Autumn is a time of fruitfulness in the UK.  On a recent walk in the countryside recently I found blackberries, rosehips, elderberries, haws and hazelnuts within a short distance of each other, along with a variety of cereal crops and of course wild flowers setting their seeds.

The objective of all this fruit of course, is to feed a variety of wildlife ahead of the winter, and in the process, to reproduce the species as the seed is dispersed.  Squirrels create caches which give seeds a chance to move away from the parent plant, and birds eat seeds along with the fruit, allowing for random dispersal in the bird droppings.

Some fruit fail to achieve either objective.  Often the fruit, for no discernible reason, gets left on the plant where it will dry up and remain, achieving nothing.

What sort of fruit are you?  It can become easy for mission workers to stay in their place, working hard but gradually drying up.  They feed nobody, and they don’t reproduce themselves.  But the alternative is not attractive to us – “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24).

Jesus teaches his disciples – immediately before his own death – that sacrifice is the way to fruitfulness.  I believe that this is not only the one-off final sacrifice that many of us may be called on to make as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps to the grave, but in the daily dying to self that we are called to as we take up our cross (Matthew 6:24).  We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that our sacrifice of leaving home and family and travelling to a foreign country is the end.  So what does that mean in our daily life?

  • The daily stress of living, speaking and working in a different culture can be hard. Recognising that it’s a choice we make for Jesus helps us cope with the fatigue of cross-cultural living.
  • We submit to one another in love (Ephesians 5:21). Sometimes relationships with other characters in our team can be tense, particularly if they’re from a culture which does things differently to us.  Deferring to one another and giving preference can ease tensions.
  • Developing character instead of ministry skills can help us become better advocates for the gospel, as who we are is of more significance than what we do.  In doing so we become the sweet aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15)
  • Laying aside our own sense of calling to a particular activity, church or role for the sake of the team can be a particularly effective way of bearing fruit, even though the cost to us personally may be high.
  • Sharing our lives with others (1 Thessalonians 2:8). It can be easy for us to compartmentalize our work and our private lives – and some element of this is important in maintaining our own well-being, but we are at our most effective not merely when we serve, but when we love, build relationship, and open our hearts and our lives to others.

If, like the fruits mentioned above, we commit our lives to putting others before ourselves as we follow Jesus, we will not be unfruitful, and our fruit will yield a big harvest for the kingdom.

The main problem I have with evangelism is fear of man. I heartily recommend and have benefitted from training and equipping in evangelism but none of it can make up for being afraid of what people think of me. I’m convinced that it’s not mainly because we feel ill-equipped that we don’t share the gospel; it’s because we’re afraid. We need courage.

In Acts 4 we read that the believers prayed to be enabled to speak God’s word “with great boldness.” They were then filled with the Holy Spirit and “spoke the word of God boldly.” This wasn’t just the apostles; it was various believers whose very ordinariness proves to us that anyone can get the courage required to talk about Jesus and that we can’t use lack of training as an excuse for not having a go.

Paul asked the Ephesians to “Pray for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians  6:19). We can’t say that Paul was so different from us, that he was just inherently bold and amazing and so he went about fearlessly preaching the gospel. Here he is asking for prayer for the words to say and for the courage he needed. Paul had the words to say and the courage to say them because he asked for it and God gave it to him.

Before we’re tempted to just sit and wait for courage however, there’s another important principle demonstrated throughout the Bible. Time and time again we see amazing things happen as people step out in faith and obedience. God can and does act without us (think virgin birth, the resurrection) but He really loves to show up when His people take risks in His name.

Jesus told His disciples that when they found themselves arrested for their faith they needn’t worry what to say or how to say it because “at that time you will be given what to say.” The Spirit of the Father would speak through them (Matthew 10:19-20). As we exercise faith, God gives us what we need when we need it in order to do what He calls us to do. The Holy Spirit will make us brave and give us the words to say as we step out and open our mouths.

Keith Green once said, “I’d rather people hated me but knew that I tried to save them than have everybody like me.” Read that again. Really, if we actually felt like this then so many more people would hear the good news. I naturally want people to like me but I have to accept that trouble, opposition, disagreement and persecution are normal in the Christian life.

If we’re faithful to share the gospel some people will always be offended. Jesus was upfront about it: “If they persecuted me they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). The writers of the New Testament were too: “Everyone who seeks to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). It was no surprise to the early church that they suffered for sharing Christ.  While we don’t go around looking for persecution or acting in insensitive ways that could alienate or anger people unnecessarily, we need to accept that some people will not like us sharing the gospel. Then we ask for the courage to do so and open our mouths expecting God to help us in order that many would hear, repent, believe and be saved and enjoy all that the gospel can do in their lives.

Lord Jesus, empower us by your Spirit to be bold to share the gospel and may we trust You that as we open our mouths You will give us the words to say. Amen.

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

When mission workers go abroad, they leave family behind in their home country.  Typically these will be parents and siblings, but sometimes they will also be adult children.  We occasionally blog about POMs (Parents of Missionaries) and YANGs (Young Adults Not Going), and we’ve put together some resources here that may help families understand the journey of those who are left behind.

 

BOOKS

Families on the Move (Marion Knell), Monarch 2003, ISBN: 978-0825460180.  A book for every European family to read before moving overseas, which also helps churches and family members appreciate what it means for their family to move overseas.

Foreign to Familiar (Sarah Lanier), McDougal 2000, ISBN: 978-1581580228.  A very simple way of helping understand why different cultures behave differently.

How to be a Global Grandparent (Peter Gosling & Anne Huscroft), Zodiac 2009, ISBN: 978-1904566847.  A secular book with some good sections on factors to consider when visiting family overseas.

Looming Transitions (Amy Young), CreateSpace 2016, ISBN: 978-151962234.  A great book full of ideas, filled with warnings and strategies for those making transitions and their family members.

Parents of Missionaries (Diana Storz & Cheryl Savageau), Authentic 2008, ISBN: 978-0830857302.  The authors combine a counsellor’s professional insight and a parent’s personal journey with ideas and stories from dozens of mission workers and POMs.

Swirly (Sarah Saunders), Review & Herald 2012, ISBN: 978-0828026819.  A children’s book explaining how growing up abroad brings swirls of colour.  Helpful for adults too.

Third Culture Kids (David Pollock & Ruth van Reken), Nicholas Brealey 2017 (3rd edition), ISBN: 978-1473657663.  The classic book which helped us understand the ‘third culture’ which mission kids grow up in.

 

WEBSITES

http://www.astorybeforebed.com/.  You can record a story online for grandchildren abroad to listen to.

http://www.pomnet.org/.  An online network in the US for POMs.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Facetime, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Zoom are all social media apps helping you connect with family abroad easily.

TCKs can also connect online via groups such as MuKappa, SynK, Third Culture Kids Everywhere,

 

FORUMS, CONFERENCES AND CAMPS

Global Connections TCK Forum discusses issue of concern with those supporting TCKs.

Penhurst Retreat Centre offers family debriefing for whole families.  Email info@penhurst.org.uk for more info.

Rekonnect Camps for kids and teens operate in July/August each year and are great for supporting TCKs on home assignment.  Find out more from rekonnect@globalconnections.org.uk.

 

GENERAL TIPS

In the UK:

  • If you buy a game for grandchildren in the UK, buy the same game for grandchildren abroad so that when the kids abroad visit the UK they have something in common with their cousins.
  • When your family visit the UK, try to meet with them and other family for a holiday away, as otherwise they may not have enough time for you in all their other busyness.
  • Read bedtime stories to your grandchildren using social media.
  • Your family member has been through a big transition but will get support from their church and agency.  You probably won’t!  So make sure you try to find others who’ve been in a similar position who can help you.
  • Remember their experience overseas will have changed your family – for better or worse – and they’re not going to be the same when you see them.
  • Remember that even if you’ve seen them online, your grandchildren may still think of you as a stranger
  • You might have to explain new technology, terminology and culture to your children.
  • Be prepared for grandchildren coming back to the UK to be mildly traumatised by the sexuality, profanity and disobedience of their peers in UK schools.
  • Remember if your family are in a Creative Access Nation, be careful what words you use on social media (see our guide on finer aspect of communication).
  • If your single adult mission worker child moves back in with you while on Home Assignment, remember that living with mum and dad can feel like a real failure to them, and they may be tempted to revert to childish behaviour.

 

Abroad:

  • When visiting your family abroad, be prepared to pack your case with things they need (and other people give you) for them.
  • Make sure roaming is switched on if you want to use your UK SIM, and that the phone is unlocked if you want to use an overseas one.
  • Get your visa well in advance, and don’t book your flight till you’ve got it.
  • Remember security issues are very different in some countries.  Don’t photograph the police!

 

 

This briefing paper was compiled with help from Janet Chapman and Sarah Charles of OMF International.

(Source: www.freeimages.com)

A few times recently we’ve been asked by single Christians how they can prepare themselves for serving overseas in addition to the normal things that everyone has to do to be ready.

It’s a great question which shows an awareness of the challenges of being single on the mission field and a desire to avoid making mistakes rather than having to learn from them.

Many of the things about being single in your home culture will be even harder on the mission field, although singleness is a wonderful opportunity to throw yourself into life in the mission field in a way that your married co-workers will envy.  The flexibility and freedom can work in your favour and though there are challenges, many of the single mission workers who told their stories in our book Single Mission effectively said “Yes, it’s hard but it’s worth it.”

So you can read some of our top suggestions in a new Guide to Doing Mission Well by clicking here.

Photo by Craig Hauger from FreeImages

Syzygy frequently comes across situations where mission workers feel (whether reasonably or not) unsupported by their sending churches.

On deeper investigation we can find that these situations arise where a church member has developed and explored a calling into mission independently of their church leaders.  Only when they are already quite a way down the road have they involved their church.  We always encourage potential mission workers to discuss this with their church at the earliest possibility – see our briefing paper on this subject!

When this situation occurs the individual is in the driving seat, developing a vision and then asking the church to endorse it.  The problem with this is that the church should not have such a passive role in mission – sending is an active verb!  We see this in action in the famous calling of Acts 13 which turned the Antioch church into the sending church of Barnabas and Saul.  They may have been talking about it together in advance because God doesn’t tell them what the ministry is to be even though it seems clear to them, but they all hear the call together.  Perhaps that’s why they were meeting in the first place.  Possibly that the idea had occurred to Barnabas and Saul and they got together with the other leaders to seek God about it.

The whole situation of churches finding themselves being asked to endorse a call they haven’t been part of discerning could be avoided if a church is intentionally seeking to be a sending church.  If this happens, the church leadership is driving the process of encouraging people to commit themselves to mission and helping people on their missionary journey.  Sending church should not merely be rubber-stamping an application but should intentionally be looking for people to send.

So how would an effective sending church promote mission?

  • It regularly teaches on the importance of sharing the gospel globally as well as locally
  • It highlights the needs of mission workers and agencies
  • It supports people going on short term mission experiences
  • It invests in mentoring and supporting those who are going
  • It provides quality support to its existing mission workers
  • It gives generously into mission
  • It involves its mission workers in church meetings even while they’re overseas.
  • It actively prays about who it can be sending next
  • It regularly prays for the needs of mission workers and the global church
  • It makes it known that it is keen to support those who go
  • It specifically identifies suitable people and suggests to them that they could explore going in mission
  • Its leadership makes overseas trips to support and encourage mission workers
  • It gives a big platform welcome to visiting mission workers
  • It challenges its members to think about how they are committed to serving God whether at home or abroad
  • It cares more about building God’s kingdom throughout the world than growing its own numbers
  • It informs people about mission opportunities

All of these activities and attitudes foster a mission-focussed culture which encourages people to engage with God as they think about mission, and create an expectation that everyone in the church, whether they go or not, are involved in some respect in world mission.  So this creates a context where the church is already driving mission worker calling and is able to move forward readily when a candidate responds to a call.

If you would like to help your church be an effective sending church, just get in touch with Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk for a free introductory consultation.

 

A month ago we invited our readers to take part in fundraising for a new Syzygy car by means of an innovative competition – giving money to determine whether or not Tim shaves off or keeps his beard.

The competition is now over and the winner is, of course, the dozens of missionary families who will benefit from us being able to buy a more modern car to move them around the country when they’re on their Home Assignment.  The one we have at the moment is greatly loved and has provided excellent service, but it’s harder to get parts for it so we need to get something newer.

The £1,101 our generous supporters have donated for this purpose will go a long way towards us getting something really special to support our mission partners.  Thanks to everyone who has contributed, and if you would like to have donated but missed this window of opportunity, the accounts with Stewardship are still open.

You can read more about the Syzygy car ministry here.  And Tim did indeed shave off his beard.

Image courtesy of Gabor Bibor on www.freeimages.com

In the latest phase of the close-fought match between world champions Malaria and the tenacious challengers Researchers, the champs showed their style by putting two quick goals past the over-confident Researchers defence.

Researchers hoped that their two new star players Artemisinine and Piperaquine, working well together, would soon put the result beyond doubt, but one should never underestimate the resilience which has helped Malaria stay at the top of the game for so long.

First, Malaria quickly got the measure of the expensive new attackers, finding their way around first one and then the other. Then while the Researcher’s defence was still reeling from the sudden riposte, Malaria broke out of the Cambodian midfield to threaten on both wings.

This is a worrying setback for Researchers who have poured so much money into developing their team.  Their manager Mozzie Spray told our reporter “I’m as sick as a parrot.  But it’s a game of two halves”

While much of the play is taking place in S E Asia at the moment, it should be remembered that no how well Researchers develop, they still have to get the ball past Malaria’s massive African goalkeeper, whose sheer size means that any tactical wins in other parts of the pitch could seem relatively insignificant in the chase for the global title.  This game is a long way from over.

 

[Very loosely based on two articles in Lancet Infectious Diseases.  For a simple summary go to the BBC]

I have recently been reflecting on how hard it is to take over leadership from someone who has done well.  Think, for example, of the difficulties Manchester United has had since Sir Alex retired.  It can often be the same in churches or mission agencies following the tenure of a particularly significant leader.

While it will be a perfectly natural response to miss a much-loved leader, and wonder what will happen without them, or even have fears for the future, such feelings can easily become negative thoughts about their successor.  We can start to wonder if she is fit to follow in the footsteps of such a great saint.  Or possibly even resent every change that she makes even if it is for the better.  This then gets us into the habit of continually being cynical about her tenure.

So how can we be good team members at a time of transition?

1. We can recognize that transition destabilises us emotionally. We are crossing over from a place of certainty and we need to be aware of our own fragility which can make us overreact to even the smallest changes.  At times like these we need to focus on what has not changed, and this helps us through.  Other colleagues, friends, and of course God!

2. We remember that we support the team not the leader. After Sir Alex, retired, very few Man U fans will have stopped supporting the club.  In fact their subsequent disappointment and frustration are functions of their love for Man U!  Likewise we are in partnership with an organization, a family, a movement which is bigger than any one person.

3. We understand that any agency evolves over time as leadership passes from hand to hand. For some organisations that has been happening for decades, maybe even a century or more, and the agency still goes on.  Each new leader has the opportunity to shape the agency but it has weathered handover before and probably will again.

4. We can give the new leadership time. In fact we can empathise with them because no matter what our current role, we too were once rookies and had to learn the job from scratch.  We asked stupid questions and made silly mistakes which would embarrass us now if we remembered them.

5. We acknowledge that each new leader needs our support. When King David headed off a power grab by his ambitious son Adonijah (1 Kings 1) by publicly crowning Solomon instead, it was only the loyalty of brave people like Bathsheba, Nathan and Zadok that created a groundswell of popular support.  We have a choice – we can be a backstabber or a cheerleader.

Not everybody taking over the baton does well.  Sometimes they drop it, or get off to a slow start.  That’s not the time to lose faith in them.  They may be able to pick it up and carry on running.  If they do, it’s our cheers that will help them catch up.

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

As the England men’s cricket team scrapes through by the narrowest of victories to win the World Cup and joins the women as world champions, it may be time to look at cricket and see how it is the perfect metaphor for global mission.

  • It’s a team game.  Although individual players may perform brilliantly, nobody can do it on their own.  One of the things that several teams in the recent tournament had in common was that they were overly dependent on one brilliant player.  If he didn’t do well, the whole team failed.  In contrast, England have several excellent batters and bowlers.  The best teams may not have the best individual players, but they have a broad range of good ones.
  • Occasionally there’s a prima donna.  Every now and then some talented person comes along who believes he’s God’s gift to the team.  They don’t adapt the way they play to the needs of the team.  People like that disrupt the team and although they may perform well they often undermine the performance of others.
  • There’s a huge support network.  The cricket team is built not on the 11 but on the coaches, managers, physios, dietitians, travel operators…..  our team consists not only of those in the field and their field admin teams, but the homeside admin, churches, families, and other supporters all in the mix.
  • Successful teams are good at every discipline.  Teams that bowl well but can’t put runs on the board don’t win.  And vice versa.  A winning team needs to bat, bowl and field well.  Likewise, we’re not all good church planters, Bible teachers, childrens’ workers, social transformation agents, but together we can have a big impact in our field
  • Flexibility in the field is important.  One of the regular criticisms of the England cricket team is that the batters don’t adjust their style of play to the state of the pitch.  We need to be able to read what is going on in our host nation’s politics, society, religion and economics and be able to adapt our activities and presentation of the gospel to be current and relevant.
  • Some of us are specialists, others all-rounders.  A good team needs them all.  Some of the cricketers who had the biggest impact for their team were not the best players in any discipline, but people who made a good contribution at any stage of the game.  While the biggest hitters and the fastest bowlers might grab the headlines, there is always a need for the mission worker who can turn their hand to anything.
  • Players who are not in good form are seldom dropped.  Modern cricket recognises that everyone goes through periods where they disappoint, and is tolerant of this, understanding that given a change, underperforming team members can frequently play themselves back into form.  Are Christians are more likely to drop such players from the team?
  • You may spend a long time on the boundary and then have your brief moment of glory.  Not everybody is in the midst of the action all the time, and we may feel jealous of those who seem to have a lot going on around them.  But stay focused – you don’t want to miss your opportunity when it comes along.
  • And finally, lots of people in the church still don’t really understand it and think it’s boring!

For most of my life I have been part of various organisations – schools, employers, mission agencies, universities, churches, societies – and almost invariably they have a communication problem.  I should imagine there are few of us who feel we are in an organisation that communicates well.

Either the information is left to trickle down (or not!), it’s all pumped out in one deluge, or there is such a commitment to communicating that information comes out so frequently that people stop listening.  Rather like the rain down in Africa, good communication not only needs to come at the right time, it needs to come in the right quantities, otherwise there is huge damage caused by flood or famine.

Good communication involves expressing ideas clearly, listening with a view to understanding rather than contradicting, and being prepared for an open, frank discussion while still remembering to love those who don’t agree with us.  Without these prerequisites, a meeting can be held, words said and heard, but communication hasn’t actually happened.  As George Bernard Shaw remarked:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

So how can we communicate effectively in our churches, agencies and teams?

First, think about who does the communicating.  Some leaders can feel uncomfortable that they don’t have the ability to communicate well, whether orally or verbally, or cope honestly with any difficult questions, and therefore they start the process defensively, which can lead them to going on the attack if challenged.  Others may be communicating simply because they think they it’s their responsibility.  Some do it because they need to make sure their people’s need for information is met and are not committed to taking people with them on the journey.

All of these are likely to do a bad job of communicating because their heart is not in it.  They would benefit from letting someone else manage the communication – a person with an understanding of what is needed, a person with the right skills and a passion for getting a message across.  Which is why important people often have press secretaries.  They think about what is being said, and how and when.

Communication is also complicated by the variety of viewpoints among the followers.  Some will have principled objections to any suggestions of change, others will be personally inconvenienced or hurt by it.  Some will feel they haven’t been heard if they’re not agreed with, and others (like football supporters) will always be of the opinion that they could do the job better than the current manager.  Many will think the organization ought to be more ‘democratic’ – in other words they feel they have a right to have a say.  And the different ethnic mix in any given context means that any communication is filtered through the differing cultural blinkers of each nationality.  These factors  complicate how well organisations communicate.

Second, think about why you are communicating.  If you are giving people information so that they will do something, you may want to communicate differently than you would if you are leading a consultation.  Sometimes communication needs to get a message across in a hurry, as in a combat situation where lives could be lost if there is not clear communication.

Other communication may be about an organisation’s change of ethos or policy, which may require more consultation.  Sometimes communication, as in marriage, may not be for any particular purpose or about a specific issue so much as maintaining and building on a relationship, for which it is important to ensure communication channels stay open and that people have an opportunity to be heard.

Finally, think about the process of communicating, particularly if it’s about major change.  What is the mix of face-to-face meetings, social media and written/email letters?  How do people express their views or ask questions – particularly those who are reluctant to speak in meetings or only have space to marshal their thoughts once a meeting is over and they can be alone.  What about those who are afraid of reprisals if they speak out?  How can you avoid simply going through the motions of communicating to try and soften the blow of change – because being seen to be an open, transparent and accountable leadership enhances trust, and being seen to listen reassures people that they are valued individuals and not just expendable commodities.

Decades ago a famous study of change in the Shell oil company showed that talking about change long before it happens gets people used to the idea, so that by the time it happens, it’s not a challenge anymore because they’ve already processed the transition in their minds.  Good communication was key to delivering a seamless transition.

Good communication, whether about selling a much-loved head office building, merging with another organisation, or major changes of direction, is not often talked about and it would be good to hear from any of our readers what their experiences of good communication are.

Tim is raising money for Syzygy in a unique way!  He writes:

“I am very much aware that many of my friends absolutely detest my beard and moustache and would love for me to get rid of it.  So now is your chance to see it banished!

Syzygy is in need of a new car and so I thought I’d do a sponsored shave to raise some much needed funds.  All you have to do is donate sufficient money to my campaign and as if by magic a clean-shaven Tim will appear – and guarantee to keep shaving for at least a year!  Just go to https://my.give.net/banishTimsbeard to see the end of the hairiness.

‘But wait!’ I hear some of you cry.  ‘We love your beard!  We don’t want to see it go.’  So if you want me to keep the luxuriant facial hair, you too have an opportunity to donate.  Just go to https://my.give.net/maintainTimsmoustache to preserve the hirsute status quo.”

Whichever fund has more money in it at 6pm (UK time) on 31st July 2019 will be declared the winner and the result will be announced the following morning.  Whichever your preference, the more you donate to Syzygy, the bigger the chance of seeing your preferred version of Tim!

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

I recently heard a story about a woman who was asked by her boss to work over Christmas.  His justification was: “We all want to be at home with our kids, and you don’t have any.”

Most of us have heard such comments, which in some ways are logical and rational.  But what the boss didn’t appreciate is that the woman had only recently had a miscarriage.  For the second time.  And been told she could probably never have children.

Whether this story is true or not, I don’t know.  But that’s not the point.  We can often make simple comments that have a massive unforeseen effect on the person we’re talking to.  We don’t set out to hurt them, but we don’t know where their bruises are.

It’s rather like blundering into their living room, bumping into a coffee table and knocking over a drink.  We never intended to do that, but the mess takes a lot of clearing up and may cause longer-term damage.

Only when we do it with people’s feelings, we can’t see the coffee table, because it’s inside them, in their soul.  I call this invisible furniture.  We don’t even know it’s there, but when we bump into it we cause havoc.  I have done this myself – on one occasion a co-worker went completely crazy at me for no apparent reason.  Only later did I found out that I’d inadvertently touched on a very painful experience in her past which I knew nothing about.

There’s nothing we can do about other people’s invisible furniture.  For the very reason we don’t know it’s there.  But we can assume it’s there.  So I make sure I never ask a married person with no children what plans he or she has for a family.  It’s none of my business and I have no idea how painful that issue is for them.  The same goes for asking a single person “When are you going to get married?”  Just don’t go there!

But we can be aware that when people’s reaction to something we’ve said is extreme, we might have knocked over an invisible mug of coffee.  Be quick to forgive what seems like an overreaction, ready to recognise our offence, and quick to apologise for any offence.

It also helps those of us who have invisible furniture inside us (and who doesn’t?) to be aware of how easily we can be upset, and take preventive action.  If we are aware of our invisible furniture, we could try to move it out of other people’s way by having some counselling.  Or we could, when relationships are sufficiently trusting, let people know that it’s there – “That’s a difficult area for me, can we change the subject?”

And we can minimise the significance of the furniture by thinking through mature ways of responding which don’t punish a person for bumping into it.  For example, for many years when I was asked about my family, I would reply grumpily “I haven’t got one” and then blame the person for their insensitivity.  After much reflection I now reply “I don’t have many relatives but I do have a lot of great friends I think of as family.”  It’s much more positive for me, and for them.

And it makes sure I don’t get any coffee stains on my invisible carpet.

Frans de Wall has spent 40 years working with chimpanzees, studying their emotions and relationships.  In his book Chimpanzee Politics (1982) he c oinedthe term Alpha Male, but he insists that this term was so misinterpreted that in his latest book, Mama’s Last Hug, he has written a chapter explaining how the concept was completely misappropriated.

Apparently, the Alpha leaders among chimpanzees are seldom the domineering, aggressive bullies we connect with leaders who force their way to the top of the tree – these ones are frequently dethroned by coalitions of their underlings.  The most successful Alphas get there by forming mutually-beneficial alliances.

More importantly, the Alphas defend underdogs, comfort the distressed, maintain peace and resolve disputes.  Significantly, they hug others more than any other chimp in the pack.  The underlying message is that the most effective leaders care for the weak, build teams and ensure unity.  Where have we heard that before?

Jesus would not be the first person we think about when we hear the words alpha male, but clearly as the greatest ever leader he embodied the traits outlined above.  He washed his disciples’ feet, a task so demeaning that some rabbis argued that no Jews should do it, not even a Jewish slave.  He then told them:

“If I, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

(John 13:14)

We are understandably squeamish about the physical washing of other people’s feet, so we prefer to interpret this today as prioritizing care for the most needy, which is exactly what Jesus did.  St Paul was clearly keen to do likewise (Galatians 2:10).  He is often portrayed as more alpha male than Jesus, but look at how he claims he led the Thessalonian church – “gently, like a nursing mother tenderly caring for her children” and “exhorting and encouraging each one, just as a father would his own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11).

So why is it that we, who are committed to defending the marginalized, promoting harmony and building teamwork, still end up with some leaders who appear to have pushed their way to the top and seem intent on staying there by force?  Where are the community builders who with meekness and humility forge and unite a team, and lead with gentleness rather than drivenness?

Becoming meek is an outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It takes time, and active co-operation with God at work in us.  Frequently it requires elements of withdrawal from work, community and daily life in order to reflect and to listen to God as we process the things that happen to us.

So the meek, far from inheriting the earth, may be overlooked when leaders are being selected, because they are not so visible, possibly seen as not so competent, and therefore can more easily be overlooked than those whose confidence makes their presence felt wherever they go.  The more visible candidates may seem as if they present strong leadership qualities, but this may end up being at the expense of their own people.

The real alpha leader is probably serving right there on the sidelines, picking up the pieces of broken team members and working to maintain team cohesion.  Though he or she may never be recognized as a leader, they may be achieving more for the team than the leader in whose shadow they serve.

Generation Connected?

It is no secret that we live in an increasingly divisive and polarised world.  Social media, rather than helping to bring people together, often serves as the medium for people to criticise, denigrate and demonise those with whom they disagree.  The rhetoric is anything but Christlike.  Respectful and honest dialogue is hard to find, not to mention diversity of opinion.  People simply prefer to fill their Facebook or Instagram feeds with likeminded opinions.  This is the context in which generations Y & Z have grown up!

As these generations gradually move into cross-cultural missions and join intercultural teams, conflicts abound.  As Member Care workers, we must learn how to care for, serve and challenge this new generation of mission workers.  The challenges are real and the context has changed.  Today’s younger generations have grown up in a world that says, “if you disagree with me, you don’t love me.”  Moreover, it is common for them to believe that if one disagrees with them, it means they didn’t listen to them.  The math is simple: listening equals agreement! It is no wonder why conflict plagues so many missions’ teams.

Missions is changing, because generation Y & Z are changing the paradigm in which missions is viewed and practiced.  Simply put, they want hands-on missions experiences where they can see, touch, feel and hear change happening in a real and personal way that brings both justice and transformation to communities, countries and people groups.  Look around, this is the age of incarnational and social justice approaches to missions.

Within this new paradigm, Member Care providers need to be informed and equipped to provide care for generation Y & Z mission workers:

  • Be ready to challenge them on whether or not they are open to listening to new and opposing ideas.
  • Ask them what it means to be heard and loved.
  • Engage with them on how Jesus can bring both healing and transformation to a hurting, divisive and lonely world.
  • And finally, model for them what it means to be open to diversity of thought and opinion by actively listening and respecting their ideas and opinions.

Miahi Lundell

Today’s guest blog is by Mihai Lundell, a mission worker based in Italy with OCI.  He is also on the boards of Member Care Europe and the Global Member Care Network.

This blog first appeared in the newsletter of the Global Member Care Network.

Image courtesy of Gabor Bibor on www.freeimages.com

The fight against malaria took an interesting turn recently with an article in the journal Science explaining that a way has been found to kill mosquitos without the use of chemicals.

Although deaths from malaria have declined globally in the last decade, it still kills more than 400,000 people a year and debilitates many more.

And while global infections are falling, in Africa (which accounts for more than 80% of cases) deaths are rising again in the most affected countries.  Added to that, concerns have been raised that new strains of malaria are emerging which are resistant to most medical treatments, so news of another breakthrough is welcome.

Scientists in the United States have succeeded in genetically modifying a fungus that occurs naturally in mosquitos to produce the same toxin as a funnel-web spider.  In tests, this naturally killed off 99% of mosquitos.  The objective of any live exercise would be to kill sufficient numbers of mosquitos to break the cycle of reinfection – by the time the mosquito population had recovered there would be no malaria-infected people for them to become recontaminated from, and malaria would die out.

While the prospect of this is exciting, there are still some challenges.  The use of GM products is still in its infancy and there are ongoing concerns about side-effects, and bio-security needs to be considered.  Although the fungus being used apparently does not affect other insects, there may well be other unforeseen impacts.

In the film The Godfather, and in Mario Puzo’s book which inspired it, one of the underlying motifs is that of the relationship between the Godfather and his community.  Everyone knows how it works: you do a ‘favour’ for the Don, and he does one for you.  It’s a reciprocal arrangement whereby individuals benefit from being part of the Godfather’s community, and the community benefits from their loyalty to the Godfather.  Treachery against the family is not tolerated, loyalty is absolute.

This well-known feature of the Italian crime syndicate derives from the culture of ancient Rome, where great men like Caesar relied on the support of their ‘clients’ to vote for them, promote their interests, and even form mobs to agitate for them.  In return, the ‘patron’ looked after his people, by giving them a daily allowance of money or finding them jobs or homes. ‘Greatness’ could be measured in the number of followers (Twitter?) and power manipulated through the ability to control the masses.

Via a different route the same Roman custom worked its way into the feudal society of western Europe: a king would give land to his great barons in exchange for their military service and taxes.  They in turn would hand some of that land to lesser nobles in the same way.  In an investiture service the liegeman would kneel before his lord with his hands together in supplication and swear his allegiance.  The lord would then place his hands over theirs and accept their fealty.

These ritual declarations of loyalty are repeated whenever a new Godfather/ Caesar/King comes to power, to ensure that he has the full support of his major vassals.  For example, the closing scene of The Godfather shows the senior members of the family kissing the hand of Michael Corleone to demonstrate they submit to him as his father’s heir, mirroring an earlier scene in the film where they do the same to Don Vito.

These practices are reflected in many cultures worldwide, and they are also found in the Bible.  Twice in the book of Daniel we find different kings demanding fealty, and Daniel and his friends break all the norms of Mesopotamian society because of their loyalty to God.  Jesus made it clear he expected his followers to take sides when he said “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Matthew 6:24).  And megalomaniac Roman emperors executed Christians who refused to make sacrifices to the emperor while saying “Caesar is Lord”.

Perhaps the strongest Biblical example is part of the Exodus story, where God sets out the deal “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Exodus 6:7).  He then gives them the Law, and much of the subsequent justification for the Law can be summed up as “do not do this, because the nations around you do it, and you are different.”

God makes it clear right from the start that his kingdom has behavioural standards.  Keep them and there are rewards; depart from them and there are consequences.  The big question for us, in our cross-cultural world, is not who we will serve – we have already decided that.  It’s how will we be loyal?  In a world where compromise is so easy, how do we make righteous choices even if there are serious consequences?

As outsiders in the culture they serve, mission workers can often be targets of begging, bribery and manipulation by people who think we don’t know the unspoken rules of their society.  So, following in the footsteps of Daniel and his friends 2,500 years later:

  • How are we bowing down to other gods, not in the sense that we pray to idols, but in how we handle our financial planning, demonstrate our faith in God rather than human goodwill, and seek solutions in prayer?
  • If eating foreign food is not an issue, what does cross-cultural compromise look like with regard to bribery, patronage and employment?
  • How do we maintain a public commitment to our faith in a world which is increasingly intolerant of Christianity?

Daniel’s reputation and character were unimpeachable.  He stood out from the prevailing culture around him and refused to compromise his loyalty to God.  Even his enemies recognised that (Daniel 6:4-5).  Can that be said of us?

Christians usually focus our studies on healing by looking at the stories of Jesus healing people.  But there is at least one occasion when Jesus didn’t heal somebody.  It’s not recorded in the gospels (for obvious reasons!), but we can infer it from an account in Acts 3.

A man who had never been able to walk was begging at one of the temple gates, where he was accustomed to begging every day.  Peter and John came by, and Peter healed him, just like Jesus would have done.  It’s a significant event because it’s the first evidence that Jesus really did pass on his miraculous power to his disciples (John 14:12).

Only it is highly likely that Jesus didn’t heal this man when he had the opportunity!  He must have walked through this gate on multiple occasions as it was probably the most popular gate* for pilgrims going up to the temple, and he must have passed this man.

I can imagine him starting to head towards him, in anticipation of transforming his life, when he felt the restraining words of the Father: “Not him, son, I’m saving him for someone else.”  Jesus must have been disappointed, the beggar must have been disappointed, but Peter and John certainly wouldn’t be.

One of the biggest discouragements in the lives of mission workers is disappointment.  You thought you had heard God’s call to the harvest but there is still no fruit.  The person you have discipled for years turns her back on God.  Not only is your church membership shrinking, your children are not walking with God.  The miracles don’t happen.  You begin to wonder if there’s any point in you being there at all, and maybe you should give up and go home.   I reviewed a real life case some years ago and continue to find more cases of disappointment in the lives of mission workers I meet.

Yet the church looks for success.  They want to know how many people you have baptized – and if it’s not many, what are you doing with the money they give you?  You can’t express your doubts or frustrations to your church – they might stop supporting you!  So your prayer letters never mention the challenges and the discouragement.

Neither can you tell your agency – they might send you home!  The very people who are there to support you through the hard times are the ones you don’t feel you can be honest with.  So where do you turn?

  • You can get a confidential debrief from Syzygy, whether in person or via social media.  Just get in touch on info@syzygy.org.uk.  Or there are plenty of other independent debriefers we can put you in touch with.
  • You could engage a mentor to help you grow through the issues.  Syzygy can help you arrange this too.
  • You could go on a retreat and talk to the retreat leader.  We can advise on several places worldwide where you can find mission-focused retreats.
  • You could start to talk to friends whom you trust.

Whatever you do, don’t lose your faith in a God who cares about you and your struggle, and walks with you in it.  It may not be immediately obvious to you why God hasn’t answered all your prayers, but wait patiently, for he has a plan.

 

* For an interesting discussion of where this particular gate might have been, visit www.ritmeyer.com/2010/12/14/the-beautiful-gate-of-the-temple/

May God be gracious to us and bless us, andcause His face to shine on us.

So that Your way may be known on the earth, your salvation among all nations.

Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for you will judge the peoples with uprightness, and guide the nations on the earth.

Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.

The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us.

God blesses us, so that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.

 

Psalm 67 is unusual in the Hebrew scriptures in that it shows a concern for the Gentiles to know God.  Rather than calling for God to punish or destroy them like we find in other places, it wants them to be saved.  The psalmist assumes that the way the Gentiles will turn to God is through seeing how Israel is blessed.  In other words, it asks God for blessing not out of self-concern but out of a desire to demonstrate that God is so much more able to provide for his people than other gods, that the nations would be better off following him.  It’s an apologetic not very popular in evangelical circles these days, partly through concern about the rise of prosperity teaching.

The psalm has five paragraphs, two of which are essentially repeated – verses 1-2 and 6-7, verses 3 and 5, and verse 4, which stands on its own.  This is a classic Hebrew poetry pattern of A B C B A where paragraphs A mirror each other providing an introduction and conclusion, paragraphs B mirror each other focussing in towards the main theme, and paragraph C in the middle which is the crux of the poem.  The essence of this is that unlike in European poetry, which generally builds towards a conclusion in the last line, in Hebrew poetry the most important bit is in the middle.  In other words, the whole word can rejoice, because when they turn to God they too will be blessed.

An important point to notice is that in verse 2, the word for salvation in Hebrew is Yeshua – the Hebrew name of Jesus!  We could equally read it that the psalmist is praying that all nations will know Jesus.  This is what we as mission workers also are looking for, and we can be encouraged that as God blesses us we can use his miraculous provision for us as a witness to others.  Even in adversity the comfort and strength we receive from God can be a testimony to our neighbours.  Many of us, just like the psalmist, will be telling them that our God is stronger/more compassionate/more holy/more real than their idols, and hoping to reveal that in the way we live our lives, so that they too can come to know Yeshua.

I try to pray this psalm daily, as a reminder that when God blesses me, it’s not for me to keep for my own benefit – it’s for me to use to show his wisdom and power to a world which does not yet know him.

 

© Sarah Dousse for the BBC

Damon Rose’s thought-provoking article Stop Trying to Heal Me for the BBC has raised some significant issues and has been circulated with widespread approval on Christian social media.

It’s important for us to recognise that everyone has a right to be consulted before being prayed for, and people with disabilities in particular have a right to be accepted for who they are and not be confronted with a solution to a problem they don’t think they have.

A quick survey of the Gospels shows many individual stories of Jesus healing people.  In nearly all cases it is clear he has permission, either because they have come to him to ask for healing, or they are brought by friends or family for healing.  On one occasion when this isn’t so, Jesus doesn’t disempower the person by assuming he needs healing.  “What do you want me to do for you?” he asks Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51).  Even though it is obvious to everyone that Bartimaeus is blind, Jesus clearly treats him as an independent person who can make his own choices rather than a case to be dealt with.

But for me the wider point that arises from a discussion like this is that too often Christians work enthusiastically at scratching where other people aren’t itching.  Offering people salvation when they don’t think they’re in danger is not a good strategy.  We need to be more targeted in how we approach the work of making Jesus known.

We need to start our mission by asking relevant questions which make people think about their need.  The outbreak of salvations in a British prison earlier in this century began when the chaplain started to ask people “Do you want God to help you?”  Nearly everybody wants help, and even if they don’t believe in a god, such a question will engage them in discussion.

Another question that is good for people of other faiths is “How can you be certain you will go to heaven when you die?”  That does not force our faith on anyone.  It may even encourage them to examine their own faith more thoroughly.  But it can be the trigger to soul-searching which can bring them to Christian faith.

Taking time to get to know people and find out what they feel their needs are is a good start to our mission.  And we might be surprised.  As we’ve commented before, a person in the Bible who suffered from leprosy didn’t see his illness as the main problem – it was his inability to get right with God.

Having a good strategy for mission enables us to avoid wasting our resources and get straight to the heart of key life issues. Or as Lesslie Newbigin said:

Do things that will get people asking questions, the answer to which is the Gospel.

 

 

 

The geese at Penhurst Retreat Centre, where I’m staying while writing this blog, are much loved by many of the staff and guests here.  So there was great excitement when six eggs were discovered in a nest in March.

This was followed by disappointment as the eggs passed their due date, and then elation as they were found to have hatched, and then grief as the goslings didn’t survive.  It seems that they were crushed in the nest by their mother.  Perhaps she tried to continue incubating them to keep them warm, not realising they now needed to be able to breath.

The incident reminded me of how mission workers, in their love and care for the people they minister to, can inadvertently cause them harm too.  There are many ways in which we can do this.

We can be paternalistic.  It can be so easy to think that people are not yet ready to take responsibility.  We trust them with little because we don’t think they can be trusted with much.  We don’t set them free to fly.

We can be imperialistic.  Even today when there is so much training and discussion about cross-cultural adaptation we can inadvertently think that our way is right.  We all know that “West is best” is not correct, but we might often use the words ‘Biblical’ or ‘New Testament’ from a western perspective which doesn’t necessarily relate to the local believers.

We can be controlling.  Even if we stand back from things, we can accidentally play the role of puppet master.  We control the purse-strings because we know how to be accountable.  We ‘advise’ the local leadership.  We can informally express opinions which are taken seriously by others.  We exercise influence behind the scenes which means things are done the way we want.

We can be effective.  I know many of you will be wishing that you really were effective, but some of us are so good at what we do that there is no obvious need for others to develop.  Our mentorees grow up in the shadow of a good leader and find there is no need for them, so they don’t hone their own leadership skills.  Then when we move on, they struggle, because they have to take over without much in the way of experience.

We can work hard.  Often our workaholic efforts (see my denunciation of the Protestant Work Ethic) mean that we do so much we don’t invite our local colleagues to share the burden.  Perhaps we don’t think they will do it as well as we would and we don’t want to compromise effectiveness.  But we can inadvertently leave little work for them to do.  Go and play golf instead and let them cope without you.

One day you will leave your current assignment, whether through retirement, re-assignation, or death.  The people working with you will have to manage without you anyway.  It’s better to let them do it now while you’re there to pick up the pieces with them, than to let them grow older but not wiser.

Only when you get off your nest will we see whether your goslings have thrived or been crushed.  So it might be a good idea now to stand up and see how they’re getting on.  They might be ready to fly.