This past weekend I just happened to watch two movies which were about the Pacific conflicts in the second world war.  Both movies brought out the point that there was extensive difference between the Japanese and the British/American culture.

For example, the Japanese thought their opponents were cowards because they surrendered rather than fighting to the death.  The Allies thought the Japanese were fanatics because they preferred death to surrender.  These assumptions coloured their treatment of each other on the battlefield and in the POW camp.

But this misunderstanding arose due to a lack of appreciation of culture.  The Allies weren’t cowards, but they valued life and preferred to live to fight another day.  The Japanese on the other hand, valued honour, and would prefer to die honourably in battle than live with defeat.

We as mission workers live in this culture gap, where it is so easy for two different peoples to believe they understand each other.  We discussed this six years ago in a blog about guilt and shame.  Without sufficient investment in cross-cultural awareness, we can draw conclusions which merely reinforce misunderstanding.  For example, I have heard Christian mission workers complain that the locals are corrupt/stupid/lazy without bothering to investigate why their behaviour may appear like that to us when it may be completely consistent with a local world view.  The poor employee who steals from the till to buy medicine for his sick mother thinks he is doing a good thing in taking care of his mother at the expense of his wealthy employer.  This doesn’t excuse corruption, but it can explain it.

This problem is compounded when we lazily assume that the way we do things is ‘right’ (a western concept), and is biblical, which is easy to do when we read the Bible through the eyes of our own culture.  When we sit with people of another culture and ask “What does this verse say to you?” we may get an answer that surprises or even shocks us.  See for example, our blog on the Parable of the Talents!

This is why we need to spend as much time listening as talking, understanding as explaining, and going to great pains when we teach people the Bible that we don’t teach them our Bible.

Only by listening to our missionary colleagues from all over the world, as well as our host culture, will we begin to break free of the western mindset which blinkers our understanding of other cultures and stops us really hearing our brothers and sisters from other places.

Only by becoming more intentionally inter-culturally aware and engaged will we begin to represent a global kingdom perspective and not a narrow monocultural one which verges on religious imperialism.

There is a curious conversation recorded in Matthew 19 which is often overlooked, although it is the follow up to some oft-quoted teaching on divorce.

You’ll recall that the disciples asked Jesus where he stood on divorce, and when he says you can’t get divorced except if your spouse has committed adultery, the exasperated disciples exclaim  “It’s better not to get married then!”

And Jesus says “Duh!”

OK we don’t generally translate it that way, but in effect Jesus says “Of course it is, though some of you are going to find this hard to hear.”  And then he starts to talk about eunuchs, how some are born that way, others have been castrated, and some choose to live as eunuchs.  As he did.

If you know anything about the culture of ancient Israel, you’ll know how important it was to be married and have children, so that your name could be preserved and your land passed on.  To be a eunuch was a curse.  They weren’t even allowed in the national assemblies (Deuteronomy 23:1).  Why does Jesus suddenly start commending them?  It’s so un-Jewish.

I believe he is drawing on a wider middle eastern tradition of giving powerful roles to eunuchs, because they were trustworthy. The Assyrians were the first of several early empires (as you will remember from the Old Testament) which took some of the best young men from countries they conquered to serve the king.  This most notably occurred to Daniel and his friends.  What the Bible for obvious reasons doesn’t mention is that these men would be castrated.

The purpose was that these eunuchs could be trusted with power, authority and finance, because they couldn’t start their own dynasty, so there was no point in them overthrowing the king.  Also, without children to support them in their old age, they relied on pensions from the royal household to care for them.  As a result, eunuchs like Daniel, and the Ethiopian treasurer, achieved high office and were often renowned for their loyal dedication to the king.  As well as being trusted with the harem, they often became the king’s bodyguard or personal servants as well as being top civil servants.  Sometimes they even acted as regents for an underage king.  In fact being a eunuch was often synonymous with exercising power.

We can see this reflected in the Bible.  The Hebrew word which is translated eunuch in Isaiah 53:5 is saris.  This word is also translated in other contexts as official, chief officer, or chamberlain.  Potiphar, for example, is described as a saris (Genesis 39:1), even though he has a wife.  So is the man in charge of the Jerusalem defence force (Jeremiah 52:25) – and it’s unlikely that he was literally a eunuch as they seldom had command of the military.

So Jesus makes a powerful link between those who choose not to be married with the great court officials of the day.  Far from being cast aside and neglected, we find ourselves with a powerful vocation, devoting our time and energy not to managing a household and raising children but to serving the King.  Some of us, Jesus concedes, have little choice in the matter.  Life’s circumstances have forced us down this road.  Few of us have chosen singleness, but all of us have the opportunity to embrace it, even if only for a while.

Seen in that context, isn’t it exciting that Jesus holds out to every single mission worker the honour of being a eunuch for the King of Kings!

 

After a summer of trying to find a car that would be worthy successor to our much-loved Toyota Previa, our resident car expert Chris suggested a Ssangyong Turismo.

Having never even heard of one I decided, while the Turismo ticked all our boxes, there was no way I was going to buy a second-hand car for Syzygy without a good inspection first.  So I resolved to visit a dealer and take a look at one.

One night, I was going out with a friend for a meal and happened to park right outside a Ssangyong dealer, so I took a quick look.  They had some good-looking cars at even better-looking prices so I went back the next day when they were open.  “Have you got a used Turismo I can have a lot at?” I asked the dealer.

“How much are you looking to spend?” he replied, to which I answered “£15,000”.

“I can do you a new one for £17,000.”  And that’s how I met our newest Syzygy car.

The last unsold example of its model in the country, we got a significant discount because he wanted to shift it.  It meets all our needs, will comfortably carry 7 passengers plus luggage without the MPG going through the roof.

As I say in a video of the new car, Syzygy would like to thank all our supporters, prayer partners and donors who made it possible for us to buy a brand new car.  And of course God, who sustains this amazing ministry and allows miraculous events like this to happen for us.

And if you’re still not sure why Syzygy needs a new car, you can read more about the Syzygy car ministry here.

A couple of weeks ago we observed that even the apostle Paul had trouble getting a visa!  So we are not alone in our difficulties.  This is the man who was lashed 5 times, beaten 3 times, stoned and shipwrecked three times! (2 Corinthians 11:24-25).

Some of us are happily in faith for God to miraculously open doors for us and give us incredible opportunities to minister, but most of us really struggle – to raise funds, get work permits, see ministry breakthroughs.

We wonder why we lack faith or what we’re doing wrong, and grapple with feelings of failure as a mission worker.  For us, the going always seems to be hard.  At every turn something seems to go wrong.  Kids get sick.  Someone gets arrested.  There is robbery and violence.

For us, the encouragement is that Jesus warned us it would be like this: “In this world you’re going to have big trouble” (John 16:33a).

Oh joy.  Thanks Jesus.  He explains why it’s going to be hard: “The world hates you because I chose you” (John 15:19).

In other words, we’ve joined the wrong gang.  This world has its way of doing things, and if we don’t go along with it, we’re in trouble.  But we’ve joined another gang.  The world’s gang leader doesn’t want us to get away with that because others might go along with us, so we’re subject to reprisals.  He’s going to attack us at every turn.  He’s going to discourage us.  He’s going to stop us spreading the message of freedom.  He wants us to become so despairing that we give up, go home and live comfortable, uncontentious lives and think it was all a bit of a mistake to go into mission.

But we’re not going to do that, are we?  Because we know it’s tough.  We knew we weren’t signing up for a cabin on a cruise liner but a bunk on a troop ship.  We know we’re on the winning side, because Jesus said so: “Take courage: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).  And he didn’t overcome it with six legions of angels.  He overcame it through his suffering.  And in our suffering, we join with him in both his suffering and his overcoming.

So the next time our work permit is cancelled, our funding fails, our building is bulldozed or we find ourselves in prison, here’s a prayer:

 

Lord Jesus, I have trusted in you in good times and in bad.

I cannot see how my current situation will bring glory to you,

but I choose to trust you again.

Thank you for this opportunity to reveal you

to the people around me

through my words, my actions and my attitudes.

I invite you to work in me and through me for your glory,

so that your kingdom may advance in me and through me.

The life of a mission worker is characterised by change.  Our lives are marked by constant comings and goings.  Every arrival brings new life; every departure brings a little bit of death.  We live in a constant cycle of welcome and farewell, joy and grief.

Our own journey consists of giving up our roles to do Bible College, returning to a temporary home while we fundraise, leaving home and arriving in the mission field, living somewhere temporarily while we’re trained, moving to the place we are assigned, returning for ‘home assignment’, and returning to the mission field again.

Much of our security in transition can be placed in family, but the downside of this is that it can make us focus on our nuclear family at the expense of the wider community.  Single mission workers of course left their family behind and can risk isolation in the mission field.  So we build strong, supportive friendships, but just when we need those friendships most, our friends go on home assignment, or leave the field altogether, and we have more bereavement to deal with.

All this can take its emotional toll on mission workers, and I have seen some of us so badly affected by the pain of loss that we withdraw from community to protect ourselves from the grieve of loss.  So how can we thrive in the constant cycle of arrivals and departures?

Remember that we are aliens and strangers.  Most humans have an innate desire for stability, expressed in concepts like ‘settle down’ and ‘home’.  Those of us who are continually on the move, or live in a moving community, need, like the Israelites in the Exodus, to remember that our security is in the constant reassuring presence of God.  Whether we camp for a night or a year, we move on when the Pillar of Fire moves on.

Delight in the temporary.  When we make a good friend, we want them to be in our lives forever.  Instead of thinking about the future, let’s learn to enjoy today, this week, and shift our focus into the present.  When that friend moves on, keep memories and souvenirs, thank God for the friendship, and let someone go.

Use ritual.  People who live in transient communities often use ritual to help reinforce their group identity and process transition.  The Jews are a good example of this.  We too can do the same by developing a welcoming or leaving ritual, with the giving of gifts, opportunity for prayer and blessing, laughing and crying, sharing hopes or memories, and the reading of scripture.

Build a RAFT.  We’ve commented before on the value of the RAFT model designed by David Pollock.  Whether using it for yourself or to help others on their journey, it’s a good way of helping with the transition even if it’s not us who are leaving.

Look to God for our resources.  “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  When we feel we’re running out of emotional resources to cope with the comings and goings, turn to God who has more than enough resources to supply our every need.

Do selfcare.  In all of this, we need to be aware of the damaging effect on us of constant change.  Self-care is an important factor in coping.  Do what you need to do to recharge your batteries, and if you need to, seek outside help with a debriefer or counsellor.

 

Life in the mission field is demanding, and we should make every effort to ensure we can thrive in it.

 

Paul’s Macedonian Vision

Much frustration, confusion, anger and loss is incurred by mission workers who find their plans thwarted.

Perhaps a family need draws us back home from the field.  Some of us inexplicably lose visas and are given 48 hours to leave a country we’ve lived in for 20 years.  The risk of terrorism forces our evacuation.  A sending agency decides to pull out of a given location.  Our funding falls to an unsustainable level.  The list goes on.

Each time something like this happens it causes trauma.  It is accompanied by complex emotions of guilt, loss and regret.  But there is also confusion in our spiritual life.  Did we hear God correctly?  Why didn’t God provide?  Has God changed his mind?  Did we get something wrong?

I wonder if those thoughts were troubling Paul and his companions as they tried to continue with their second missionary journey but found doors closed.  Acts 16:6-9:

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 

We can only speculate why (and how!) God wouldn’t let them into the various places they tried to go, and why God didn’t give Paul that dream earlier, but we can infer that there was some unexplained purpose in a short time of confusion.  An analysis of the “we” and “they” sections of the narrative shows that Luke wasn’t with them at this time – perhaps they had to go to Troas to add him to the team.

When we are confused and disorientated by rapid relocation, we can draw comfort that Paul and his associates have been in the same place.  But we can also reflect on some possible reasons why God might do things like this:

  • God wants to move us on to a different ministry, but we’ve been so committed to the one we have that we couldn’t imagine something else
  • God is moving us out of the way so that others can take over the work we’ve been doing
  • God prevents us from building up pride in our own ministry, or even in our ability to listen to him
  • God is reminding us that he moves on, and he wants us to be ready to move with him
  • God’s plans for us are so big that we couldn’t conceive initially of what he could do, so he started small
  • God undermines our security in role, position, authority, home, church and our own anointing so that we place more of our security in him.

These and many others could be the reasons why things appear to have gone wrong for a time.  We may never know the real answer this side of eternity.  I personally draw comfort from the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness – when the pillar of smoke/fire moved, they moved, and when it stopped, they stopped.  When they set up their tents they didn’t know if it was for a night or a year, and they didn’t know why they were in that particular place.  They didn’t need to – they just stayed close to God.

Colombian, Indian, Nigerian, Malawian – are they really mission workers?

As I am helping the European Evangelical Mission Association plan a conference on the diaspora church (churches made up largely of members of ethnic minorities) in Europe, a couple of weeks ago I went to a very interesting conference where none of the speakers were white, middle-aged, western European men.

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to listen to wisdom and experience from people who are often marginalized by what might be called the ‘mainstream’ church, apart from the wonderful Rev Joel Edwards, who is extremely popular as a speaker.  If you’re interested, you can read a review of the conference here.

Inevitably in such a discussion, the term reverse mission came up.  You may not have come across this term much, and a quick look at articles on the internet indicates the term has only been in use for a few years.  It is used to denote those people who have come from a majority world culture to bring the gospel to European people.  It is used with wry amusement by reporters, but also by serious missiologists, and one of the organisers of the conference I attended, Rev Israel  Oluwole Olofinjana of the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World (CMMW), has written a very helpful  introduction to the subject.

Yet despite its wide adoption, I want to take issue with this term, because I believe it is essentially derogatory to the people it describes:

  1. It implies they are not proper mission workers. After all, real missionaries are white people who go to deprived places, not deprived people who come to white places, aren’t they? So we have to put a qualifying adjective in front of the noun to belittle them and make it clear that they don’t have the same status.
  2. It also does not reflect the prevailing view to which we all pay lip service, that mission is from everywhere to everywhere. Reverse mission implies that real mission is from the West to the rest, and if the rest start coming here, it’s not quite the same. If mission is really from everywhere to everywhere, mission workers must be from everywhere to everywhere too.
  3. The word ‘reverse’ has stigma attached to it. It means retrograde, or retreating. Plans that are overly ambitious are put into reverse.  Reverse means going backward.  Reverse is essentially wrong.  If we must use a qualifying adjective, at least ‘inward’ would be neutral, reflecting a geographic direction rather than a moral one.

In Britain there are now many mission workers from former colonies and elsewhere who are sufficiently grateful that a few generations ago our compatriots took them the gospel that they are now doing the favour of returning it to people who have lost it.  We should be grateful – after all the indigenous British church is not doing a great job of reaching our lost neighbours.  We need the help.

But many British churches are not ready to receive mission workers from another continent.  We might tolerate North Americans, but when we see a Ghanaian leading worship, a Pakistani preaching or a Mexican giving communion, we might be intrigued, or amused, but we seldom honour them for the sacrifice they are making, or respect their wisdom and Biblical understanding, or appreciate their pastoral skill.  We tolerate them with a paternalistic smile, but they’re not the real thing.

As a nation, we are not ready for reverse mission.  But if we stopped calling it ‘reverse’, at least we might start moving towards it.

The path in the picture used to be a road, until a motorway was built across it and cars and buses could no longer use it.

Now it’s only horses and hikers that follow it.  With the reduction in use, weeds are overgrowing it, trees are springing up in the gutters, and after only a few years it is rewilding.

The same thing can happen in the minds of mission workers.  The thoughts we think can be like a road in our mind, for good or bad.  Sometimes things happen which cut right through the road and derail those thoughts.

Often the death of a loved one, for example, can undermine our trust in the love of God and stop us using that road.  Many things we come across in mission can cause us to question truths that we once held to be self-evident:

  • The plight of the refugee can cause us to doubt God’s compassion
  • The oppression suffered by the global church can cause us to doubt God’s power
  • The sheer difficulty of life on the mission field can cause us to doubt the strong sense of calling which took us there

When this is happening to us, we need to start using the road again.  Perhaps we even need to clear away some brambles or fallen branches – this can be done with the help of debriefers or counsellors who can help us think through some of the issues that have challenged our beliefs.  But the important thing to do is to make sure we intentionally use those roads again.

A good example of such a choice is found in one of the least-read books of the Bible – Lamentations.  In the midst of 5 chapters of bewailing the brutal invasion of Israel, the violent destruction of Jerusalem, the rape and murder of its inhabitants, Jeremiah suddenly exclaims

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope:

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”

(Lamentations 3:21-24)

The invading Babylonians had driven a motorway across Jeremiah’s faith, but he persisted in walking along the path to stop it rewilding.  He knew the truth and he was not going to let the transient circumstances overwhelm his trust in the eternal God.

What can you do to maintain your path in the midst of the motorways that society, governments, media and even church can be trying to lay over it?  Make a positive choice to keep praying, to read scripture, to speak Biblical truth into your life and those of others, to challenge motorway-building and make sure you always pay attention to plucking up the weeds growing in your own life!

 

The expendables?

There’s a meme among Star Trek fans that any character wearing a red shirt (except for Scottie) will die before the end of the episode.  People wearing yellow are important; people wearing blue are useful; people wearing red are expendable.  The security men in the red shirts haven’t got names, they’re not played by famous actors, and most of them won’t even have lines.  They are really just there to show how dangerous the situation is.

In a world where most people want to be Kirk, Spock or Uhura, most of us are the redshirts.  We’re not missionary heroes like the ones featured in Syzygy blogs.  Our names will never been known to the general public.  We live, we serve, we die.  In the world of mission, most of us are playing a walk-on role rather than being a leading actor.  That means making a huge sacrifice in terms of our ambition, our goals, and sometimes even our lives.  Yes, sometimes the mission workers get killed too.

I was once told a story by an elderly nurse how when she first went out to the mission field there were separatist rebels in the area she served in.  One of her colleagues was kidnapped and a ransom demanded.  The mission agency refused to pay and the body was found a few days later.  The nurse told me “She bought freedom for the rest of us.  Because they knew we wouldn’t pay ransom, they never bothered us again.”

We all have our job to do, our person to be.  We don’t look at the others and compare ourselves to them, because that’s not the role the director has cast us for.  Our job is to do our very best with what we’ve been given.

The difference between Star Trek and the Kingdom of God is that although we may have a bit-part, nobody is expendable.  Every one of us is of immense value to God, and every death is significant to him (Psalm 116:15).  The souls of the martyrs are kept in a precious place close to God (Revelation 6:9).  And one day, we will all wear a yellow shirt.

Star Trek is copyright of CBS Corporation

A couple of months ago we did a blog on how we can support new leaders when they take over in our church, agency or team.  This week we’re going to look again at the same topic but from the perspective of the new leader.  How can you make sure you pick up the baton safely and get off to a good start, particularly if you’re following in the footsteps of a significantly strong, influential or much-loved leader?

Believe in yourself.  If you genuinely believe you are called by God to fill this role, you need to be bold enough to recognize that you’re in that role because of who you are.  You have your own set of characteristics and abilities which are different to those of your predecessor.  You don’t need to apologise for being who you are, but to trust that you have come into your position for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).

Take your time.  Before you make major decisions you should wait until you’ve got to know the organization (if you’re new to it) or understand some of the leadership dynamics if you’ve been promoted within it.  You need to take time to become informed before initiating significant change.

You also need to be aware that needing to stamp your mark on the organization is an indication of character weakness, and a response to feeling insecure.

Don’t waste time.  Paradoxically, there is a fine line between acting too rashly and too indecisively, and taking too much time to find your feet can create the impression of indecisiveness among your team.  They need to feel that there is a firm hand on the tiller, even though you’re not changing course.

Let people know you’re listening, but lead the decision making.  Much milk has been spilt over different leadership styles being needed in different situations, but one very good example of leading a very diverse group through potential conflict is the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.  Everyone had their say, then the leader – James – summarized the discussion and made a decision (“my judgment” – verse 19) which appears to be unanimous (verse 22) and is later couched in a press release as “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (verse 28).

You can recover from a bad start.  If it doesn’t start well, don’t panic.  Endurance and perseverance can recover the situation.  After Southampton football club defeated Man U to win the 1976 FA Cup their manager Lawrie McMenemy, reflected that although people were now waving to him in the street in Southampton, three years earlier he’d been used to ducking whatever the people were throwing at him, as he was unable to prevent the team being relegated.  A Biblical example would be Moses, coming in from outside to lead his people to freedom.  The people were opposed to him because of the increasing hardship they faced, and Moses was ready to quit (Exodus 5:20-23).  But it worked out alright in the end.

 

Taking over a new role is not easy.  It will drive you to your knees in prayer – and if it doesn’t, beware of trusting in your own skills and ability rather than the grace of God who provide all you need.

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.