One of the things you probably missed out on while you were abroad is teaching, fellowship and prayer times in your own language with people of your own culture. Now’s your chance to catch up on what you missed!

It’s important while you’re on HA to make time to recharge your spiritual batteries, get some meaningful fellowship and get away to listen to God. Perhaps your church has its own weekend away, or goes as a group to one of the major Christian conventions, and you should prioritise being a part of these as they are a good way of enhancing relationships with your fellow church members while meeting your own needs.

The major Christian events in England are Spring Harvest (3 weeks over Easter, in Minehead and Skegness), Keswick (3 weeks from mid-July), and New Wine (2 weeks from end-July, in Shepton Mallet and Newark). Many Christians also go to Greenbelt (August Bank Holiday weekend, Cheltenham) or many of the other conferences which are organised by various denominations. There are also many smaller events which are advertised in the Christian media, and a number of different organisations offering conference and retreat facilities specifically for mission workers.

There are also the famous Re-Konnect conferences for mission kids, both for teens and younger children, which help them reintegrate into British culture and make friends with other young people living overseas. For more information email reconnect@gmail.com. At the Keswick convention there is also a mission kids stream as part of the re:ignite programme.

Extended time alone with God is at a premium, and it’s well worth making some retreat time a central feature of your HA. Individual or group retreats are offered by many of the established Christian conference centres, and are well worth investigating. Some places, such as Penhurst, also organise specific retreats for mission workers on HA, and the Mission Encouragement Trust have special retreats as well, often in the Field.

Alternatively you may like to try something different like a monastic-style retreat. Many monastic communities across the country are available to visitors for a day or for extended periods of quiet reflection. Among those Syzygy can recommend are Loyola Hall and St Beuno’s, Ignatian spirituality centres, and the Northumbria Community (in, unsurprisingly, Northumbria) who follow a more Celtic approach.

Special events aimed at helping you rediscover your passion for mission and to refocus your ministry in preparation for a return to the field include All Nations Christian College’s Refresh for Mission and Christian Vocations’ Re-Ignite which includes a special TCK programme. These are both highly acclaimed by past participants.

Links to resources:

Greenbelt

Keswick 

New Wine

Northumbria Community

Penhurst Retreat Centre

Re:ignite

Spring Harvest 

St Beuno’s

 

Download as PDF

We have mentioned in several blogs the importance of retreat – to get away from it all, recharge the batteries, and seek God in prayer.   This is an important part of maintaining our emotional and spiritual health – to withdraw for a while from the busyness of our lives and responsibilities and to stand and stare:

What is this life if, full of care,

we have no time to stand and stare?

W H Davies’ whimsical poem Leisure cuts straight to the heart of our busy responsibility-laden lives: – if we don’t create time to re-connect with God, the natural world around us, our own emotions and the natural rhythms of our lives, can we really said to be living?  How come the very people Jesus has given abundant life to are running around like headless chickens offering abundant life to others but somehow failing to enjoy it themselves?

Saint Aidan and his seventh century co-workers (see our blog from July 2010) set up their monastery on a remote island, whose only access was via a causeway which was submerged at high tide.  Accordingly they developed a rhythm to life which was governed by the tides: time on the island which they spent in prayer and contemplation, and time on the mainland when they engaged in mission.  Many contemporary mission workers have forgotten the importance of this rhythm, and enthusiastically do mission work without making time to restore their spiritual resources.  Small wonder that they struggle with exhaustion and burnout!

We recommend that as part of a strategy for maintaining spiritual health, missionary longevity, and human wellbeing, every mission worker should develop a personal rhythm involving daily, weekly, monthly and yearly times of retreat, contemplation, prayer and reflection.  To help with this we have provided a page listing some good places (mostly in the UK) where retreats can be organised.  These can vary from space to find individual times of prayer to fully-led times of retreat.  They can be done silently or not, in groups (better for the extraverts!) or in solitude.

We realise that regular retreat may imply five days away once or twice a year, and for many people, particularly those with families, this is not always practical.  However it is possible for one partner to give another a free day once a month to spend time with God, or even for busy parents to grab five minutes of peace and quiet in the bathroom to read a psalm and say a quick prayer.  It is not the quantity of retreat that is important, so much as the regularity.

Whichever way of doing retreat works best for you, we strongly recommend that everyone makes sure that in their busyness they don’t squeeze out of their lives the God who longs to have more of our attention.  It was Mary who was commended by Jesus, not Martha.


We have mentioned in several blogs the importance of retreat – to get away from it all, recharge the batteries, and seek God in prayer.  Here is a list of some of the retreat centres which we can recommend, either from personal experience, knowledge of their good reputation, or because they’ve been recommended to us by people we trust.

Some of them provide led retreats for groups, individually guided retreats; others are just somewhere you can relax.  Some of them are residential communities where you live alongside others, while others are conference centres or private homes.  Some cater specially for mission workers and some of these provide specific member care services.  We have deliberately refrained from commenting on them – look at their websites and decide for yourselves!

We also know of a number of private homes where mission workers are welcomed, but we don’t want to advertise them openly.  Email info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.

These are all in the UK unless otherwise indicated.

 

Ashburnham

Brunel Manor

Crowhurst

Ergata

Genesee Home (USA)

Glasshampton

The Good Book Oasis (Slovakia)

The House of the Open Door

The Juniper Tree (Thailand)

Katafiyio (Cyprus)

Le Rucher (Switzerland)

Lee Abbey

Nicholaston House

The Northumbria Community

Penhurst Retreat Centre

St. Beuno’s

Stanton House

Woodbrooke

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have mentioned a few times on this website the need for regular retreat to help manage stress. Some may wonder exactly what this means, or are a bit daunted by the prospect of five days of complete silence in a monastery.

If that’s you, then Penhurst Retreat Centre is an excellent place for you to have a retreat. One of the most charming things about Penhurst is that it doesn’t feel like a conference centre. It’s a home, in a 17th century manor house, which is tastefully furnished just like it was when it was lived in by a family. An ideal start to feeling, well, at home in a new environment.

It is situated accessibly near main roads in East Sussex, but far enough away not to hear them, and indeed it’s so rural that it’s hard to hear anything at all apart from the sounds of nature and agriculture. With lovely gardens and an orchard which is being developed into a prayer garden, it makes a very restful and relaxing place. There is also opportunity for some country walks and access to the famous Ashburnham estates nearby. One satisfied customer, Alex, commented “”My stay here was just what I needed – perfect for me! This place inspires prayer, with its sense of God’s peace and presence. It’s an easy place to listen to God, a place of blessing.”

Penhurst is also intimately small. Unlike some places where there are dozens of people so it’s hard to find a place to be alone for prayer other than in your room, Penhurst takes fewer people, so you can always find somewhere to get away, whether it’s in one of the two chapels, the lounge, the library or the church just across the garden.

If you don’t like the thought of being on your own, there is a full programme of led retreats and workshops, many aimed specifically at mission workers. In fact, there is a distinctly missional theme to the place, with its many historic connections to global mission, and each room is dedicated to a famous missionary, with photos and books in the room to inspire you.

There are friendly helpful staff who lead prayer twice a day (optional) and are available for discussion and advice whenever you want it, and the food is excellent. The cottage pie even rivalled my mum’s!

For more information visit Penhurst’s own website

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash.com

The boxer has been in a fight many times.  His face is lumpy where the bones have been broken.  His nose is crooked.  There are small scars all over his face where blows have split the skin.

But the boxer is unbeaten.  Many blows have been landed on him, but none of them was the knockout punch.  The boxer is durable, resilient.  He’s been winded, wounded, and on the ropes, but has always found enough energy to get back in the fight.  He knows he’s only got to hang on till the bell, and there’ll be a break. Sometimes he’s only won on points, but the win still counts.

You are the boxer.

Your mission field has thrown everything it’s got at you and you’re still standing.  But each blow leaves its mark.  Your bruises have bruises.  The scar tissue is building up.  You are tired, desperately tired, but you know you’ve only got to hang on a little bit longer and you’ll get that break.  The holiday, the retreat, the home assignment is not that far away.

But all of a sudden the rules have changed and the bell is not ringing.  The holiday has been cancelled.  The retreat centre is closed.  Home assignment is deferred due to travel restrictions.  Some of us have had to leave our field of service for health reasons.  Others have found themself stuck in the UK and are unable to return home.  Some short-term workers have had their once-in-a-life-time gap year truncated, or their overseas medical elective cancelled (see last week’s blog).

For worn-out mission workers, most challenges and disappointments are not a knockout punch.  We’ve been rolling with those hits for years.  That’s why we value resilience, because we know the hits are big, but we can weather them.

Covid-19 may not in itself be a knockout punch, but it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  It’s a low, cunning, unexpected hit, but what’s even worse is that it comes just when we thought we could make it to the bell.  One top of all the other blows that come again and again, our resources are drained and our resilience tested.

And now, all of a sudden, we have to find a new way to do ministry.  We have to homeschool our kids.  We are home alone and can’t meet with our friends, or we’re stuck in the house and have to face the tensions in our marriage.  We are concerned about getting the right resources, finding the right balance between loving and leaving.  We wonder if we made the right decision: should we have stayed in the field?  We feel guilty because we have the freedom to choose when those we work with don’t.  We carry the grief of friends and family who have died and we haven’t been able to be at the funeral.  And although others are suffering too it’s different for us, and nobody else understands, but we can’t tell them that for fear of appearing elitist.

Syzygy loves the bell at the end of the round, because we know every mission worker needs time out to refresh, take stock, ask some deep questions and re-envision for the future.  It’s those short breaks that restore our strength to get through the fight.  So we’re changing the rules back, and ringing the bell anyway.  You may be stuck in the UK but you can still have a retreat.

Together with Global Connections, we’re running an online retreat for mission workers who are stuck away from their place of calling, struggling to keep their ministry going.  It’s an opportunity to connect with God for three hours on 14th May, and reflect on what’s been happening. Find out more by visiting the Global Connections website.

We hope you can join us.

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.

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.

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, so here are some of our top suggestions:

Be secure in your singleness.  If you are looking out for every opportunity to find the perfect human being who will make all your dreams come true, you’re going to be distracted from your mission and find only disappointment.  You also may be vulnerable to the local people who may ask you to marry them.  Nothing wrong with that, and I know several cross-cultural marriages that are very strong, but they’re also hard work with many practical challenges.  And some of those people may be marrying you in a cynical attempt to get a western passport, and your money and influence.  Just saying.  Work through Janet Fraser-Smith’s book Love Across Latitudes before you get too far into a relationship.

Have a good biblical theology of singleness – singleness is not merely a state of waiting till you can get cracking in ministry with your partner.  It is a God-ordained opportunity to use your life to serve and glorify him.  After all, if you need to be married to get on with your ministry, why didn’t Jesus do it?  Having a good biblical perspective on this will help you through difficult times.  The best resource we can recommend is Barry Danylak’s Redeeming Singleness.

Make sure you know what you need to thrive and make sure you get it.  When you go to live in a foreign country, your whole world is turned upside down.  Lots of things you depend on for routine and security are no longer possible.  So work out what it is that you really need and find strategies for getting it.  So for example, if you move to a big hot dusty city and you need a little bit of countryside every now and then, go and sit in the garden of a large hotel and have a cup of tea surrounded by the flowers.

Be ready for loneliness and isolation.  You may have experienced this already, and while sometimes in the mission field there is great camaraderie on mission teams, you may also find there are times when you’re serving in isolated settings, or simply when your friends go on home assignment, meet as families for special occasions, and you go home alone to an empty flat.  If possible, have people you can call 24/7 who are there for you, and be open and honest with a small group of friends about the challenges you’re facing.

Make sure you have good supportive relationships.  It has often been observed that married people going to the mission field take their best friend with them; single ones leave their best friend behind.  So work hard at maintaining those relationships back home and building new ones in the field.  Work hard at learning the language so you can build friendship with locals.

Be ready for pressure to marry.  If you think the western world is hostile to those who are single, be prepared to be considered downright weird!  You may find yourself lower down the social ladder than your married co-workers.  People may openly ask what is wrong with you, or what your parents did wrong to be unable to find a partner for you.  Singleness is often seen not merely as unusual, but wrong!  People may be very quick to offer you their child or cousin even before they really know you.

Don’t expect too much of your new co-workers.  You may think that they’re going to become your new family, but some of them may have got married young and be completely unaware of the challenges you face.  Others will be busy with their own family and ministry, or have different expectations of their role on the team.  But you may also find yourself thrown together with people you would otherwise have overlooked who become great friends!

Be prepared to be flexible.  You may find that because you’re single, you may have to share accommodation with complete strangers.  It doesn’t always work out and that’s an opportunity to grow.  You may be asked to go to remote villages where there aren’t hospitals or wifi (“because it’s not fair to send the families there”).  It’s an opportunity to remember you’re there to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28).

Expect sexual harassment.  If you’re a single western woman, some cultures may think you are available and take advantage of you because you have nobody to protect you.  Devise strategies and routines together with your co-workers for your own safety and protection.  See some of our suggestions here!

Be aware that social opportunities may be limited.  Depending on where you serve, it can be difficult because of transport, security or surveillance to easily meet up with other people your age, even for social encounters let alone dating.  While this may be hard, remember it’s not why you’re there!

Having said all that, this guide is preparing you for the worst, not the best.  Your 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.”

You will probably not be alone – up to 40% of mission workers are single although in some places the teams can be made up mainly of families.  But you may feel alone, so it’s good to be prepared.  You can do this by reading our blogs about singles, reading Single Mission, or participating in one of the retreats we occasionally organise at Penhurst Retreat Centre.  And keep an eye open for our new book on thriving as a single mission worker which is being written at the moment, which will be announced in a blog here when it’s ready!

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/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Rohan Reddy on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too many to take home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t have to do re-entry alone!

Happy New Year to all our readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Source: www.freeimages.com)

I was recently asked by a single person planning to go to the mission field for support in preparing for the challenges a single in mission will face.  What a wise thing for someone to do!  But for me it raises a further question: how do we provide Syzygy’s training to a wider audience?  We have already developed workshops, lectures and retreats on the subject, but these are not always accessible to everyone.  We have blogged about singles on numerous occasions but these don’t contain all our material because we have many non-single readers!

Yet it remains clear that singles, whether new to the world of mission or long established, can benefit from specific help and advice on how to be successfully single.  At the same time it appears that some sending agencies and few churches are not in a position to provide this.  So I am wondering how to bring our experience to a wider audience.  The options include another book/e-book, podcasts, webinars or a workbook.  And we’d like some feedback to help us work out which is best.  These of course are not only for single mission workers – we would also include material to help churches, agencies and married people understand how to help singles thrive.

So we’re inviting our readers to take part in a very brief survey to help us get a feel for what would work best.  Just click here to take part.  It will only take a couple of minutes.

And do please share or retweet a link to this page so that as many people as possible get the opportunity to express their opinion!

Source: www.freeimages.com

As Syzygy takes a much-needed holiday this week, today we are going to pause and think about the value of stopping and reflecting.  Many times we have blogged about the value of retreat, and while we recognise that this can imply a time of solitude and silence which would be torture for some of our more extroverted readers, all of us can find value in withdrawing regularly from the busyness of life’s challenges and burdens to reflect on life and ministry.

Occasionally we may hear about people who have been on sabbatical, or maybe we have even met some of them, and wonder why we don’t seem to be able to get so much as a week off let alone a few months!

Sabbatical draws its principle from the Sabbath, the seventh day, and keeping the Sabbath rest is something that has marked Israel out from its neighbours over the millennia, and is also a custom the church followed until fairly recently.  Less famously the Old Testament law included a Sabbatical year – a year in which fields, fruit trees and vines were left unsown and unharvested every seventh year to allow them to rest.  And perhaps more importantly, to allow the people to trust that God would provide sufficient harvest for them in the sixth year to last them until the eighth year’s harvest came in.  Sadly there is little evidence that this act of faith and obedience was ever fully-implemented in ancient Israel, although the idea has continued to hold sway in ministry.

Not that we necessarily get – or even need – a whole year off every seventh year.  But to be free of ministry responsibilities for a significant amount of time once in a while is valuable in a way that short bursts of holiday or even the less-structured but nevertheless demanding time of home assignment can never be.

However much time we manage to set aside, there is value in stepping out of our daily routine to reflect.  Without doing so, we can get so stuck in the treadmill we don’t have time to think.  If we can break that cycle and get away, we can ask ourselves serious questions like:

  • Are we still true to our original calling?
  • What are we doing that is outside the will of God?
  • What work can we drop/delegate to someone else?
  • Is there a better way of achieving our goals?
  • What new things is God calling us to?
  • What else does God want to say to us or do in our lives?

Perhaps, if we took more time out to reflect, there would be fewer issues of missionary burnout.

(Syzygy Trustees please note I have now been in my current post for 8 years!)

 

I have written in this blog many times about the need for mission workers to be actively supported by their church, agency, family and friends – all of whom are very important for the resilience and fruitfulness of the mission worker.

However, the provision of intentional, pre-emptive, supportive care does not absolve mission workers from caring for themselves!  With millennials in the mission field, who are accustomed to more attentive parenting, workplace nurturing and personal mentoring, there may be an expectation of higher standards of support than were previously considered appropriate.  We need to lovingly remind mission workers that they are not children, they have been selected for their ability to thrive in the mission field, and have been trained to withstand the challenges of life in demanding places.

We must therefore resist the attempt to treat them as fragile, wrap them in cotton wool and run around looking after them.  Instead we need to encourage them into self-care.  This covers every aspect of who they are:

Physical self-care – They need to be paying attention to how their diet, exercise and sleep are healthily maintained to keep them well.  They need to be aware of their own biological cycle, how they adapt in their body to changing months and seasons, the amount of heat and daylight available to them, and how they plan their life around their natural strengths.  At what time of day are they at their best, and can they adapt their working time around that?  Taking the full holiday entitlement, Sabbath days and weekends (where possible) will be part of this.

Mental self-care – maintaining mental well-being has two aspects to it: allowing the mind to unwind from stress, and stretching it to enable it to cope with more.  So regular academic study, distance learning on practical or theological issues to keep people’s skills up to speed is important.  As is the need to create downtime to give the brain a chance to switch off, particularly at night to allow more chance of good sleep.  Developing a physical hobby, perhaps a craft or a sport, will go a long way towards facilitating this.

Spiritual self-care – mission workers are selected for their ability to feed themselves from the Bible and thrive in hard places, but regular times of retreat, seeing a spiritual director and being helped through podcasts or discussion groups can contribute to their spiritual well-being.  So too can keeping regular hours of prayer, journaling, or using a personal liturgy to help with prayer.

Emotional self-care – often we find ourselves too busy to stop and reflect on how well we are relating to those around us: family, friends, church and co-workers.  How do we intentionally deepen our accountable relationships?  How do we live in ongoing repentance and stronger commitment to others?  This can be complicated by being in cross-cultural teams, churches or families – can we identify the facets of the culture we live in which cause us the most stress, and find ways of coping better, even to the point of thriving in them?

In considering all these different things they need to do to care for themselves, mission workers may want to consider inviting a friend to be an accountability partner, to ask searching questions about what they are doing to look after themselves.  Some people may feel that the idea of looking after oneself does not fit well with ‘laying down one’s life’, but like a good marathon runner, we are in this race to finish well, and in order to do that we need to pace ourselves rather than run the race like a sprint!