Christmas – the happiest time of the year?

ChristmasAccording to contemporary mythology, Christmas is the happiest time of the year.  A time for giving, celebrating, and enjoying being with family.  Many seasonal songs perpetuate that myth.  Yet for many people it is far from that.  Coping with the various personal tragedies which can afflict humanity, Christmas is merely a mirror of the joy they don’t have.  So often church only seems to make it worse, enthusiastically buying into the seasonal activities while blissfully unaware of the isolation this can cause.  Christmas can be the most unhappy time of the year.

It can be an extremely difficult time for those who have been bereaved, divorced or abandoned, particularly if that has occurred in the last year.  For them this celebration will be a mockign memory of former happy times.  Other people will be lonely, having no special person to share it with, and it’s interesting to reflect on how many popular Christmas songs indicate that the presence (or absence) of a key loved one is a crucial factor in whether Christmastime is happy or not.  Some people will have no children but will be longing for their own children to treat, and they burn with pain each time somebody says ‘Christmas is all about the children’.  With so much activity centred on the children, those who want them can feel that it just makes their lack harder to bear.  Christmas can be the most lonely time of the year.

crackerWhile the celebrations of many who do not have family, or have a key part of their family missing, are overshadowed by their lack, many of those who do have family will also be suffering.  Perhaps loved ones are estranged, or relationships are tense, with a threat of arguments or even violence over Christmas.  Others are weighed down by the burden of expectation, needing to get along with in-laws or deliver a perfect Christmas experience of food, presents and decorations, perhaps while lacking the time or the finances to do it properly and fulfil everybody’s Christmas dreams.  Christmas can be the most uncomfortable time of the year.

Others will have no home at all, relying on shelters and hoping for mild weather, or will have no food to eat, or will be unable to afford to heat their homes.  Others will be refugees, wondering if their community can survive international conflict or natural disaster.  Christmas can be the most painful time of the year.

It is no coincidence then, that the child whose nativity we celebrate was not born into a perfect family Christmas.  The were forced to be away from their home by a dictatorial empire, and quite possibly were ostracised by family due to the suspicions surrounding Jesus’ paternity.  With no place to call their own, they found rough shelter in a strange town and Mary gave birth in uncomfortable and humiliating surroundings.  Soon afterwards they were political refugees, on the run from an oppressive tyrant murdering innocent children who might grow up to overthrow him.

Yet Jesus came to bring hope and comfort to those who suffer.  In this age through his church, and in the future in heaven, he promises better for us.  For those of you who feel lonely, uncomfortable or in pain at this time of year, we offer some words of encouragement:

  • Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God; blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be satisfied; blessed are you who are crying, for you shall laugh.  (Luke 6:20-21)
  • To those of you who can’t have children, don’t say you’re all dried up; I’ve got something better for you – a name that will last forever (Isaiah 56:4-5).
  • Look!  God has come to set up home with humanity… and he will wipe away every tear, and there will be no death, or mourning, or crying or pain any more.  These things all belong in the past (Revelation 21:3-4).

And for those of you who are fortunate enough to be enjoying a happy, festive occasion, maybe you’d like to spend a few moments considering how you can share your company, food and joy and with those for whom Christmas is a season to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Keep a missionary mobile (2)

31072012151Keep a Missionary Mobile is a campaign which we launched earlier this year to help Syzygy provide transport for mission workers on home assignment in the UK.  This is a much needed service and one recent beneficiary commented:

It gives me so much freedom to travel!  I just couldn’t do home assignment without it.

You can read more about this ministry here.

Our faithful but ageing Ford Galaxy is nearing its sell-by date and we are looking to raise funds to buy a newer and higher-spec Toyota Previa which has been offered to us.  We anticipate many years of service from this dependable vehicle, which has seven seats and is ideal for families on home assignment.

Will you help us to Keep a Missionary Mobile?  You can give through our Everyclick account, at Give.net, or through Stewardship (if you have an account with them), or by sending a cheque payable to Syzygy to 46 Wingate Close, Birmingham B30 1AA.

TCKS coming ‘home’

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

It’s a while since we discussed TCKs, and since we reviewed reverse culture shock a few months ago, this might be a good opportunity to focus specifically on how this affects TCKs.  TCKS are Third Culture Kids – people who spent a significant part of their formative years growing up in a culture which was not that of their parents.  They don’t fully fit in either in their parents’ home country, or the country (or countries) in which they grew up, so they form their own third culture which features aspects of both.  Where the parents are mission workers, they are also known as Mission Kids (MKs).

Among the many huge challenges facing TCKs is the question of where home is.  They can often experience significant confusion over the issue, particularly when they’ve lived as mission kids in more than two countries.  But they seldom agree with their parents that the original sending country is home.  This complicates returning to the sending country, whether temporarily for home assignment or permanently, as in relocating for educational reasons.

Home... or away?

Home… or away?

Parents can easily talk about this as ‘going home’, which it may well be for them, but for the children, it is more like going to a foreign country.  They may be familiar with aspects of it but it is probably not home.  They are leaving home!  Their wider family in the sending country, and also in their ‘home’ church may reinforce this view, asking children who are already feeling lonely, bewildered and homesick how it feels to be ‘home’.  It’s not surprising if they occasionally get a hostile response.

Recognising that any such transition is a huge challenge for young people is the first step in dealing with it.  Some of our top tips for helping TCKs cope with this transition are:

  • ensure that the parents can spend more time than usual with their children, since they are a key point of stability in a different world;
  • connect with old friends back home through social media to maintain meaningful relationships;
  • bring with you favourite toys, furniture and food supplies so that you can continue to celebrate where you’ve come from;
  • meet with people from their host culture in the new country, and connect with other TCKs who have already made the transition;
  • continue to speak in the language of your host country to reinforce your connection with it;
  • take children and teens to Rekonnect – a summer camp specially designed for TCKs;
  • ensure that key features of life and culture in the new country are explained.  Don’t take it for granted that TCKs know how to tie shoelaces or button a dufflecoat if they didn’t have shoes and coats as they grew up!
TCKs in Brazil - Pam and her four sisters

TCKs in Brazil – Pam and her four sisters

One of Syzygy’s trustees, Pam Serpell, herself a TCK who grew up in Brazil, wrote a dissertation on this subject for her degree, and has given us permission to publish it here.   In her research she discovered that TCKs who reflected back on their experience of relocating to the UK used words like depressed, misunderstood, belittled, lonely, excluded, trapped and even suicidal.  This will not come as a surprise to those who have already been through this transition, but indicates how seriously the challenges for TCKs need to be taken.

Pam also looked at what helped prepare the TCKs for the transition, supported them through it, and what else they thought might have helped.  She clearly felt there is a need for sending agencies to do more to help prepare TCKs, perhaps through a formal orientation programme, and to support them through it.  Fortunately, in the 10 years that have elapsed since she did her research, many agencies have made great progress in this area.

Yet despite the evident challenges involved in being a TCK, Pam concludes:

All the people who took part in my research expressed being grateful for their upbringing and the experiences they had in ‘growing up between worlds’ and I would encourage any TCK to concentrate on the benefits of their experience and look for the positives.

You can read a pdf of Pam’s dissertation here.  As with all material on the Syzygy website, it is available for reuse where appropriate as long as the author receives due credit.

Myers Briggs

ISTJ Head (Copyright CPP)

ISTJ Head (Copyright CPP)

I have mentioned previously the benefit of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a tool for managing stress through self-understanding and this seems a good time to revisit it.  Understanding what makes us tick can be critical for our relationships, both personal and professional, and finding the best way for us to live and work from a position of rest instead of stress.

MBTI is a simple and effective way of working out how you fit into the world, and it has four separate scales according to how you would answer these four questions:

  • Do you prefer engaging with the world outside you or the world inside?
  • Are you a details person or an ideas person?
  • Do you prioritise principles or people?
  • Do you like to be planned or spontaneous?
Harry Potter characters - which personality type are they?

Harry Potter characters – which personality type are they?

The real MBTI analysis is much more complex than that, and is scarily accurate.  It takes your measurements on each of these four scales and distils them into one of sixteen personality types.  Frequently people read the synopsis for their personality type and comment that they could have written it themselves! It’s important to stress that there are no wrong or right answer to these, just preferences, and while some people might clearly be right at one end of one of the spectrums, others may be somewhere near the middle.  It doesn’t matter because we’re all different, but knowing your own response to these questions may help you understand why you like to do things in a certain way, and why other people may misunderstand you.

For example, I like to be planned, which means I value order and structure.  I like everything in its place and an agreed process for doing things.  When I’m stressed, I can become insistent on putting rules in place because it helps me establish some order and create an environment I can feel comfortable with.  But someone who isn’t like me could see my attempt to create order as needless bureaucracy, and I have been accused (unjustly in my opinion!) of being controlling, because I don’t value the flexibility that is important to them.

ISTJ stress head (Copyright CPP)

ISTJ stress head (Copyright CPP)

Recently there have been several different ways of expressing MBTI types in a commonly accessible way.  These have included characters from Star Wars or Harry Potter, which are creative and amusing, but one of the most effective ones is a simple icon developed by CPP.  This consists of a head for each personality type, together with key words associated with it.  There is also a corresponding ‘stress’ head which has the key words which are associated with stress for that personality type.  If you know your MBTI, you’ll find them interesting, and if you don’t, you may be able to work it out from these, though it needs to be said that these are no substitute for doing a proper analysis with a professional trainer.  You can find the complete set at the CPP website.

In my opinion, doing an MBTI test should be an essential part of preparing for cross-cultural mission, as it helps equip us to be more self-aware and to get along better with our fellow team members.  That in turn reduces stress and helps us to minimise attrition.

You can find out more about MBTI from the Myers & Briggs Foundation.  If you would like to do an MBTI, contact info@syzygy.org.uk and we can facilitate one for you.

Other personality analysis tools are available.

Malaria

mosquito

An anopheles mosquito

A new malaria vaccine – the first in history – has passed its trials recently, so we thought it might be a good idea to bring you all up to speed on it.  Malaria is a significant global public health issue, claiming over 600,000 lives a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa, so anything that can make a dent in those statistics is a welcome development.

The new vaccine, RTS,S (also known as Mosquirix)  is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, with $200m of funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is the culmination of a sixty year search for the Holy Grail of tropical medicine.  Because malaria is such a varied disease, it is notoriously hard to fight, but RTS,S works by introducing one protein from the parasite into the human immune system so that it will respond more rapidly to an infection.  In Phase III trials in seven African countries in children and infants it was found to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria for up to 18 months.  You can read the GlaxoSmithKlein press release here.

Malaria zones (source: Rpyal Perth Hospital)

Malaria regions (source: Royal Perth Hospital)

GSK hope to get the vaccine to market by 2016, and plan to sell it at a price which will cover the cost of production plus 5%, with profits being ploughed back in to product development.  It remains to be seen, of course, whether the cost will be low enough to be affordable to many countries which desperately need it.

As well as this prophylactic, there are also well-established preventatives such as malarone, a relatively expensive but highly effective prophylactic , and doxycycline, a mild antibiotic noted for its lack of serious side effects other than reducing tolerance to sunlight, which makes it problematic in the tropics.  Many adult prophylactics are not recommended for children, particularly Lariam, which has been linked to vivid nightmares, anxiety, depression and mood swings.  For more information visit the Interhealth website, but you should always seek bespoke medical advice from your GP or other medical adviser before taking anything to prevent or treat malaria, especially as strains of malaria differ across the world.

Effective prevention

Effective prevention

Of course, the best way to prevent malaria is not to get bitten by a mosquito in the first place.  Sleeping under impregnated mosquito nets, fitting mesh to windows, and keeping skin covered, particularly around sunset, are suitable barrier methods.  Having an electric fly killer also works, as does regular spraying of rooms with insect killer, though take care not to be in the room for a little while afterwards.  Burning mosquito coils and wearing insect repellent are less dangerous ways of deterring mosquitos.  There is also evidence that eating garlic works, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking!

One of the most effective ways of making sure that mosquitos are eliminated from your environment is to ensure that there is no standing water near your home.  That’s not easy during the rainy season, but mosquitos don’t travel far from their place of birth – some studies say as little as 100 metres.  If you can’t eliminate the water, introduce fish to it to eat the mosquito larvae, or add a small amount of paraffin to it to reduce the surface tension of the water which means the eggs fall through and drown.

Another method is to eliminate the mosquito’s food source – nectar and other plant sugars.  Many of us plant lawns or flower beds round our homes or offices to make them look nice, but that’s just building a mozzie diner.  Contrary to popular belief, mosquitos don’t feed on blood; the females use it for reproduction.  So by replacing your lovely green lawn and flower beds with gravel, you starve the mozzies.  If you must have the greenery, spray it regularly with an insecticide.

Sensible precautions could save thousands of lives a year.  But so could RTS,S.  And the best thing is that all of us who have moaned about our MS Windows over the years have indirectly contributed to its development.  Eat your hearts out, MAC users!

_____________

Postscript

In a recent development, a new test for malaria has been discovered, which promises to be much more accurate than the current standard slide test.  For more information visit http://allafrica.com/stories/201312311173.html

Avoiding Chronic Fatigue

Source: www,sxc.hu

Source: www,sxc.hu

As we observed in a previous blog about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), many mission workers are prime candidates for suffering from this particularly pernicious illness.  Having said that, while we want to take this opportunity to warn people against it, we must be clear that this is an illness which can strike anyone.  It is a genuine medical condition and it is not a psychosomatic condition or a state of mind.

Nevertheless, it is also clear that while it can attack anybody, many of the people who suffer from it are overworked or highly stressed, and it appears that something about being under stress may weaken the victim’s ability to resist CFS, which typically follows a viral infection when the body’s immune reserves are already low.  So here are some of the steps that we can take to minimise the risk of succumbing to CFS.

Avoid getting ill!  Field health awareness training often forms part of the initial training for mission workers, but after our initial training we all tend to assume we know it all.  That’s when we fall into bad habits.  So it does no harm to review the basics.  Avoiding dehydration and exposure to the sun, maintaining a healthy diet, regular handwashing, taking appropriate prophylactics (particularly for malaria), ensuring our inoculations are up to date, and taking vitamin pills if necessary are all ways of ensuring that we remain generally healthy and avoid infection.

Look after number 1!  Taking care of yourself is not a popular concept among mission workers, who often think in terms of ‘laying down our lives’, but if we have a calling on our lives, surely our primary responsibility is to ensure that we stay well enough to fulfil that calling.  It is futile to work hard at it for a couple of years and then find ourselves invalided out of the field.  Way back in the seventeenth century Vincent de Paul, who himself was a noted charity worker, wrote:

It is a trick of the Devil, which he employs to deceive good souls,

to incite them to do more than they are able,

in order that they may no longer be able to do anything.

 

Souce: (www.sxc.hu)

Souce: (www.sxc.hu)

Recognise our motivation.  While I’m sure we would all primarily claim to be serving God, what lies behind that motivation?  Despite our common belief that we are unconditionally loved by God, and are assured of our salvation, I find plenty of evidence that many of us are still trying to earn God’s love and pay for our place in heaven.  Or perhaps we are trying to prove to a long-dead grandparent, teacher or pastor that we can actually achieve something with our lives despite what they told us.  Others may be trying to gain significance, or to meet their own personal need to be needed.

Make appropriate lifestyle changes.  Armed with the self-awareness we have gained from above, how can we live more sustainably?  Key factors include learning to say no, recognising that just because something needs to be done it doesn’t mean we have to do it ourselves, cultivating ways of relaxing such as taking up a hobby, making time for regularly times of reflection, prioritising quality time with family or friends, and ensuring that we take our full holiday entitlement.

Hopefully, making such adjustments to our lifestyles will help us to stay healthier, and avoid exposing ourselves to unwanted illnesses like CFS.

For those people in the field, Syzygy delivers a day seminar called Why do we Choose to be Stressed? which deals with why we get stressed in the first place, and how we can manage our lifestyles more sustainably.  Please get in touch with us on info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.

Culture shock

Company's Gardens, Cape Town

Company’s Gardens, Cape Town

When I first went to live in Africa, after a couple of months I started to feel unhappy.  I didn’t feel comfortable in my surroundings, and had difficulty accepting some of the ways things were done.  Then I went on a trip to Cape Town, where I felt very happy, so happy in fact that it threw my recent experience into sharp contrast and I began to reflect on it.

I realised that Cape Town has a lot of architecture that is familiar to me.  It has an Anglican cathedral and, formal parks with flower beds and statues.  And of course, an Irish pub!  There is a distinctly European feel to the city centre.  I realised that I didn’t have to apologise for being European – that was what God had made me – and that it was unsurprising if I didn’t fit in easily in Africa.

Coping with culture shock?

Coping with culture shock?

I had culture shock, a mysterious state of dis-ease which many mission workers will recognise but which still really unsettles beginners.  Unresolved, it can lead to spiritual and emotional problems which can contribute to early and preventable departure from the field.  Those serving with agencies will have been warned about it, and hopefully will be supported through the experience, but those serving independently may be completely ignorant of it, as I was.

Culture shock often strikes after the initial excitement of a new mission and the euphoria of discovering a new country have started to wear off, and we have to get on with the demanding task of settling down in an alien environment.  It can vary from being a vague sense of unhappiness to a debilitating depression which can have a severe impact on physical energy levels.

It can be triggered by something as trivial as not enjoying rice porridge for breakfast every day, or not being able to sleep because of the heat or the noise of the insects, but it is actually the symptoms of the mind struggling to adapt to a different reality to the one you were previously used to.  Whenever change happens in our lives, we bolster our emotional stability by depending on the things that haven’t changed.  But when you find yourself living in a new country, unable to say even the simplest things in the local language, not recognising the food, having no friends, with a different work culture and a new way of doing church, there’s not much left that hasn’t changed, so we struggle to cope.

Strange food?

Strange food?

The loss of identity which can arise from going back to stage one and becoming a beginner again, and the loneliness and isolation that can result from not having supportive relationships only compound the struggle.

Sadly, there is no quick remedy.  But recognising that you are suffering from culture shock is the first part of dealing with it.  Just be patient – it will eventually wear off, usually after a few months.  It doesn’t mean you’re unfit for cross-cultural ministry, you just take a bit of time to adapt.  You can mitigate the effects by going to places that are familiar (air-conditioned malls or western-style restaurants) or by doing familiar things (your favourite dvds or music, for example).  Write down how you feel, maybe as a poem – that can help to express unwanted emotions.  Try to get to know people from your own country, if there are any around, and talk about your feelings.  Don’t be embarrassed – they’ve probably struggled through culture shock themselves.

But amidst all the change of going to do mission in a new country, remember the one thing in your life that hasn’t changed – God.  Place your security in God’s love for you, pour out your frustration in prayer, and ask for grace to cope.  God has sent you on your mission, and will equip you to survive.  The ancient Israelites suffered from culture shock when they went into exile.  They found no sympathy from their captors.  They wrote the experience down in Psalm 137 – a cathartic way of dealing with emotions.  We are uncomfortable with some of the understandable anger they felt, but they asserted their own cultural identity in the midst of it (verses 5-6).  History tells us that they survived, adapted and thrived.  I am sure you will too.

For more background to cross-cultural issues, see our cross-cultural training manual Worlds Apart

Reverse culture shock

More change on the way

More change on the way

It seems to me that every time I come back from a trip abroad, a new shop has opened on my local high street.  I don’t know if they wait for me to go away, in the hope that I won’t notice, but it’s a regular occurrence.  Since I travel quite frequently, this adds up to quite a turnover of stores.  Over time, the character of the high street changes, but most people wouldn’t notice, as the change is gradual and incremental.

But if I were to come back after a year or two away, the difference would be much more marked.  I would still recognise the high street, but I could clearly see it’s different.  The supermarket has changed hands (again!).  The post office has gone.  The bank has turned into a posh restaurant.  The greengrocer’s is now a charity shop.  We grieve (just a little bit) the loss.

This is a small example of what is called ‘reverse culture shock’.  It never ceases to amaze me how few mission workers, particularly independent ones, are prepared for the fact that things are not the same as they were when they left.  Life has moved on without them.  The sense of things not being quite the same can lead to a feeling of not quite belonging any more.  Once the euphoria of meeting family and friends again has worn off, returning mission workers can be left feeling slightly disorientated.  It’s a mild form of grieving – grieving for a lost past that cannot be recovered.

La bancaAdd into the changing high street the fact that church has changed (there may be a new vicar, old friends have left), family has changed (granny has died, mum and dad have moved into a house that was never home to me), and society has changed around us in too many ways to mention, and reverse culture shock can become quite an issue.  On top of what has changed in our environment, we have changed too while we’ve been away.  We’ve learned a new language, taken on aspects of a new culture, and seen God at work in an entirely different context.  So we can’t reasonably expect to fit back in where we left off, whether it was three decades ago, or just a year.  These changes can lead to loss of friendships, dislocation of family, and alienation from church.

If you find yourself feeling unaccountably emotional (tearful, angry, impatient, frustrated) – or indeed curiously numb – some 6-8 weeks after your return, it’s possible you’re suffering from reverse culture shock.  This can go on for quite some time, but recognising it for what it is will be the best way to start dealing with it.  Having a proper, formal debrief can help – either with your church or agency, or if they don’t feel competent to do it, please contact Syzygy to arrange one with us.  Talking about it with somebody who understands can help normalise your experience and facilitate your adaptation.  If you’re the church, family, or friends of people returning from abroad, watch for signs of reverse culture shock and be prepared to help with it.  For more information about it, see our article which is part of our guide to re-entry.

Overseas mission has a habit of knocking off some of our sharp edges.  As a result, we don’t fit back into the square holes we came out of.  That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us.  We’ve just grown.

The Syzygy car ministry expands

MondeoSyzygy is pleased to announce the expansion of our fleet with the addition of a Mondeo, which will help us meet the needs of mission families.  Together with our Galaxy and Fiesta, we’re now able to lend cars to even more mission workers on home assignment in the UK.  We are very grateful for the donation of this car, and really appreciate the generosity of our supporters who help us help mission workers.

Obviously, the addition of a new car to our fleet significantly increases our costs, and we would be grateful for any donations towards the cost of running our car fleet.  You might like to organise for your church or youth group to fundraise regularly for us as part of our Keep a Missionary Mobile campaign.  You can read more about the Syzygy car ministry on our resources page.

Serving as Singles

Andy MurrayThis week’s blog is not a reference to the tennis championships at Wimbledon, but a consideration of the needs of single mission workers serving the Lord cross-culturally.

Not long ago, the HR director of a UK mission agency told me that they recommend that all their married mission partners do a marriage refresher course while they are on home assignment.  This is good practice as it will help them think about the damage caused to their relationship by their time in the field, and help them strengthen their marriage to be more resilient in the future.

However the same agency makes no similar recommendation to its single mission partners for dealing with their singleness!

And, to be honest, even if they did, it wouldn’t be easy for their mission partners to find the appropriate resources.  Marriage enrichment courses abound.  You can find them run at retreat centres or in many churches (see Relationship Central for more information).  Yet where do you find any resource to help singles?  It’s an issue that is not adequately addressed, despite the increasing number of singles in our churches.

mi1Syzygy is very happy to be able to redress this balance.  We are happy to be partnering with Penhurst Retreat Centre, whose amazing ministry we have profiled before, to provide a 48 hour guided retreat for single mission workers in early September.

Serving as Singles is a celebration of singleness in ministry.  This retreat will be an affirming time helping single mission workers embrace their situation in life, look to Christ to provide our needs, and discuss strategies for coping with the difficult aspects of being single. There will be time for teaching, discussion, prayer, silence and laughter. It is open to all singles involved in mission whether unmarried, divorced or widowed.  Above all, we will be pointed back to Jesus as the lover of our soul, to spend time with him, listening to what he has to say to us.

Penhurst is a quiet, cozy retreat centre deep in the lovely Sussex countryside, which provides plenty of opportunity for rest and reflection.  It is an ideal place for an event such as this.  To book your place, visit the Penhurst website.  But do it quickly, as places are strictly limited!

Mission report – Mozambique

Typical scenery in Mozambique

Typical scenery in Mozambique

Recently Syzygy was back on the road again, as Tim went travelling in Mozambique for two weeks.  Visiting old friends Aaron & Sarah Beecher, Tim was also able to visit and encourage a number of other mission workers in the area.

The first event was Staying Healthy for the Long Haul.  It was attended by 23 people from several ministries working in Mozambique, along with Christian expats in business locally.  We spent time considering the principal internal pressures we place on ourselves which reduce our capacity to manage stress.  Then we identified some of the most significant external demands on us, and thought about strategies to manage and reduce them.  Given that stress is a key factor in mission attrition, it is important to address such issues.  Our discussions focussed on helping mission workers develop the emotional intelligence to understand their inner drivers, recognise how this influences their choices and become empowered so that the are no longer dominated by them.  Much conversation followed over the next two weeks.  One of the participants said:

There was so much good quality material we could have spent the whole weekend reflecting on it!

Others who were unable to be there were disappointed when they found out how helpful it was.  Syzygy is now able to bring this day-long workshop to other locations to help mission workers.

Quality metalworking at Tariro

Quality metalworking at Tariro

For the first time in nine years, Tim was able to visit Tariro, a technical school teaching high quality carpentry, metalwork and motor mechanics to Mozambican students.  It was encouraging to see so much development in this significant ministry and find it having such a powerful impact on the neighbourhood in terms not only of training, but of the spread of the gospel and a consistent Christian witness.  Tim spent two mornings providing Bible teaching to all the students which generated significant discussion among them about how Christians should live, particularly bearing in mind their witness to the local community.  It was also encouraging to see the long term training and discipling of key workers in the community leading to their ability to take responsibility and hold key roles in Tariro.  One man who was raised in a local orphanage and joined Tariro as a teenager is now the Vice-Principal and is studying for a technical degree.

Mural at Africa 180

Mural at Africa 180

Tim also spent plenty of time visiting the mission workers at Africa 180, a local ministry of I Reach Africa, a most impressive agency with great compassion and a ‘can do’ mentality.  Dedicated staff there run a number of ministries including prison outreach, a clinic with a nutritional programme for babies, a pre-school and a developing secondary school.  This too is a powerfully compassionate witness in the local community.

There were also plenty of opportunities to preach, teach, and provide one-to-one support for mission workers.  Tim caught up with a number of old friends, and engaged in a variety of ministry with them.

We are very grateful for your prayers for the effectiveness of this mission, which helped bring results in a number of challenging situations.  Please continue to pray for the work of the missions mentioned above, and the people who work with them.  Life in Mozambique is far from easy for mission workers, with many challenges varying from a tough spiritual climate to large quantities of poorly-driven lorries on the congested roads.  Their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being is always at stake.

Book review: Honourably Wounded

Honourably woundedSadly, many overseas mission workers are wounded in the course of their ministry – as a result of burnout, spiritual fatigue, enemy action and sometimes even ‘friendly fire’.  Many of them return to life in their sending country with a deep sense of loss for the ministry they have left behind, and mourning for the lost relationships.  Often their churches do not know how to help them, and the agencies one might expect to be able to help them have often been part of the problem, so there is no opportunity for supportive dialogue.  Syzygy often meets people who still have unresolved issues many years after the field.  They don’t know how to handle their hurt, or even explain it to themselves let alone others.

Dr Marjory Foyle spent 30 years as a mission worker in India and Nepal, initially as a medical doctor and then as a psychiatrist.  Her work on understanding the need for better care for mission workers led her to become one of the founders of the member care sector.  Her seminal work Honourably Wounded (Monarch 2010, ISBN 978-0825463334) is a small book which has had a major impact on how churches, sending agencies and mission workers understand and deal with the emotional and psychological damage that can be caused to workers on the mission field.  To those who have been wounded in action, it has been a huge comfort to know that someone understands and can help.

Much of mission workers’ inability to cope well with stress is due to the false conception of ‘laying down our lives for the Lord.’  This is often taken to mean that we deny ourselves everything wholesome and enjoyable in order to get on with the task we have been given.  Marjory points out that:

“dedication and commitment to God, while essential if we want to go on with God, do not mean the wholesale denial  of the real person within, but provide us with freedom to expand, develop, and enjoy the good things God has created”.

MarjorieMarjory’s book is highly readable, honestly addressing difficult situations, and bringing good psychiatric awareness to the layman.  It covers a wide range of subjects including depression, culture shock, occupational stress and interpersonal relations, and it has an extensive bibliography which is also informative.  Marjory’s extensive experience of missions, and of the problems people can encounter has fed into a very practical resource.  She has a clear understanding of the dynamics or the relationships between family members, colleagues and the local culture and places all this in a firm biblical context.

While Marjory’s biblical understanding informs every chapter, the final one – a God’s Biblical Model for Member Care  – makes it abundantly clear that God doesn’t want his workers burning themselves out and is passionate about their health.  She writes of mission workers: Because there is always such a lot to do and they feel personally responsible, they overwork and use up a vast amount of physcial and mental energy with inadequate recharging of batteries.”  This book is her response to that problem.

If you have been wounded in action, or are trying to help someone who has been, this is the single best resource you can buy.

Syzygy in Mozambique

Sunrise in Mozambique

Sunrise in Mozambique

One of the things that Syzygy loves to do is to get out in the field and visit mission workers.  It helps us keep an up-to-date perspective on the challenges they are facing, and learn more about the challenges of cross-cultural ministry in the 21st century.  By conducting research in the field we are able to keep our advice and our blogs relevant and appropriate.  Field visits also give us a wonderful opportunity to meet with overworked mission partners and help be part of restoring their strength and energy.

This month Tim is going to Mozambique.  He’s going to stay with our old friends Aaron & Sarah Beecher at Tariro where he’ll be doing some biblical teaching at a conference for the staff and students.  He’s also going to be running a workshop for mission workers in the region (see our recent article Staying Healthy) and we hope this will lead to further opportunities to meet and encourage people we’ve not yet connected with.  Often when we’ve done events like this before, the participants request individual conversations which can keep us busy for the rest of the week!

Being familiar with some of the challenges of living and working in the area (Tim spent a year there, many years ago, before moving on to Zimbabwe), we anticipate that there will be many challenges in counselling people, dealing with issues arising from long-term cross-cultural fatigue, workplace conflict and reconciliation issues.  Mozambique is a difficult place to minister, with little opportunities for r&r or even good in field fellowship with other mission workers.  So we anticipate this will be a far-from-easy trip.  And we’re not going anywhere near a beach!

A long walk home

A long walk home

Tim’s schedule involves flying out on 4th June, changing flights in Cairo and Johannesburg before arriving in Beira the next day.  Staying Healthy  takes place at Tariro on 8th June and the staff conference will be a few days later.  Tim leaves Mozambique again on 17th June.

Please partner with us on this ministry trip by praying for:

safe travel, and making the right flight connections

the successful delivery of Staying Healthy

useful and constructive connections to arise from Staying Healthy

wisdom and anointing in counselling, advising and helping mission workers

God-given appointments we haven’t yet made

health, vitality and wisdom throughout the trip

clear communication with everyone!

We hope to bring you occasional updates via Facebook and Twitter during Tim’s visit.  If you don’t already follow us, click on the link so you don’t miss out.

Keep a missionary mobile!

31072012151Finding transport for a short visit to the UK can be one of the biggest headaches for mission workers.  With a need to travel around the country to be reunited with friends and family, visit conferences and churches, often with equipment for presentations and personal luggage, public transport just doesn’t do the job.  But it’s too expensive to rent a car for 6 to 8 weeks, not long enough to justify buying one, and even if somebody lends them a car, the cost of insuring it for just a few months can be prohibitive.  What to do?

Syzygy has its own solution to this problem – we have our own car ministry.  Our three cars – a Fiesta, a Mondeo and a Galaxy – are loaned to mission workers for up to six months.  There’s no insurance to arrange and the cars are delivered to the mission worker wherever they want them – even to the airport.  All they have to do is get in and drive away, and if they are too tired to do that after a long flight, we’ll even drive them to their destination.  You can read more about this ministry here.

Many mission workers coming from a variety of mission fields have testified to the fact that this ministry is a huge blessing to them, and that they could not have done their home assignment without it.  The fact that over 40 people last year asked to borrow one of our cars indicates what an important service it is.  It is our privilege to serve them in this way.

The costs of this ministry have increased significantly in recent years, largely due to the rising cost of insurance.  The Fiesta costs Syzygy over £200/month to run and the Galaxy nearly £300.  It has always been our hope to make this service available free of charge to mission workers, but in recent years we have been forced by these rising costs to ask them for donations to help with the running costs.

If more people became involved in supporting this work we would be able to reduce the amount that we ask mission workers to contribute.  Is this something your church or youth group could be involved in and so have a practical impact on world mission?  This could well be a way for your group to establish contact with mission workers for the first time.  There is no lower limit (or upper limit!) on the amount raised as every pound will make a difference.  Here are some examples of the sort of costs that we face. Could you or your church be inspired to meet one of them?

Description Cost for the Fiesta

Cost for the Galaxy

10 litres of fuel £14 £14
A pair of tyres £90 £190
One month’s insurance cover £95 £110
MOT £100 £150
One month’s running costs £220 £290
Annual service £250 £450

Will you help us to Keep a Missionary Mobile?  You can give through our Everyclick account, at Give.net, or through Stewardship (if you have an account with them), or by sending a cheque payable to Syzygy to 46 Wingate Close, Birmingham B30 1AA.  If you would like a Gift Aid Form, or would like to set up a standing order to our bank account, please email info@syzygy.org for the details.

Why do we choose to be stressed?

Orange lightMany mission workers slowly lose the capacity to perform well over time.  The reasons for this are many but can include:

  • the cumulative effects of living in a foreign culture
  • long-term workplace stress
  • toxic relationships with colleagues
  • sense of isolation and lack of support
  • the physical demands of living in a different climate
  • spiritual stagnation resulting from years of giving out while not receiving.

These issues, like the proverbial frog in a pan of boiling water, can sneak up on us unawares and drain our vitality, our joy and our ability to serve God.  We soldier on, not realising there’s a problem until one day we wake up and realise we just can’t go on any more.  The result can be physical illness, long-term fatigue or burnout.

Sadly, Syzygy meets with too many people in this situation.  If these issues remain untreated, they can even lead to psychological damage and loss of faith.  The resulting attrition is toxic to individual servants of God and prejudicial to effective mission.  We aim to prevent this happening.

Syzygy exists to help mission workers maintain themselves in peak condition to serve, and as part of this we have developed a one-day workshop designed to be delivered in-field to mission workers as a routine checkup.  Why do we Choose to be Stressed? will look at core issues like our identity in Christ, and help us to understand what makes us tick.  We will trainingexamine our motivations – which may in fact not be the ones we think they are!  Equipped with a better understanding of ourselves, we will then consider the steps we can take to help us cope with stress more effectively, learn how to take care of ourselves better and make suitable changes to our lifestyle so that we become more resilient and able to continue serving effectively.

We hope to make this workshop available in a variety of countries in the coming years.  If you would like to host one, please get in touch with us by emailing info@syzygy.org.uk.  The workshop is also suitable for delivery in the UK as part of home assignment retreats or briefings for new mission workers.

And on the Sabbath…

ChillingYou’re probably already aware that the Genesis account of creation tells us that God rested on the seventh day, but have you realised that God actually blessed it, and made it ‘holy’ (Genesis 2:3)?  God blessed humanity, and some of the animals too, but didn’t call us holy.  So the seventh day is clearly something important.

Holy doesn’t necessarily mean sombre or sacred, it can also mean separate or special.  The first thing God called special was a day off!  That says something about the significance of taking a regular day off.  You may know of the importance that the Jewish people have historically attached to their Sabbath, and while it has become somewhat rule-encrusted (as you will find if you ever go to Israel and get in a lift on the Sabbath – it stops on every floor so you don’t have to ‘work’ by pressing the button!) the traditional Jewish celebration of God, the Word and family is a good way to focus on what is really important in our lives.  Many Christians who have followed their example and tried to avoid work, shopping, DIY and other leisure activities on the Sabbath have discovered the blessing of a complete day of rest.

Of course, many Christians in ministry are not able to take their Sabbath on Friday/Saturday/Sunday as they are often ministering in church.  They may try to take a day off in lieu during the week, but this doesn’t always work so well as children are in school, colleagues who are still at work make phone calls, church members have needs and the general temptation to shop, catch up on emails or do the housework can eat away at that precious time with God and family.

RelaxingMany of us, of course, believe that every day is Sabbath, in the sense that it is a day dedicated for serving God, but while it is true, this understanding has helped to undermine the sense of setting aside a day for stopping and restoring the soul.  But this one day off a week, whenever we take it, is part of God’s plan to help us avoid becoming workaholics and burning out with constant striving.  It is important to get rest.  Recently I was involved in preparing the job description for my church’s new minister, and I wrote into it ‘You will take one complete day off each week’ because I believe that without stopping and recharging the batteries regularly, we can quickly run them down.

God, of course, did not need to recuperate from creating the entire universe.  The Hebrew word Shabbat from which we get ‘Sabbath’ implies sitting, being still, or stopping.  We might easily in modern language say ‘chill’.  I can just imagine God and Adam, lying on recliners by a pond somewhere, having a drink together and chatting.  Some gentle hanging out together.  We should remember that Adam was created on the sixth day of the week, and on the seventh, like God, he chilled.  Adam’s first day on the job was a day off!  The result was that he started his work rested and refreshed.  He didn’t need the Sabbath to recuperate from the previous week; he had it to prepare for the coming one.

Which is why our ministry works best if it flows from our place of rest rather than drives us to it.

Nurturing singles

crowd_aloneIn his book Being Single (2005, Darton, Longman & Todd), Philip B Wilson makes the following statement based on his research:

For many Christians who are single, church is not a welcoming or a comforting place to be.

The same could be said of many sending agencies as well.  Failure to nurture single mission workers can result in a cohort of lonely, unfulfilled and spiritually stagnating people who feel marginalised and who often believe the only answer to their unhappiness is to find the right life partner.

Given that many single people are destined to remain single for the rest of their lives (particularly women, who in most agencies and churches significantly outnumber the single men), any community which fails to affirm and accept singles risks hurting, stressing, alienating and possibly even rejecting a substantial part of its membership.

On behalf of single people everywhere, Syzygy has come up with a few suggestions to help both church and agency consider how they can promote wholeness for singles and avoid inadvertently creating a culture which assumes marriage is good and anything else is therefore bad.  Here is our list of the top five dos and don’ts.

Don’t:

  • Use the word ‘family’ indiscriminately, as in “We are a family church” or “We want to attract more families”.  While church should be family in the widest possible sense (Luke 8:21), using the word too loosely can repel those who are not a happy part of a nuclear family.  It is good to affirm families, but in doing take care so not to denigrate the rest of the church.
  • Expect marriage to be the answer to every problem that single people have.  It isn’t the answer to the problems of married people!
  • Marginalise single people so that they are kept on the fringes of the community.  They have as much right to belong as everyone else.  Affirming them creates an environment in which all people can be valued.
  • Assume that single people are lonely and unfulfilled until they ‘settle down’.  Many of them have a vibrant relationship with God, a fulfilling career and ministry, a good social life and they are very happy in their singleness (Matthew 19:12).
  • Matchmake without permission.  Single people can be offended by the assumption that they must be in want of a partner, even if they’re not in possession of a good fortune.  While matchmaking can be done out of care and compassion, it can communicate that you assume there is a deficiency in the life of a single person.

jump-727739Do:

  • Promote discipleship.  The closer we all grow to God, the more we realise that our real fulfilment is found in loving and serving God, and not in finding the right partner.
  • Pray that single people might be fulfilled in their singleness.  We frequently pray for God’s blessing on couples and families, so why leave out the singles?
  • Foster a caring, sharing community in which all people can develop meaningful relationships with others and nobody feels left out or uninvolved.  Encourage people to look out for one another’s needs (Philippians 2:4).
  • At significant seasonal events (e.g. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving) and on Sunday lunchtimes, encourage the community to open its doors to others rather than exclude them.  Single people often find it really hard to go home after the joy of church fellowship to eat a ham sandwich by themselves.
  • Welcome single people into leadership.  Because singles are often thoughtlessly lumped in together with young people due to their assumed ‘interim’ state , their giftings and abilities can be overlooked and they are often used simply as drones who are there to provide a labour force.

Syzygy continues to blog about the needs of single people, not because their needs are greater than those of people in relationships, but because their needs are more likely to be overlooked and unmet.  Syzygy is in the process of writing a book together with Dr Debbie Hawker which hopes to address these needs, and Tim is leading a retreat for single mission workers at Penhurst Retreat Centre in September.  Click here for more details.

Tech notes: podcasts

1084232_headphonesOne of the ongoing challenges for mission workers is the need to ensure spiritual input.  One of the major reasons for burnout is that we continually give out at a faster rate than we take in.  So we need to make sure we have ample access to good quality teaching.

There is an extent to which, due to isolation or security needs, some mission workers can’t meet together easily for Bible study, and the local churches in which we minister are not always geared to meeting our needs.  But the internet makes good resources much more accessible than the days when our churches used to post us cassettes of the sermons.   One such benefit is the podcast, which can vary in length from five minutes to over an hour, and is an easily accessible resource that can be used in a variety of contexts: while setting aside time for study, or travelling, jogging – even on a flight.

Many churches now put their sermons out as podcasts, and even if the quality is not always consistent, it does have the benefit of keeping you in touch with what’s going on in your sending church.  But you can get them from other churches as well.  You might like to try, for example, Holy Trinity Brompton, Mars Hill, Gold Hill Baptist Church, Saddleback Church, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, or Willow Creek.

165809_headphonesSome famous speakers podcast regularly, sometimes even daily, though the quality of these can be variable.  Try out Mark Driscoll, Joyce Meyer, N T Wright, Max Lucado, David Pawson or (from beyond the grave!) Derek Prince.  Even classics such as My Utmost for his Highest and The Practice of the Presence of God are available as a podcast.

Other organisations such as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable  programme and Christianity magazine also have regular and thought-provoking podcasts, and Member Care Media, which we have highlighted before, issues daily podcasts aimed specifically at the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of overseas mission workers.

Individual podcasts can be downloaded from the website appropriate to your preferred church or speaker (as linked above), but it’s a lot easier to subscribe to them through iTunes, or go to One Place, a Christian resource for bringing lots of Christian teaching resources together online.  You can download podcasts to your computer or phone, and though for some people download speeds at home are often a challenge, you can get round this by going to an internet café or office where they may have a better service.  If you’re in a country where you need to think about security, make sure you regularly alternate between different cafés.

There are of course many more online resources such as Bibles, commentaries and guides, sermon resources, audio books and devotionals, and Oscar has a full list of these.

Working from a place of rest

Working fromI once heard a story about a colonial expedition into the African interior.  On the first day, they made excellent progress through the forest.  By the end of the second day, they had travelled much further than they had expected.  But when the third day dawned, the African porters steadfastly refused to move.  No amount of cajoling or beating from the European leaders could change their minds.  “We have travelled a long way from home,” they explained.  “And we are waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”

Whether this story is true or not, it deserves to be.  It is true that our souls cannot travel as fast as our bodies do, and we ignore this truth at our peril.  One of the reasons so many mission workers suffer from fatigue, burnout and breakdown is that we don’t plan in regular times to stop and wait for our souls to catch up.  Tony Horsfall, himself a veteran mission worker who is now a celebrated author and speaker, learned this the hard way, as have many of us who have suffered burnout in one way or another.

Tony uses his own experience to encourage us to slow down and wait for our souls to catch up.  Using the story of Jesus sitting alone by a Samaritan well, he points out the importance of regular rest in our lives, as exemplified by our Lord, whose frequent breaks from ministry for rest and prayer enabled him to cope with extraordinary demands on him.  Tony invites us to

Come and sit by the well for a while. Take some time out to reflect on how you are living and working. Watch Jesus and see how he does it. Listen to what the Spirit may be saying to you deep within, at the centre of your being; and maybe, just maybe, God will give you some insights that will change your life and sustain your ministry over the long haul.

TonyWorking from a place of rest is well-written and easy to read, with short chapters that don’t weigh you down.  But the content is not light, as Tony covers such issues as The Discipline of Stopping, Remember the Sabbath and Drinking from the Well.  This book can help us discern what God wants us to say “yes” to, and when to say “no”; it can help us learn to build margin into our lives so that we work from a place of rest.

I wish I had been familiar with the concepts in this book before my health broke down and took me out of my overseas ministry early.  This book is a must-read for all mission workers who think they are too busy to stop and rest, and particularly for those who don’t think they need to.

Working from a place of rest is available online from its publisher BRF for just £6.99, as well as Christian bookshops and online retailers.

Book review: online publications

The latest issue of Vista was released earlier this month and for those of you with an interest in mission in Europe, this is a helpful and informative resource. Produced by Darrell Jackson, Jim Memory and Jo Appleton, this quarterly online journal features research-based information and analysis of life and mission in Europe. The latest issue of Vista features an exclusive interview with Mike Frost which involves a discussion of his new coinage ‘Excarnation’. It also features the results of useful research into what Generation Y Christians understand by the word ‘missional’ and an analysis of how we can identify and measure what ‘missional’ is.

Vista is a free publication produced by Redcliffe College and previous editions include a discussion of the increasing urbanisation of Europe, a review of the Atlas of European Values, a discussion of the demographic changes facing Europe and reflections on migration within and into Europe. Vista also invites contributions from informed missional practitioners working within the European contexts. It can be downloaded from the Vista blog, and you can also follow Vista on Facebook and Twitter.

You may also be interested to hear about a new resource called The Missional Network. This is a global partnership of missional thinkers and practitioners whose British partners are Springdale College: Together in Mission.  Their useful website provides you with articles, resources, links, information and videos from a wide range of excellent presenters, which are encouraging, informative and challenging. The Missional Network is also launching a brand-new academic resource: The Journal of Missional Practice.  The introductory issue is already available and features articles by Juan Martinez, Stefan Paas, Martin Robinson and Alan Roxburgh. The first full issue is due in February 2013 and contributors will include Bishop Graham Cray, Craig Van Gelder, Babatunde Adedibu and Dominic Erdozain.

Other online resources for mission include our old friends at Oscar, which is a veritable mine of useful information containing over 1000 pages of links, advice, information, blogs and access to the accumulated experience of hundreds of mission workers.  People engaged in mission in Europe may also like to connect with Eurochurch.net, who facilitate a missional conversation between church-planters and academics, and also have regular challenging updates on Facebook.  Those interested in member care will also find a wide range of resources listed at the Member Care Europe website, where member care practitioners can submit their own resources and events for listing. And churches looking for inspiration and support on becoming more focussed on global mission will find Passion for Mission very useful – it contains advice, testimonies and a wide range of resources to help your church become more missional.