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.

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…

You’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.

Many 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_alone

Source: www.freeimages.com

In 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.

With God in the desert

Photo by paul segal from FreeImages

The Synoptic Gospels all record that Jesus went out into the desert and spent 40 days there in prayer and fasting prior to the commencement of his ministry.  That is a significant retreat, but going into the desert was not an uncommon thing to do in his day – John the Baptist had lived in the desert, and various Jewish monastic communities thrived there.  Later on, Christian ascetics would move there, and eventually many Christian monasteries started.

The desert is a place of transformation.  It represents the end of human existence.  Hunger and thirst, heat and cold render it inhospitable to humans, and the existence there of wild animals and outlaws makes it dangerous.  Yet here at the extremity of human survival, we meet God.  Both Moses (Exodus 3) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) had powerful experiences of God in the desert which equipped them for future ministry.

But why go into such a place where survival is difficult?  What drew them there?  Surely it’s about more than just getting away from it all?

For the ancient Israelites, their first corporate experience was in the desert, and as they wrote their Scripture and told their stories that experience embedded itself in their cultural assumptions.  Yes it was dangerous – “were there not enough graves in Egypt?” they asked Moses (Exodus 14:11) – but in their extremity, they met God.

In the desert God provided them with food, water, protection and guidance.  With their human existence hanging by a thread, they learned that with God, the desert is a safe place.  Most significantly, it was in the desert that they heard the voice of God (Deuteronomy 4:22-27).  It is not a coincidence that one of the Hebrew words for desert – midbar – can also be translated “He speaks”.

Today we don’t need to go into the desert to meet God.  We can meet God anywhere.  When we are at the end of our human endeavour, God provides.  When we have run out of strength in battling our human nature: controlling our tongue, managing our sex drive, mastering our temper – whatever our personal challenge is, that’s when we can turn to the grace of God to help us.  Perhaps that’s one meaning of Jesus’ teaching “If anyone wants to follow me, let him take up his cross…” (Luke 9:23).  It’s when we finally admit we can’t make ourselves better people, or do a better job, and allow the Holy Spirit’s transforming power into our lives instead.

In my experience, too many cross-cultural mission workers are trying too hard to do more than they can or to be someone they’re not.  It drives many of us to burnout as we reach the limit of our ability to keep on striving.  That’s when we need to abandon ourselves to God to care for us.  We need to stop gritting our teeth and carrying on, and start letting God work in us and through us.  We need to let go of the illusion of strength and competence we project around us, and allow God to move through our brokenness and vulnerability.

The Gospels record that Jesus was in the habit of regularly going off by himself to pray.  That’s how he expressed his total dependence on the Father to teach him what to say (John 8:28) and show him what to do (John 5:19).  His entire ministry flowed from this dependence.  It is a ministry model we would do well to implement for ourselves.  We can’t always make the time to get away for an extended retreat, but we can take steps to do a retreat in daily life, and I’ll detail some of these in a future blog.

It is thought that David wrote Psalm 23 while hiding from Saul at the spring of En-Gedi, in the Judean wilderness.  It is a beautiful, refreshing stream in the desert (Isaiah 35:6).  Only when we are in the middle of the wilderness will we truly appreciate how God “leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3)

The need for debriefing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Tech notes

It’s been a while since we gave you a tech update and so we’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about a couple of things you might be interested in.  But before we do, we’d like to remind you about Everyclick.  It’s a search engine, which uses Yahoo technology.  Instead of a silly logo it has the advantage of an attractive photo on the homepage which changes every day, but the real benefit is that it donates half its profits to charity.  To date nearly £3,000,000 has been dispensed in this way.  Each of the 200,000 charities benefiting from it is allocated a share of the profits in proportion to the number of searches made by their registered supporters.  So if you nominate Syzygy, we get money every time you do a search!  So far we’ve received nearly £70 just by searching!

You can also give directly to Syzygy (as you can through Everyclick) via Give.net, a new initiative set up by Stewardship.  Just go to my.give.net/Syzygy and follow the simple online instructions.  It’s easy for charities and individuals to donate, and it’s fully integrated with Stewardship’s existing systems so if you already have an account with them, they already know where to send the money.

Those of you who have a phone which enables you to download apps may be interested in The Examine App (http://examineapp.wordpress.com), a useful new tool from the Headington Institute.  We have mentioned before the role of the daily Examen in developing spiritual awareness and managing stress, and this app is a simple way of bringing technology to bear on that centuries-old discipline.  It asks you a few simple questions about how you are feeling, and records your answers so that you can look back over time and observe your progress.  It also gives you opportunities for reflection and response.  We recommend you use it daily for best effect.

Nearly a year ago we told you about the benefits of using Dropbox to keep your files and photos on somebody else’s server and so facilitate sharing and backups.  However some people are worried that although the data encryption is of a standard that will prevent your files being hacked, the geeks at Dropbox can still look at your files, if they want to.  For some of us that is an unacceptable security risk.  If that’s you, you might want to take a look at Spideroak.  They claim that their ‘Zero-Knowledge’ privacy commitment means that they can’t see your files, even if they wanted to.  Neither can foreign governments.  While there are some chatroom grumbles about slow syncing speeds and even slower customer service, it’s had good reviews from some reputable PC mags, and for people with large networks there is no limit on the number of computers that can be linked to it.  You also get your first 2 gig of storage free for life.

If you come across any technological solutions that might be of use to mission workers, please let us know at technical@syzygy.org.uk

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.

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

ALONE IN THE CROWD? Source: www.freeimages.com

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.

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.

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: 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!

Chelsea – what can they teach us about teamwork?

Soccer fans the world over will know that Chelsea recently won the prestigious European Champions League, albeit after a penalty shootout against Bayern Munich.  At last an English team finally beat some Germans on penalties! But then again, for a long time we’ve all known that Chelsea aren’t really an English team. They just play in England.

They have a Russian owner, an Italian manager, and a multi-national team. The starting line up for the match against Bayern featured players from seven different countries in three continents. Like most top-flight English clubs, they care more about the quality of their players than their nationality. So how can Chelsea create an effective multi-cultural team when many mission agencies can’t?

If we can overlook the fact that unlike us Chelsea have billions of pounds available to attract and motivate some of the w

 

orld’s best players, what can we learn from them so that we can up our game and be effective in global mission?

First, an effective team needs a team vision. Vision supersedes individual cultural preferences, personality types, and preferred working styles. We might think that a salary of £50,000 a week is enough to motivate anybody, but the fact is that it is not. Research shows that for nearly everybody the money they receive is not a motivating factor in their work. Professional footballers are driven by the need to win, to get medals, trophies and cups.  Yet even the most egocentric prima donnas can’t win on their own.  They all have to put the needs of their team above their own glory. You might think that the top goal scorers get there by being selfish – hogging the ball so that they can score the most goals. Yet some of the world’s most notable scorers – Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard and Cristiano Ronaldo (yes, that Ronaldo) are also among those who make the greatest number of assists: passing the ball to another striker who then scores.

Which begs two questions: how much do we want our team to win, and how much effort do we put into helping our colleagues succeed? Every ministry has its visions, mission statements and values, and some of us are able even to quote them, but do we really buy into the team’s success?  Are we really team players, or are we more concerned about our own ministry?  Yes, we are all under pressure to perform personally, and are accountable to our churches and supporters for what we are doing, but how many of us are prepared to answer the call of our agency and put our own ministries on the back burner if we are asked to? Sadly I am more likely to hear statements such as ‘that’s not  what I came here to do’ or ‘it’s not my calling’ than ‘if that’s what the team needs, we’ll do it’.

And how good are we at being team players? Are we aware of where other players are being marked, and do we run in to relieve them? Do we stay in position or are we the ones who are off side? Do we notice when a colleague is flagging, and change our play to help take up the workload? One of the things that impressed me most about David Beckham on the field was not so much his skill at set pieces but his workrate. He popped up on the wing, in the centre, forward and back, helping others out, covering gaps. He covered weaknesses in defence and created opportunities for attack. It takes fitness to do that.

And are we really match-fit? What does that mean in our hectic world of stress, conflicting demands and running from crisis to crisis? Professional footballers spend more time training than they do competing. They understand that their on-field performance depends on their off-field performance. They exercise, practise set pieces together and even have dieticians and physios to make sure they’re in peak physical condition. What are the equivalents for us? Bible study, meditation and Ignatian prayer?  Team away days for teambuilding, scenario planning and role play? It will vary for each of us and our respective teams, but if we are going to be champions, we need to have the mental attitude of champions towards both our professional skills development and our continuing spiritual development.

When God is handing out the trophies after the ultimate final, are you going to be on the winning team? And what has it taken to get your team there?

I don’t want to feel guilty every time I have an ice cream!

The young woman who said this to me wasn’t talking about dieting.  She was talking about being a mission worker.  And some of us know only too well what she means.

We were exploring together the possibility that God was calling her to serve him abroad, and during the conversation, the issue of finance arose.  She was willing to save up to pay her way, but was hugely reluctant to ask friends to support her.  I don’t want to feel guilty every time I have an ice cream,’ she said.  She clearly felt that by taking other people’s hard-earned money to support her in mission, she had an obligation to use every penny of it on her vocation.

Such a burden of accountability, coupled with a consequently spartan lifestyle utterly devoid of treats, is a recipe for increased levels of stress and may possibly lead to burnout.  Yet so many of us, albeit subconsciously, have attitudes that demonstrate our tacit agreement with this woman.  Is it really wrong to eat ice cream bought with your support gifts?

No, it isn’t.  The people who support us expect to have small treats like ice cream, going out for coffee, or going to the cinema, as part of their normal lives, and they would be genuinely surprised if we didn’t do the same given the opportunity.  They go on holiday, and won’t begrudge us to do so too.  And we need to give ourselves these occasional treats to help us unwind and cope with the demanding life we have been called to.  In fact failure to treat ourselves would even be irresponsible if it results in us becoming unable to work efficiently, or having to take extended sick leave in order to recover.

But this is not just about the money.  It’s about a misplaced sense of accountability.  There’s nothing wrong with accountability: it focuses our activities if we have to report back to our senders on our use of time, finance and resources and the outcomes from them.  But to feel that we have to account scrupulously for every penny is coming uncomfortably close to having to fill in forms detailing how many people have given their lives to Jesus in the last month – it reveals a legalistic mindset that is overly concerned about results.

Jesus did not call us to that.  In fact, if his treatment of the dispute between Mary and Martha is anything to go by, Jesus want us to take time out rather than run around being busy and stressed.

So go ahead and treat yourself to an ice cream!

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

Secondary Stress

Recently I seem to have been talking a lot about secondary stress with mission workers.  It’s a common though relatively unrecognised problem among overseas workers, particularly those working in compassion ministries or among poorer communities.  Secondary stress is the burden we take on not as a result of our own working or living conditions, but those of others.  It’s not excess baggage so much as other people’s baggage.  It’s what we pick up when we try to lighten the load on others who are already weighed down.

It is perfectly natural to feel a degree of anguish when working, for example, in a refugee camp, or when counselling others who have problems.  We would be pretty heartless if we were not affected by the tragedies we witness or the grief we hear about.  Our resulting compassion should spur us to more action to help the afflicted.  But when we can’t sleep at night because of it, or have images we can’t get out of our heads, it is becoming hazardous to us, and even in the midst of a major humanitarian crisis we need to take some steps to ensure that we maintain ourselves in a condition to be able to continue to help those who need our help.

The first step in dealing with secondary stress is to recognise that we may be suffering with it, because we often don’t notice.  It creeps up on us, daily growing, until something goes wrong.  Because I’m involved in debriefing a lot of people, often with major problems, last summer I arranged a debrief for myself, not because I thought I needed it, but because it is good practice.  Only after I emerged emotionally exhausted from the debrief did I realise how much other people’s baggage I was carrying.

One excellent tool for doing an inventory on yourself is Dr Beth Stamm’s Professional Quality of Life Measure, which can be downloaded free of charge from the Headington Institute.  It is simple to use, and asks just 30 questions about your work in helping others.  There are also other useful self-assessment tools on stress, burnout and lifestyle inventory available from the same website.

Once you have recognised that your levels of secondary stress are unacceptable, put into action your usual anti-stress techniques – debrief, holidays, or relaxation.  See our stress archive for more suggestions.  If none of these suggestions work, and you are still showing symptoms of elevated stress levels, you should take medical leave of absence, extended rest and seek counselling or even the help of a professional psychotherapist.

If when you return to work things immediately get worse again, you should be reassigned.  This of course, will add to your stress as you will feel guilty that you have let needy people down, but if you are not sufficiently resilient to cope in this situation, you may end up being a needy person yourself, and it is better for you to move on and to let a more resilient person take over.

If you’d like to learn more about secondary stress I recommend you listen to Member Care Media’s 4-part podcast by Dr Brent Lindquist, who in addition to being excellently named really knows his stuff.  Each episode is packed with helpful information and the whole series will take you less than an hour to listen to, but much longer to work through!  There are also a lot of other good materials on the MemCare website which will help you to stay healthy.