pastoral

Many cross-cultural mission workers return from an assignment overseas, whether a two-week visit or 40 years abroad, with a multitude of conflicting emotions and impressions which, if unaddressed, can cause them ongoing problems.  Whether they are back in the UK for good or are on a short visit, they may well be struggling with reverse culture shock, and debriefing is part of helping them to come to terms with their experiences.

One returning cross-cultural worker commented:

Debriefing made me aware of possible reactions to expect and it was reassuring to know there was further help if needed.

Debriefing provides returning mission workers with:

  • a safe place to reflect on their experiences
  • an opportunity to help normalise their feelings
  • help to identify (and potentially refer) issues of concern

Debriefing is a structured, confidential way in which people can talk about their feelings & experiences so that their time on the field does not have a detrimental effect on their health, but on the contrary can enrich their life & future ministry. (OMF UK)

From this statement we can extract some key features which help to define debriefing:

  • Structured: Debriefing is not merely a random conversation; it is an intentional, planned time of reflection.  And it is more than just asking a person “What would you like to talk about?”; it is a conversation guided by thought-provoking questions in which the debriefer is looking out for specific unresolved issues.
  • Confidential: This is vital.  Without confidentiality the mission worker may not feel free to talk about some of their challenges and doubts for fear that it will get back to the wrong person.  There are limits to confidentiality: child protection issues, the risk that the mission worker will inflict serious injury to self or others, and the suspicion that they are planning an act of terrorism, but apart from these the mission worker must be able to trust that anything said in the session is not recorded or repeated.
  • Talk: This is about the mission worker and they should have the time and freedom for self-expression.  The debriefer’s role is to listen.
  • Feelings and experiences: This is not so much about the routine and practical issues of their mission experience but about their thoughts and feelings, which they may need help in working through.
  • Detriment/enrichment: Research suggests that many mission workers experience significant levels of stress and can go on to develop emotional or psychiatric problems after they return ‘home’. Debriefing is a significant factor in preventing this happening.

Another cross-cultural worker commented:

My organisation offered no help when I returned. I felt I really needed help from people who really understand the pressures of ‘re-entry’ and the symptoms of burn-out. How vital is support and debriefing in the period following return.

Debriefing differs from an operational review or appraisal which will ask for information about the work performed and what was achieved, with a view to learning what was done well, what could have been done better, and what changes should be made.  Debriefing asks how the experience was for the individual and aims to help them integrate their experience into their life as a whole, perceive the experience more meaning-fully, and bring a sense of closure.  A review or appraisal may be done with the benefit of the church or agency in mind so that procedures can be improved; debriefing is done solely for the benefit of the mission worker and must be treated as confidential.

What are the key skills needed in debriefing?

Routine debriefing does not need to be carried out be highly-trained professionals and can be done by volunteers in churches using some basic interpersonal skills.  These include:

  • Asking open-ended questions. Using questions which can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ does not keep a conversation flowing.  Questions like ‘How did you feel when….’ are more effective.
  • Active listening. People talk more freely when they are confident that the debriefer is paying attention.  Maintaining eye contact, nodding occasionally, showing emotion and encouraging from time to time with short comments like ‘uh huh’ demonstrate your interest.
  • Waiting for answers. When a mission worker is silent, it can be tempting to jump in and reword the question or even suggest an answer.  But the silence belongs to the mission worker and it shouldn’t be taken away.  The mission worker may be using the silence to thing about the answer, come to terms with their feelings and find the courage to say something.  A useful tip is to make sure you can see a clock with a second hand, and allow at least a minute’s silence.
  • Awareness of body language. Body language can be a key indicator of how a person is feeling.  An open, relaxed posture tells you the mission worker is feeling comfortable while arms folded across the chest may be a sign of defensiveness.  Staring at the ground mind indicate negative emotions and fidgeting, particularly with hands, may signify anxiety.

How do we structure a debrief?

It is important for the debriefer to have in their mind an idea of how the debrief is going to pan out.  It should ideally take 2 to 2½ hours – any less may not provide time to get to the bottom of issues and any longer may be emotionally exhausting for the mission worker.  One cross-cultural worker observed:

My organisation offered a 45-minute debriefing appointment.  I was conscious of the time limit right from the start.  It made me feel ‘unrelaxed’ and all I could think of was ‘how can I fit in all I’d like to tell someone?’

The following structure for a debrief may be helpful to keep in mind: 

  • Time to set ground rules, establish a rapport, and identify some positive features of their experience.
  • Identifying what was most troubling. Ask the mission worker to identify up to three issues which troubled them.
  • Facts, thoughts and feelings. Explore the issues one by one, working through facts, thoughts and feelings before starting on the next issue.
  • Any other aspects you want to discuss? Give the mission worker a chance to raise anything else.
  • Did you have any symptoms of stress? During this time the mission worker may have been irritable or depressed, sleeping badly or experiencing dietary problems, all of which may be indicators of stress.
  • Normalising and teaching. This is the time for the debriefer to talk, explaining where relevant that the mission worker’s feelings and reactions are normal, and providing help and guidance on a way forward.
  • Return ‘home’. Explore the mission worker’s feelings about being back in the UK.  Explain about reverse culture shock and help them understand that it is a normal experience.
  • Anything that was positive? It’s good to draw your time to a close with some positive reflections on their time abroad.
  • The future. Ask them what their future plans are, and what help they need.
  • Finish off with prayer, and check any arrangements for follow up or meeting again.

However, we must also be aware that structure must not dictate to the debrief, and it is entirely appropriate to depart from this outline if the conversation naturally flows in a different direction.

What are we looking out for?

While some mission workers may have had a wonderful time and are giving glory to God for what has happened, certain negative issues commonly crop up and it is worth keeping an eye open for signs of them.

  • Isolation: The mission worker may feel a lack of supportive relationships either in the field or at ‘home’, they may not understand or fit in well to local culture, or be unable to communicate effectively.
  • Guilt – for being so wealthy, for leaving work unfinished, for leaving people behind in the field or not being there for family members at ‘home’.
  • Conflict – with other team members, with leaders, with nationals, within their own family.
  • Spiritual issues – loss or damage to faith, the challenge of suffering, weariness and burnout.
  • Unfulfilled expectations – dissatisfaction in ministry, sense of failure, where is God in all this?
  • Reverse culture shock – not settling, angry with church/culture/family, disillusioned with worldliness and materialism.

We also need to watch out for symptoms of stress, burnout or even depression which may be present.  They can include:

  • Physical – tension in the shoulders, headaches, clenching teeth, tightness in the chest, digestive problems.
  • Emotional – irritability, tearfulness, outbursts of anger and uncontrolled mood swings.
  • Behavioural – sleeplessness, loss of appetite, irrational or unpredictable behaviour
  • Mental – inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, simple mistakes
  • Spiritual – lifeless relationship with God, loss of desire to pray, avoiding church.

But what about…?

Couples.  Couples can be debriefed separately or together.  There are arguments for both but ultimately the couple should be free to make their own decision.

Children.  Children need debriefing too.  This can be done in the context of a special conference where possible, but the children should not be overlooked.  Older ones can be done together with their parents, at least for part of debrief, or separately.  Even young children can be debriefed through games or drawing.

Teams.  Teams should be debriefed as a team – they went through the experience together so they should debrief together.  This will clearly take longer if everyone is to have their say, so it’s best to set aside a day for it.  Personal debriefs can be offered as a follow up if individuals feel the need.

Retirement or end of assignment.  People who are not going back to the field will have an additional aspect to their debrief – loss of a vocation and possible uncertainty about the future.  There may also be anger about the circumstances of finishing.  People who are retiring may face loss of identity issues going from a high-responsibility role, possibly in a culture which respects age, to being ‘just another pensioner’.

If people become emotional.  Don’t panic!  Crying, shouting, screaming are all valid ways of expressing emotion, which possibly has been suppressed or unrecognised for a long time.  Allow people to do what they want.  Don’t hand them tissues (as this implies telling them to stop) but make sure tissues are available on the table for them if they want them.

Critical Incident Debriefing.  Where a cross-cultural worker has been through a traumatic experience such as kidnapping, a major road accident or death of a close relative, CID will be appropriate.  Experienced debriefers such as Interhealth or Healthlink360 (see below for websites) should be brought in to do this, preferably within 72 hours of the incident.

Referring on.  Sometimes debriefers come up against an issue which they feel unable to assist with and need to get more help.  There is no shame in this and it is quite appropriate to refer people to a qualified counsellor or psychiatrist if they need professional help.  If there is a risk of suicide or serious injury to others it should be done urgently and will supersede the requirements of confidentiality.

And finally….

Remember that this is all about the person being debriefed.  It is a way of expressing our love and esteem for them, and this time is available for them to use as they wish.  Hopefully, the experience will leave them feeling hopeful and refreshed, understanding their feelings about what they’ve been through, and not feeling so isolated and misunderstood.

“I thought beforehand that it was going to be a waste of time, but I found that actually it was very helpful to be able to talk about everything, however small, that had happened.”

Further reading:

Debriefing Aid Workers and Missionaries by Dr Debbie Hawker (2012) is the best work on this subject and has been used extensively in preparing this presentation.  It is available online at www.peopleinaid.org/publications/debriefingaidworkersprinted.aspx either as a hard copy or a pdf.

Burn-Up or Splash Down by Marion Knell (2006) 978-1-932805-83-3 is a good book on re-entry in general and has a very accessible chapter on debriefing.  Available at www.globalconnections.org.uk/content/burn-up-or-splash-down

Ad-mission by Graham Fawcett (1999) 978-0953584505 is also a good work but is hard to get hold of.

Referring on:

ARREST are based in the East Midlands and provide excellent support including debriefing and therapy – www.resilientexpat.co.uk

Healthlink360 have centres in Scotland and Northern Ireland where they provide healthcare, debriefing and psychological support – www.healthlink360.org

Interhealth are based in central London and provide both medical and psychological support – www.interhealthworldwide.org 

Penhurst Retreat Centre is in rural Sussex and provides mission-focus led retreats and private space including opportunities for debriefing and spiritual direction – www.penhurst.org.uk

pastoralMany cross-cultural mission workers return from an assignment overseas, whether a two-week visit or 40 years abroad, with a multitude of conflicting emotions and impressions which, if unaddressed, can cause them ongoing problems.  Whether they are back in the UK for good or for a short visit, they may well be struggling to deal with the experiences they’ve had abroad while trying to cope with reverse culture shock, and debriefing is part of helping them to come to terms with their experiences.  In research conducted by Dr Debbie Hawker, one returning cross-cultural worker commented:

Debriefing made me aware of possible reactions to expect and it was reassuring to know there was further help if needed.

Debriefing provides returning mission workers with:

  • a safe place to reflect on their experiences
  • an opportunity to help normalise their feelings
  • help to identify issues of concern

Another cross-cultural worker commented:

“My organisation offered no help when I returned. I felt I really needed help from people who really understand the pressures of ‘re-entry’ and the symptoms of burn-out. How vital is support and debriefing in the period following return.”

 

How do we structure a debrief?

It is important for the debriefer to have in their mind an idea of how the debrief is going to pan out.  It should ideally take 2 to 2½ hours – any less may not provide time to get to the bottom of issues and any longer may be emotionally exhausting for the mission worker.  One mission worker observed:

“My organisation offered a 45-minute debriefing appointment.  I was conscious of the time limit right from the start.  It made me feel ‘unrelaxed’ and all I could think of was ‘how can I fit in all I’d like to tell someone?’”

The following structure for a debrief may be helpful to keep in mind:

  • Introductions.  Time to set ground rules, establish a rapport, and identify some positive features of their experience.
  • Identifying what was most troubling.  Ask the mission worker to identify up to three issues which troubled them.
  • Facts, thoughts and feelings.  Explore the issues one by one, working through the facts of the issue, thoughts (e.g. “He was wrong”) and feelings (e.g. “I am so angry”) before starting on the next issue.
  • Any other aspects you want to discuss?  Give the mission worker a chance to raise anything else.
  • Did you have any symptoms of stress?  During this time the mission worker may have been irritable or depressed, sleeping badly or experiencing dietary problems, all of which may be indicators of stress.
  • Normalising and teaching.  This is the time for the debriefer to talk, explaining where relevant that the mission worker’s feelings and reactions are normal, and providing help and guidance on a way forward.
  • Return ‘home’.  Explore the mission worker’s feelings about being back in the UK.  Explain about reverse culture shock and help them understand that it is a normal experience.
  • Anything that was positive?  It’s good to draw your time to a close with some positive reflections on their time abroad.
  • The future.  Ask them what their future plans are, and what help they need.
  • Close.  Finish off with prayer, and check any arrangements for follow up or meeting again.

However, we must also be aware that structure must not dictate to the debrief, and it is entirely appropriate to depart from this outline if the conversation naturally flows in a different direction.

 

What are we looking out for?

While some mission workers may have had a wonderful time and are giving glory to God for what has happened, certain negative issues commonly crop up and it is worth keeping an eye open for signs of them.

  • Isolation: The mission worker may feel a lack of supportive relationships either in the field or at ‘home’, they may not understand or fit in well to local culture, or be unable to communicate effectively.
  • Guilt – for being so wealthy, for leaving work unfinished, for leaving people behind in the field or not being there for family members at ‘home’.
  • Conflict – with other team members, with leaders, with nationals, within their own family.
  • Spiritual issues – loss or damage to faith, the challenge of suffering, weariness and burnout.
  • Unfulfilled expectations – dissatisfaction in ministry, sense of failure, where is God in all this?
  • Reverse culture shock – not settling, angry with church/culture/family, disillusioned with worldliness and materialism.
  • Stress.  We also need to watch out for symptoms of stress, burnout or even depression which may be present.

 

And finally….

Remember that this is all about the person being debriefed.  It is a way of expressing our love and esteem for them, and this time is available for them to use as they wish.  Hopefully, the experience will leave them feeling hopeful and refreshed, understanding their feelings about what they’ve been through, and not feeling so isolated and misunderstood.

I thought beforehand that it was going to be a waste of time, but I found that actually it was very helpful to be able to talk about everything, however small, that had happened.

 

Further reading:

Debriefing Aid Workers and Missionaries by Dr Debbie Hawker (2012) is the best work on this subject and has been used extensively in preparing this blog.  It is available online at:

http://www.peopleinaid.org/publications/debriefingaidworkersprinted.aspx either as a hard copy or a pdf.

This is an abridged version of a more detailed article in one of our Guides to Doing Mission Well which can be viewed by clicking here.

After three years of doing regular blogs about missions, often with a particular emphasis on stress, I am amazed to realise that I have not yet specifically blogged about that most vital of tools – debriefing.  I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in passing but that is in no way sufficient considering the significance of this powerful resource to help combat stress and culture shock in the life of the overseas mission worker.

Debriefing is the act of sitting down with a facilitator to reflect on past experiences and how we feel about them.  During the course of a mission trip, whether short or long-term, each mission worker undergoes new experiences (many of which are challenging or even dangerous) and comes into contact with new sensations, many of which may not be at all pleasant.  These challenges may well be repeated differently at the various stages of our experience: leaving home, arriving in a foreign country, changing assignment, moving to another part of the country and returning ‘home’ all require repeated adjustments to change.  While we stoically cope with all these challenges, each one contributes to the general level of stress we feel, and can create an inability to cope with more change and deal with relationship challenges responsibly.

To have the opportunity to reflect on what we found different, how we felt about it, and how that continues to impact our ideas and feelings helps us process our thoughts and emotions so that we are more aware of what’s going on inside us.  It helps us to recognise that the occasional tearful or angry outburst, or an inner deadness can be perfectly normal in some circumstances.  In the process of doing a debrief, which can take a few hours or several days depending on the complexity of the issues involved, we have the opportunity to restore a sense of balance and inner peace.

Debriefing is rather like dealing with a drawer which is so full of stuffed-in jumpers that it won’t close neatly any more.  Often we just shove our emotional responses down inside us, but there comes a time when we can’t deal with any more, and that can lead to emotional breakdown.  To tidy out the drawer, we take out every jumper, decide whether we want to keep it or not, and if we do, we fold it up neatly and put it back.  Then the drawer will shut properly.  The debriefer asks questions of the mission worker, which helps him or her identify and evaluate their feelings and decide what to do with them.

Proper debriefing can be vital to the long-term inner health of the mission worker.  Debriefing has been linked to improved resilience and decreased mission attrition (Kelly O’Donnell, Global Member Care).  Regular and appropriate debriefing can keep mission workers in peak condition, but it is also possible that failure to provide proper debriefing, particularly after a traumatic incident like a serious car accident or a hostage situation, can lead to long-term emotional damage and even loss of faith.

Syzygy recommends that all overseas mission workers make sure they have debriefs on every home assignment.  Ideally, it should be about 6-8 weeks after getting back.  This is the time when the initial joy of being reunited with friends and family is beginning to wear off and the challenge of reverse culture shock is beginning to bite.  It should take place in familiar surroundings if possible, and involve everyone who has been part of the mission experience – including the children, who sadly often get overlooked.

If your sending agency or church does not provide this for you, we are very happy to provide you with a debrief, with their agreement.  We specialise in providing this service for independent mission workers who do not have an agency and perhaps have not yet realised how much they need debriefing.  We conduct our debriefings at a time and place that is convenient to you in order to minimise the impact or travel and strange surroundings on your experience.  Please contact info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.

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.

 

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!

 

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.

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.

 

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/

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: www.freeimages.com

Last month a blog (Where you go changes who you become) used a quote to illustrate how long term mission workers are changed by their experience of living abroad.  The same applies to short term mission workers.  In their case, the intention is slightly different and is in fact closer to the original context of the quote – encouraging people to visit different places in order to grow and develop.

Many short-term mission programmes are designed and marketed around the desire people have to stretch themselves through change and to see their own horizons broadened.  Although such programmes may be focussed on meeting the needs of a marginalised community abroad or supporting the ministry of long-term mission workers, they often intentionally address the desire of people to experience different cultures and to grow in character as a result.  Sometimes such programmes can degenerate into voluntourism, but many of them are well-planned, highly-contextualised programmes which introduce people to a world beyond their own experience with the hope of encouraging them into a life of ongoing missional engagement – whether as a long-term worker or a home supporter.

You’ve probably sat, as I have, in church on a Sunday when a returning team of short-termers has been welcomed back, and you’ve heard many of them say “Wow, I’ll never be the same again!”  Sadly, they often do remain the same.  Peer-pressure to conform, demands at work, the need to succeed academically and the worldly demands of lifestyle can all conspire to rob people of the life-changing impact of their mission experience.

As this summer’s short-termers return home from their potentially life-changing experiences, how can we help them develop their missional engagement, whether at home or abroad?

  • Help them realise the privilege it is to step outside one’s own culture for a bit.  If you hear them starting to become critical of church life, help them understand that others haven’t had the opportunity which they have.
  • Welcome them back by asking serious questions about how their experience is likely to impact them in the future: does this impact their choice of degree/career?  How will their prayer life change?  How are they likely to use their finances differently?  Might they take early retirement to be free to do more overseas mission?  Would they consider bringing up their family abroad?
  • Help develop a church culture where mission, whether at home or abroad, is a regular part of church life.  Then people who come back inspired can slot straight back into doing mission at home.
  • Encourage them to see this experience not just as an opportunity for themselves but as a way of service the church more effectively, sharing their thoughts with others and acting as an ambassador for the agency they went with.
  • Ask them what new skills or gifts they’ve used, and suggest they should try to find ways of using those in the church.
  • Make sure your returning church members get an opportunity for a professional debrief, which should be provided by the agency which sent them.  The church should also consider doing one, or asking Syzygy or another independent provider to help.
  • Be available to them to help them work through the challenges they now face.  Offer to talk over issues with them, and be available to mentor them.
  • Point them to our guide to coming home!

The period immediately after the exuberance wears off can be disorientating for people returning from mission.  We call it reverse culture shock.  People can make bad decisions as they go through a time of adjustment, but with support and encouragement they can turn a short-term thrill into a truly life-changing experience.

When considering the perpetual challenge of ‘re-entry’ for mission workers returning to the countries they went out from, I have referred several times to Marion Knell’s excellent book with the above title. The title refers to the challenge of re-entry for a spacecraft returning to earth, and how that critical point of the journey can so easily go wrong.

Here at Syzygy we have seen far too many mission workers return to their sending country in a state of unpreparedness, or who struggle with issues even after many years of being back ‘home’ because these issues weren’t addressed at the time, so we want to encourage broader circulation of this valuable book.

Marion writes encouragingly in her introduction:

You can make it back into whichever part of the earth’s atmosphere you’re destined for.  There are people around who speak your language, who have survived the impact.  But you need to have the heat shields in place, the life-support systems working, and a good reception committee on the other end steering you back.

Her book helps you to make sure those things into place.  Marion explains what re-entry is, in simple terms, and why it can be such a challenge.  She helps us understand how stress can affect us as we return.  She shows us how to leave a place well and has plenty of good advice on the challenges of an international relocation.  She emphasises the important of having a good debrief.

The second part of the book focusses on TCKs and the challenges they can go through with re-entry, and tips on how they can thrive, and the book concludes with a section for sending churches on how to welcome back their mission partners effectively.

Marion’s writing style is light, entertaining and easy to read.  Unlike many member care books, reading the book is an enjoyable experience, not hard work.

If you are a mission worker planning to return ‘home’, read this book as soon as you think about returning.  If you’re responsible for sending mission workers, either with a church or an agency, read this book now!  You can buy it from the Global Connections website where members get a discount.  You might also like to read our guide to doing re-entry well.

A few years ago we designed a course called Crash Landing? which was designed to help those who made it back to their sending country and survived the impact, but were wounded in the process and still carry the scars.  Get in touch with us if you could use some support in helping you finally settle back in.

I recently came across this quote on the website of the Youth Hostel Association.  It sounds great, in its context of being adventurous and going places, and those of us who have travelled in cross-cultural mission will be only too aware how much we have changed as a result of our experiences.

We have taken on board aspects of other cultures which we have found valuable.  Learning to express ideas in another language has helped us appreciate different ways of perceiving the world.  Our dietary preferences will have changed – whether we love the food in our host country or are more enthusiastic for the food we grew up with.  We feel richer for the privilege of having stepped outside our own culture and embraced other cultures.

The downside of this is that by exposing ourselves to other places, we have become people who are not the same as we would have been if we had stayed home.

Mission workers don’t usually notice this until it’s time to return to their ‘home’ culture.  Then they discover that they don’t really fit in any more.  They can experience various levels of stress as the difference slowly dawns on them.  This is something we know as ‘reverse culture shock’, and the effects can include irritability, tearfulness and anger as they try to find an equilibrium in a world that doesn’t feel the same as they think it should.  It’s often been observed that reverse culture shock is worse than the culture shock experienced when first moving abroad, largely because it is so unexpected.

Particularly difficult issues which can contribute to reverse culture shock include:

  • feeling that a church is more concerned about apparently trivial issues concerning its Sunday service than it is about world mission;
  • hearing about friends plans for holidays, home extensions and new cars when they don’t appear to be at all interested in world mission;
  • finding people spectacularly disinterested in what mission workers have been doing for the last few years.

At this time of year, many mission workers are back in their sending countries on home assignment.  This is a period of a few months when their work is to reconnect with churches, agency and family while raising new support, promoting the work of their agency, and having routine reviews and checkups.  Their time here is often too brief for them to struggle with reverse culture shock, but it may impact some of them.  So what can we do to help them?

  • Remember that they may be disorientated by changes while they’ve been away. Ask them what’s changed, how they feel about it, and be ready to engage with any hurt or anger they’re feeling.  Explain changes that have happened recently and show them how to do things.
  • Show interest in what they’ve been doing. Even though you may not understand everything, remember that this is a vocation they feel passionate about, and they want to talk about it.
  • Recognise that they’re tired. Often they have been travelling around the country, sleeping in different beds, answering the same questions day after day.  Give them some space in which they don’t have to ‘perform’.
  • Understand that your country is no longer ‘home’ for them, especially their kids. When they first get back they may be longing for Sunday roast or Shepherd’s Pie, but after a couple of months they’re probably desperate for nshima or dhal.
  • Realise that as they’ve changed (and you may have too) the nature of your friendship may have changed. Work hard to establish common ground and interests so that you can maintain your friendship well.
  • Encourage them to talk about their experiences in a formal debrief, either with their church missions team, their agency, or an external debriefer like Syzygy.

Home assignment can be a great joy for mission workers, but it can also be hard work.  Let’s try not to make it any harder than it has to be!

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

Sadly, I frequently come across mission workers who have returned from an assignment disillusioned by the lack of support they received from their church.  Often these are independent people who’ve gone with their own vision, but sometimes they’re also people who have been sent by their church.

So together we unpack their disillusion.  What did they expect?  Why did they expect it?  Did the church know they expected it?  How do you know they did?

And it often turns out that these expectations were based on a loose verbal undertaking such as “Of course we’ll support you!” which was never fully discussed or documented.  By the time the mission worker realises that there was never any real agreement, it is usually too late to resolve and there needs to be some conciliation work.  I come away from such meetings thinking “If only…”

I always recommend that mission workers and churches (and of course agencies too if they’re involved) talk through their mutual expectations and document them in a partnership agreement or memorandum of understanding.  It’s not a legal contract, it’s too loose for that, and it’s not done in a litigious spirit but one of partnership.  But it does spell out in very simple terms, what everyone expects.  And it has signatures to prove that it was properly agreed.  You can put in in whatever you think is important, and I’ve seen really long ones and also ones that can fit on one side of A4, which I prefer, as I don’t think too many details make it easier to come to an agreement.

A good structure would be: the church will do this; the mission partner will do that.  It sounds positive.  And the issues that should be addressed should ideally include the following:

  • How frequently does the church formally pray for the mission partner, and communicate with the congregation about needs?
  • Does the church provide financial support, how much and how long for? Does it include extras like flights home, and how long should it continue after return?
  • How much is the church involved in making major decisions?
  • Is the church responsible for providing Member Care, and what would that look like?
  • Who is involved in making decisions in an emergency, and what funding is available?
  • Who is the principal point of contact for communicating?
  • Who is responsible for National Insurance, tax, pension and health insurance contributions?
  • How long will the agreement last and what happens when it expires?
  • Who provides operational oversight in the field?
  • What arrangements are there for pre-departure and post return health screening and training/debriefing?
  • How does the church hold the mission partner accountable? Are there other parties involved?
  • Is an appraisal involved and who will do it?
  • How much home assignment is permitted?
  • How much funding is the mission partner responsible for raising?
  • How frequently should the mission partner communicate with the church, and how?
  • How are any disputes about the agreement adjudicated?

 

It might seem like a lot of work to talk through all these issues, but the situation will be a lot clearer if time is taken to do so.  There will be less confusion, better support, and a much smaller chance of a relationship breakdown.  Syzygy is always ready to talk such issues through with churches – contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk to request an appointment.

Prayer does not fit us for the greater work;

prayer is the greater work.

(Oswald Chambers)

It has become our custom in recent years to start the new year with an appeal for prayer.  We regularly remind our readers of the need for partners to pray for mission workers, unreached people groups, the suffering church and crisis situations, and we believe prayer is the key to releasing God’s power and presence into challenging situations.

This year we make no apology for another appeal to prayer, but with one change: we’d like you to pray for us.  Ever since we started we have had a small group of committed prayer partners who pray for our needs, and as we’ve grown we’ve depended on the prayers of these friends even more.

Last year we turned a corner in our understanding of the role Syzygy can play in supporting mission agencies with member care, and this was largely in response to seeking God about the future of Syzygy.  In response we have established a network of experienced member care workers in different parts of England (sorry, rest of the UK, we’re working on serving you too!).

Now we need to pray for the work for them to do.  In the past we have served around 150 mission workers each year through training, debriefing, advice and practical support – now we have the capacity to serve a significantly greater number but we need to pray for them to come to us, and for us to be able to help them.  You can find out how to support Syzygy in prayer through our Get Praying! page, but we’d particularly like to draw your attention to the PrayerMate App.  We send out a new prayer request every day for you to get on your phone.

Will you please pray with us that God will send these people our way, so that we can equip ever more mission workers to be effective and resilient?

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

The world of cross-cultural mission in the UK is in transition at the moment as churches and agencies all look at our practices and processes and try to find new ways of sending mission workers which will replace the outmoded model originally developed in the 19th century.  This is given added urgency by the financial challenges many churches and agencies are experiencing.

In this climate, there is a severe risk that mission workers will suffer due to lack of member care.  Small agencies are not able to devote sufficient resources to it.  Larger agencies are looking to reduce central costs.  Agencies are expecting churches to do more to support their mission workers, but the churches struggle to find the vision, capacity and expertise to deliver this competently.

Syzygy is uniquely placed to ensure mission workers continue to be effectively supported during this upheaval.  We have already entered into arrangements with several sending agencies, both large and small, for us to provide member care for their workers.  We also are able to support churches to develop the vision and capacity to do more to support their mission partners.

In order to provide this level of service we have been expanding our own capacity and have developed a network of  member care professionals across the country who are conveniently located for the mission workers we hope to support.  The Syzygy representatives are able to carry out one-to-one pre-departure training, ongoing member care for mission partners in the field, and home assignment debriefs.

For more information contact Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk

Source: www.freeimages.com

The world of cross-cultural mission in the UK is in transition at the moment as churches and agencies all look at our practices and processes and try to find new ways of sending mission workers which will replace the outmoded model originally developed in the 19th century.  This is given added urgency by the financial challenges many churches and agencies are experiencing.

In this climate, there is a severe risk that mission workers will suffer due to lack of member care.  Small agencies are not able to devote sufficient resources to it.  Larger agencies are looking to reduce central costs.  Agencies are expecting churches to do more to support their mission workers, but the churches struggle to find the vision, capacity and expertise to deliver this competently.

Syzygy is uniquely placed to ensure mission workers continue to be effectively supported during this upheaval.  We have already entered into arrangements with several sending agencies, both large and small, for us to provide member care for their workers.  We also are able to support churches to develop the vision and capacity to do more to support their mission partners.

In order to provide this level of service we have been expanding our own capacity and have developed a network of  member care professionals across the country who are conveniently located for the mission workers we hope to support.  The Syzygy representatives are able to carry out one-to-one pre-departure training, ongoing member care for mission partners in the field, and home assignment debriefs.

For more information contact Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk

Source: www.freeimages.com

Why are we still shooting our own people?

‘Toxic leadership’ is a phrase which buzzed around the mission world a few years ago, and then went away.  I haven’t heard it mentioned in a member care context for some time.  Perhaps we got bored with the issue.  Perhaps we thought talking about it for a bit resolved the problem.  Yet a number of incidents that have recently been brought to Syzygy’s attention remind me that, like Chernobyl, the fallout from one critical incident continues to have a devastating effect for many years.

  • Broken and hurting mission workers dealing with the pain of bullying and abuse, often for many years after the original incident.
  • Agencies losing good personnel for utterly avoidable reasons.
  • Churches grappling with supporting wounded mission partners who can’t easily be ‘fixed’.
  • People dismissed from their roles in circumstances that would count as unfair or constructive dismissal if they were UK employees.
  • Mission workers who have original or different ideas being victimised for challenging the status quo.

One influential member care agency uses the tagline “Because we don’t separate the Great Commission from the greatest commandment”.  Yet it seems that all too frequently in our eagerness to do the first, we don’t adequately care for our people, particularly if they have strong personalities or are not afraid to express their opinions.

A misguided model of leadership seeks to impose unity on a disparate group of mission workers  by demanding conformity, rather than building unity by valuing and affirming diversity.  Weak leadership imposes authority through domination rather than winning followers through serving.  Reluctant leadership abdicates, leaving the team without direction.  And people who speak out, complain, or even make constructive suggestions can be tagged as rebels, unfairly targeted, and removed from service.

In most cases, these situations result from structural weaknesses in our organisations rather than merely one or two poor leaders.  Often it’s not the result of deliberately abusive leadership but more to do with neglect of mission workers’ needs, lack of support or failure to intervene in difficult situations.   As Rob Hay wrote in 2012:

Mission is full of specialists and empty of trained, skilled and experienced leaders and yet up to 80% of people who go into mission not expecting to lead end up in some kind of leadership position.

Sadly, it seems nothing much has changed in the last 5 years.

How do we resolve this situation which seriously impedes our efforts to fulfil the Great Commission?  First, sending agencies have to be committed to valuing the people they partner with.  Mission partners need to be seen as valuable yet often fragile people  who need to be nurtured and developed.  They are not an expendable commodity to be exploited.  Agencies invest so much money in the early years of mission workers – recruitment, training, support, language learning – that it is also economically foolish to ignore these issues.  If the agency were an international business, high attrition levels would not be tolerated.  These need to be monitored closely as they are often a sign that something is wrong.

Second, churches need to understand the difficult dynamics of cross-cultural mission and be proactive in supporting their mission partners and working with agencies.   They need to be willing to ask difficult questions, and challenge agencies when problems arise.  One of the most encouraging things I ever saw was a group of church members haranguing an agency leader at a public meeting because they felt the agency was letting down their mission partners.  I thought “I want those people on my support team”!

Third, mission partners need to be honest with their churches and agencies about the real issues.  Misguided loyalty to failing leaders and leadership structures needs to be exposed, or it will merely be covered up and somebody else will get hurt further down the line.  People who have been hurt by an agency can be tempted to slip away quietly and lick their wounds – but they need to be supported and helped to fight their corner so that they expose bad leadership and force organisational change.  And agencies need to determinedly debrief workers (preferably with the involvement of a third party) and be committed to frank exit interviews – the ostensible reason people give for leaving is often not the whole story.

Finally, agencies need to be committed to addressing the problem Rob raised, by committing to proactively developing the character development, leadership ability and management skills of all their leaders.  Often they appoint people to leadership who have strategic vision and fruitful ministries but little interest in pastoral care.  They don’t have to be pastors themselves, but do need to understand the need for in-field member care and take steps to facilitate it.

Resources that Syzygy recommends for dealing with the fallout from toxic leadership issues include:

  • The books A Tale of Three Kings and Honourably Wounded for mission workers wounded in action.
  • A personal debrief for mission workers still struggling with injuries inflicted in the field.  Email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.
  • Space to rest and reflect while receiving love and acceptance.  Syzygy can provide several options for this, and also recommends Ergata and Le Rucher.
  • Mentoring by Rick Lewis for leaders in mission.  A completely confidential, personal service aimed at developing godly character at the highest level in churches and agencies.
  • Reading Rob Hay’s 2012 paper on the Global Connections website and the associated reading list.
  • Bespoke consultancy aimed at identifying specific issues within an organisation and tackling the causes of it.  Email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

Being shot by one’s own side does not necessarily mean the end of a life of mission.  Given the right support, many people make a full recovery and are able to resume their lives and ministries, as I have done.

But wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t wound our own mission workers in the first place?

 

13494856_10153527469631604_2804772598341091290_nAfter growing up in Fleet, Hampshire, Hannah spent a year serving with BMS World Mission on a Thailand Action Team in 2010, then studied for a BA Theology at Exeter University.  She then served as a Church Ministry Intern at Pavilion Christian Community, and is now working as a Regional Mission Mobiliser for Serving In Mission, UK.  In this role she works with those exploring a call to mission, supporting them from enquiry through to debrief, and partnering with churches to send and receive equipped gospel workers to share the good news of Jesus.  She loves outdoor adventures, being creative, and all things elephant related.

Where next? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

Where next? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

As a follow up to last week’s discussion (Derailed) here is a further reflection on the challenge of feeling that somehow we are no longer on the mainline.  This is a challenge for most of us mission workers who are more like Martha than Mary, because we have an urgent desire to be getting somewhere in our ministry.  Such is the impact of the Protestant Work Ethic on our thinking.

Even though we may wish to be thundering at full speed down the mainline, pulling a prestigious express full of significant people, God may have extremely valid reasons for wanting to stop us for a bit.  We find the experience frustrating, but we need to remember that it’s not all about us, and there may be other parts of the rail network having an impact on our personal journey.  So here are some reasons why trains unaccountably stop from time to time (other than to let Edward Thomas write a poem about it).

  • Filling up. Trains need to refuel and while it’s normally done at specific times (such as home assignment) it occasionally needs to be done at other times too.  Take the opportunity to go on a longer retreat than you might normally have time for, or have an extra debrief to make sure you’re ready to go when the signal changes.
  • Collecting other carriages. Sometimes the train I’m on waits at a station for another train to come in behind it and be coupled up to make one longer train.  Is this an opportunity for you to take new supporters on your journey with you?  Spend more time investing in your sending church and building relationships.  Maybe you can recruit some new team members.
  • Waiting for the line to clear. Sometimes the signal is at red because there is a blockage down the road that needs to be cleared.  I have experienced times when other things have needed to fall in place before I can get on with what I feel God has given me to do.  Or perhaps another train is coming through and we need to get out of its way or it would damage us.
  • Taking an alternative route. How often does God take us down a branch line for no obvious reason?  Maybe it’s just to enjoy the scenery, and pootle along at a gentler pace.
  • Routine maintenance. Well, now you’ve got the time, go and see the doctor, dentist, optician, counsellor, life coach…  Make the most of your pause and check all the moving parts are properly greased!

Finally, if you feel you’re stuck in the station waiting for the light to turn green, why not take the time to look around and see who else is in the station?  Maybe it’s time to make some new friends.

We can’t always tell why God shunts us into a siding at times.  Why did Jesus have to wait until his 30s?  David sitting in the desert on the run from Saul must have thought his calling would never happen.  Moses had to spend 40 years in the wilderness thinking he’d missed his opportunity.  What was Paul doing with his life before Barnabas brought him to Antioch?  But if we can learn one thing from this experience is that it’s God who is in the signal box, not us, and we have to learn to trust him to pull the right levers at the right time.