reputation abroad for being an unnecessarily moist country.  Yet in some countries moisture is welcomed.  I have been in Africa when the rains break, and seen people stop their cars and get out and dance in the puddles because they’re so glad it’s raining.  That wouldn’t happen in Manchester.  Where people are still in touch with their farming communities, they recognise the need for rain.  No rain, no food.  So they are grateful for the rain.

It’s the same in the Bible.  Rain is generally used as a sign of God’s blessing (except of course, in the Flood).  It’s part of the covenant with Israel that if the people obey God, the rain will come (Leviticus 26:3-4).  When they don’t, it doesn’t.  And if you’ve ever been to Israel, you’ll know the value of rain.  It’s a dry land where every drop is cherished and irrigation systems are carefully designed to use no more water than is absolutely necessary.  Likewise the withholding of rain is a sign of God’s judgement (e.g. 1 Kings 16:29-18:1), and clouds without rain are the ultimate picture of disappointment (Proverbs 25:14).

rainThe English don’t like the rain.  Where we live, it’s usually cold, insipid and persistent, and it interferes with the cricket.  Unlike tropical countries, where there’s a regular cloudburst which clears up quickly, here it can go on dribbling for days with barely a centimetre falling.  Sometimes it’s even hard to know whether rain is falling or whether the air is just full of damp.  The moisture nags its way through our clothing and into our bones.  The only thing we enjoy about it is that it gives us something to moan about.

This year the English have had a lot to moan about.  Having just endured the wettest spring since records began, the whingeing Poms have had a lot of practice.  We’ve moaned about the weather so much that we’re now even moaning about people who moan about the weather.  How does this square with St Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonians to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)?

Enjoying the rainSurely we should be cultivating an attitude of thankfulness even when we’re cold and clammy and our barbecue has just been cancelled.  Can we here in England be thankful that we live in a country where the grass is green and we can turn on a tap without wondering whether water is going to come out of it?

We who are mission workers have many opportunities to moan.  We struggle with intermittent electricity and water supplies, the challenges of bureaucracy, the dangers of travelling, setbacks in our ministries and so much more.  A closer inspection of what Paul wrote reminds us that we’re not giving thanks for the circumstances, but we’re remaining thankful despite them.  The early church did not give thanks because they were persecuted, but because they had “been considered worthy” of suffering for Jesus.  James is no masochist when he tells us to count it ‘pure joy’ when we have trials – he’s encouraging us to look beyond the trials to the perfection that lies beyond (James 1:2-4).

Let us lift our eyes above our immediate troubles and give thanks to God for all that he has done in our lives.

Counselling skills for pastoral care

trainingMuch of the pastoral skills development of the Syzygy team over the years has sprung from a commitment to training, and we’d like to alert you to one specific resource which can help anyone develop their listening skills effectively and acquire a basic understanding of some psychological models which will help us understand the behaviours and attitudes of people we are called to help as part of our ministry.

Most people will know St John’s, Nottingham for its role in preparing people for the Anglican priesthood, but in addition to the full-time residential training, they provide other courses aimed at developing the wider Christian community.  One which we found most helpful is Counselling Skills for Pastoral CareIt is a very accessible course, open to people from all walks of life, which is taught in a relaxed and friendly manner by qualified counsellors.  No academic qualification is necessary and there is no need to have previous counselling experience.  While the course can be taken as a stand-alone module, it also forms part of a broader Certificate in Christian Studies.

Stjohn'sStarting and finishing with residential schools at St John’s delightful campus on the outskirts of Nottingham, the rest of the study is conveniently home-based.  Course materials are provided and students work through them at their own pace, submitting a short assignment each week, reflecting on what they have learned, their own experience of the week’s topic, and how they have applied their new-found skills.  The whole course takes only 7 months from start to finish, making it an ideal means of ongoing professional development between the short introductory courses which are readily available from a number of providers, and the two-year diploma courses which require a great commitment of time and funding.  A tutor is available for advice by email, and students can also work together as a cohort to encourage each other.

StJohn'sThrough Counselling Skills for Pastoral Care, students not only develop their listening skills but also grow in their own self-awareness and understanding, helping them to move on both in their professional life and their walk with God.  Syzygy thoroughly recommends this course which will be useful for anyone in a caring role as a pastor, listener, personnel officer or member care provider.

For more information, see the St John’s Nottingham website.

Setting the pace

Chris Chataway with the Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Chris Chataway with the Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Sir Christopher Chataway, who died last month, may not have been a household name, but had many achievements in the fields of business, broadcasting, politics and athletics.  Together with Robin Day he was the first newsreader on ITN, and he was the first person to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.  He was a Company Director, public servant and Chair of development charity ActionAid.

Chataway was also an accomplished runner, competing in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics and winning a gold medal in the 1954 Commonwealth Games and a silver in the European Championships.  Yet one of his most significant achievements was running in a race he didn’t win, and never intended to win.  In 1954 Chataway was one of the two pacesetters for Roger Bannister, when Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes.

Bannister crosses the line in 3:59:4

Bannister crosses the line in 3:59:4

My friend Bob, the Vice-Principal of Springdale College, mentioned to me recently that in a seminar when his students attempted to define leadership, one of them chose the word pacesetter.  I think it fits well.  The pacesetter helps others win.  He initially keeps up a good pace to ensure momentum while helping his followers not to tire too soon.  He has the wisdom to know when to move aside and let others take over the running.  He has the humility to let them finish well while he ends up possibly not even finishing the race.  He has exhausted himself so that others can achieve their best.

It seems so obvious that this analogy also applies to a leader that the point hardly needs to be made.  The leader is not there to take the glory but to help others to do better.  She serves them, not the other way round.  She may be completely forgotten by history while her followers go on to become famous, but if that is what God has called her to do, she has done well.  Jesus, of course, the greatest leader, clearly did that.  He came not to be served but to serve.  He laid down his life for others.  We are all beneficiaries of his sacrifice.

Bannister (centre) thanks Chataway for his support

If you are a leader, please take the opportunity to ask yourself how good a pacesetter you are.  Are you committed to helping your followers achieve, or are you competing with them?  Are you sacrificing yourself so that they can do what God is calling them to do?  And do you know when it’s time to move over and let them run their own race?

In a delicious piece of historical irony, the year in which Bannister broke the four minute mile was also the year in which Chataway won Sports Personality of the Year.  Bannister came second.

National Insurance Contributions

images (1)An interesting case came my way recently: a mission worker returning to the UK is unable to work due to ill health, and has been denied full Employment and Support Allowance due to not having maintained enough National Insurance Contributions (NICs) while serving abroad.  This person commented to me:

Right now I’m feeling somewhat miffed that I wasn’t warned of this possible complication on my return should I need benefits.

The sadness of this case is that the mission worker had been paying NICs, but not the right class, and it would have been easy to make up the difference had this person realised.  Which raises the point that churches, sending agencies and mission workers need to be aware that there are implications for failing to pay not only the correct amount of NICs, but also the right class, since there are four different types of NICs.

A quick recap: National Insurance Contributions were designed to be the method by which British citizens contribute towards the cost of a variety of forms of social security (e.g. state pension, the National Health Service, and financial support for the sick and unemployed).  Failure to pay NICs can compromise or limit a citizen’s right to receive these services.  Below is a table (copied from the HMRC website) indicating the different classes of NICs and what they entitle the contributor to:

Benefit Class 1 – paid by employees Class 2 – paid by self-employed people Class 3 – paid by people who want to top up their contributions
Basic State Pension Yes Yes Yes
Additional State Pension Yes No No
Contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance Yes No (except for volunteer development workers employed abroad) No
Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance Yes Yes No
Maternity Allowance Yes Yes No
Bereavement benefits Yes Yes Yes

(Class 4 National Insurance Contributions – paid by some self-employed people – don’t count towards any state benefits.)

1354359_fifty_pounds_2NICs are notoriously complicated and we can give no more than an overview here, while encouraging everyone to make sure they are paying the right amount and the right classes.  We strongly suggest that everyone who has worked abroad should check exactly what your current entitlement to state pension is and what you need to do to preserve your pension rights.  To do this you should arrange a pensions forecast.  You can only do this while in the UK and you can find out about a pensions forecast here.  If there is a shortfall in the contributions you have made to date, you can top them up.

With any other queries about your NICs and entitlement to benefits you should contact HMRC who have a specific unit for people working overseas.  Click here for further details.

If you are fortunate enough to be involved in humanitarian or development work, and your sending agency or church has registered with HMRC, you may be entitled to make Voluntary Development Worker contributions, which are levied at a lower rate.  Click here for further details.

It will also be useful to have your residency status resolved as this can also affect rights to benefits.  Many mission workers are keen to be classed as non-resident, but this is one situation in which it may be helpful to be resident!

More information is available on the HMRC website and a particular clear overview is given by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

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.

Being an effective sending church

Who's holding the other end?

Who’s holding the other end?

One of the saddest situations I come across in mission is when I ask a mission worker “Is your church supporting you?”  Too often the answer is a short pause, a wry smile, and “Kinda”.

This response often indicates that the church is happy for them to go, may give them a bit of money occasionally, and remembers to pray for them from time to time.  Unfortunately, many churches do not have a significant vision for global mission and think that this level of support is quite adequate.  Yet it is clear from the response that the mission worker doesn’t feel fully supported.  In fact for some of them it feels like abseiling without being confident that somebody is holding the other end of the rope.  And the only way you find out whether anyone’s holding it, is when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Syzygy and Oscar are joining forces to address this issue.  Both agencies are more than willing to visit churches, talk with their leadership or missions teams, and provide training and encouragement for the entire church.  If you’d like to get a feel for what this might look like, we are running an introductory evening in Birmingham on the evening of 8th October at Rowheath Pavilion at 7.30.

1279274_fragile_parcelGet Out More! is a free event for church leaders and others supporting mission workers.  We’ll tell some stories of how bad it can get on the mission field, and how we can help to put it right.  We’ll provide some tips on what you can do to help.  All in an informal atmosphere which may even include a drink in the Pavilion bar afterwards.

Churches which wish to get a bigger vision for supporting their missionaries effectively can also refer to our  Guide to Doing Mission Well.  There are also other resources listed on that page.  We’d particularly like to draw your attention to Neal Pirolo’s two excellent books Serving as Senders and The Re-entry Team, which are ideal resources for helping churches.  And our page 101 things to do to support your mission partners.  Our friends at Oscar also do a particularly effective day course for churches called Serving as Senders.

We hope to see you at the Pavilion!

Reconciliation

A gesture of reconciliation? (Source: sxc.hu)

A gesture of reconciliation? (Source: sxc.hu)

On a long flight recently, I watched three movies.  Although they were in different genres and from different studios, they all shared a common theme – healing broken relationships.  In fact, this could even said to be the real plot of all three films, though not necessarily the headline one.  And if you think about it, there have been so many films recently which address this issue, that it may even be a reflection of a deep need within society.  Art mirrors life, not the other way round.

In the UK, where only 25% of children are brought up by both their biological parents, and the number of single adult households outnumbers the couples, there is clearly a lot of relational damage.  Add to that the fact that during the 20th century many people consciously broke traditional ties to family, community and hometown to assert their individualism and independence, and we are left with a world which is desperately in need of healed relationships.  Many other cultures share these challenges, together with other deep fissures in their society resulting from race, class, tribal, religious and political divides.  Not surprisingly, the three films I watched featured three different generations looking for that reconciliation.  All of them, of course, were successful.  Only in Hollywood do they all live happily ever after!

Jesus hand

Source: www.captivatedbychrist.org

Reconciliation is a key biblical theme.  It could even be described as the main one – God looking to restore the damaged relationship with humanity.  It starts with God’s first question ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:9), via the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:9) and ends with the ultimate reconciliation – a wedding (Revelation 19:9).  As Paul writes, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

A careful study of Paul’s writing about what Jesus accomplished on the cross reveals that he uses the concept of reconciliation more frequently than other terms such as salvation, atonement, healing or redemption.  Restoring a damaged relationship is essential to God’s mission, and deep inside, even the lost crave reconciliation, a sense of oneness, of belonging.

Once reconciled with God, we have the ability to become reconciled to the rest of humanity.  We have been forgiven, so we can forgive.  We have been reached out to, so we can reach out.  We have received peace, so we can give it.  This is a message the world is crying out for, yet we are still timid to share it.

Souce: www.gdwm.org

Souce: www.gdwm.org

Not only do we hang onto this message for ourselves, but often we fail to apply it.  The church is riven with division, between denominations, differing styles of worship or methodology, and individuals who have fallen out with each other over issues of belief or practice.  We often cite our own ethics or convictions as reasons for maintaining a rift with an ‘unrepentant’ Christian – but does that mask an unwillingness to engage with someone who really just holds a different opinion?  Are we really so different from those believers of an earlier generation who burned each other at the stake?

True reconciliation means not that we overlook matters of faith or style, but that we recognise that what unites us in Christ is greater than what divides us in the flesh.  It requires grace, and generosity of spirit to acknowledge that Christians who have markedly different practices from us are also loved and forgiven by God.  Let us have the humility to walk barefoot across the gap between us and ask forgiveness for our judgementalism on those for whom Christ also died.

The wounded hands of Jesus have reached out to us in reconciliation.  Why do we find it so hard to reach out ours to others?

Contextualisation

Contextualisation?  A 19th century church building in Malawi  (Source: Wikipedia)

Contextualisation? A 19th century church building in Malawi (Source: Wikipedia)

Most of us have heard stories of how mission workers of the past often took their native culture with them in the well-meant but misguided view that it was ‘Christian’ to wear clothes, worship in a certain style or meet in a building whose architecture reflected the mission workers’ culture more than the local one.  Sadly today we often make similar mistakes, although there is generally a greater awareness of the need to contextualise.

Contextualisation is the word we give to how we adapt our presentation of the gospel so that it is culturally relevant to the people we are talking to.  It involves understanding their location and culture so that we don’t say things they won’t understand or even worse be put off by.  So there’s no point in using the verse “Though your sins are scarlet they will be white as snow” in the tropics, where people haven’t seen snow.  Better to replace snow with cotton.  And don’t tell a Buddhist she must be born again – that’s the very thing she’s fed up with doing!

The early apostles – particularly Paul – used contextualisation in preaching the gospel.  When addressing Jews, Paul quoted extensively from Jewish scripture and tradition (e.g. Acts 13:16-41), yet in his famous address to the ruling council in Athens (Acts 17:22-31) he made no mention of either, but argued with them out of their own culture and tradition.  Yet at the same time he was committed to the unadulterated truth of the gospel – “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Contextualisation or blasphemy?

Contextualisation or blasphemy?

In recent years there has been an ongoing debate over what is optional and what is non-negotiable, as with the recent high-profile controversy about references to Father and Son when talking to people of a Moslem background.  Contextualisation affects our language, as in the case of one English church which has stopped using the word Father to describe God, since that word has such negative connotions in the minds of local non-christians.  It also affects cultural and self-identification issues: should a Moslem who comes to faith be called a Christian?  Or a Moslem-background believer?  A follower of Isa-al-Massi?  Should he be encouraged to leave the mosque and be part of a church?  Or continue being part of his community as a secret believer?

Challenges such as these affect mission to people of other beliefs, particularly in Asia where we come into contact with people of radically different worldviews, and in post-Christian Europe where many are ignorant of even the most basic Christian terminology like ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’.  Which is why many evangelists now use terms like ‘Do you want God to help you?’ in preference to the less accessible ‘You must repent!’

The European Evangelical Mission Association is holding a conference in September (in Majorca!) to discuss these issues.  Representatives of denominations and mission agencies will be there to debate the limits of contextualisation, the future of the insider movement and the relevance of the C1-C6 model.  The speakers will be renowned exponents on these topics: Rose Dowsett, Beat Jost, and John Travis.  To find out more go to http://www.europeanema.org/conference-2013/.  It promises to be a challenging debate!

Getting your TCK into a UK university

Is it going to happen for TCKs?   (Source: www.sxc.hu

Is it going to happen for TCKs?
(Source: www.sxc.hu)

One of the concerns at the back of the minds of UK mission workers with children is how to get their children into a British university.  The standard understanding around the world is that you have to return to live in the UK for three years in order to establish the right to get your kids into university, but this is not strictly true.

The situation revolves around that vexed question of ordinary residence which we have already encountered when thinking about income tax (see Tax doesn’t have to be taxing and Statutory Residence Test).  You don’t have to be physically resident in the UK to be ordinarily resident.  If you are UK citizens who would live in the UK if you weren’t working for a mission agency, you are considered resident even if you are ‘temporarily’ abroad for your work.

This means that the children of UK mission workers should be eligible for university entrance and student loans even if they have never lived long-term in the UK.  However even if you fill in all the application forms correctly, many universities are wrongly categorising Third Culture Kids (TCKs) as international students.  While this situation is usually corrected on appeal, this process can take time, so don’t leave it till the last minute to submit the forms.

The Global Connections TCK Forum. considers issues such as this and has some very helpful resources listed on its webpage, including a very helpful paper by Steve Bryant and a powerpoint by Ann Christian which presents the issues visually in a helpful manner.

If you are having difficulties persuading a UK university to accept that your TCK is ordinarily resident, please contact Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk and we will try to enlist help for you.

Immigration restrictions still affecting mission workers

Can they ever live together in Britain?

Can they ever live together in Britain?

This time last year Syzygy alerted you to the impact of new immigration laws which have a potential impact on UK overseas mission workers who want to return to the UK bringing foreign national family members with them (click here for a reminder).  In a nutshell, unless you can prove that you are earning at least £18,600, you will not be able to bring into the country with you a spouse who is not a citizen of a country in the European Economic Area (EEA – the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).  The minimum income requirement rises where children are immigration too.

This attempt to restrict immigration has inadvertently affected many mission workers already.  Syzygy is personally connected to four couples who cannot permanently live in the UK because of these regulations, and we have heard of many others.  Working together with Global Connections and several other mission agencies, Syzygy lodged an official representation with the parliamentary committee reviewing the impact of the new rules.

Our principal argument was that people working overseas for the benefit of others were accidentally caught up in these regulations and should be given an exemption, for which a precedent already exists in the special arrangements for accessing NHS services and paying discounted rates of National Insurance which are available to mission workers and voluntary development workers respectively.  We also pointed out that the government was liable to face legal challenges from UK citizens who felt they had been denied a right to family life.

Last month the committee’s report was published.  The committee said that they had heard evidence of British nationals effectively being denied access to settle in their home country, and of children being separated from non EEA-national parents.

Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the Committee

Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the Committee

The committee did not challenge the principle of the new regulations, or make any mention of our suggestion of an exemption.  Their only recommendation was that the government should establish an independent enquiry into the minimum income requirement, particularly in view of the fact that no allowance is made for the savings or unearned income of the immigrating British partner, the potential earnings of the non-EEA partner, or the willingness of other family members and agencies like churches to provide support for them.

Baroness Hamwee, chair of the committee, wrote

‘We urge Government to consider the emerging evidence about what must be the unintended consequences of these rules, and hope they will agree the need fully to review whether, one year on from their introduction, these rules have struck the right balance between different interests.’

We can only hope that the minimum income requirement will be lowered, or at least reduced to a more realistic level, but this would not be commensurate with the government’s aim of radically reducing immigration.  Syzygy does not expect a change which will help those missionary families affected by these regulations during the life of this parliament.  The fact that fewer than 300 submissions were made indicates that this issue is of minority interest which does not attract much attention despite its critical significance for the lives of those families affected.  When MPs had an opportunity to debate the report last month, only 30 attended.

One creative way around this problem is to immigrate not to Britain but another EU country, in which case EU rules on free movement of labour trump British immigration law.  However, in order to make this work, the applicant and partner will have to:

  • demonstrate that the British citizen genuinely live in the country
  • prove their address and length of residence in that country
  • prove their integration into the country (e.g. learning the language, having children born there)
  • show that they were either employed or self-employed in the country

The only practical solutions that we can propose under the current circumstances are:

  • Ensure you have a job offer worth in excess of £18,600 before attempting to bring your non-EEA partner into the country
  • Immigrate into another EU country first, work there for three months and then immigrate under EU regulations governing the free movement of labour, which will circumvent the UK restrictions.  Find out more here.
  • Pray

You can download a full copy of the report here.

What we can learn from Sir Alex

FergieThere can be no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson, who announced his retirement from Manchester United last Wednesday after an incredible 27 seasons, is an extraordinary character. Love him or loathe him, it is impossible to deny his impact on MUFC and his achievement as the club’s most successful manager, despite many other great names having held the same position. He has won the Manager of the Year award more times than any other British manager.  The news of his retirement hit news headlines and front pages, and the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson even did a prime time report analysing his qualities as a leader – ‘I’ve yet to see [a leader] to match Sir Alex’, he commented.

This is something that leaders in mission agencies might want to reflect on. Probably more flawed and controversial than many of us (how many of us have kicked a boot at one of our team members?!), Fergie nevertheless has a number of qualities we would do to emulate:

A long-term view. As well as staying in his post for an incredibly long time (he was MU manager before many of his current players were born!), he has also taken a long-term approach to team development. While the success of the team has often revolved around star players like Keane, Cantona, Ronaldo and Beckham, Fergie has always brought new players in to ensure a broad and deep skill base, even rebuilding the team when necessary. He recognises that his players are only with him for a few years, and he plans beyond that time frame.

Perseverence. It hasn’t always gone well. Some years have yielded no silverware at all, and there have been calls for his resignation, particularly in the early days. MUFC won nothing in his first three seasons, their best result being runner up in the league. But he remained focussed, and over time has delivered an unparalleled collection of trophies. Results are more often delivered over time than in the first few years.

AFAbility to manage volatile people. Let’s face it, most of his players are young, overpaid prima donnas. Many of them have personal issues, particularly with anger. They’re not ideal team players. Their egos can get in their way. Does that sound a bit like your team? Fergie didn’t change them – he channelled them. He gave them a vision of what they could achieve together and enabled them to raise their expectations above their own personal goals.

We should also take note that there are aspects of his character however that are completely incompatible with Christian mission. For example, his leadership style is utterly uncompromising – ‘My way or the highway’ – which while delivering excellent results does not always deliver good relationships. It is widely rumoured that many of his best players ultimately moved on because they didn’t like the changing room environment his iron hand created. But this did not seem to matter significantly to him, since there were always plenty of new players to replace them. As one member care agency comments – The Great Commission should not be fulfilled at the expense of the greatest commandment.

All of his success of course, has been achieved on the back of a massive investment budget which has turned Manchester United from a football team to a global brand. Maybe developing inward investment should be our first priority!

Whether we like Sir Alex or not, or follow his team, we would do well to study his leadership style and cherry pick the best of it. He understands how to motivate and inspire people.

Statutory Residence Test

A happy landing?        (Photo: SXC)

A happy landing? (Image: SXC)

Overseas mission workers need to be aware of developments in taxation which may affect you as a result of the publication of the Statutory Residence Test (SRT) which came into force on 6th April 2013 and is causing a lot of concern in the missions community.  This is important as you may find yourself hit with a large income tax bill which you didn’t expect.

The SRT is an attempt to codify into law the various provisions and allowances which have grown up around whether you are considered to be resident in the UK or not.  This is significant because UK residents are taxed on their global income, and non-residents only on their UK income.  The new test may inadvertently catch out some mission workers who receive their income overseas but spend a lengthy time in the UK for home assignment, or to have a baby.   This is because in previous years a rolling total of days in the UK was allowed before becoming automatically resident, so the calculation for residency was an average of more than 90 days per year over a four year period; now it is a total of more than 90 days in any given tax year.

The test has three parts:

  1. whether you are automatically non-resident;
  2. whether you are automatically resident;
  3. if neither of the above, whether you are resident or non-resident according to whether you have sufficient ties to the UK

The details of these are complicated, as you would expect.  We’ve tried to simplify them for you, but make sure you read the provisions for yourself to check your situation.  There are complicated definitions, and special provisions where a stay in the UK straddles two tax years.  But in a nutshell, one tax advisor commented:  “We feel that it is much easier to become unintentionally resident than before, and harder to cease residence again.”

How much will your visit cost you?     (Image: SXC)

How much will your visit cost you? (Image: SXC)

Examples:

You are automatically non-resident if:

  • you have lived and worked abroad for 2 years, and return to the UK every year for no more than 16 days; or
  • you have lived and worked abroad for 4 years, and return to the UK every year for not more than 46 days; or
  • you work full-time abroad and return to the UK for less than 91 days and the number of days on which you do more than 3 hours’ work in the UK is less than 31.

You are automatically resident if:

  • you spend 183 days or more in the UK.  This test is of vital significance for mission workers on home assignment for more than six months; or
  • you have a home in the UK for a period of more than 90 days, and you are present in that home for at least 30 days, and you have no overseas home or an overseas home in which you spend more than 30 days.

To help you through this process, we have produced two flow charts helping you through the tests.  Click on the links below to see a pdf.

Automatic overseas test     Automatic UK test

These are not definitive and you should consult the HMRC website for yourself.  You should take advice from your agency, or if you don’t have one, an accountant.

Our recommendations are that you investigate this situation thoroughly before you spend more than two weeks in the UK, keep records of when you travel to the UK and how many days you spend here, and a log of the amount of working hours you do each day and where you stay.  Craziness!

The fundamental implication of all this is that we may be seeing the end of year-long home assignment (which is a trend already under way anyway).  Anyone who does a home assignment of more than 90 days will clearly be resident and liable to UK taxation.  This of course is no change from the current situation, but the formalisation of the rules will make it harder for agencies and individual mission workers to ‘forget’ them.

You can read the full text of the new provisions here: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/budget-updates/11dec12/stat-res-test-note.pdf.