Bridges – a metaphor in Member Care?

During the difficult lockdown days that many countries (especially in Europe) continued to endure this spring, my organization required us to take at least a half-day retreat somewhere in our city, find a bridge and reflect on its significance.

As I found my bridge in a beautiful park in my city of Genova, Italy, I made the following observations about bridges:

  1. Bridges are often used to cross or overcome an obstacle
  2. Are often the fastest means to get from point A to point B
  3. To cross a bridge can often be scary (water, fear of heights, high winds, instability, etc.)
  4. Crossing a bridge also involves trust, not only in the engineering, but also in the foundation
  5. Bridges require maintenance and attention
  6. Bridges can be diverse and innovative
  7. And finally, bridges add perspective, allowing one to see things from a different point of view

So how do bridges relate to Member Care? In the past year, I have debriefed numerous people working in dynamic and often volatile teams of both married and single people. The thing that everyone had in common was that first of all, they all have struggled in some way or another during the Covid-19 pandemic, and second, all felt that others on the team have failed to understand or acknowledge their life situations.

Some who are single talked about feelings of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic and frustration that their organizations and teams didn’t offer more support during difficult lockdown days. In contrast, other singles felt that because they are used to managing on their own, they were better equipped not only to deal with government restrictions and quarantine, but also available to offer support and care to those who needed it the most during lockdown. But what the singles DID have in common was that all felt that their married colleagues need to learn more about how to be sensitive to the needs and struggles of singles.

One young single woman (permission granted to share her story) serving in a closed-access country offered an interesting example of the conflict and misunderstandings that can occur between single and married colleagues. During a mandatory hostage training course that her team participated in, her team went through a simulation in which kidnappers asked for a person to be offered as ransom. This particular woman was both hurt and shocked that her team said she should offer herself up as ransom in order to save the other members of the team because she is not married and doesn’t have to look out for a family. Moreover, she was shamed into thinking she was selfish for not offering herself voluntarily. Clearly her team had a lot to unpack, debrief, and reconcile.

Other single inter-cultural workers have often talked about how their married counterparts often ask them to babysit because “obviously being single means you have more time on your hand,” or “don’t lose heart, God is your husband,” to which a close friend of mine says, “No, God is not my husband, He is my Lord and Saviour!” And finally, singles often hear not only from teammates, but also supporters and churches, “we are praying for you to find a spouse,” to which singles might say, “that’s funny, I never asked for you to pray about that.”

But what about teammates who are married? Many married people have shared that this past year added a whole new level of stress on their marriage. Why? Because they were forced to spend 24 hours a day together with no break. I have heard one married person say, “Although I love my wife, I envy those who are single during Covid who at least get some time to themselves.” Cases of domestic abuse have also been on the rise during the pandemic due to added stress and married people feeling that they are living on top of each other at times.

I have also heard married people express that single people often fail to recognize the individuality and/or unique personality of each spouse. Simply put, Sarah and Abraham, while a unit, are clearly also two different people and personalities.

Interestingly, I have heard singles and married people both complain about a particular rule married people may have, albeit from different perspectives.  Many of us know of married couples who have a rule not to ever be in a room together alone with someone of the opposite sex.  I have heard married cross-cultural workers complain about their single teammates who they feel have not respected or perhaps have interfered in this rule.  However, I have heard singles address this same rule by saying, “married teammates who have this rule need to understand how such a rule inadvertently affects single people.”

Perspective!

Finally, I personally have seen both sides of the bridge, so to speak, because both my wife and I spent half of our adult cross-cultural life as both single and married.  We both have heard teammates and other Christian workers say to us AFTER we got married, “you have finally arrived” or “your spouse really completes you.”  It makes one think, geesh, what did they really think of me when I was single?  And no, it is not correct to say “My better-half, or my husband or wife completes me.” We need to all think about what are words mean and their impact, and even more so, their theological ramifications. No, our spouses don’t complete us (though they certainly can and should complement us); we are ALL COMPLETE in Christ.

What is needed and what is the Member Care lesson? Build a bridge, cross the bridge, and look at life, experiences, and the view from the other side. Building and crossing that bridge involves trust, innovation, creativity but offers our teams stability, perspective and efficiency. Both Married and single teammates suffer from loneliness, being misunderstood, and feeling frustrated. But if they are willing to build a bridge and work together, beautiful things can be done collectively for the Kingdom!

 

This is a guest blog by Mihai Lundell, a member care worker with OCI serving in Italy who is also on the Board of Member Care Europe.  It first appeared on the Member Care Europe website and is reused with permission.

 

 

*Recommended Reading:

  1. Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life by Barry Danylak
  2. Single Mission by Debbie Hawker & Tim Herbert
  3. Married in Mission: A Handbook for Couples in Cross-Cultural Service by Alexis C. Kenny

Wait for the Lord…

 

Following on from my previous blog about Drawing on Spiritual Resources, one of the phrases I referred to as not being particularly helpful is ‘waiting for the Lord’.  After all for busy people with the demands and pressures of 21st century life on them, just sitting and doing nothing, even if they’re doing it prayerfully and expectantly, is not going to go down well.

The day after publishing that blog, quite independently, two people emailed me quoting that expression from Isaiah 40:31 as an encouragement.  So I thought I’d better delve a bit more deeply into its meaning.

But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

It turns out that the Hebrew word qavah can indeed be translated as ‘wait’, often with a sense of hope, eagerness or anticipation, perhaps like a child whose birthday has arrived but who hasn’t been given the presents yet.  It is used several times in the Old Testament in this sense.

But it has another meaning – to bind together, to twist.  The imagery is of making a rope, which by twisting many strands together makes the finished rope stronger than each individual strand would have been by itself.

So these two meanings amplify each other, and active, eager waiting for God also involves us binding ourselves to God.  Reminiscent of the verse in Ecclesiastes “ a cord of three strands is not quickly broken (4:12).  Since this verse is in the context of ‘two are better than one’, it is a small leap of imagination to think of that period of impatient waiting when two lives are being merged into one couple – engagement.

And waiting for the Lord is rather like that.  There is the eager anticipation, whether of healing, or a permit coming through, or support-raising hitting the critical threshold, but while we prayerfully wait and cannot move forward without the Lord acting, we can take the opportunity, like an engaged couple, to intentionally start getting to know each other better.

People preparing for the big day hopefully realise they are planning for a marriage and not just a wedding.  They ask each other searching questions: ‘What do you think about…  how do you do this… which do you prefer…’ with a view to understanding each other better.  They might seek advice and mentoring from more experienced Christians.  They might do a marriage preparation course to help them prepare.  And they do things together so they can find out who likes what, and whether it’s an activity they could share.

So a period of enforced waiting isn’t necessarily a time of inactivity.  We can be actively drawing closer to God and twisting our life together with God’s.  Then we will renew our strength.  Or will we?

The Hebrew word chalaph which is translated as ‘renew’ in this context means to gain something different, in the same sense that Joseph changed his clothes when he came out of the prison (Genesis 41:14, also chalaph in Hebrew).  He didn’t just wash his prison uniform.  He put on clothing fit to meet Pharaoh in.  It must have been given to him, as an imprisoned slave is unlikely to have owned glad rags.

Likewise this new strength that we get isn’t ours, it’s God’s and it comes as a result of us intentionally interweaving the strands of our life with God’s life so that God’s strength flows through us.  Or, as God explained to Paul why he was waiting for his healing, “My power is perfected in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Love Across Latitudes

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’.

Marriage in mission

A long road ahead? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

A long road ahead? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

We’ve blogged a number of times about the challenges of being a single mission worker, and we wouldn’t want to imply we don’t care about married mission workers, so it’s time to write something about marriage.  In fact we here at Syzygy meet more married mission workers facing significant challenges in their marriage than we do single mission workers struggling with singleness issues.

Cross-cultural mission can take a heavy toll on marriage through such issues as long and unpredictable hours of work, the stress of coping with living in a different culture, missing family in the sending country or children away at boarding school, spouses’ differing competence in learning a foreign language, disagreements over education and childcare, lengthy time apart, and the spiritual dynamic of being in mission.  Husband and wife will probably cope with all of these issues differently, which can lead to tension and resentment if one partner seems to be managing better, or one seems to the other not to be pulling their weight.

As if that were not enough, many mission workers marry cross-culturally, which means both partners bring into the marriage their own unexpressed (and possibly even unacknowledged) preconceptions about marriage and what it involves (see Janet Fraser-Smith writing in Single Mission by Hawker & Herbert).  Karen Carr’s research indicates that a healthy marriage can increase mission workers’ resilience and help them thrive in their vocations, while a demanding marriage reduces a mission worker’s ability to cope with stress and may aggravate burnout and even lead to attrition.

A healthy marriage needs work, and there’s no need to be embarrassed about wanting a better marriage.  Taking time out to work on marriage is important, and we recommend that couples get away together regularly with the express purpose of having plenty of time to communicate, get to know each other better, and intentionally discuss issues which cause tension in their relationship.

To make this even more intentional, they could buy a book to work through together, and we can heartily recommend:

In Love But Worlds Apart (Grete Schelling & Janet Fraser-Smith, AuthorHouse 2008)

Love Across Latitudes (Janet Fraser-Smith, AWM 1997)

The 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman, Northfield 1992)

The Highway Code for Marriage (Michael & Hilary Perrott, CWR 2005)

The Marriage Book (Nicky & Sila Lee, Alpha 2000)

Other good ways of doing preventive maintenance on a marriage include:

  • Doing a Myers Briggs profile together. This may help couples understand why the two of them think or act differently, and why when they have different preferences, neither of them is wrong… just different!
  • Finding an older couple to spend time with, to pray together and discuss issues. Having people you can be honest with about the stresses in your relationship can bring perspective and support.
  • If time permits it, doing a marriage course together. There are several different models but we recommend the one which comes out of Relationship Central at Holy Trinity Brompton, which is called, unimaginatively, the Marriage Course.  It’s ideal for couples to do over 2-3 months on home assignment.

And finally, here are some handy day-to-day tips for continuing to work on a marriage while in mission:

  • A compliment is better than a complaint.
  • Make time to pray together each day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
  • Have a regular date night to keep romance fresh and make time to talk about your relationship
  • Don’t compare your partner with an ex/ideal/colleague, either in your mind or out loud, and take steps to make sure your partner knows you’re not doing this.
  • Don’t use expressions like ‘you always…’ or ‘you never…’ which only polarise a disagreement.
  • When you apologise don’t make excuses – “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t…” Just say sorry.
  • Talk your partner up, not down. You’re there to help them grow not to cut them off at the knees.
  • Say “I love you” at least once a day, and more often if you can – but mean it.
  • Remember that the only person you can change is yourself.
  • Marriage works better if you focus on your partner’s needs and your own shortcomings, rather than your partner’s shortcomings and your own needs.

And finally, don’t be ashamed to use the 12 words which can save a marriage:

I am sorry.  I was wrong.  I love you.  Please forgive me.

Praying creatively for your mission workers

Here’s a simple yet creative idea for a mission prayer meeting.  Don’t just do the same old boring thing of praying through each paragraph of a newsletter.  Do something a bit more original.  Take a selection of common items you’d find about the house.  Ask yourself what they represent, and if it might look different from your mission worker’s perspective.  Pray into it.  Here are some simple examples you could use.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Mobile phone – this represents their ability to communicate.  Whether writing or phoning home, communicating with locals in their language or dealing with colleagues in a third language, mission workers often have difficulty in understanding and making themselves understood.

Toilet roll – we don’t need to go into details but life in a country your immune system didn’t grow up in can be full of nasty diseases.

Car keys – in many parts of the world roads are even worse than Devon’s!  Vehicles may not be up to safety standards and there are no working time directives limiting the hours professional drivers spend behind the wheel.  Travelling, whether by car, bus, motorbike or cycle can be hazardous.

Bottle of water – we take utilities for granted but many mission workers live in parts of the world where the power can go off for days at a time, or there is no running water.

Family photograph – many mission workers are separated from loved ones.  Children may be at boarding school, or elderly parents may be left behind at home.

Chillies – the food is often very different from back home, and can take a lot of getting used to.  Some people may have allergies to particular types of local food, or may be unable to get food they need such as gluten-free.

Fan – many mission workers live where the weather is extreme, and for some seasons of the year almost unbearable.

Bible – the reality of life on the mission field is that mission workers can become spiritually dry.  They may be engaged in spiritual battles and face great opposition, or the spiritual dynamic of the dominant religion may have an impact on them.

Wedding ring – marriages come under great strain on the mission field, as one partner may have a vision for being there, and the other is tagging along, or perhaps one does better with the language with the other lagging behind.  Conversely, there are also pressures of a different kind on singles in the mission field.

Bowl – in many countries beggars are everywhere, and foreigners can stand out as targets.  It can be easy to get compassion fatigues, or to be worn down by the constant high profile.

Dictionary – mission workers usually need to learn a second language, and sometimes a third.  This can be time-consuming and daunting for those who are not naturally gifted at it.

Passport – paperwork is a continual problem.  Visas, work permits, driving licences, residence permits all have to be obtained (without resorting to corrupt expedients) and periodically renewed.  This can be emotionally demanding, with many repeat visits to crowded government offices where you can queue for hours to find that the person you need to talk to is not there.

Credit card – money is frequently a source of stress for mission workers.  Most of us rely on the divinely-inspired generosity of a small group of supporters to provide for the often quite substantial ministry costs we have.  Sometimes we have to leave the mission field for financial reasons alone.

Book – many mission workers use their professional skills as theologians, medics or educationalists, and need to keep their knowledge and qualifications up to date.  Yet finding time to read academic journals, let alone take CPD courses in the midst of a demanding role can be very difficult.

Toy – children can suffer in the mission field, and that has a huge impact on the parents.  Without support, children can easily become the mission worker’s Achilles heel.

DVD – mission workers need to relax too!  Yet often they find they have too much work, or feel guilty if they stop to enjoy themselves.

Office ID card – for many mission workers, the single biggest source of stress is their colleagues.  Often coming from a variety of cultures, with a common language that they aren’t all gifted in, and with a variety of church backgrounds and missiological viewpoints, it can be extremely hard to form a team in which everyone gets on well.  Arguments and even personal disputes can become commonplace.

Please use this information to pray into the situations of the mission workers you support.  The advantage of this method is that you can use it to pray anywhere, anytime, for your mission workers.  For example, if you’re waiting for a bus, look around you and seek inspiration.  What do you see?  Cars – pray for your mission worker’s safe travel in a world where roads and transportation may not be as good as ours.  A dog – pray for safety from being bitten by rapid dogs, or mosquitos, or lions.  A pillar box – pray for their good communication with family, church and friends back home.

Try this way of praying for mission workers and your prayer life may never quite be the same again!

Book review: Redeeming Singleness

Redeeming SinglenessOne of the most challenging issues for single Christians, including mission workers, is the church’s seldom-questioned assumption that marriage is good.  The church rightly celebrates marriage, parenting and fidelity but the corollary to this assumption is the implication that singleness is wrong.  If married people are defined by what they have, singles are defined by what they don’t have, and that can be seen as an underlying deficiency.

This means that those who are married often fail to affirm and celebrate singles, while the singles can spend their lives feeling that they are somehow abnormal.  Unchecked, this negative attitude can undermine their spiritual wellbeing and come to dominate their thoughts and emotions.

Barry Danylak’s book Redeeming Singleness tackles this challenge head on.  It is one of the very few quality resources that Syzygy regularly recommends to single people at our events (along with our own Single Mission!).  At one such event recently, after we outlined Danylak’s proposition, one person in the audience commented “I feel really angry that these things are not being taught in our churches.”

We share that concern, which is why we recommend Barry’s book.  Academic without sacrificing readability, Redeeming Singleness propounds a positive theology of singleness that is absent from most churches today, despite the huge heritage of single people serving effectively in mission and ministry over the centuries.

Danylak starts by acknowledging the high importance attached to marriage in the Bible, particularly in the Genesis account where it is apparent that marriage has the duel function of companionship (Genesis 2:18) and procreation (1:28 and 2:24).  However he soon moves into explaining that it was important for people in the Old Testament to be married because they had no concept of the afterlife.  They lived on in their descendants (hence the significance of the genealogies) and in the land which they passed on to their descendants.

Thus, for an individual in Israel to be devoid of spouse, children, and land, such as Naomi on her return to Israel, was to feel the weight of divine judgment (Ruth 1:21-22).

Having established this base, Danylak shows how the prophets, particularly Isaiah, pave the way for a New Testament refocussing.  The woman who cannot have children is promised that she will have more ‘children’ than a mother (54:1-5).  The man who cannot have children (56:2) is promised something better – a lasting place and an eternal memorial.

Danylak then goes on to unpack Jesus’ frequently overlooked statement that, if you can handle it, it’s better to live a single life for God (Matthew 19:11-12) and then follows it up with an analysis of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 to demonstrate that there is significant esteem given to the single lifestyle by these two Jewish rabbis who, given their cultural background, might be expected to do exactly the opposite:

What is striking in Paul’s counsel to his Greco-Roman audience is that, while his perspective on sexuality and sexual ethics is so clearly rooted in the moral tenets of Old Testament law, his response on the question of marriage and singleness appears to be anything but a traditional Jewish perspective. 

What happens to the blessing to Abraham?  It’s fulfilled in his ‘seed’ Jesus and in the ‘children’ of Jesus.  What happens to the blessing on Adam and Eve when they were told to ‘Go and multiply’?  This commandment is nowhere reiterated in the New Testament.  It is replaced by ‘Go and make disciples’, and in doing so, the followers of Jesus inherit the blessing.

This book is an excellent contribution to the well-being of single people.  It helps them overcome the implicit stigma of living a single life and be able to embrace their singleness through finding scriptural affirmation.  It fully demonstrates that while marriage may be normative in Christian culture, it is not the only way of living, and that singleness is equally, though differently, blessed.  Danylak concludes with:

Singleness lived to the glory of God and the furtherance of his kingdom testifies to the complete sufficiency of Christ for all things.  The Christian is fully blessed in Christ, whether he or she is married or single, rich or poor, in comfort or distress.

This clear, concise Biblical teaching needs to reach a wider audience, so that single Christians will be encouraged and the church will be equipped to bring balanced teaching to facilitate a Christian culture fully supportive of both single and married people.

 

Redeeming Singleness (ISBN 978-1-4335-0588-1) is available from all good online retailers both as a hard copy and ebook.