Tony Horsfall and Debbie Hawker have combined their unique talents to produce a new resource – Resilience in Life and Faith.  As one would expect from two authors with excellent track records, it does not disappoint.

Defining resilience not as merely ‘bouncing back’ (as I so often have done!) but helpfully quoting a variety of authors to demonstrate that although the status quo in our lives may not be restored after a trauma, what we learned in the process changes us for the better, they have come up with their own model for understanding the different facets of life which impact upon our ability.  They call it ‘SPECS’ and I will not explain that here so that I don’t have a negative impact on their book sales!  Suffice to say it considers all aspects of our human being to ensure we have a complete awareness of how to balance our lives well.

The chapters explore each of these facets in turn, first the psychology (Debbie) and then a character study from the Bible (Tony).  This useful pairing means that the theory, presented simply enough for the amateur to understand but deeply enough to be helpful and authoritative, is balanced with lived-out practice, which is thoughtfully and interestingly brought to us.  Each chapter closes with helpful questions for reflection, which gives the book the feel more of a devotional rather than a textbook, usefully bringing together two genres.  At the end is a quick but effective self-assessment to highlight the reader’s current life practice and how it affects each facet of their resilience.

Reading this book I felt better informed about resilience, and inspired to maintain it.  I commend this resource to practitioners of pastoral care for whom it is an invaluable addition to the bookshelf, and to all Christians who will find information to help them thrive in their daily lives.

You can buy Resilience in Life and Faith direct from the publisher – just click here.

This week I was sent a video by a pastor in India.  He usually sends me videos of his church service, or orphans singing, so I was completely unprepared for the graphic content.  It was mobile phone footage of a woman being lynched.  She ended up being burned alive.  Just for attending a Christian prayer meeting.

Seeing such horror brought home to me the very real challenge faced by the church in India, which I have known about for some time but never truly felt.  Although there are 64 million Christians in India, they are a tiny and vulnerable minority.  They are often people who are not educated or influential and can often be abused with impunity, particularly in remote rural areas where Hindu militants have strongholds.

Since the BJP government of Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, attacks on Christians have become more commonplace, as the government equates Hinduism with Indian core identity, marginalising all minority religious groups and tacitly encouraging anti-Christian violence, to which the authorities often turn a blind eye and fail to investigate thoroughly.  For this reason India has been rising up the Open Doors World Watch List and is now considered to be the 10th worst country in the world to be a Christian.  This situation is likely to get worse in the run up to a General Election in April/May this year as the government seeks to unite the Hindu majority behind it by victimising minorities.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India issued a report earlier this year detailing 325 incidents of targeted violence or hate crime against Christians (you can read a copy here) which occurred in 2018, mostly in the provinces of Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu.  So far this year there have been a further 29 incidents in 13 provinces.  Hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians have been affected.  Particularly at risk are those from Hindu background who have converted to the Christian faith, often after experiencing healing or deliverance.

So what can we do?

  • Pray. Brother Andrew says “Our prayers can go where we cannot… There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.” Pray for the church to be bold, for the bereaved to be comforted, the prisoners to take courage, and for their oppressors to be won over by the grace and humility of the Christians.
  • Support. For just a small amount you can fund an Open Doors Rapid Response team for a month as they bring emergency aid to victims of violence, such as food and medical care.
  • Stay informed. Look out for new updates on India at www.persecution.org
  • Complain. Write to the Indian High Commissioner, Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam, and tell her you are unhappy at the way her country treats our family.  Her address is High Commission of India, India House, Aldwych, London WC2B 4NA
  • Lobby. Make sure your MP knows about the plight of our brothers and sisters.  India represents a huge business partner for Britain and our government is very keen not to upset theirs.  We need to make sure that we make them stand up for our suffering family.

Yet alongside the bad news there is good news.  Despite their suffering, the church is growing, as we reported way back in 2010.  Many evangelists work hard and see amazing results.  For many years Daliths have been turning to Christ, but there is still a need for effective evangelism among the burgeoning middle classes who have less obvious needs.  Yet the work still depends heavily on church leaders and the very few overseas mission workers rather than the bulk of the church.  As mission workers from abroad find it increasingly hard to get visas, and church leaders are targeted by Hindu extremists, it is imperative that the whole church is trained and mobilised to share its faith boldly.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Last week we looked at introverts, thought about the environment they function best in, and how we can help them thrive.  This week I want to look at extraverts, and consider how we can help them thrive too.

Extraverts primarily gain their energy from the world outside them, so need to engage with it.  Unlike introverts, being alone and reflecting will make them uncomfortable and they are much happier being involved with people, often in large groups.  Being naturally gregarious, they are confident at meeting strangers, building bridges and enjoying diversity, and they can quickly make connections in a new culture and engage effectively with people.

Extraverts appear to be in majority, although possibly it only looks that way because they are more likely to have the opportunity to shape the culture of their church or agency by being vocal and engaging with others.  They are generally more comfortable being in groups, because they recharge their batteries in the company of others.  They will love events, and are often involved in organising things.  So how can we organise things to help them thrive?

  • Solitude and silence will make extraverts feel uncomfortable, and if left alone, for instance if they are ill or working in an isolated location, they will not be happy until they are around people, so they may need planned interactive support.
  • Many extraverts have attractive and magnetic personalities which will draw others into relationship with them. So they are good at getting people involved and welcoming newcomers.  The downside of this is that the people they draw into the community can bond to them individually rather than the group as a whole, or individuals within it, so when that mission worker moves on, their connections may lose interest in the group and drift off.
  • Extraverts enjoy working where there are other people, particularly if they can talk about things.  So an open-plan office, or a coffee shop, will be ideal.  Home alone will not be!
  • Since extraverts thrive in community, many of them will need to be in a place where they can find it, so they are not ideally suited to a pioneering situation where they will not have like-minded people around them. Though some may be able to thrive on the relationships they build with local people, others will struggle with loneliness and isolation if there are no people nearby who speak their heart language or share their faith.
  • Extraverts deal with stress in a group. So after a hard week they are looking around for someone to socialise with.  If all their friends are otherwise engaged, their stress will be compounded by the lack of company.
  • Extraverts might also tend to do things a bit last minute, so if they do ring people up and invite them for dinner, it might be at a few hours’ notice. If people already have other plans and are unwilling to change them, the extravert may well feel undervalued or even rejected.
  • Although extraverts are excited by new ideas and love to plan new projects or events, they may not actually be the best at planning the details, so it really helps them to try to put people alongside them who understand that and can plan the practical details without raining on the extravert’s parade.
  • Extraverts may need reinforcement and recognition, so if nobody is complimenting or affirming them, they are probably feeling a bit deflated and under-appreciated.
  • They probably need to think out loud, so they won’t start talking with a finished idea. So don’t shut them down by saying “That won’t work” but give them time to think their ideas through.  Suck plans out of them by asking questions like “How is that going to work in practice?”
  • Extraverts are conference people and will get a huge buzz from meeting large numbers of people. So make sure they get the opportunity to do this regularly.

Contrary to the opinion of some introverts, extraverts are not a force of nature bringing noise and disruption to everything, and they have many skills and gifts to bring to the team.  What the mission world needs is not all-extravert teams or dispersed introverts, but both in a good balance where they fully appreciate each others’ needs and abilities and are able to thrive together.  I’m a strong introvert, but some of my best working partnerships have been with extraverts, as together we can play to each other’s strengths.

A better understanding of the dynamics of introversion/extraversion can be achieved through individuals and groups doing workshops based on the Myers Briggs or other similar personality indicators, and Syzygy is very happy to facilitate this for agencies or individuals.  Just email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

 

It is said that introverts enjoy living in a secure private space to themselves and recharging their batteries in solitude rather than in a group setting.  So how do people who are introverted cope in the mission field?

Just to refresh your memories, C G Jung originated the terms introvert and extravert to define two types of people, although he didn’t mean these terms in the sense in which they are often used today: shy or outgoing.  The introvert is orientated towards their inner world, and they derive their energy from their thoughts and feelings.  Extraverts do the opposite, and we’ll focus on them next week.

Introverts are typically considered reserved, but feel comfortable by themselves or in smaller groups rather than big crowds.  They may choose to have fewer relationships, but better ones.  They like to take time to reflect on things and often don’t do spontaneity well.  When really tired, they will crave solitude and may go to great lengths to shut themselves off from others till they recover, possibly locking themselves in a room or not talking even to their spouse.

But these are generalisations, and we must remember that introversion/extraversion is not a binary condition, it’s a spectrum, with plenty of ambiverts in the middle and everyone subconsciously adapting their behaviour to how they feel about the conditions around them.

So what does all this theory mean for introverts on the mission field?

  • They might not be there in the first place! They might have struggled at selection if they felt awkward being interviewed.  They might not make a great first expression if they’re not outgoing, and they might find it hard to demonstrate church involvement if they don’t feel comfortable in the crowd.  They might not be well-known to the leadership who will therefore find it hard to give a good reference.  So missions mobilisers need to be aware if this and not overlook the introvert’s commitment, thoughtfulness and ability to work alone.
  • They probably need their own home, so that they can have times when they shut the door and shut the outside world out. If not a separate house, a self-contained flat will be fine.  But they probably won’t thrive in a house-share with a stranger, at least not initially.  And they may find eating regularly in a canteen draining, preferring to take their food to somewhere private instead.
  • They may take longer for the rest of the team to get to know them. They might not be shy (in fact some are very friendly!) but they’ll take time to open up, and won’t thrive in a large group.  But given time they will pick their friends and make faithful and loyal relationships with the trusted few.
  • They will struggle at large conferences and team meetings. They’re more likely to be on their own in a corner reading a book than chatting in a coffee shop.  But one-to-one/few they will be able to engage intensely and build deep and meaningful connections.
  • At least one published author thinks introverts make good leaders! But they might get overlooked by their colleagues because they won’t necessarily push themselves forward, and they may not be seen as good at relating to people because they don’t perform well in groups.  But their calm demeanour and tendency to reflect can help them lead well.
  • They want to get away! Their need for space might propel them to go for long walks, or at least to sit in a park.  But if the park is full of people, or the security situation means they can’t go for walks alone, they will become stressed.  Then their need for withdrawing could be misunderstood as not wanting to be part of team, or not liking others, particularly in community-focussed cultures which may not understand introversion.  Other people may need to help introverts find solitude – asking them to house-sit for example if they share their home with others.
  • They won’t naturally take to large-scale evangelism involving meetings or public addresses. However they will be ideal for discipling/mentoring a few people at a time.
  • The city might not be the best place for them to thrive. With all the people and busyness, introverts can feel uncomfortable in cities.  Small town ministry might work better for them as they won’t feel so claustrophic.
  • They will probably prefer email to phone or face-to-face communication. This could suit them for placement in a dispersed team, where meeting together is not easy.  They could thrive on their own in a Creative Access Nation.
  • Hi-impact teams will not be a good working environment for them. Regular times of sharing information, brainstorming together and working as a close-knit team may bring an introvert to emotional exhaustion.  But working alone, or in a small loosely-affiliated team will bring out the best in them.  Introverts’ love of solitude equips them to be alone in pioneer ministry where there are no other like-minded people for miles.

So if you are working with introverts, finding out more about what makes them tick could help you understand them better.  Give them plenty of space so they can thrive.  And if you’re an introvert – don’t be ashamed of who you are!  Live your life the way that works best for you even though others don’t get it!

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

Being helpful is a notable Christian trait, though something we often carry to excess.  Even more so for mission workers.  We care, and we hope to change things.  We see people hurting and our compassion drives us to improve things for them.  We want to solve problems.  We want to make things better.  We need to see healing.  It’s a trap we can easily fall into.  One of the hardest things for compassionate people to do is sit and watch someone struggle with pain, confusion and need.

Yet as we learn the skills involved in counselling, mentoring, coaching and pastoral care, we discover that we are not there to solve the problem.  We are there to encourage, assist and if necessary equip our client to solve their own problems.  Doing it for them disempowers them, and does not help them develop resilience and problem-solving skills to use the next time they face a challenge.  At worst, it can deprive them of an opportunity to be driven to rely solely on God for their comfort and sustenance in the midst of their difficulties.

So we learn to sit on our hands, bridle our tongues, and let people do it for themselves.  It is in fact much kinder and more helpful for us to do this, because people grow as they tackle the challenges they face.  And though the problems may not go away, they might find the consolation of God in the middle of them.

We all know that Job’s friends are a good example of what not to do.  They offered advice, criticism, theology and rebuke, all to no avail.  Their words made no difference to Job, and in the end God criticised them for their approach.  But what we often overlook is the small bit of information at the end of chapter 2 – they just came and sat with him for 7 day! (Job 2:11-13).  They grieved with him, they cried with him, but said nothing.  Sometimes our presence is more helpful than our words.  The traditional English response to crisis of putting the kettle on may in fact be far more effective than our many words of wisdom and helpful actions.  Often people don’t need help, they just need company on their journey.  Companionship and company are a good place to start.  Who can you offer those to this week?

Too many to take home?

Following on from our review of “Back Home” a couple of weeks ago, I’d like to follow up by answering a question I was asked by a couple preparing to return to the UK after a period of serving God abroad:

“What are the most important things we need to know?”

There are in fact three principle things that knowing about can help prepare you for re-entry into what once was your ‘home culture’.

First, you are highly unlikely to fit in.  Whether it’s simply because all the changes that you see around you make you feel “This isn’t home anymore” or something more significant like you are disillusioned with church because it doesn’t seem to have the same priorities as you, there will be hundreds of times when you feel like a square peg in a round hole.  Being prepared for this will really help you.

Second, You may well experience a significant loss of self-worth, particularly if you have returned in order to retire.  In the field, your skin colour might have given you status.  In church you were always asked to preach or pray because you were the missionary; now you’re just another woman in the church.  Previously, you had a mission, a sense of calling, and a support group praying for you; now you don’t really know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.  Making sure your identity is deeply-rooted in your relationship with God is an antidote to the feelings of insignificance and worthlessness you may have to battle.

Third – Syzygy can help!  Whether you read our blogs on re-entry or our guide on how to do re-entry well, whether you come to one of the retreats we help lead, or contact us for some one-to-one support, we have the resources you need to help you navigate this challenging time effectively.

You don’t have to do re-entry alone!

A recent discussion with other member care workers, followed by a discussion with some prospective mission workers who plan to take early retirement and go abroad leaving behind their grown up children, prompts me to draw attention to the plight of YANGs – Young Adults Not Going.

The number of healthy and financially independent adults who are able to bring their working life to a close and use their professional and life skills serving God abroad has been increasing significantly in recent years and they have brought a welcome boost to the teams they are part of.  Here at Syzygy we have worked with several couples in this situation over the years and they have been a great blessing to fellow mission workers and nationals alike.

However, their absence from the UK can come at a significant cost to their children.  While it may be tempting for these older candidates who are just at the end of the baby boomer generation to think that their 20-something children are grown up and it’s about time they learned to stand on their own feet, this overlooks the fact that millennials are used to having much more support from their parents (helicopter parenting) and can take longer to feel grown up than previous generations.  So the departure of a parent to a foreign country can feel very much like a bereavement – particularly if it also means the loss (albeit temporary) of the family home which is rented out to strangers.

Perhaps for the first time in their lives they can’t go ‘home’ for Christmas.  A stranger is sleeping in their bedroom.  All the belongings that a student wants to keep but can’t take to university are now in storage.  Nobody is there to babysit for them.  And mum and dad are no longer physically there for them in a crisis.  It can feel even worse if on top of their loss they have to take up responsibility for caring for their elderly grandparents or a needy sibling.

That’s not to say that the parents shouldn’t go, but they need think hard about how to support their children from a distance.  The Global Connections TCK forum has some useful suggestions for parents considering going abroad in mission – click here to view them.

Sending churches and agencies also need to be aware of the risks to YANGs, and while they may decide that member care for them isn’t directly their responsibility, they do need to find a way of facilitating discussion around these issues so that the YANGS feel supported.  Otherwise they may struggle so much that the parents are drawn away from the mission field in order to be there for them.

Without active planning to prevent this eventuality, YANGs could very easily become YINs – youth in need!

It’s great to have an opportunity to share a book about Member Care in English which doesn’t originate from the UK or USA!

Jochen & Christine Schuppener’s helpful book Back Home which was published a couple of years ago has now been translated from German and is a welcome addition to the library of material available for those negotiating the pitfalls of return to their ‘home’ country after a period abroad.

Helpfully divided into four sections – Leaving, The Move, Arrival and Reintegration – Back Home is presented in small, accessible, easy to read chapters.  Loss of status, chaos and disruption, relating to work colleagues, cultural stress and dealing with grief are all some of the helpful subsections.

The Schuppeners’ psychology backgrounds underpin the material to ensure that it is rigorous but they use sufficiently simple wording which helps rather than confuses the amateur.

A number of clear diagrams also help to make the point and there are also checklists and tips to create a varied presentation style. Particularly helpful are the frequent references to children or teenagers which can help an adult easily understand why a child may approach the transition in a completely different way to a parent.

Plenty of case studies and examples help to root the theory in the reality of the returnee who has lived overseas, with many quotes from people who’ve been through the transition back into their passport country.

As the book is not directly aimed only at mission workers, it also include work contexts which is extremely refreshing.  Although these may not be directly applicable to returning mission workers, there are good principles in them which will help Christian workers returning to their sending countries for further ministry there.

Back Home is available for a very good price on Amazon by clicking here and if you logon through Amazon Smile you can help Syzygy too (find out more about this here).  You can read more about the Schuppeners’ and their work on their website.

Mourning is something that many western cultures don’t do well.  Unlike our Mediterranean neighbours, or more expressive people from tropical climes, we think holding our feelings in check is a Good Thing.  “Stiff upper lip, old boy.”

Christians are often even less inclined to mourn than others, because we have a sure and certain hope that our departed have gone to be with Jesus.  We use terms like “promoted” to express our positivity.  I was even once told by a family member at a funeral that we were not going to cry, because it was a happy day of celebration for our friend who had gone to a better place.  Which left me with a lot of grief and no outlet for it. Sometimes we need to express our emotion and have a good wail.

Mourning is healthy.  Expressing our grief is part of how we cope with loss, and being real about our emotions is important.  People who can grieve unreservedly can come to terms with their loss more effectively.

But this blog is not just about confronting our bereavement.  It’s about loss in every sense.  And we mission workers have to deal with an awful lot of loss in our lives.

We often don’t recognise as loss the things we have sacrificed, because we’re serving the Lord and the joy of being faithful servants more than compensates us.  But sometimes our perspective of willingly laying down our lives in service to Him who laid down his life for our salvation can be a bit like refusing to grieve at a funeral: we never come to terms with our loss because we’re always trying to be positive.

Recognising what we have lost, and mourning it, helps us to continue in emotional health and be resilient, as well as being realistic about the cost of following our call.  So let’s look at some of the things we might want to mourn:

  • Close friendships we are unable to continue with in person as we move to a foreign country
  • Places that were once familiar haunts which have changed beyond recognition while we were abroad
  • The spouse or children we never had because we couldn’t find a suitable partner willing to serve in the remote location we felt called to
  • The physical health we could have had if our illnesses had been treated in a modern western hospital
  • Relatives we never had a chance to say goodbye to because they died unexpectedly while we were on the other side of the planet.
  • Professional skills which have grown out of date due to lack of opportunity to develop them
  • The sense of belonging in a certain place that we’ve come from and will one day have to go back to and feel like strangers
  • Grandchildren we don’t have a chance to get to know well because they’re growing up in a different country
  • Friendships in the field that always struggle because our home assignments never coincide
  • The house which the whole family calls home and our adult children can still come back to stay in their childhood bedroom
  • The wealth and security offered by a good career
  • The formative years of our children which we miss a large part of because they’re away at boarding school.

Most mission workers I know will look at such a list dismissively and say “It was a small price to pay for the privilege of serving God”, and in one way they are right.  Paul wrote for all of us when he said “all those things I have lost count as nothing to me” (Philippians 3:7).

But all of us should take time to think about the things we have lost, recognise them and grieve appropriately rather than spend our lives in denial.  David rightly said “I will not give God something that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).  Recognising and mourning the loss helps us to give God something of value, rather than something that wasn’t important to us anyway.

 

Happy New Year to all our readers!

At this time of year, it’s popular to do a bit of self-review, and set out resolutions and changes that we’d like to make in our lives.  It’s also a good idea to take a bit of time (maybe on retreat) to review what happened in the last year and learn lessons from it to apply in the coming year.

So in keeping with that spirit I’d like to encourage you to reflect on your sense of calling and ask yourself some fundamental questions about it.  Calling, as you will recall from a previous blog as well as our Guide to Going, may vary from one person to another but can generally be defined as a deep-seated conviction that God has a task for you to do, or a place for you to be. It is discerned both spiritually and practically by a community working together to determine what is right for you – a community made up of family, friends, church and agency who together confirm your course of action.

If you are a mission worker in the field, you must have had a sense of calling at some time in the past which impelled you to get up and go, and encouraged others to send and support you.

But do you still feel that sense of calling?  If not, what has happened?  Have you taken on other tasks and responsibilities which seemed like a good idea, or which you thought needed to be done, but which have ended up taking you away from the service you felt called to?

If you do still have a sense of calling, how are you protecting it?  Are you testing against it the various tasks, relationships and opportunities that come your way, to ensure you don’t get dragged off course?  And how are you shaping and refining it?  Are you regularly praying into it to get more clarity and definition about where and what you are called to?

In the interests of being a good team member and supporting the aims of our agency, there will inevitably be times when we are asked to lay aside our own sense of what we have been called to in the past to take on something new.  Maybe it involves a change of ministry, or a different town (or even country).  As our own circumstances change, this might actually be a new calling which supersedes the original one.  Who are we consulting and praying with to make sure that the decisions we need to make are a team effort? 

Wandering away from our sense of calling puts us into a dangerous place.  We have no conviction to hold us in place when the going gets tough, we may well find ourselves doing things that God doesn’t want us doing, and operating for a significant amount of time outside our sense of calling can sap our energy and do long-term damage to our resilience and well-being.

So I encourage all of us to set aside some time at the beginning of what will inevitably be a busy and challenging year to reflect on our sense of calling and ensure that we are convinced we are the right people in the right place doing the right thing.

And if you can’t say that with conviction, do something about it!

This photo shows the quote on the board outside a church near my home last week.  Once I had overcome my initial shock that a church would prefer to run with a common misquote rather than the real biblical text, I wondered if it was actually true.  Is it really better?

At this time of year, many of us are in the habit of giving presents to express our love and generosity for our nearest and dearest.  Some of us give charitably to the needy.  This is a custom that has its roots in the Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia and only has tenuous links with the Christmas story.  Yes, the wise men brought ‘gifts’ to Jesus – but they weren’t presents for the baby shower!   More about that later…

From a financial point of view, it’s unlikely that it is better to give than to receive.  After all, you would be worse off, unless your lavish generosity inspired an even greater reciprocation.  You’d also have spent a lot of your time shopping for presents, and most of us have too little time to do everything we’d like to, particularly at Christmas.  You might have expended a lot of emotional energy on thinking about what presents to get people.  Granted, these last two problems would have been overcome if you decided simply to give money, but then you’d have the guilt of not giving people a ‘proper’ present, and possibly their resentment that you didn’t care enough to give one.  Given all these dilemmas, perhaps it really is better not to bother giving anything at all.

So back to the misquote.  The original quote is from Acts 20:35 where Luke records Paul quoting Jesus: “It is more blessed…”  ‘Blessed’ is not the same as better.  ‘Blessed’ (in this case, the Greek word makarios) can mean happy, fulfilled, spiritually wealthy, joyful, in God’s favour).  ‘Blessed’ may be applied to unenviable situations – like the poor, the persecuted and the grieving in the Beatitudes.  Even if it is better, it probably doesn’t feel better at the time.

The greatest gift of all, which we celebrate at this time of year, is God’s gift to humanity of Jesus.  Our response to his incredible generosity is to give back to him all that we have in worship.  And we bless God.  And in our giving, we too are blessed.

The gifts brought by the magi were presented to Jesus in the context of their worship of him, the word ‘gift’ being  used in the Septuagint of Levitical sacrifices, and also by Jesus in the same context (Matthew 5:23).  So really, if we do want to give Christmas presents, we should really be giving them to God!  But in fact giving them to one another in the name of God may be as good – but only if we expect nothing in return.

May you and all your loved ones be truly blessed this Christmas!

“Christmas is for families.”  How often have you heard that said in the last few weeks?

The prevailing narrative is that of a perfect family opening presents, eating together and playing games.  This of course completely ignores the reality of feuding cousins, rebellious children, struggling parents, failing marriages, senile grandparents and hundreds of other ways in which families can be divided, and which make even the idea of Christmas a nightmare to many.

Additionally there are all those people who face Christmas alone.  Sometimes they are mission workers, far from their loved ones.  Perhaps there are elderly widows or other singles who have nobody to be with.  Maybe there are sick people who can’t get out, or foreigners who have no connections.  And the homeless.

There are many ways in which we can do our small bit to address some of these needs:

  • We could volunteer to help with a soup kitchen or homeless shelter
  • We could befriend an international student (Friends International has a great way of doing this)
  • We could help with refugee resettlement programme
  • We could open our church or community centre to be a place of welcome for those who have nowhere else to go.

Perhaps the key to this is stretching our understanding of the word ‘family’.  As I remarked in a previous blog, Western individualism has impacted our understanding of this term, and indeed even the concept of the nuclear family is a uniquely Western model.  Other cultures (including the Biblical ones) often understand family in a way that the West would more likely think of as ‘neighbourhood’ or ‘community’.

This Christmas, instead of shutting ourselves behind our doors, why don’t we involve the marginalised, disadvantaged, lonely and distressed by extending our family to include some of them?

 

 

 

We have already blogged on several occasions about the people who have been hurt by their own sending church or agency, either by the impersonal approach of its policies “We’re withdrawing your support for you because we have changed our strategy” or by the actions of individuals within it.

Sadly such situations continue to occur and what we haven’t yet consider how people in a church can support their mission workers who are wounded.

First, you will need to pay attention.  Most mission workers will not readily spill the beans, partly out of loyalty to their church or agency, and partly for fear that if the truth comes out their supporters will encourage them not to go back.  So you’ll need to watch out for signs of stress when they talk about their situation, reticence about their working relationships, or a lack of enthusiasm in their presentations.  Dig into this with questions like “what are you going to be doing when you go back?”, “How are you feeling about going back?” and “How do you get on with the people in your team?”

Once you’ve realised that something has gone wrong, encourage them to talk confidentially about it to one of their supporters, or maybe an independent debriefer.  Again, they might be reluctant to, but remind them they may need to get things off their chest.  Maybe find a retired mission worker they could open up to.

If it’s you who is they are opening up to – be prepared for a torrent of emotion!  They may have long pent-up feelings about this which they’ve struggled with for a long time and once they are released they may take a while to settle down.  Emotional discharge can be good for the person involved but alarming for you.  Once they’ve dealt with the emotion, they might be able to find a practical approach to resolving the situation.

If relationships have completely broken down with someone in their church or agency, offer to act as an intermediary, or to support them in a face-to-face discussion to resolve the situation.  That too may take up a lot of your time but having an independent observer present at discussions may calm any potential confrontation.  But remember not to take sides!  While you may be keen to support your mission worker, staying impartial helps you help them.  After all, you’ve probably only heard one half of the truth and they person they are in dispute with may have an entirely different perspective.

And if they have been bullied, abused or manipulated by a leader, have no qualms about helping them whistleblow!  Take it up with them at the highest levels you can.

You may like to give them resources that will help them process what’s happened.  We particularly like Honourably Wounded and A Tale of Three Kings.

Help them understand how personality traits can often complicate communication, and also language barriers.  Even if people speak the same language, they may speak it differently.  Some cultures are far more direct at speaking than others, while some will talk in circles to avoid confrontation or giving offence.  When they go to a foreign country your mission partners will be helped a lot to understand the culture they’re in – but they might learn nothing about getting on with each of the 22 different nationalities on their team!

And if all of your listening skills and wisdom get you nowhere, don’t give up!  Talk directly to the leadership of the church or agency, and bring in an outside arbitrator if necessary in order to resolve the situation.

Your mission partner may well be in a situation which could jeopardise their place with their agency, their missionary calling, and in extreme circumstances even their faith.  You might not feel qualified, but you can help them.

The festive season is fast approaching and here’s a quick reminder to get your shopping done in good time, if you haven’t done it already.  In doing your shopping online you have two wonderful opportunities to help Syzygy.

First, you can shop with Amazon Smile.  With Syzygy listed as your registered charity, we will get 0.5% of what you spend buying through Amazon*.  In effect, it’s money for nothing.  And if, like many of our friends, you use Amazon a lot, we could be in line to benefit significantly.

All you have to do is register by going to https://smile.amazon.co.uk/ and selecting charity number 1115354.  Then shopping in your normal way.  But remember to use the smile.amazon portal every time, because if you just go to the regular Amazon website it won’t pick up your link to Syzygy.

Secondly, if you use Everyclick as your search engine and choose Syzygy as your nominated charity we’ll also pick up some donations for every search you make and a percentage of your spending on any website you access through their website.

Happy Christmas Shopping!

 

  • Other online retailers are also available

The latest Syzygy car

Ever since the early days of Syzygy, I have prayed regularly “Lord, please give us more money”.

Sometimes it’s been a question of not being able to pay for essentials like car insurance, at other times we’ve needed to invest in new assets.  We’ve seldom had more than a few hundred pounds spare, but we’ve always trusted in God and he has always provided for us.

On one occasion I had a week to get find a new car, but had no money at all.  Several of us prayed and someone gave us a car.  Our car ministry has seldom given us an easy ride, though we strive to make sure the mission partners who borrow our car get just that.

So in the last few months as our bank balance has built up (for no obvious reason), I began to wonder if God wasn’t giving us this money because we’re going to need it.  And it turns out, we did.

Two weeks ago one of our cars was involved in an accident.  Fortunately nobody was badly injured but the car was clearly not going to be repaired quickly, and we needed a car urgently as the next mission partners are due to have one this week.  So I bought one.  We had enough money to get a good one.  Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Last week I learned that not only was our crashed car not worth repairing, due to an error in the insurance, the insurers wouldn’t pay out the write off value.  So I scrapped it.  We got next to nothing for it.  Blessed by the name of the Lord!

So the excess in the bank account has been used up and not replaced.  It’s back to business as usual: “Lord, please give us more money!”

You can read more about the Syzygy car ministry on this page.

Caring for ourselves can seem selfish but if we don’t then we can’t sustainably serve those around us.  Self-care should in no way negate Jesus’ call to self-denial nor be an excuse not to work hard, rather it helps maintain our resilience and perseverance in the midst of the challenges of serving others.

It’s not just a means to an end though; God simply loves us and our well-being matters to Him.  So, here are 10 resolutions to help us stay well and stay faithful plus some suggested verses to meditate on:

1. I am a child of God.  I am unconditionally loved.  My identity does not lie in my achievements.  I will rest in God’s love and not strive for other’s approval. (1 John 3:1, John 1:12, Romans 8:15-16)

2. I am sent by God.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  My life has purpose.  I will trust Him when I’m not sure what’s going on. (John 20:21, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 2:8-10)

3. I don’t have to hold it all together; that’s Jesus’ job.  It’s OK to not always feel OK.  I will get help for my spiritual, emotional and practical needs. (Colossians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, 1 Samuel 23:15-16)

4. Rest is good.  Jesus rested.  I have permission to rest.  In fact God commands me to rest.  I will plan to rest. (Matthew 11:28-30, John 4:6, Exodus 20:8-11)

5. I was made to enjoy a relationship with God.  I will daily spend time reading the Bible, worshipping, praying and whatever else helps me to connect with God. (Psalm 63:1-8, John 15:1-8, James 4:8a)

6. I am also made for relationships with other people.  I will intentionally invest in friendships, be honest and give and receive support in my church, small group or team. (Proverbs 27:9, 27:17, 1 Corinthians 12:12-20)

7. Prayer support is vital.  I will regularly share prayer requests with my friends and supporters. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Colossians 4:2-4, Ephesians 6:19-20)

8. My body is a gift from God and useful for the work He’s called me to do.  I will look after my body by exercising regularly, eating well and sleeping enough. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Proverbs 14:30, 3 John 1:2)

9. I am allowed to enjoy life.   I will regularly engage in activities which I enjoy. (Proverbs 17:22, John 2:1-2, Nehemiah 8:10)

10. There are always reasons to give thanks.  I will reject the temptation to grumble and give thanks instead. (1Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 118:28-29, Philippians 4:6)

 

 

Today’s guest blogger is Alex Hawke, a mission worker in southeast Asia. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexGTHawke.

I recently came across the expression “to practise resurrection”.  Not in the sense, presumably, of the  film Flatliners, a 1990 film (remade unsuccessfully in 2017) in which Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon attempt to artificially create near-death experiences.

The suggestion I was reading about is that since we know we will be resurrected with Christ, we should endeavour to bring as much of that experience from the future into the present, rather in the same sense that the Kingdom of God is here and now and not just future.

So how do we practice resurrection?  We could start with Paul’s remarkable comment in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God…

So if I take Paul at his word, I’m already dead.  The life of Christ is being lived out through me.  How this works in practice is further expanded in Colossians chapter 3, which tells us we have been ‘raised with Christ’ and gives lists of the attitudes and behaviours we should intentionally adopt, or avoid.

Dead people have no possessions, no hopes and dreams, and no desires.  If I am truly dead, I too will have laid all those things aside and kept only what Christ has given back to me.  As many mission workers through the centuries have discovered, abandonment to Christ alone sets us free from the shackles of our own ambitions, wants and property.

Dead people also are invulnerable to temptation.  The flesh has no control over them.  Shortness of temper, gossip, gluttony and lust have no power over them.  If I am truly like the dead, I will master the many temptations to sin that come my way daily.

It is not as easy to be a living sacrifice as a dead one.  While my death with Christ may be metaphorically true, my ego still lives on in this body he has chosen to live his life in.  And that is actually good, because we are not called to be zombies for Jesus, reanimated bodies with no life of their own.  For the time being we are in symbiosis, as I pointed out last month.  The object of the Christian life is not, like a Buddhist, to annihilate the self so that it gets consumed by the divine, but to attune myself so to the divine that we can operate as one without extinguishing my identity.

So we live on in the flesh, daily practising what it means to die to self and live in Christ.  How does that impact on our leadership style, as we learn to lead humbly and accountably?  How does it impact on our followership as we learn to set aside our own pride and ambition?  And how does it affect our daily witness as we live out our love for our brothers and sisters while working in a multi-cultural team?

As we lay aside our old way of doing things and put on the new way (Colossians 3:9-10), we bring some of the future Kingdom of Heaven into the present.  Maybe we’re trying to create a near-death experience after all?

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:3

The astute among you will have noticed that I have been following the October readings in the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer, which is a valuable resource for those of us wishing to cultivate a devotional life drawing on ancient traditions.

The readings have been quotes from the influential 20th century poet and mystic Evelyn Underhill.  In one passage, she writes about what today we would call resilience:

If we desire a simple test of the quality of our spiritual life, a consideration of the tranquillity, gentleness and strength with which we deal with the circumstances of our outward life will serve us better than anything that is based on the loftiness of our religious notions, or fervour of our religious feelings….  This is the threefold imprint of the Spirit on the soul surrendered to God.

Resilience is a characteristic much-prized in mission workers, but one that is hard gained.  Much member care is focussed on supporting people through trials and tribulations so that they grow more resilient with each test and are able to grow.

Yet resilience is not acquired through Biblical knowledge or professional skills, which are often the properties which commend themselves initially to church and agency as they mobilise and send us.  Resilience is acquired through prayerfulness, time spend in the presence of God despite the demands of family, church, ministry and community.  It comes from choosing, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus when we know there is work to be done.

I discovered this resilience in my own life many years ago when I was struggling with long-term sickness, living on state benefits and finding it hard to live a ‘normal’ life.  Yet at the same time I experienced an inner joy and lightness of spirit that was in complete contrast to the circumstances surrounding me.  I concluded that what helped me was a heavenly perspective: God still loved me; Christ had still died for me; my place in heaven was secure – so what if the rest of this life is misery, sickness and squalor?

Yet many mission workers, far from experiencing such joy, are mired in what Mrs Underhill calls “the inequalities of family life, emotional and professional disappointments, the sudden intervention of bad fortune or bad health, and the rising and falling of our religious temperature.”

If your experience is more like that, it’s time to stop, take a holiday or go on retreat, before your stress levels lead you into burnout.  It’s time to lay down some responsibilities and make time to sit and hold hands with God.  As a result, we don’t necessarily get on top of the material circumstances of our lives, but we can transcend them.

So many Christians are like distracted onlookers at a concert.  They study the programme carefully, believe every statement made in it, speak respectfully of the music, but only really hear a phrase now and again.  So they have no notion at all of the mighty symphony which fills the universe, to which their lives are destined to make their tiny contribution, and which is the self-expression of God.

Evelyn Underhill, quoted in Celtic Daily Prayer Book 2, from the Northumbria Community

 

Many of our readers will have had items of luggage not join us as we travel around the world.  It can be a disorientating process, particularly if something we need or value doesn’t turn up.  Some of us may also have got lost in transit ourselves, perhaps physically, or even emotionally.  Often, as we move from one location to another, it can feel like something inside us hasn’t yet turned up.  So we start to get on with life in a new place, with something important missing, perhaps not to arrive for a long time.  It’s our sense of belonging.

When we go to a new mission field, we’re often engaged by a sense of calling, some excitement at a new start, and the enthusiasm of starting a new work.  This can sustain us through the culture shock.  But when we return to what was once our home, there is often nothing to help us with the reverse culture shock, particularly if we are going ‘home’ to retire, or we’re not sure what is coming next.  We have a sense of endings rather than new beginnings.  We may have a feeling that we’re being forced into this move rather than called.  Fear may replace anticipation.

I find it helpful to think of this as a wilderness experience.  Think of the Israelites going through the desert.  They were going out from somewhere they knew and understood.  They were going to somewhere that was rumoured to be special.  But their current experience was of going through a place they didn’t belong in or understand.

They missed the food; now they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from them.  They had been used to a plentiful water supply; now they never knew if they’d get water at all.  It’s not surprising they grumbled, just as we can be prone to grumble during our re-entry process.

What we, like them, need to do is focus on what we do have – the presence of God with us in the wilderness.  God led them through it.  God provided them with security.  God fed them and they heard the voice of God.  They learned to walk with God in the wilderness, so much so that deserts became for them not a place of death but a place of retreat and spiritual activity.  One of the Hebrew words for desert (they have several!) is midbar, which can also be translated as “He speaks”.

If you are going through your re-entry wilderness, be encouraged: it won’t last 40 years!  Sometimes it can take a couple of years to be able to function in the new environment, maybe more if there is not much support for you in this process.  But the really good thing about it is that our feelings of disorientation and alienation can actually spur us into a greater reliance on God through the transition.

Don’t die in the wilderness!  Put your trust in God, and come out the other side like Caleb and Joshua did.