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.

Photo by Rohan Reddy on Unsplash

The fire last weekend at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was a tragic and heart-rending experience for many.

In some of the live footage the gasps of the onlookers were audible as the tower fell.  Afterwards many people, particularly French ones, spoke of their sense of loss, their grief, their numbness in terms which mirror bereavement.

And for many people, not just Parisians, there really was a sense that part of them had died too.

How is it that buildings – and not necessarily ancient, sacred and beautiful ones – can become such a significant part of us?

Some buildings, of course, we choose to invest with part of our identity.  They might represent our nationality, our culture or our religion.  They can symbolise our history and encapsulate our values.  So they are more than buildings – they represent who we are.  Perhaps that’s why Prince Charles was so annoyed way back in 1984 about the proposed modernist extension to the National Gallery in London:

…what is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.

We profoundly object to change that is forced on ‘our’ buildings, because it embodies change that is being forced on us.

Other buildings are part of our corporate history.  That explains why some mission workers are so traumatised when an agency sells off its beloved old country house headquarters.  It’s not an objection per se to the move to practical, functional offices, but it’s the lost of a place that has links to past generations of mission workers, to key events like the training of a particular cohort, or a formative season of ministry.

And some events are part of our own personal history.  Churches in which we married, houses in which we lived, and places we have enjoyed visiting.  Most of us have driven past old homes to see what they are like now – because we are still attached to them (see our blog on the folly of trying to go back).  This is why it can be such a difficult experience for mission workers abroad to find their parents are selling the family home and there is no opportunity for them to go back and say goodbye to the bedroom they grew up in.

Mission workers, perhaps more than most, have a significant need to try to hold on to some stable points of reference from the past.  As they return to the UK on home assignment or to retire, they find a bewildering array of change in their family, church, high street and national culture.  While they can attend workshops or retreats to help them manage this (and I have just led one at Penhurst Retreat Centre on this very topic) their journey can still feel very much like a trek through the wilderness in hope of a promised land.  A few familiar landmarks can go a long way towards smoothing the transition.

As we enter Holy Week, I am struck by the wide range of emotions involved in the events of this epic week nearly 2000 years ago.

There’s the jubilation of the Triumphal Entry, followed so closely by the disappointment of many of the crowd who expected Jesus to confront the Romans.  There’s the excitement of intellectual debate, the thrill of miracles, the challenge of teaching, the fun of a meal with Lazarus which was suddenly turned solemn by Mary’s worship, Judas’ frustration and betrayal, the terror of the arrest and trial, and of course the tragedy of crucifixion followed by the ecstasy of the resurrection.  And all week long Jesus knows what’s going to happen to him.

As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, mission workers go through a huge range of emotions during their career, but also any given week can have massive ups and downs.  Ministry success (or disappointment), relationship challenges and joys, the secondary stress of hearing the traumatic stories of people we ministry to, our own physical and medical issues, support-raising, surprise visits, and cultural misunderstandings can have our emotions all over the place.

This can be very exhausting and in order to try and achieve emotional stability some of us can be tempted to shut our emotions down and stop feeling.  For example, TCKs and long-term mission workers who are tired of the pain of so many goodbyes can isolate themselves and stop forming new friendships so they can protect themselves from sadness.  Or we can simply not get involved with the many needs around us.  Someone remarked to me only last week how unloving she had become while on the mission field: because she had no way of meeting the needs of all the people around her, it was easier to ignore them.

Becoming unfeeling can be a sign that we have reached the end of our ability to cope.  Numbness is a way of protecting ourselves which can show we’re not coping well.  Sometimes we have  intentionally fostered emotional numbness to hide the pain – even from ourselves.  We need to be gently coaxed into opening up while receiving love and support.

Warning signs of emotional numbness can include:

  • remoteness towards family and friends
  • lack of joy in things which would have excited us in the past
  • loss of appetite for food or desire for sex
  • lack of delight in the Lord
  • disinterest in pastimes
  • boredom and lethargy

If you find yourself or your friends feeling numb – and even more significantly feeling comfortable about feeling numb – give them love and support, and refer then for member care, whether to their agency or to an outside resource like Syzygy.

Jesus appears to have fully entered into the spirit of each event, conversation and encounter during Holy Week despite the knowledge that he would die a gruesome death towards the end of it.  What kept him going was his awareness that it was only temporary, and that soon he would come out the other side: “for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2).

Our heavenly perspective gives us a huge capacity to endure, to maintain perspective, and to trust God in the midst of our difficulties.  Let’s not close down our souls so that we can endure to the end, but open them up to God and to others so that we can truly live the abundant life we are called to.

Lindsey Jacobellis is not a household name.  In fact, unless you’re passionate about snowsports, you have probably never heard of her.

She is a champion snowboarder, winner of five gold medals in the World Championships over 12 years, and has twice been ranked world number 1.  That is awesomely good, particularly winning her last world championship in 2017 at the relatively advanced age of 31.

But she hasn’t won an Olympic gold.

Her best chance came in 2006 when she was favourite in the finals of the Snowboard Cross.  This is a simple discipline where four boarders race to be first to the finish line.  No points for style, control, damage or aggression.  Just get there first.  Simples.

Jacobellis got into an early lead and two of her rivals crashed.  The other was quite a way behind and Jacobellis, grandstanding, tried to perform a stunt on the final jump.  She fell on landing and was overtaken as she lay on the ground.  She got up and continued to an embarrassing silver medal.

One of the paradoxes of snowboarding is that the casual attitude boarders show to the sport they enjoy can almost be at odds with the professional focus demanded of professional athletes.  Jacobellis subsequently justified herself by saying “I was having fun”, and ironically there is nothing wrong with that – it is what boarding is all about.  Sadly for her, it distracted her from her primary goal.

Which brings me to the point: do you have one primary goal which God has called you to?  Are you passionately committed to it with the discipline of an athlete?  What is currently distracting you from it – even if it’s good or it’s fun?  And what are you going to do about it?  Are you enthused by the desire one day to hear the Lord say to you “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

 

If you want to enjoy the race, you can find plenty of versions on YouTube!

 

As I remarked a few weeks ago when addressing the question of mourning, Christians are not always good at being in touch with our emotions.

I have been told, probably like you, that since Jesus gives me joy, I should smile.  I shouldn’t be angry.  Fear is the opposite of faith so to be afraid is to sin.  Such comments reflect a heavenly perspective which is so out of touch with the world we live in that it’s fairyland.

Having emotions is part of being human, and to deny or suppress them is merely to try to reject a part of ourselves which is no more sinful than any other part of us.  It’s just human.  And denying aspects of our humanity is bad for us.  It has been rightly observed that:

Any emotion which we buried is always buried alive, and it digs its way out again.

Mission workers can have to confront a wide variety of emotions throughout their lives:

  • leaving family and friends behind when they go to the mission field
  • returning on home assignment to find things have changed
  • sending children to boarding school because the schools where they serve are not good
  • suffering major trauma like civil war, kidnap, traffic accident and disease
  • experiencing secondary trauma as they help the vulnerable and marginalised
  • leaving their way of life in their adopted country to return to a ‘home’ country they no longer feel at home in.

Recognising the emotional impact of these occurrences on us and those around us is a mature and responsible way of coming to terms with them.  That’s why talking therapies such as debriefing or counselling are such good ways of helping the healing process.  The grief-loss cycle (click here to download a copy) is a well-known tool for helping with this.  It helps us understand how we feel in the aftermath of a trauma, and why it’s ok to feel like that.  Often I find that people recovering from trauma feel guilty about their emotions when in fact their feeling is a normal psychological response to what they’ve been through.

The grief-loss cycle charts typical stages of trauma recovery.  It shows how our well-being descends from where it was to a low, and then comes out of it.  Though it’s not the same journey for everybody, and it’s not always a linear progression through the curve, it can help us understand why we feel what we do, and acknowledging those feelings help us to recover more rapidly.

Research has shown that getting some talking therapy while going through a recovery process can often help people’s well-being return to the level it was previously, it can actually help them come out of the experience in an even better place as they grow through the experience.  Syzygy can help by providing mission workers with a debrief following a significant incident.  Click here to get in touch and find out more.

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!