Photo by Ayhan YILDIZ from FreeImages

You are probably no stranger to that moment when you hit a button on your computer and nothing happens.  Perhaps a little icon rotates, or a dialogue box pops up that says “Processing…”  And you just sit there, uncertain whether to press the button again, or go and make a cup of tea.

Often the reason is the processor is overloaded with demands.  Perhaps it has to sort through a lot of junk to find the information it needs, or maybe you’re running several programs at once.  Sometimes there is a huge automatic download in progress (it’s usually Windows).  Whatever the reason, the demands on the system exceed its processing capacity.

It’s just the same with humans.  We don’t like to think we have limited processing capacity, particularly in a world where multi-tasking is so valued, but for mission workers there are often a lot of things going on at the same time.  Our heads are busy with the demands of operating in a foreign language, navigating traffic, managing family needs, planning for meetings, preparing sermons and liaising with co-workers.

Some of us are not equipped temperamentally to balance so many competing demands for our attention, and struggle to concentrate on any one of them because others keep surfacing at the same time.  In such circumstances it’s good to have times when we allow ourselves to close the office door or switch the phone off so that we can minimise the demands on our attention.

There may also be a lot more going on behind the scenes than we are aware of.  The pressure of living cross-culturally creates a lot of circumstances which we may think we are able to handle, but all add small amounts to the daily stress we suffer.  Did that person misunderstand me because my language is limited?  Did I fail to pick up subtle cues that I’m not used to?  Why do I have to wait so long in this queue?  Why do people drive like this?  Often these uncertainties create ‘feedback loops’ – situations that we keep mulling over, whether consciously or not, that also demand part of our processing power.

In order to deal with these issues which keep running in the background, we need to have a look at the task manager to get a better grip of what’s going on.  As we’ve remarked on previous occasions, regular retreat is an excellent way of doing this.  Even if we can only manage a day away at a quiet or spiritual place to reflect, we can still ask ourselves questions like:

  • How am I coping in this culture?
  • What are the stress points for me?
  • What are the ongoing issues in my personal life, team relationships and engagement with the local community?

This then equips us with a bit more knowledge so that we know which thought processes we can shut down.  We do that by reflecting on these issues and asking ourselves:

  • Why am I upset by this?
  • What can I do about it?
  • How is God equipping me to grow in this situation?

Many of these issues can be quickly dealt with once exposed.  One practice that is helpful to get into is to do a mini-reflection each night before going to bed.  We can ask ourselves simple questions like:

  • What upset me today?
  • Why?
  • Who do I need to forgive, or ask forgiveness from?
  • How do I resolve this?

But let’s not finish with the negatives!  We can also finish the day by reminding ourselves what brought us joy, what we can be thankful for, and where we saw God at work in, through and around us.

Just like our computers, a little bit of regular maintenance will help us to operate a little more effectively.

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, a new initiative set up by Stewardship.  Just go to 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 (, 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



A friend commented recently that I use the word ‘unpacking’ a lot.  It’s true: as a traveller I find myself unpacking frequently, and being of an orderly disposition I don’t really feel settled in until the case is unpacked  and everything’s neatly packed away.  You know I’m really tired if I get home late but leave the bags unpacked on the floor till the morning.

But it’s not this sort of unpacking that she was talking about.  It’s when unpacking is a metaphor for reflection on an experience, an emotion, or event.  You could equally call it processing, but I think that sounds a bit too, well, process-oriented.

In my experience mission workers do far too little unpacking.  We carry a lot of clutter around with us, and often pay a price for taking our ‘excess baggage’ with us.  It can be very unhealthy to take with us everywhere we go our crates of past disappointments, frustrations and hurts.  Spiritually and emotionally, it’s good to travel light.  So how do we get rid of our excess baggage?

Unpacking is the activity of reviewing what has happened to us, reflecting on it, learning the lessons, and moving on.  We are most accustomed to doing this when we have a debrief.  We look back at our last term of service and review what went well, or badly, and how we grew as a result.  Truthfully recognising our role in the events, and how we reacted to them, helps us.  It can bring emotions to the surface which, once acknowledged, can be dealt with.

People who follow Ignatian spirituality do this practice regularly, in many cases at least once a day.  They call it the Examen.  It’s a very healthy procedure which involves analysing how we feel, particularly if a strong emotion has surfaced.  We can do it periodically, often in the aftermath of a challenging event or incident.  Asking ourselves such questions as Why was I so angry?  What was I afraid of? or What made me feel so happy? will help us learn about our emotions and understand our responses.  By examining our choices and our reactions, we create a place in which we can forgive those who have wronged us, and repent of the wrongs we have done.

Sometimes when emotions rise up it’s because  we feel vulnerable (even if it’s only subconsciously) It has been compared to  sitting on top of a wobbling pole, so we try to re-establish security by placing big rocks around the base of the pole to stop it wobbling.  These rocks represent potentially compulsive behaviours like shopping, drink or drugs, being a star employee, excelling as a parent/partner/child, eating, or having sex.

These activities, while not necessarily wrong in themselves, help to bolster our short-term feelings of self-esteem, so when we’re tempted to indulge in one or more of them to excess, it is helpful to ask why.  It may be that some recent experience has undermined our self-esteem so that we need to take steps to feel good about ourselves.  The problem is that none of these activities actually delivers long-term good self-esteem, so we have to keep on doing them to feel good.  Only a full appreciation of our relationship with God in Christ can set us free from this cycle of compulsive self-destruction.


Sometimes we experience emotional instability because we are carrying too much excess baggage.  It’s rather like having a case which won’t shut without us sitting on it, so the stuff inside keeps spilling out at inopportune moments.  This is what happens when our emotions burst unhelpfully into daily life.

The solution is to open the case and get everything out.  Take a good look at each individual item (memory, emotion, experience) and decide whether you really need to keep it.  If not, throw it out.  If you do need to keep it, fold it up neatly and put it back in the case, which will now shut properly.

Orderly unpacking will help us travel lighter.