Working towards a healthy sexuality

SEX is written in large letters throughout western society. In a reaction to the buttoned-up days of yore when the whole issue was swept under the carpet resulting in a lot of repression, the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s got everything out in the open (often literally!) where it has remained ever since. Many churches today shy away from even discussing these issues, for fear of seeming old-fashioned or intolerant. This by default allows the secular world to set the church’s priorities and values concerning sexuality. So Christians can easily find themselves in situations where they are sexually compromised, due to lack of clear teaching and adequate support.

This is a challenging issue for mission workers, and particularly for single ones, who may have to grapple with issues of loneliness, isolation and lack of emotional intimacy in a world which makes sex sound like it’s the answer to everything. So single mission workers can become vulnerable to inappropriate relationships, use of pornography or fantasy, and confusion about their sexuality. Many of us resent the lack of opportunity to engage in sexual activity and to have children, which leaves us feeling guilty, weak and demoralised.

So how do we, together as a Christian community, work towards a healthy sexuality for all?

First, we need to recognise that although many of us have strong unfulfilled desires to be spouses and parents, our primary identity is not in our family (or lack thereof) but in Christ. While family in its broadest sense is a huge part of our relational existence, our identity as children of God is even more significant. This is what Jesus modelled. He does not appear to have had any problem with his singleness despite the fact that it was even more counter-cultural in his day than it is in ours. If our awareness of our identity in Christ is not giving us a strong sense of self-worth and positive self-esteem despite our circumstances, we need to discuss this with a friend, pastor or counsellor. When Jesus said that he came so that we could have overflowing life (John 10:10) he was not speaking only to those in ideal domestic situations.

Secondly, we need to expose the lie that we are sexual beings. Believing this Darwinist half-truth makes us vulnerable to all sorts of sexual influences and makes us feel somehow incomplete if we are not having a fulfilling sex life. The truth is that God created us to be relational beings, and sex is only one of the capacities we have for relating. If we concentrate too much on this one, it downplays the other valuable ways we have of relating to others. We need to have healthy, open, honest, safe, accountable relationships with others – single and married, same sex and opposite, young and old – if we are to maintain a strong social community which leaves us feeling valued and esteemed. If we can achieve this, sex ceases to be so significant as a short-term bolster for our self-esteem.

Third, we need to be emotionally intelligent. When we become aware of urges which we can’t control, we need to ask ourselves where they are coming from. Some might be purely physical impulses which need to be mastered, but these can be complicated by a raft of self-esteem issues. When we are tired, unwell, lonely or fatigued, we often want a ‘shot in the arm’ to raise our spirits. This can take a variety of forms: alcohol, chocolate, retail therapy, recreational drugs and sexual activity. These are short-term fixes which may leave us feeling better for a bit, but don’t resolve deeper issues which affect our behaviour. We need to be aware of what we are feeling and what positive things we can do about it.

In practical terms, what does this all look like? Here are some suggestions for ways in which we can work towards a healthy sexuality:

  • Maintain a healthy spiritual life. It’s harder to give in to sexual temptation if you’re walking with God.
  • Learn Bible verses which promote self-esteem. Write them on post-it notes and leave them in handy places.
  • Be accountable. Find a friend who you can confess to and pray with.
  • If you feel you need a safety valve like masturbation, ask yourself whether you control it, or it controls you.
  • Install an internet accountability monitor on your computer.
  • Be an active part of community. Even if you’re an introvert, you need friends.
  • Avoid unhelpful locations like red-light districts.
  • Don’t mistake strong, supportive same-sex friendships for romance.
  • Be physically active. A tired body will be more likely to want to sleep than find sexual fulfilment.
  • Find resources. Our friends at Member Care Media have some excellent podcasts about healthy sexuality (www.membercaremedia.com, click on Emotional Health and then Addictions and Dependencies).  Every Single Man’s Battle by Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn is a good book for men to read.

Syzygy is willing to talk confidentially to anyone who needs advice on this, and can recommend a number of experienced counsellors if necessary. For more information email info@syzygy.org.uk

Why do overseas mission workers need support anyway?

This question might seem to many of us to have a perfectly clear answer, but it is evident from the number of mission workers who are (or feel) unsupported, particularly by their home church, that there is a significant problem.

Paradoxically, the problem often results from the success of local mission.  Many churches are active in their surrounding communities with a whole range of outreach and care programmes about which they are so enthusiastic that they genuinely can’t see why people would want to go off and ‘do their own thing’ while there is so much work to do here.

Add to that situation the success in recent years of getting people to understand that we are all mission workers, that everyone in the church has a part to play in reaching out to their family, friends and workmates, and you create a context in which overseas mission workers are not different or special (which is true), they’re just doing the same work as everyone else, but in a different context.  My friend Terry was quite rightly aggrieved when his church got him up the front to pray for him when he went off to do short-term mission in Thailand, but completely ignored him when he got a job at a spare-parts shop which he saw as an opportunity to reach out to non-Christians.

Terry saw no difference between his two missional roles, and if that is true, there is no need for different support levels.  But the difference in context is crucial: the overseas workers have deliberately moved away from their normal support mechanisms (church, friends, family and familiar culture) into a role which may be emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging, and which probably does not attract a salary.  So they have increased need for support, but less access to it.  This is a recipe for disaster.

To understand how need for support increases, let’s look at a scale of cross-cultural mission which clearly demonstrates why certain roles require more support.  It recognises that all Christians are called to mission, but shows how the context can vary.

1)      Christian has normal job in home town and uses existing family and workplace connections missionally

2)      Christian deliberately selects a job in a company with little Christian representation, OR moves into a different part of town with a view to being an active witness

3)      Christian moves to a completely different part of their home country, OR deliberately changes career in order to be an active witness

4)      Christian moves abroad to be an active witness.

It can be seen that in each progressive stage of mission the Christian is intentionally moving away from his/her natural comfort zone and support network, and therefore requires people to support them in the struggles their new home and/or vocation presents.  Becoming an overseas mission worker not only means setting up a new home in an alien culture and often using a foreign language, but doing all that together with learning a new vocation and being far away from the comforts of friends, family and familiar surroundings.  They may be experiencing significant stress when they are farthest away from those able to alleviate it.  That is why they need more support.  Failure to deliver it can lead to stress, burnout and attrition.

Churches, family and friends need to provide this support in the following ways:

Emotional – caring about the loneliness and isolation of living in a foreign country and taking active steps to help mitigate it and provide comfort

Spiritual – supporting mission workers in prayer, and particularly being aware that they may lack access to books, teaching and worship in their own language

Financial – mission workers may not only be forgoing a salary, they may have increased financial needs which they need help with

Practical – leaving elderly parents behind, renting out property and managing their practical affairs are all simple tasks mission workers need help with.

By ensuring good quality support for overseas mission workers, we are investing in the effectiveness and longevity of their mission.  With our coordinated and focussed help, they will achieve more and be less liable to burnout, which in the long-term is also making life easier for those church leaders who would otherwise have to pick up the pieces.

Making your mission single-person friendly

Decision time?

Many mission agencies benefit hugely from the input of single mission personnel.  Their flexibility, focus and availability are a huge blessing.  Many of our new recruits are young single people seeking to serve God in mission, and they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their work.  Over the years, many will get married, but there is still a sizeable minority who don’t.  Irrespective of the unique personal needs arising from being a single person in mission, which can be very demanding, sending agencies can often inadvertently contribute to crushing the feelings of single mission workers.  By making assumptions about the flexibility of singles, they can unintentionally contribute to stress and burnout.  Sometimes they can take advantage of singles to such an extent that, in a different context, it could be seen as discrimination or even abuse.

For example, it is often taken for granted that single people should share accommodation, while married people are entitled to their own homes.  While this is logical in terms of finance – and perhaps single people find it hard to raise sufficient support to pay for solo accommodation – it can also be very demoralising in the long term.  Imagine how it might feel to be an introverted 45-year old single woman in this position.  While couples much younger than her are given their own home as a right, she is expected to share with a succession of randomly allocated strangers with whom she may not actually get along, and so never has a place called ‘home’ that she can retreat to?

Here are some other areas where your agency may need to reconsider how it treats single mission workers:

Up country – send the singles?

Deployment – when considering deployment issues, does your agency make decisions about who to send up country on the basis of whether they have children who would have no access to good education there?  It may be sensible to ask the single people to go, but is it fair on them to ask them to make sacrifices you wouldn’t ask of mission workers with families?  Next time you find yourself saying ‘It wouldn’t be fair to ask so-and-so because he’s married/got children’, ask yourself whether it’s fair to ask others just because they haven’t.  Is that manipulative?

Status – How does your agency consider the status of single workers?  Are they perceived sub-consciously as short-termers because they haven’t ‘settled’, and therefore are not consulted, trained or promoted?  How many single mission workers are represented in your leadership?  Are there tasks you think they can’t do just because they’re single, as I was once told by an agency director?  Single people have many godly gifts and professional skills, which coupled with a deeper exposure to the local culture which married people may not be able to achieve, can mean they are an extremely valuable resource in leadership and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Workload – do you, perhaps subconsciously, assume that because single mission workers don’t have to go home to their families they can absorb a heavier workload?  Do you deliberately give them more work so that they don’t have to go home and be lonely?  Perhaps it’s better to have a conversation with them about what is a sustainable workload which allows them to make the decision on what they do with their out of hours time.

I am certain that there are no mission agencies out there which actively and knowingly discriminate against single people.  Yet in our prioritising of practical, economic and achievable  targets we may inadvertently be taking advantage of the numerous single mission workers who feel overlooked and undervalued by their agencies.  This can add to stress that they have to deal with and can indirectly lead to burnout and attrition.

It would be a good practice to open a discussion with them and find out how they feel, and to regularly ask ourselves the question of how we might plan to be more inclusive and empowering in the way we treat them.  Sending agencies have come a long way in recent decades towards being more inclusive to women and non-Europeans, and now need to become more inclusive to singles.

The importance of retreat

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.

Syzyzy’s new publication: The Book of Blogs

Syzygy is proud to announce the release of our first book – The Book of Blogs.  Stylishly presented in black and orange, and small enough to fit into a jacket pocket, we think it looks great.  But then, we would, wouldn’t we?

Always keen on recycling, it occurred to us some months ago to wonder what happens to all those old blogs that just sit gathering cobwebs on a server somewhere.  We thought it was a shocking waste of an excellent resource so we called them all up again, selected the 40 best ones (which wasn’t easy), and recycled them into a handy little book.

The Book of Blogs includes everything you’ve come to expect from a Syzygy blog: thought-provoking analysis, encouraging Bible studies, technical updates, information about critical developments in the UK and the mission world, and success stories from various missions.  Our accumulated pearls of wisdom nestle within waiting for you to discover them!  If you’ve ever wondered

What was the Great BlackBerry Showdown?

Why should you treat your password like your toothbrush?

How does it feel when the staircases rearrange themselves?

How can you cope with stress?

What is happening to Christians in China, Egypt and Nigeria?

this is a resource you need!  You’ll find the answers to these questions and many more.  Paying tribute to its origin as blogspots, each blog is published with its original categories and tags, which in a bizarrely reversion to printed media from electronic also form an index.  Feedback from initial distribution has been very positive – one person read it in a weekend!

It is our hope that by making this resource available we will bring an awareness of the Syzygy blogs to a new audience who have not yet discovered us online, and in the process raise some funds to help us improve the services we provide for mission workers worldwide.

Published at a price of JUST £5 (+ £1 P&P), this light and compact book will make an excellent stocking filler for people interested in mission, or whom you hope might become interested in mission.  They’ll fit comfortably on an unused corner of a church bookstall.  They’re ideal for people preparing to go overseas.  They’re cheap enough to give as Christmas present to people you ought to give something, but don’t really want to.  For overseas postage, please contact us at info@syzygy.org.uk

To order, you can post a cheque to Syzygy at 46 Wingate Close, Birmingham, B30 1AA, or if you prefer an online solution just make a donation through Everyclick (click here).  You don’t need an Everyclick account, but you will need a credit or debit card.  Here’s how:

  1. Donate in multiples of £6 and we’ll work out how many books you want.
  2. Leave your name in the ‘name’ box (it won’t appear if you’re logged into your account)
  3. Leave your address in the ‘comments’ box so we can post your purchase to you.
  4. On the payments page, don’t forget to tick the box marked ‘let this charity see your details’ or we won’t know who you are!

Please email info@syzygy.org.uk if you would like further information.  Remember, that all the proceeds go directly to Syzygy, thereby benefiting mission workers worldwide who a directly helped by our ministry.  You can also give money to Syzygy without any pain by using Everyclick as your search engine.

Appearance is everything

As I walked past a hairdresser’s recently and read its tagline – Appearance is Everything – I rejoiced that Christians don’t have to buy into this myth (partly because my own appearance certainly isn’t everything).  Christians understand the old maxim that appearance is only skin deep.  We know that what’s on the inside is more important than the outside.

So why do we continue to live our lives as if we believed that appearances really are everything?

I’m not talking about dressing to impress or buying showy new stuff so that we can look wealthier than we really are.  I’m talking about the tendency we have to over-inflate the significance of our ministries.  How many church leaders have not faced the temptation to massage the numbers?  How many mission workers haven’t felt the need to overstate the number of converts?  Or do we simply drop names into the conversation so that others will know how significant we are: “As the Archbishop said only last week….”

There is an extent to which we all have to face up to the need to perform.  If we are going to be accountable, and make sure that we are making the most of the prayer, finance and encouragement we draw from our supporters, we have to find a way of demonstrating that what we are doing is worthwhile.  That very easily can revert to just numbers.  The church has more members so it must be going well.  We hit our targets.  But numbers have their limits.  How many followers did Jesus have when he died?  Probably just 120.  Failure?

The need to perform creates a negative cycle in the life of mission workers.  Having performed well they receive praise (possibly an unusual experience for them).  This motivates them to achieve more, and more, and more, until they become exhausted by trying to achieve too much.  And so burn out.  Many mission workers I deal with are exhausted by this inner drivenness.  David Ellis wrote:

“Driven relentlessly without recognizing the symptoms, we have become infected by the disease of activism.  It is easy to hide barrenness behind a charade of busyness.  To rely on activity, plans and strategies to cover spiritual bankruptcy.” (quoted by Tony Horsfall in Rhythms of Grace).

This drivenness and emptiness in many mission workers needs to be exposed (lovingly and supportively) and addressed.  It leads to stress and, ultimately, attrition.  Each of us needs to address the issues of who we are trying to impress, each mission agency needs to create a context in which it helps promote the ongoing spiritual development of its members alongside evaluating their performance, and each church needs to support, encourage and be committed to mission workers who don’t deliver obvious results.

There are many intangibles involved in our work: community impact, increasing knowledge of God among our members, growing Christlikeness in us, increasing influence of the church in society, and many more.  We need to devise ways of showing this in our feedback and appraisal systems in order to encourage one another to rise above counting heads.  Not long ago I had to do a ‘performance appraisal’ and took the opportunity to reinforce my view that I wanted to appraise who my colleague is, not what she does.  It was very hard, particularly when faced with statistical targets.  But with careful preparation I was able to say things like ‘I liked your attitude in this situation’ and ‘You dealt with that difficult issue with grace and humility’.  I affirmed who she was rather than what she did.  And now she knows that I care more about her than the results that she delivers.

Appearance is definitely not everything.  There is a lot going on under the surface and if we focus on superficial issues we will not be developing stronger people, we’ll be creating performers.  It should not be necessary to exaggerate the numbers if we are secure in our identity and have good supportive relationships with sending agencies and churches who recognise that sometimes God does more in us than he does through us.

So let’s stop counting heads.  And we all know that name-dropping is a bad habit.  The Archbishop said so only last week…

Mentoring for mission

Mentoring is effective in focussing on God’s activity in the life of the mission worker

Many mission workers do not go to the field expecting to become leaders within their own organisations.  They go because they want to plant churches, do student work, or fulfil any of a number of other frontline roles.  Yet after a couple of terms they find themselves among the longest-serving people in their team, and are given a team leadership role.  Yet they may not have the management skills and leadership gifting to help them in their role as junior management.  Their previous life may not have involved any management training, and they might not have had much opportunity to develop any leadership skills they have.

This has negative consequences for them and for their team.  Uncomfortable in their role, and somewhat guilty that they’re no longer doing the job they felt they were called to, they can either resort to an authoritarian leadership style, or abdicate their responsibility which leaves their team without direction.  The whole team suffers and leaders burn out quickly.

Rick Lewis

Syzygy’s response to this situation is to start developing a suite of management and leadership training packages for people in just these situations: to help them feel comfortable with their role in leadership, have the necessary management skills to do it well, and to develop the leadership gifting to inspire and lead their team effectively.  The first package to be release involves mentoring for leadership and we are happy to introduce you to the services of experienced leadership mentor Rick Lewis.  Rick is an extremely experienced church leader and mentor who has successfully mentored leaders all over the world.  He is also the author of the highly-praised book Mentoring Matters.  He divides his time primarily between Australia and England, but also travels to other parts of the world.  His mentoring is done by both face-to-face discussion and remote conversation by internet.  Rick writes:

Leaders in Christian organisations face a particular set of challenges that arise from factors such as high ideals, limited resources, diverse and often irreconcilable demands and relational volatility in teams and personal isolation.  Spiritual mentoring brings the focus back to God’s agenda, reminding the leader of God’s wisdom and power and encouraging a faithful response to His grace.  Space is created for spiritual discernment out of which the leader plans positive action and agrees to be held accountable by the mentor.  Each mentoring relationship is tailor-made to respond to the unique circumstances of the leader and is designed to help the leader be sharper, stronger and more resilient.

Mentoring is becoming an increasingly popular activity among missions leadership as a development tool, but the challenge to agencies who are recommending it is that it cannot effectively be done by a colleague or manager.  The availability of high-quality, independent mentors is severely limited.  Syzygy’s involvement in this field provides a significant development.  While Rick’s services are not free, we believe they are good value for money as an investment in your future management ability.  For further information contact Rick via his website anamcaraconsulting.

Coping with the stress of the city

I’ve had occasion in recent months to talk to several people about the stress caused by living in an urban environment.  While some of us thrive on the life, energy and dynamism of a city, many of us feel drained and stressed by the challenges of living in a densely populated area.  Most of the people I have spoken to about this live in the bustling, booming megacities of the developing world, and find that they cannot cope easily with the combination of heat, pollution, congestion and noise.  Cities like Manila, Bangkok and Mumbai teem with life and death, and all the messiness that goes with both.

So in a world where it can take you half the day to get from one side of town to the other, where the heat means that you have to sleep with the windows open for ventilation but the noise of traffic and barking dogs keeps you awake, where the water supply is at best intermittent and the sewerage worse, how can we keep our sanity?

The first thing we need is a sense of calling.  If we live in a city and hate it, if just being there lowers our spirits and raises our blood pressure, we need to consider carefully if we’re in the right place.  Has God called us to live in a place we loathe?  If it’s not a natural fit, we might be better off serving Him somewhere else, say in a smaller town up country.  Can the things that took us there be changed?  Is there now an acceptable standard of schooling in other towns which wasn’t there when we moved in?  Can more of our office work be done remotely?  Have road, rail or air connections improved?  But if we are convinced that we are where God has called us to be, then we need to develop a strategy to help us cope.

If it’s a struggle for us to live in the place we’re called to, like for everything else we need to receive grace.  God knows and understands the challenges.  We need daily, maybe even hourly, to ask him to give us the resources we need to help us cope.  We need to pray for patience, tranquillity, a forgiving spirit, and the grace to practise the presence of God in the most unexpected situations.  God is already in the slums, the traffic jams, the markets and the immigration offices – we just need to meet up with him there.

Practical strategies for coping with the stress of living in a city include:

Find people you enjoy being with.  One of the delights of a city is that it is full of people.  While they may be the ones we squash up with on the bus or sit next to in traffic jams, there are also many people with whom we can form vibrant and stimulating relationships.  Make connections – in churches, shops, offices and clubs – so that you can be glad you have so many good friends around you.

Find places you enjoy going to.  These can be malls, restaurants, cinemas, museums or art galleries.  They’re usually air-conditioned and often have a sense of calm about them.  Nice things happen there.  There’s no hustle and bustle in a museum, just silence and beauty.  Meditating on a work of art, treating yourself to an ice cream or enjoying a movie can provide a quick getaway from it all.

Find places you can take refuge.  Sometimes, to relieve the stress, you just need to get away.  This can be as little as just taking an hour out.  For example, drop into a smart hotel for a cup of tea in the midst of a busy day at government offices.  Break up a hot and tiring bus journey by taking five minutes to enjoy a local park as you change buses.  Visit a country club.  A round of golf, a dip in a pool or just relaxing in a pleasant environment can help.  Or, for a longer getaway, go for a short break.  Many mission agencies run holiday homes which are also available to outsiders.  In many countries there are Christian retreat centres where you can enjoy peace and quiet for a few days, recharge your batteries and listen to God.  If all else fails, find a small guest house or a cheap hotel for a weekend break.

Many of these places that I’ve mentioned may not exist in smaller towns in the country where you’re serving, so don’t take them for granted.  Recognise that they’re one of the privileges of living in a city which helps offset the challenges that you face there.  However, not all of us can afford them, so we also need to find a strategy for finding a refuge in daily life.  Here are some tips:

  • Ask friends to give you a really good set of headphones for Christmas.  They can completely shut out the noise of daily life, and you can relax by listening to your favourite music on them.
  • Keep lots of plants in your home so they humidify the air and create beautiful sights and smells.
  • Look for beauty in unexpected places, like market stalls.
  • If you can’t afford air conditioning, hang a wet towel in front of a fan so you get moist, cool air.
  • Keep a bucket with a lily and a goldfish in it instead of having a garden.
  • Buy a cheap drink from a supermarket and go and drink it in an air-conditioned mall.
  • Get some earplugs and wear them in bed.
  • Visit a local beauty spot and drink in the view.

If the stress of living in a city is getting too much for you, don’t suffer in silence.  Talk it over with a friend, colleague or church leader, and work out how many of these solutions are practical for you.

Serving as singles

Several people have asked me recently to comment on the issue of being a single mission worker.  Singleness, obviously, is not confined to that group of people, but can be significant issue for them because the isolation and stress of having a missional vocation can be compounded by being single.  The coping techniques they adopt can be harmful or self-destructive and can lead to emotional damage, so it’s an issue that needs a lot of understanding and support – particularly from mission leadership and married co-workers!

There have always been single people in Christian mission.  Saint Paul may have been single – we certainly don’t read in the Bible about his wife, or those of Barnabas, Silas and Timothy.  Many of the mission workers in the middle ages were monks or nuns who had taken vows of chastity.  I’m not aware that Aidan, Patrick, Boniface, Francis or Ignatius of Loyola were married.  In the 19th century many men like Livingstone and Studd left their families behind for long periods, and while they were comforted by letters from home and memories of their family, they were effectively single for long periods.  At the same time many courageous and formidable women took the gospel to some of the most inhospitable parts of the world.  Some of the 20th century’s  most significant mission workers were single women.

Single mission worker Jackie Pullinger

Today, there are many single mission workers worldwide: unmarried, divorced, and widowed.  The significant majority of single mission workers are female, some estimates indicating that the proportion may be as high as 80%.  This reflects the overall gender imbalance in the church at large and in this context the single males don’t usually stay single for very long.

There are many challenges in being a single mission worker.  Finding friends who can take the same week off work to go on holiday with, being asked to share our homes with short-termers (“no pressure, of course”), or generally being expected to be more flexible about our work assignments than families (“It wouldn’t be fair to them; they’ve got the kids to think about”).  Conversations can quickly become negative as we focus on such issues, and yet there is much to give thanks for.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

There is a great flexibility which comes with being a single worker.  Having more time to devote to work, church and friendships is not the only advantage.  There is freedom to travel, and flexibility to manage our lives without the legitimate demands of partner and children.  It’s also significantly cheaper.  When I worked in Zambia, my colleagues were regularly amazed that I’d fly to Harare or Johannesburg for a long weekend, something that was completely unaffordable for a family of six.

Syzygy is going to do a series of blogs for single mission workers over the next year or so.  These will include a theology of singleness, avoiding becoming a workaholic and embracing our sexuality positively. The aim is not to have a pity party, or to help people stop being single, but to encourage single mission workers to concentrate on the One whom they serve, and to embrace the wonderful opportunity he has given them.  Most of all we will focus on Jesus, the archetypal single mission worker, who was tempted in every way just as we are, and yet is without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  If singleness was good enough for him, why should we complain that it’s unfair on us?

Featured Ministry: Passion for Mission

Many churches are passionately committed to sending, supporting, financing, praying and caring for the mission workers they send abroad.  But sadly there are other churches which do not have a tradition of sending people into mission, and although they may want to, they do not really know where to start.  Too many mission workers, when asked if their church is supporting them, purse their lips and say ‘Kinda’.  These are the sort of people Syzygy spends a lot of time with, helping them deal with the stress of trying to do too much on their own, coping with being inadequately resourced, and feeling isolated.

The ever-expanding list of Syzygy Guides to Doing Mission Well has just acquired a page dedicated to helping churches excel at supporting their mission partners.  Through this page we hope to equip churches with new ideas and resources.  It’s still in its early stages and will grow over the coming months, but it does already feature a link to this month’s featured ministry – Passion for Mission.

Our friends at Global Connections have put this site together with a view to placing a lot of resources under the same roof.  The site as a whole sets out to equip churches to do mission effectively, locally as well as overseas.  Presented in a variety of formats – article, blog, videostream, pdf – the site is easy to navigate and contains a lot of useful and relevant information.  It features interviews with key experts, and perhaps even more relevant, church leaders who’ve already led their churches into being passionate about mission.  The site also incorporates GC’s website and resources available through Christian Vocations.

We particularly like:

Go surf!

Update on the Syzygy cars

Regular readers will be well aware of the two cars which Syzygy lends to mission workers on home assignment in the UK.

We’re delighted to announce that due to the generosity of some friends we have been given a third – a Ford Galaxy.  This is a real answer to prayer as we needed to be able to provide a vehicle that was suitable for larger families.

This leaves us with another problem:  we can’t afford to insure three vehicles so will need to sell the Passat unless some further funding comes in.  We’d love to have three cars, as there is clearly a demand for them – so far this year we have turned down 25 requests to borrow our cars!

So will you please join with us in praying that God will provide (urgently!) the money we need to pay for additional insurance?

Featured Ministry: Member Care Media

We have mentioned before in these pages the extraordinary ministry of Member Care Media, which provides a valuable service to mission workers worldwide.  A project of TWR, Member Care by Radio (as it was originally named, was set up to provide a daily radio broadcast aimed specifically at the needs of cross-cultural mission workers in places where they were physically beyond the reach of regular and proactive member care.

With the arrival of the digital age, the project became Member Care Media, though the basic concept remains unchanged.  Each recorded ‘broadcast’ is now available to listen to online, with some of them also featuring as transcribed articles, and an entire library is available on the website for you to browse through.  They cover a range of subjects including emotional health, family, short term mission, cross-cultural living and working, teamwork, leadership and TCKS, and are all dealt with by professionals working in the relevant field.

While the broadcasts are aimed primarily at people working in a cross-cultural context, there is a wealth of resource available on emotional health, marriage and leadership which will be of use to all Christians in helping them cope with the demands of their life and ministry.

We suggest that you may like to use these broadcasts as part of your regular times of self-maintenance.  They are all fairly short, so listening to each daily broadcast might be a bit demanding on your time, but it’s not unfeasible to listen to one a week.  Couples could listen together to ones about marriage and family, and work teams could listen to the ones about teamwork and use them as a basis for discussion afterwards.  Small groups could use them as part of their devotional times together.

This collection of resources by some of the member care sector’s most prominent practitioners is too good to be kept a secret!

Update from Asia, part 2

The Juniper Tree

Although I got back to England two weeks ago, last week I left you in suspense about the second half of my trip to Asia. This was because I felt it important to inform you about the renewed challenges facing the Eurozone so that you can pray into this situation.

Following the conference in Chiang Mai, I spent a very enjoyable evening at The Juniper Tree, a most pleasant guest house in the suburbs of the city, with beautifully maintained gardens and delightful wooden chalets in traditional Thai style. There is a tangible sense of peace about the place, and one of the reasons is that it is cunningly designed to create a rural feel, despite cramming a number of buildings onto a fairly small plot. They are effectively screened from one another with careful planting. There is also a swimming pool, library and tv lounge. It is an ideal place for tired mission workers to get a pleasant break away from work, or to stay while they use the facilities of the city. It’s also a useful place to stay while accessing the member care facilities of Cornerstone Counseling Foundation and The Well, though you need to be aware that children are welcome so at times, particularly near the pool, there is some ambient noise.

Traffic in Phnom Penh

After that I spent several days with friends in Lopburi and it was good to see the excellent work they are doing there, and to visit a Thai church which I last visited 7 years ago, before flying to Phnom Penh for a week.

Cambodia had changed much since I was last there in 2004. There has been a lot of inward investment and there are now many modern facilities which would make life very pleasant for the wealthy, of whom it seems there are an increasing number. There were a lot more SUVs and fewer bikes, though still a lot of seemingly suicidal moped drivers, who manage hardly ever to collide. I met several people serving with different agencies who gave me a warm welcome, and heard about the significant number of independent mission workers, though sadly I did not manage to meet up with any of them. I had a number of very helpful conversations with those working to help them though.

Klong Toey, Bangkok

After that I returned for one day to Bangkok where I met up with Ash Barker of Urban Neighbours of Hope, whose work I have referred to before. He lives with the urban poor in a very deprived area of the city, and his whole family has a very simple lifestyle which reflects that of their neighbours. This gives integrity to his message to the often wealthy Christians of the world about incarnational Christianity. Ash is coming to the UK to talk about his work next month and I strongly recommend that you get along to his keynote meeting to hear about his amazing ministry. Special guest speaker will be Rev Joel Edwards of Micah Challenge.  For more details click here.

Thank you so much for your prayers during this long trip. It was most enjoyable, hard work at times, but also invigorating. These visits generate a lot of publicity for the work of Syzygy, bring opportunities for collaborative relationships, and bring me into contact with people who need our support.

Update from Asia

Inside the bathroom at Frishta Children's Village

When people ask me if I have children, there’s usually a vague impression of sympathy which crosses their face as they hear my answer – I’m not married and I have no children. You can see they want to say something like ‘Never mind, I’m sure God has someone special for you’ but are not sure how appropriate and affirming that really is. Instead they quickly change the subject.  So it was a pleasant relief to meet two Indians whose response was immediately: ‘That’s great! You have more time for your ministry.’

The Indians I met on my brief journey to Punjab seemed very focussed and hard-working. Perhaps their dedication comes from the price they have paid to follow Jesus. I heard several stories about people who had been thrown out of their families when they became Christians. It made me wonder how we in the West would have coped with that. For them, Christ is everything. Literally. They have nothing else.

Frishta Children’s Village in Chandigarh is an ambitious project building brand new homes for orphaned or rejected children to be housed in. I was impressed by the quality of their work, and their commitment to ensuring high quality care and living standards for their children. You can read more about their work at www.frishta.org.uk.  Their strapline Till They All Have Homes… says it all.

After two days in India I moved on to Singapore where I stayed at the International Headquarters of OMF.  It was good catching up with old friends and meeting some OMF workers for the first time and hearing of their work.  The recently refurbished premises are over the road from the Botanical Gardens, a beautifully-maintained large park area.  On Sunday morning, having attended the church service at St John’s & St Margaret’s on Saturday evening, I decided that I would spend time in the park with God.  I was not disappointed.    It was a very refreshing time, apart from the drama of watching a komodo dragon eating a turtle.

In the Botanical Gardens there is a large National Orchid Collection, where they breed, show and maintain a huge variety of these beautiful flowers.  In the VIP collection they show orchids named after celebrities and dignitaries whom they have invited to visit. Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana were honoured, so was Andrea Bocelli.  I thought it was rather insensitive of them to invite him to visit an orchid collection.

Then I moved on to Chiang Mai, where I took part in the first ever Global Member Care Conference (organised by the Global Member Care Network), along with colleagues representing numerous organisations from all over the world. It was particularly encouraging to see so many representatives from newer sending nations, and not just the usual Westerners. The teaching was excellent and there were good opportunities to get to know others working in the same sector. There are some major possibilities in this for Syzygy, which I won’t announce yet in case they don’t come to fruition, but please pray that some significant developments would come about.

Then, having spent a night at the lovely Christian guest home The Juniper Tree, I travelled by bus and car across Thailand to Lopburi where OMF has its Language and Orientation Centre for Thailand, and I caught up with friends and former colleagues, enjoying visiting the projects they are working on.

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Cambodia to stay with friends there, and hopefully meet up with more people who I can help, and then I have another day in Bangkok visiting Urban Neighbours of Hope before I return home.

Please continue to pray for safe travelling, good meetings with friends, opportunities to consult with other agencies, time to provide healing prayer and discussion with those who need it, and for God to use me for his glory.

Syzygy’s grand tour of Asia

Today sees the start of Syzygy’s first ever multi-national mission support trip, taking in 4 countries in as many weeks.  As this blog is published Tim is already in the air en route to India, where he will visit the Studley family Frishta Children’s Village, which aims to combat homelessness among India’s many millions of orphans.  From there Tim will travel to Singapore, where he will meet up with old friends, including some who work with OMF, and then on to Thailand where he will be part of the Global Member Care Conference (Member Care is what those engaged in pastoral support for mission workers call their role).

While there he will meet with Janene from Eagles Rest, and then visit two projects, The Well and The Juniper Tree, both of which provide pastoral support and counselling for mission workers, before visiting friends in another part of Thailand.  Tim will then continue to Cambodia where he will spend time with mission workers before returning to Bangkok to visit Urban Neighbours of Hope and then fly home – hopefully not too exhausted.

This is not just a good excuse for a Christian holiday, despite the alluring locations.  While providing pastoral support to all the mission workers he will meet, Tim is also seeking out other unsupported mission workers who may need Syzygy’s services.  The Member Care conference will provide unparalleled networking opportunities, and meetings with other agencies may well result in future collaboration.

Please pray daily for Tim while he is travelling.  Obviously there are the usual possibilities of getting ill and missing flights, as well as some minor security risks common to such journeys.  Additionally it will be tiring meeting so many people and possibly becoming involved in some fairly in-depth discussions.

Please pray that:

  • he will be able to help and encourage mission workers
  • he will meet with new mission workers to support
  • the conference in Thailand will yield good results
  • God’s hand will guide Tim in whatever situation he finds himself

We will provide brief updates here as and when time and internet access allow!

Dates:

April
16th – Fly to India
19th – Fly to Singapore
22nd – Fly to Chiang Mai
23rd – Global Member Care Conference
27th – Day of resting at the Juniper Tree
28th – By road to Lopburi, Thailand

May
1st – Fly from Bankok to Phnom Penh
8th – Return to Bangkok
9th – Fly to UK
10th – Get home

Featured Ministry: Penhurst Retreat Centre

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

The fifth emergency service

(with respectful acknowledgements to the AA)

Earlier this year I was at a conference where the speaker tried an icebreaker.  ‘If your organisation were an animal’, he asked, ‘what would sort of animal would it be?’ Everyone around my table was studiously avoiding eye contact, trying hard not to go first.  I was muttering to myself ‘I hate things like this.  I’m just not creative enough for this’ when he asked his second icebreaker: ‘If your organisation were a car, what sort of car would it be?’

And it instantly hit me – Syzygy is an AA van*.  We help broken down mission workers.  We fix the problem.  We get you where you’re going.  And though you might only see one person when you deal with Syzygy, there’s a whole team of experts behind him.

Within a matter of minutes I had refined this image further, to detail the types of services we provide:

Roadside assistance: We’re there for you when you break down.  Advice on stress, debriefing, mentoring and hospitality can help get you back on the road.

Relay: Wherever you’re going, we’ll help get you there!  We provide practical  support, from lending you a car to advice on preparing for re-entry, with online guides to missions on our website.

Homestart: When things start going wrong in the field, we can help by providing pastoral visits, problem solving, crisis management and relief staffing.

As a result of that revelation, we are changing our image.  We think that this imagery fully encapsulates our ethos of help, support and practical problem solving.  In future we’ll be using a photo of a flashing orange light as our logo, and we’ve adopted a new tagline:

THE SUPPORT SERVICE FOR MISSION WORKERS

I did think that ‘rescue service’ or ‘emergency service’ sounded more punchy, but on reflection we decided that this doesn’t accurately reflect the fact that much of what we do is not done in a crisis, but is about preventing a crisis happening.

A new image, but the same service – striving to keep mission workers in good physical, emotional and spiritual condition so that they are able to at carrying out their God-given mandate.  Our new flyer is out this week.  Click on the image to the left to read it.  If you’d like some copies to display at church or in your workplace, please email tim@syzygy.org.uk

*Other breakdown services are available.  Actually I should have chosen RAC because at least they’re orange like Syzygy.

The Syzygy Cars

Syzygy is very happy to announce the arrival of a second loan car available to mission workers on HA in Britain.  Thanks to the generosity of one of our friends we’ve been given a Ford Fiesta, an ideal complement to the Toyota Estima we were also given a couple of years ago.

Between them, these vehicles will now be able to help meet the transport needs of single mission workers and couples as well as the large families which we have helped in the past.  We’re very grateful for the donations that make this ministry possible, though insuring and servicing two vehicles will stretch Syzygy’s finances, so we’d really appreciate donations to help us with this expense.  One recent beneficiary of this service commented:

“Sorting a car is probably the biggest worry and hassle of HA.  I can’t express what a blessing this is.”

For more information on the Syzygy cars, click here.

 

Missions report: Zambia

My host for my week-long trip to Ndola was my good friend Lene Pedersen, who many will know following her speaking tour in Britain last year, and it was great to spend time with her, get to know her fiancé Dale, and help them prepare for their wedding next month.  Lene continues to be one of the three directors at Lifeline in Zambia – a ministry which we featured last August which provides home-based care and support for people suffering from AIDS/HIV.  LiZ continues to develop and it was an encouragement to visit premises which I had not been to before and see how well suited they are to managing the work and training the volunteers.  There is also a commitment to take on more highly qualified staff which is already having benefits for the work.

I returned for the first time in seven years to Kaniki Bible College, which trains church leaders for the Apostolic Church in Zambia.  There has been a lot of staff turnover since then, and only the Zambian workers whom I knew remain there.  All the overseas staff have changed, and the college is led by a new Zambian Principal supported by two other African faculty members.  There are currently 55 students and there is also a new BA course.  There are plans to build a new classroom block to meet the increased number of students.

Also on the Kaniki campus is African Quest, a missions training and discipleship programme for young people with which I have been involved since its beginning 15 years ago.  Many fine young people have been through this programme and gone on to be involved in missions in a variety of ways, and AQ is currently led by two of its former students, Tim & Gemma Mills.  This six month gap course is currently recruiting for next year and I will feature it in more detail later this summer.

I also spent some time with the new leaders of School Mission for Christ International This fantastic ministry employs Zambian pastors to go into schools and preach the gospel.  Thousands of students have met Jesus in this way, and teachers testify to the return of stolen property, decline in the use of drugs, and falling pregnancy rates as a result.  This powerful witness leads many teachers also to give their lives to Christ.  SMFCI is looking to expand both within Zambia and to neighbouring countries.

Near to Kaniki is Jabulani Children’s Village, where Tom & Ruth Dufke took over an abandoned farm 13 years ago with a view to developing a home for needy children.  There are currently 18 children living at the site, in small, ‘family’-type cottages.  With a view to maintaining financial independence, the village is partly funded by a huge sawmill operation, which now employs 65 local people, thereby keeping them out of poverty and providing food and education for their children.  There are also training facilities for the community on site, such as a sewing college, and there is a clinic to meet the needs of the local community.

While visiting these various ministries and catching up with old friends, I was able to spend a lot of time encouraging mission workers, helping them understand the causes of stress in their lives, and planning how Syzygy can help to support them.  Like many overseas mission workers, they have a number of challenges to face, and it was a joy to be able to help them find ways of dealing with them.

 

 

Change – an MK reflects on the only constant

Source: www.freeimages.com

Language is what we use to describe the world.  The philosopher Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language define the limits of my world,” and speaking two languages, as MKs often do, expands those limits.

In Portuguese the word that means you miss someone or something is saudades.  Saudades is such an expressive word that the Wikipedia article for it is over 3,000 words long.  It expresses a longing that gnaws; it is the sense that a part of you is gone and has left a gaping chasm where your breastbone should be.  I’m glad to know the word; without it I would still have the feeling, but not be able to express it.

Being an MK isn’t all mangos and cream.  Difficulty and loss are frequent companions on what can be a lonely road.  By the time I was 13 my home had moved 13 times.  Twice I moved back to a place I had already lived in, but the problem is that those who say ‘you can never go home’ are right.  Once you’ve left, even if you do go back it won’t be the same.  The people have changed, you have changed, the place has changed.  You can rebuild, but not from where you left off.  Weeds will have grown in between the cracks, rain will have swept the earth from beneath your feet.

And things are different in every new place.  Always different.  Rules are different everywhere.  Should I call my teacher by her first name (and title), or her surname?  Why does that lady from church call me ‘filha!’ (daughter) when she tells me off?  I’m NOT her daughter!

New school, new church, new ‘home’.  God and family were the only constants.  So my identity was change; I was the exotic one who was new, the one who always knew she would soon be leaving.

Gill Gouthwaite grew up as an MK in Brazil with her four sisters and English-speaking parents from different countries.