A recent visit to the Wilson Carlile Centre in Sheffield, home of the Church Army, prompted me to find out more about this remarkable evangelist.  A successful Victorian businessman who suffered a breakdown following financial ruin, he turned to Christ and, heavily influenced by D L Moody, discovered a passion for evangelism.

But unlike others of his day, his passion was for the people on the margins.  London, where he served his curacy, was full of soldiers, working class labourers, sex workers, addicts and the homeless.  Carlile concluded they would not go near a church because the feared they wouldn’t receive a welcome from the respectable Christians in them.  So he began to hold open air meetings to take the gospel out of the church and into the streets, but these got so large that he eventually had to stop them.

Resigning his curacy to devote himself full time to slum ministry, he created the Church Army to focus on outreach to the working class.  Not unlike the already-functioning Salvation Army, but with a crucial distinction that instead of becoming a separate church, Wilson determined to keep the Church Army within the Anglican church, as it still is today.

Carlile set up a school in Oxford to train working-class evangelists to reach their own class, thus avoiding the potential class-barrier that could hinder others in outreach.  Today the Church Army still welcomes and trains evangelists who might not be welcome in other places, but who are adept at forming connections with people on the margins of society.  They have ministries in 20 different countries.

My visit challenged me again with the problem of how to reach out to people who are different to us.  Many churches are monocultural even if they are multiracial, and tend to reproduce (if they do at all) in their own image, rather than adapting themselves to be genuinely accessible to people of other backgrounds – especially those who are already marginalised.

Some years ago, an urban outreach worker who lived in a very deprived area of the city but was attached to a church in the suburbs told me: “I’ve got a problem – a man on my estate just became a Christian”.

“Why’s that a problem?” I asked.

“Because I can’t take him to church.  They’ll reject him.”

Let’s hope things have changed in our churches.

Source: www.freeimages.com

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”

“Trust is like paper: once it’s rumpled it can never be perfect again.”

“Trust is like an eraser: it gets smaller and smaller with every mistake.”

These popular quotes illustrate how easy it is to damage trust and how hard it is to rebuild trust once it has been betrayed.

Many of us will have experienced damage to relationships when trust is broken.  Someone has betrayed a confidence.  Another person stole.  Somebody abused their power, or failed to follow through on their commitment.  Sadly the missions world is far from immune from such challenges.  Our relationships with nationals and team members can be complicated by different understandings of trust, and misunderstandings can quickly arise leading to a loss of trust.

Trust is essential to any relationship, but it involves risk.  We start any relationship by divulging personal information like our name, family details, home town and possibly occupation, and then move into more intimate information like age and earnings.  We trust even the most casual acquaintances not to abuse these.  As relationships deepen, we entrust people with more, and this in turn engenders more trust as we see people handle our personal information, commitments and dependencies with integrity.  Until something goes wrong.

So how do we repair the damage once this has happened so that trust is restored to its previous pristine state quickly?

Forgive.  Often easier said than done, and although the initial decision to forgive may be effective, in our hearts and minds we may need to keep repeating it till our thoughts and feelings agree with our will.

Leave the past behind.  “I’ll forgive but I can’t forget” isn’t really forgiving.  OK, we can’t always forget what happened, but we can choose not to bring it to mind.  A friend of mine once said of someone “He swindled us out of a lot of money, but of course we forgave him.”  She clearly didn’t need to tell me, so I assume she hadn’t tried to forget.

Be honest.  Tell them how much their action hurt you, but that you’re willing to forgive and try to trust them again.  Hopefully your action will stimulate some change in them.

Get it in perspective.  Is this just one error in an otherwise trustworthy life?  Just because it’s happened once doesn’t mean it’s bound to happen again.

Take baby steps.  Give them an opportunity to be faithful in small things, and let them rebuild trust by showing themselves trustworthy.

Be patient.  Change doesn’t happen overnight, as we know from our own character weaknesses, so don’t expect instant transformation in others.

There is a curious incident in the story of Joseph’s incognito meeting with his brothers in Egypt where Joseph frames his little brother Benjamin with theft of his favourite cup (Genesis 44).  As punishment, he is to become Joseph’s slave, but older half-brother Judah steps in, and stays he will take Benjamin’s place, as it would break his father’s heart if he lost the second child of his true love Rachel (Joseph being presumed dead).

This incident makes no sense until you connect it with an earlier event when Judah was the one who suggested selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37).  Joseph had more justification than most of us for wanting his revenge on his brothers, but instead he is giving Judah a chance to prove he has changed, and in doing so, he took a risk.  He didn’t know what Judah would do, but Judah had learned his lesson.

The best way to rebuild trust is to trust.

 

Many of us will be familiar with Isaiah’s enthusiastic response to the revelation of God he received: “Here I am; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).  You may well have used it as an appeal for mission workers.  But the first part of his sentence, “Here I am…” merits a little more unpacking.

This unremarkable statement acquires weighty significance when we look at it more closely.  “Here I am” seems a somewhat redundant response to a God who knows where we are.  But it is not a mere statement of location.  There’s a different expression in Hebrew for that, which is equivalent to saying “Present!” when the school register is called.  In this instance, hinani  in Hebrew indicates readiness and willingness.  It indicates being present, here and now, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, but fully in the present, available to God for him to use.  It’s like a soldier snapping to attention and replying “Yes, Sir!” when an officer calls his name.  He instantly stops what he’s doing and listens for orders.

It is used notably by Abraham (Genesis 22:1, 22), Moses (Exodus 3:4) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4) when God speaks to them.  Each time it marks the beginning of a new faith journey.  Abraham is called to make a significant sacrifice.  Moses is commissioned to lead his people.  And Samuel commences a significant prophetic ministry with words of doom to his predecessor.

Each of us had a hinani moment when we committed our life to follow Jesus, and most likely another one when we followed him into world mission.  Some of us may be able to identify several of them.  Sometimes they are obvious, like a clap of thunder in our consciousness (John 12:29); at other times they are much more subtle, like the still small voice after the storm (1 Kings 19:11-12).

But I wonder how many of them we have simply missed, by being busy, preoccupied or stressed.  Listening to God is an art which needs to be practised – in the present, in stillness of soul.  I was struck recently by something Elisha said – “the Lord has hidden it from me and not told me why” (2 Kings 4:27).  We might expect the opposite, that God would reveal something to us.  But Elisha, admittedly an anointed prophet, had practised listening to God so closely that he felt it was normal for him to have a prophetic perspective on what was happening (2 Kings 6:16).

Sometimes God shouts, but more often whispers, and if we’re not in a place where we can hear the still, small voice, we may risk not moving on when we should.  God doesn’t always set a bush on fire to get our attention, so we’d better be giving it readily.  Let’s make sure we create the time in our busy schedules to be able to do this.

Leonard Cohen drew on his Jewish roots as he used hinani in his powerful final album You Want it Darker as he readied himself to meet God.  He translates it as “I’m ready, my Lord.”

Are you ready?

I was asked recently whether drive is a necessary characteristic for a mission worker.

My instinct is to say no.  I have seen a lot of drivenness in ministry, often expressed as a compulsion to succeed, to achieve, to prove others wrong, and in many cases is appears to stem from unresolved personal inadequacies.  Drivenness can lead to stress and burnout as we try to achieve things in our own strengths rather than trusting God for fruit in our ministry.  We have blogged many times about these dangers.

But drivenness is not the same as drive.  Drivenness implies something painfully pushing someone on, like a herder using a cattle prod to keep oxen moving forwards.  Drive, however, is internal.  A car has drive under its bonnet.  Without it, the car wouldn’t go anywhere.  Drive is less intense than drivenness.  Drive motivates us to get out of bed in the morning.  Without any drive at all, we would drift aimlessly through life.   In a positive way it stimulates us to fulfil basic natural needs to eat and sleep, and higher desires, which may be healthy or not.

And surely some drive is necessary for a mission worker.  If you were the leader of a mission agency would you recruit people with no drive?  Someone who just turns up and casually asks if they can join you, somebody who might drift through life on the mission field never initiating projects, not pressing forward?  They’d probably not get through the first round of recruitment – as someone who has been through that process myself, I know that drive is needed just to complete the application form!  So a certain amount of drive is necessary.

But drive has a negative side in that it pushes us to acquire a sense of belonging, significance, fulfilment and achievement, albeit less compulsively than drivenness, though in just such an unhealthy way.  Drive is the Freudian Id, or to use a Pauline expression, the ‘flesh’ which is not merely the healthy desire to meet natural needs, but the unhealthy demands that those needs are prioritised, even at the expense of others.  These are things which Christian thought tells us to die to.

So, to answer the question, let’s look at the life of Jesus.  Did he have drive?  Clearly, yes.  He talked about things that he came to do (Luke 10:19), and showed determination to achieve them (Luke 9:51).  He refused to be distracted from his mission (Matthew 15:24), and didn’t seek his own gratification (Mark 10:45).  Ye he clearly wasn’t driven.  He made time for people (John 4), and created plenty of time for God (Mark 1:35).

So I think the answer to the question is that it depends where drive comes from.  Is it a fleshly or soulish desire to have our own needs met, even if we express that desire through the vehicle of a productive-looking ministry?  Or is it a godly passion which drives us to ever more submit to God’s will in our lives in the pursuit of his greater glory.

After all, Jesus did tell us “Whoever seeks to save their own life will lose it, but those who lose it for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25)

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

Anyone who has followed the defeat of the England cricket team at the weekend, and indeed over the last winter, cannot escape the conclusion that English test cricket is in a crisis, as has so frequently been observed over the last 100 years or so.

The appointment of a coach who was selected for his track record in the shorter forms of the game (“white ball cricket”) as opposed to test matches (“red ball cricket) has only highlighted this problem.  Their defeat at the weekend by Pakistan only highlighted the fact that many of the England players, while being highly adept at the sort of aggressive fast scoring that is needed in white ball cricket, are woefully underprepared for the patient, slower building of a large innings over the course of several hours, like Alastair Cooke is so good at.

And why would they be?  Test matches last five days, and the players have no other experience of five-day cricket.  County Championship matches last four days, most other tournaments last one day, and in the shortest form of cricket a game is over in just three hours.  Now the cricket authorities in England are planning to introduce an even shorter competition to attract more interest.

A similar change is taking place in the missions world.  56 years ago, when first-class one-day cricket was introduced, the concept of ‘short-term’ mission barely existed.  Now the number of British people, mainly students but increasingly retired people, going on a short term mission trip number in the thousands every year.  Like white-ball cricket, it’s popular and accessible.

Unlike long-term mission, which is more like test cricket.  It requires a lot more training, time and commitment to get established.  The quick results that are needed for short-term are replaced by the disciplined and patient endurance that builds into powerful impact for the kingdom of God even if it’s not quite so spectacular.

How we can get the thousands of people who love the thrill of short-term mission to convert to the longer form is as challenging as making test match players out of T20 players.  We would love to see more of the short-termers coming back as long termers, and while many long-term mission workers started their vocation with short-term there is apparently little evidence that short-term engagement increases long-term recruitment.  Just as in cricket, they are two different forms of the game and there is not an automatic crossover from one into the other.

Many facets of mission need long-term commitment.  Quite apart from the challenges of language acquisition and cultural adaptation which need a significant investment of time, activities such as theological education, community transformation, and Bible translation don’t readily lend themselves to being done by short-termers.  So we still need more long-termers, rather than less.

Short-term mission can be justified in its own right, and has a place alongside long-term, as long as it is done well, contextualised, and done with cross-cultural sensitivity and respect (see the Global Connections Code of Best Practice for examples of how this might be achieved).  It is not merely a recruiting ground.  But there does also need to be a focus on maintaining and developing the long-term workforce that keeps mission going forward when the short-termers go home.

Just like England will never win the Ashes with a team full of IPL stars.

A Muslim man joined us recently for our regular communion service at the place where I live and work.  Which made me think hurriedly about how to do communion inclusively and build bridges rather than barriers.  I could of course simply have said “This is not for you, but you’re welcome to observe”, as indeed you might, but as part of a community that is trying hard to get along well with our ‘cousins’, I knew this wasn’t how we would want to treat a visitor.  So I improvised.

Communion can in many ways be one of the most exclusive things Christians can do.  It focuses on the death (real, not seeming) and resurrection (tangible) of Jesus the Messiah, the divine Son of God.  The introductory words we say often make it clear that this is only for people who trust in Him for their salvation.  Then we pray to him, and at the climax we may also drink alcoholic wine.  So for a Muslim person even to attend this event as a guest is an act of outreach to us.

For some of us, communion will be a non-negotiable.  It is only for believers, and we shouldn’t compromise it.  Others will not think it particularly important how we do it.  I think communion is vitally important, but I do value thinking through how we can make it more inclusive.  15 years ago I felt scandalised when a church I attended suggested that the ‘belong, behave, believe’ model meant communion wasn’t the final reward for completing the Christian initiation process but a part of that journey itself.  Today, I feel differently.

Someone once told me that if our mission is not stretching the boundaries of our theology, we are not stepping out deep enough.  So how do we do communion differently?  And indeed we need to think about other things too which are essentials of our faith but which may also alienate those enquiring.  Should we wear hats when we pray or take our shoes off when we enter a church building?  What posture should we adopt when we pray?

As we rethink mission for another age and multiple competing/complementary paradigms and worldviews there is a need for more discussion about what can be changed and what can’t, what is essential and what is cultural.  As you go through this week there will be many things that you do as part of your outreach/mission simply because you’ve always done them that way.  Why don’t you take the opportunity to ask yourself if there’s another way, different but equally good.

So in presiding over communion with our Muslim visitor, I dispensed with our usual liturgy and read the story of the road to Emmaus.  I explained that we are all on a journey, and Jesus walks with us on it, but we don’t always recognise him.  I shared the broken bread and cup of fruit juice as reminders of the meal he had in Emmaus, and said that perhaps we would see him better as we eat.  I pointed out that the meal mirrors the one he had with his disciples the night before he died, when he told us to eat it and remember him.  I said that he loved eating and drinking and would welcome everyone to eat with him, and he welcomes all of us too.  We don’t have to be perfect to eat with him.

And we all ate together.  After all, the essence of communion is reconciliation, isn’t it?

Source: www.freeimages.com

If you’re anything like me, you’ve recently had loads of emails or letters from charities asking you to sign up for their communications.  You might be wondering what the fuss is about, and just ignoring them.  It’s certainly tempting!

The reason for the flurry of activity is that new laws (succinctly known as The General Data Protection Regulations or GDPR) make it illegal for organisations to contact you unless they have your specific permission to do so.  This of course gives you a wonderful opportunity to get off all those annoying mailing lists you have somehow ended up on, but also means that organisations you care about won’t be able to tell you what they are doing.

This also may apply to your friends who are mission workers.  They too may be caught by this legislation if they give you updates on the work they do in association with a church or agency – so don’t assume you don’t need to reply to them when they ask you to sign up again.

The reason for this legislation is to prevent people getting lots of begging letters, which in itself is a good thing.  Previously, some people have been driving themselves into poverty because they responded to so many good causes.  But for mission sending agencies, the bad news (apart from the sheer effort and cost of complying with GDPR) is that they will not be able to send begging letters (sorry, ‘requests for funding’) to so many people, although at least they’ll save on the postage of all the unwanted letters they’ve previously been posting.

Many charities rely on a regular mailshot to give supporters updates on their work and invite funding to keep that work going.  This often reminds people to make a donation, and forms a core part of any fundraising strategy.  So it’s quite possible that agency incomes will fall.

Unfortunately , with every newsletter that arrives, supporters can face a very real dilemma.  Do they give or don’t they?  And when you are looking at a photo of a starving orphan it can be very hard to refuse to give the £50 you need this month for your gas bill.

So for us, the recipients of these newsletters, it will help to have a clear policy on giving.  So, for example, if you make a decision to:

  • give £50 each month to good causes
  • give to each agency only once a year
  • have a list of agencies you are willing to support in order of priority

you are far more likely to give consistently and generously to causes you really care about.  Of course, the amount, frequency and number of recipients  will vary according to your own circumstances, but the point is to be more structured and less ad hoc about giving, and so reduce the risk of overspending which gave rise to GDPR in the first place.

GDPR is not in itself bad.  Unfortunately, like other recent legislation (on non-EU spouses or access to free NHS treatment for non-residents) it unintentionally catches up people involved in mission.  So if you want to receive Syzygy’s regular updates, please sign up for them here!

Source: www.freeimages.com

At this time of year many mission workers abroad are making plans to gohome for holiday or home assignment.  They will be excited at the prospect of meeting with parents, friends and church again, and going to places that hold happy memories for them.

At the same time their children may feel a sense of foreboding.  The place their parents call home is probably not where they call home.  In fact, they may be confused about where ‘home’ is.  It may be where their parents serve (or used to serve, if they’ve moved country).  It may be where they go to school, if they’re at a boarding school for missionary kids.  Or it could be the airport, which is where they probably feel they spend most of their time.

When they get to their parents’ home country, they’ll go to strange places, be left in the care of people they don’t know even though they might be grandparents or aunts.  Church may feel strange, as may the climate, customs and clothing.

So it’s worth paying attention to your children’s concerns and helping them prepare.  We’ve devised a short checklist of our suggestions of things you may like to do.  Please let us know if you have any more you could add to it!  You can also read a longer page on preparing your kids for home assignment as part of our Guide to Doing Home Assignment.

Travel well!

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

We have probably all seen passive-aggressive behaviour exhibited in workplaces, shops, families, churches and of course the mission field.  It is an immature way of expressing resistance without directly challenging.

It sits on a spectrum which runs from “Yes, I’d be happy to” to “No, I won’t do that” and while it may not be as vocal as either of those statements, it could be expressed with a shrug, a pout, and slow, unwilling movements.  Think of a child who has been told to tidy her room, and realises she has no alternative if she wants dinner.  She do it, so is actually being compliant but everything about the body language is saying “NOOOO!”

Sadly, the mission field is no stranger to this behaviour, and one of the reasons may be because, whether we are leaders or followers, we think we ought to avoid conflict.  Or perhaps we’re uncomfortable with conflict because we do so need to be liked.  Christians today don’t do conflict with each other well, but at least we’ve stopped killing each other, so things are looking up.

One way in which passive-aggressive leaders can try to avoid conflict is by introducing new rules which affect everyone, rather than the one person they have an issue with.  So, for example, imagine your team holds a regular lunchtime prayer meeting, which is voluntary.  Only one person in the team doesn’t attend, so the leaders make it compulsory.  Everyone knows why – the leaders don’t actually want the risk of triggering interpersonal conflict by engaging with the individual and asking if there’s an issue.

If the team member is also prone to passive-aggressive behaviour, he will go to the meeting but sit there sullenly, in silence, possibly sighing or yawning loudly, doing everything he can to say “I don’t want to be here” without actually verbalising it.  Outright resistance would actually be more productive, because it would bring the issue to a head and force a flashpoint, rather than leaving it to simmer, unaddressed, for many years.

So how do we avoid passive-aggression?  With openness, honesty and humility.  Whether we’re leaders or followers, we should find constructive ways of expressing how we feel.  Not in an angry outburst, but in a meek, non-confrontational manner.  One which will take tension out of a discussion, not add to it.

None of us like conflict.  We tend to sweep things under the carpet.  The trouble with that approach is that the lump under the carpet starts to get so big that people trip over it.  We try to keep the peace by not making an issue of things, but peace is more than merely the absence of war.

Peacekeepers prevent conflict breaking out, but they don’t bring real, lasting, restorative peace.  No wonder Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers”.

 

 

I’ve been noticing recently in the gospels how often healings, miracles or important teaching opportunities happened as Jesus was on his way somewhere or while He was in the middle of doing something else. Amazing things happened on the go, out and about and outside of planned events. It’s great to organize and prepare for specific opportunities but I’m trying to be more aware as I go from here to there of what God’s up to and how I can join in. Do I often pray for opportunities but forget that the everyday stuff of life contains plenty of opportunities already?

Also, Jesus never felt interrupted. Every encounter was an opportunity to live out his mission. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and they were all over the place. I want to love the one in front of me the way Jesus did and see what God wants to do in their life. What feels like an interruption might be the best opportunity that day to share the gospel or show God’s love.

On Easter Saturday, while we were at a swimming pool taking a break from the loud music and chanting coming from our neighbour’s religious ceremony, I ended up having a great opportunity to talk about Jesus with a very smart and inquisitive 11 year old Chinese boy on holiday here. My first ever conversation about Jesus with someone from China. In a way he was a bit of an interruption to some quality family time. But it was clearly a God-incidence (there are no coincidences) and I trust that God will use that encounter in this boy’s life.

So look out. We might be about to walk into something God’s planned for us that never crossed our mind. Are we willing to abandon our schedules and be available? Here’s a quick little prayer from Norman Grubb of WEC International that’s worth echoing as we start each day: “Good morning Lord! What are You up to today? Can I be a part of it? Thank You. Amen.”

 

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

Source: www.freeimages.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Source: www.freeimages.com

Recently a couple of influential bloggers have published their thoughts on Do we really need to send missionaries overseas? and No, we shouldn’t send missionaries…unless.  Rather than go all panto dame and write “Oh yes we do” I thought I’d flip the question on its head.

It is clear that many churches in the UK see the size of the challenge in this country as so great that they are wondering whether we really need to be sending people to other countries when the need is so great here.  This is a question that is worth asking, and if the overseas mission advocates cannot answer it convincingly there will inevitably be a significant decline in overseas ministry as home needs prevail.

What is also clear is that despite the increase in focus on mission at home, there is not yet significant, consistent growth across the church in the UK.  Some individual churches are growing, and some denominations are growing rapidly.  But many others are declining, and we have not reversed the trend.

Which is why we need help.  By the same logic that we send people abroad to do things the local church cannot do there, we need Christians from Africa, Latin America, eastern Europe, the middle east and China to come to this country and help us do what we can’t.

Which isn’t simply reaching their own ethnicities because we can’t cross the cultural divide.  It’s reaching ours too.  Sometimes they are able and willing to go and live in places we can’t… or won’t.  Sometimes they are able to forge new connections: to have someone from another culture telling you about Jesus suddenly seems interesting after you’ve heard the same old story from so many Brits.

In his blog, Eddie Arthur points out that:

If we are not prepared to receive missionaries from the Global South in our churches, then we shouldn’t be sending missionaries to theirs!

In the 1950s a lot of Christians from the Caribbean came to Britain and found little welcome in the churches, so they often started their own.  Today these are some of the most vibrant and growing churches in the country.  We don’t want to make the same mistake again so let’s welcome the people from abroad who God sends to us, and help them be effective in the ministry they are called to.

Syzygy is developing a stand-alone training day for small groups of foreign mission workers new to the UK which includes an introduction to British culture and history, an overview of the current state of the church, and helpful tips on how to engage missionally in a way which won’t alienate your neighbours.  If you’d like to know more, contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk.

This is rapidly becoming a pagan country again, and if we need more resources to prevent that, why turn away helpers?

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

 

This much-loved text, often attributed to St Francis of Assisi, is an inspiration to many.  Yet once we look beyond its beauty we find a brutal challenge to our fleshly and soulish ways of doing things.

As we go about our lives, work, relationships and ministry this week, energised once again by the thrill of the resurrection we have just commemorated, let us bear this challenge in mind.

As mission workers, church planters, member care workers, church leaders and agency employees, how do we conduct our relationships with one another and those we are reaching out to in the light of the sacrifice this calls us to?  A sacrifice which mirrors the one we celebrate as bringing us new life?  How do we communicate that new life to others?  Is our transformation deep or only superficial?  How do we tap into the grace which allows us to respond to every challenge with love and forgiveness?

As we are transformed by the grace of God, we offer the same hope to others.  He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)

As we start Holy Week – the name traditionally given to the week coming up to Easter, let us take a moment to pause and reflect.

For many of us in ministry, it’s a busy time of the year.  We have to plan services for Thursday, Friday and Sunday, perhaps several for each day, including multiple sermons seeking some fresh revelation using scriptures thoroughly familiar to our congregations.  We might even have to get up early on Sunday for a sunrise service.  One of the challenges we face at this time of year is that we are so busy trying to ensure the church has a positive experience of Easter that we can miss out on that experience ourselves.

It’s also a highly emotional time of year.  We’ve just got past the excitement of Palm Sunday with its crosses, and soon will face the awkward embarrassment of a foot-washing ceremony.  We have to balance the solemnity of Good Friday with the exuberance of Easter Sunday, with just that rather cumbersome ‘normal’ Saturday in between.

Wouldn’t it be great to just stop?

Stop and have time to read, reflect on and inhabit the Bible stories about Holy Week.

To imagine walking with Jesus in Jerusalem, listeningf to the discussions, watching the healing, pouring ointment on him as a symbol that we understand what he’s about to go through.

Try and understand what it feels like to be various characters in the stories.  Are you Mary, Peter, or Judas, or one of the many other nameless ones who have a walk-on part?  As you think about them, what do you have in common with them?  What would you do if you were in their situation?  How do you feel?

And what is Jesus going through, knowing all that is in store for him?  How does he feel?  What could you do to help him if you were there?

In the midst of this hectic and demanding week, let’s pause for 15 minutes in each day, just to reflect on some of these things.  Perhaps we will meet with Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recently I was involved in leading a retreat for mission workers returning to the UK after finishing a period of service.  In our devotional times we looked at several passages from Exodus which seemed to me to be a perfect metaphor for our mission partners journeying into life in the UK.

Like the Israelites, they had left the familiar behind, and there was no going back.  They had packed up their belongings and left their homes, friends and ministries behind, and they were on their way to a new home.  Granted, not everything where they lived had been easy, but there were plenty of things they missed, like meat (Exodus 16:3) or fish, fruit and vegetables (Numbers 11:5).

But they’ve not arrived home yet.  They are still on the journey, in a wilderness of sorts, which is strange and unfamiliar.  They don’t belong there.  They don’t know their way around.  They don’t know how things work, how to use contactless payment or Deliveroo. They are bewildered and vulnerable, and can be quick to become unhappy.

One day they will arrive in the Promised Land.  They will find they feel at home, won’t be isolated from the culture and ignorant of terminology and technology.  They will settle and belong.

But in the meantime, they need the rest of us to remember that they’re not ‘home’, they’re merely ‘here’.  They may feel cold, or miss the noise of exuberant worship, or vibrant assault on their senses of everyday life in their host country.  They need us to understand that they are still in transition.  Neal Pirolo’s book The Re-Entry Team  is a very helpful resource for churches in helping them understand how to support returning mission partners and we recommend that every church gets a copy.

In the meantime, what can these mission partners do to help themselves?  They should stay close to the Pillar of Fire and Cloud.  It guides them through the desert.  It stops when they need rest and moves when they should move on.  It comes between them and their enemies.  Yes, they can’t actually see the presence of God, but they can feel it and know it in their hearts.  And in the midst of a massive change in their lives, God is the one constant in the universe.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Some years ago I lived in a house which had a significant-looking crack in a wall.  Of course, I could have papered over it and pretended it wasn’t there.  Or filled it with plaster and assumed it was fixed.  But the crack would have remained, a weakness in the wall, that may have got worse, even to the point of becoming critical.

Far better to investigate, monitor, and repair wherever possible, because the crack is probably a symptom of stress being applied to one or more parts of it, that is threatening to break it apart under the pressure.

Rather like walls, mission workers are subject to extreme stresses in their lives, and their character can begin to crack under the pressure.  So who monitors them, and how, to make sure any issues are dealt with before a serious collapse occurs?  Church, friends, agency, family and co-workers can all be part of this by intentionally caring about small incidents which may reveal deeper issues.  When somebody loses their temper with a co-worker, speaks harshly to a spouse, or perhaps evidences momentary vulnerability to excessive alcohol consumption, do we love them enough to go beyond forgiving their behaviour to challenge it and ask them what lies beneath?

Spotting these warning signs can be a very important part of stimulating early intervention.  But it’s not always easy.  Many churches expect their mission partners to be of higher than average character and so accountability can be a problem: nobody asks robust questions because they don’t want difficult answers.  Mission partners can be reluctant to appear fallible in a world that doesn’t tolerate failure, so they are happy to pretend everything is fine.  Yet one day the cracks may be too big to deal with, and a marriage breaks down, or a ministry falls to pieces.  People leave the field in shame.

So what can we do to avoid a collapse?

  1. We need to develop cultures that encourage accountability, and if mission partners are to feel comfortable to talk about underlying issues in their lives, they need the confidence that they will not be pilloried for failure but supported to reform.  Jesus said ‘Let the one who is without guilt cast the first stone’ (John 8:7) but sometimes his followers seem more eager than he was to throw rocks.
  2. We need to provide accountability structures, encouraging our mission partners to meet with peers and seniors for confidential support and mentoring.  We need to make it clear that this can work in partnership with other churches and agencies, rather than trying to keep it ‘in house’.  Being accountable to an ‘outsider’ fosters more openness than being accountable to a line manager.
  3. We need to create a framework for asking robust questions.  They don’t need necessarily to be direct accusations such as “Have you accessed pornography on your phone in the last week?” but more subtle ones like “What do you do to make yourself feel good after you’ve had an argument with your spouse?”  Questions which set up the opportunity for a confession without presupposing one.  I find “How can I pray for your marriage?” is a good one, or “How are things in your soul?”, which a friend of mine uses a lot.

Giving people an opportunity to reflect on their weaknesses, discuss their character flaws and work together on solutions can fix those cracks in the wall before it’s too late.  It’s called preventive maintenance.  We allow mechanics to do it on our cars, dentists to do it on our teeth, but we don’t let friends do it on our souls, which are far more important.  Maybe we should start.

Source: www.freeimages.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Janet Fraser-Smith’s helpful workbook Love Across Latitudes has been helping people build stable cross-cultural marriages for 25 years and is now in its sixth edition.

As two people try to build a successful marriage together they bring into it their unvoiced (and often even unrecognised) assumptions about how to relate to each other, and what they understand a marriage to be.  Occasionally there are serendipitous harmonies between these various assumptions, but more frequently one or both partners lives with the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations until an argument occurs and they realise their partner had no awareness of what was expected of them.  Such occasions occur more frequently when the partners are of different nationality, ethnicity or culture.

Janet’s workbook provides a valuable resource to those embarking on cross-cultural relationships (or indeed already in one!).  Written in helpfully accessible English with a recognition that as least one of the partners may speak English as a foreign language, and with plenty of personal stories and practical examples to balance the useful theory, it is design for couples to read together, and provides frequent questions as a tool for reflection and discussion.  It is intended to initiate intentional engagement with cultural factors which may impact on a marriage.

Sections specifically focussed on culture help to expose the unstated assumptions behind our understanding of relationship, marriage and family.  Others tackle issues like communication, tough choices, compromise and stability in relationships.  We heartily recommend this resource to anyone involved in a cross-cultural relationship, including TCKs in a relationship with someone of the same ‘nationality’.

Recently, while on retreat, I came across a rocky headland where a wide variety of plants was struggling with grim determination to grow.  Grass, heather and trees all struggled to thrive in the rocky soil.  Not in their natural environment, deprived of good soil, they were undernourished, stunted and vulnerable.  Not unlike a few mission workers I know!

Mission takes nearly all of us out of our normal environment.  It also takes us to a context where we may find it hard to thrive.  Sometimes we are isolated (emotionally, spiritually, culturally, physically) with little encouragement, fellowship or input.  This is why Syzygy started publishing devotional blogs, so that we can help to provide a little input into the lives of isolated mission workers.

If the plants I mentioned above were in my care, I might consider moving them to a new location where they are more suited to the growing conditions.  While some of us may be aware that we are called to endure in tough places, others may be wondering if we’ve made the right choice.  And there’s no shame in relocating to a place where we can thrive better if we feel that’s the right choice before God.  After all, if our life is more shrivelled up and stunted than it is abundant (John 10:10) it would be good for us to reflect on how positive our Christian witness is likely to be.

Alternatively I might try to change the growing conditions of the plants I were caring for.  I’m a great believer in manure and (although we might joke that most of our agencies are good at giving us that) like plants we need to make sure that we get sufficient nutrition to thrive.  Eating well is obviously an important part of staying healthy, but we also need to make sure that emotionally and spiritually we are taking in more than we give out.  Where are the supportive relationships we need?  Is social media sufficient, or do we need to arrange for more team members to join us in our location?  Are we able to sustain ourselves from our own private Bible study or do we need to access podcasts, books and commentaries?  Do we need to schedule more time away from the mission field in order to recharge our batteries effectively, or make plans for more retreat?

When looking at struggling plants on that rocky headland, while having sympathy for their challenge, I also felt huge admiration for their tenacity.  Being plants they obviously had no means of simply moving to a location more conducive for growth, so they just stubbornly got on with it.  Like many of the mission workers I know.  Like it says in Matthew, those who hang on by the skin of their teeth will be saved (Matthew 24:13).  If you’re in that situation, we salute your tenacity.  Keep on keeping on!