What van Gaal is getting wrong

Goal? (Source www.freeimages.com)

Goal? (Source www.freeimages.com)

It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.

The long-drawn out death rattle of Louis van Gaal underperforming season at Manchester United prompts us to revisit this old maxim.  While Syzygy does not have much of a track record as football pundits we came across an interesting statistic in a newspaper recently: despite Man U having a whole string of terrible statistics this season, there is one in which they are top.  They have the highest percentage of possession in the Premiership.  A solid achievement, which means absolutely nothing without the ability to convert possession into goals.

Which prompts us to ask our readers, what do we possess that we are not converting?  We can suggest three things that, we may need to put to better use for the kingdom as we reflect on our lives and values during the current season of Lent.

The Gospel.  We have mentioned before the prevailing western philosophy of Moral Therapeutic Deism, in which our Christian belief is merely there to meet our needs, help us be nice people and feel good about ourselves.  But the Gospel shouldn’t stop with us.  It is meant to be shared.  What kind of selfish people keep good news to themselves?  St Paul wrote “Woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16).  OK, perhaps he was a bit too driven for us to feel entirely comfortable with him, but at least he was motivated.  When are we going to go and tell somebody the Good News, whether we go to the other side of the world or the other side of the street?

Our relationship with God.  We have unprecedented, open access to the throne room of the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, and we use it to ask God to bless people, which God is probably going to do anyway, because that’s what God enjoys doing.  We have the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead at work in us and we use it to pray for a parking space.  When are we going to realise that through prayer we can change nations?  Can we get a little bit more ambitious with our prayer?  How about praying for a resolution of conflict in the middle east, freedom and peace for the oppressed church, or global revival.  Let’s get a little more ambitious with our prayer.

Significant wealth.  Yes, significant.  Since the finanical crisis of 2008, many of us in the west think we’re poor, yet in comparison to nearly half the world living on less than $2.50 a day [1], we’re filthy rich.  And even if we aren’t sure how we’re going to pay the bills or put food on the table, as William Carey pointed out “even the poor can give.”  Jesus commended not the rich putting their gold into the temple coffers, but the poor widow putting in two small copper coins (Mark 12:43).  When are we going to pour our wealth into something more precious than house extensions, foreign holidays and new cars?

So this Lent, do please consider going (or at least helping someone else to),  make a commitment to pray for mission, and put some serious funding into mission.  Syzygy would be glad to help you!

[1] http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

I was very busy…

I was very busy, and I fell into the trap of thinking that my good works were more important than prayer.

This quote from Joseph Bernardin’s book The Gift of Peace does not need much elaboration, so this will be a short blog.  As we are still close to the start of a new year, we invite all our readers to reflect on this simple wisdom and review their own work/prayer balance.

God does not actually need workers.  He has angels to do his bidding.  He can speak and miracles occur.  He can self-reveal to unbelievers in dreams.  But God graciously chooses to partner with us so that we can be a small part of his governing the universe.

That partnership is not one of empowering us as independent agents to go off and work by ourselves in God’s name.  It is a partnership which calls us to share, participate, commune, together with God.  And we do that through prayer.

Syzygy is spending more and more time in prayer, for our own work, for God to send (and equip and sustain) more workers to bring in the harvest, and to intercede for mission workers.  Please join with us in this effort by sending us your prayer letters and becoming part of our prayer network.

Get praying!

Spurgeon“Prayer pulls the rope below, and the bell rings above in the ears of God.  Some scarcely stir the bell for they pray so languidly.  Others give an occasional pluck at the rope, but he who wins with heaven is the man who grabs the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might.”

(C H Spurgeon)

As we come to the end of the year and reach that time when once again we take stock of where we are, and what God is calling us to in the coming year, we return once again to a subject we have commented on frequently – prayer.

It has long been our contention that prayer is the greatest need of every cross-cultural mission worker, as it is through prayer that we align our hearts to God to receive direction and equipping for our mission.  Through prayer we focus our attention on God providing for our daily needs for protection, provision and opportunity.  Through prayer we express our dependence on God so that we avoid the temptation to rely on ourselves or believe that what has been achieved is through our own initiative, ability or effort.  It helps us to remember the sobering words of Jesus:

Without me, you can’t do anything.

(John 15:5)

But it’s not only our own prayer that’s involved.  We all depend on the supportive intercession of our friends and family, churches and agencies.  Most of us recognise this by sending prayer letters at least once a month, and we value the many hours of prayer that people we don’t even know pour into supporting us in our lives and ministries.

Syzygy joins in by providing prayer support for mission workers.  We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to add us to your mailing list so that we can pray for you in our regular weekly prayer times.  Or you can send the occasional emergency prayer request to our prayer hotline.  In return, we ask you to join our small group of dedicated intercessors  who receive those emergency prayer requests.  It’s not onerous, as we usually send out only two or three emails a month requesting prayer.  You can find out more on our Get Praying page.

Featured Ministry: Open Doors

hist_beetle_driveIn 1955, a young Dutchman went to a youth congress in communist Poland carrying hundreds of Christian tracts to distribute.  During his visit he discovered an isolated evangelical church struggling to retain its morale in the face of communist persecution.  The young man, now known throughout the world by the name ‘Brother Andrew’, embarked on a life travelling to difficult and dangerous places, smuggling Bibles to a needy church, inspired by the words of Revelation 3:2 –

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

Driving his battered VW Beetle all over the Soviet bloc, Brother Andrew smuggled Bibles into communist eastern Europe.  But his exploits did not stop there.  He pioneered work into China, and then the Middle East and parts of central Africa.  Open Doors, the organisation he founded, has gone on to print Bibles, broadcast the Gospel by radio, coordinate international prayer ministry, keep the church informed about persecution  and become well-known for delivering practical support to the suffering church.  They also advocate on behalf of the oppressed, and their annual World Watch List is a must-have for Christians seeking information about how to pray for countries where Christians are oppressed.

60 years on from Brother Andrew’s first journey, Open Doors has become a worldwide agency working in over 60 countries through nearly 1000 workers – most of them national partners, because in the places they work people who are obviously foreign can’t always be effective.  Many of them work in challenging and dangerous places, training up new generations of church leaders and equipping the church to survive in the most hostile places on the planet.

All this is true to the adventurous spirit of Brother Andrew, who is famous for pointing out that there are no countries which are closed to the gospel.  There are of course countries from which it may be hard for Christians who preach the gospel to come back alive, but Brother Andrew has proved throughout his escapades in places like Palestine, Iraq, China and the Soviet Union, that God really can shut the eyes of the authorities and open doors.

Today tens of thousands of suffering Christians are supported and encouraged by Open Doors’ campaigns of aid and encouragement.  You can read more about these on their website, where you can find more details on how to pray for them and to join in the ministry.  As the UK CEO of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce said at a recent celebration of 60s of Open Doors’ ministry:

There isn’t a persecuted church and a free church – there is one church.

Or as St Paul put it: “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Let’s be inspired by the example of Brother Andrew and his many colleagues to relieve the suffering and pray for the parts that suffer.

Five loaves and two fish

A mosiac of Jesus feeding the 5000 in the Basilica of Sant' Appolinare Nuovo in Ravenna

A mosaic of Jesus feeding the 5000 in the Basilica of Sant’ Appolinare Nuovo in Ravenna

John tells an interesting story about a boy who gave his lunch to Jesus (John 6:1-14).  The synoptic gospels all record the story, but leave this lad out, which is a shame because he’s not got a big part in John, despite providing dinner for over 5,000 people.

The story is familiar to many of us, and is often told in Sunday School.  The people are hungry and there are no convenience stores nearby.  Jesus says to the disciples “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13) but they realise they haven’t got enough money and the boy’s lunch, (which we hope he gave freely), is all they’ve got.  So Jesus takes all they have, and multiplies it.

There are several lessons which mission workers can learn from this.

What we have is enough. So often it seems that there is never enough, be it money, people, resources,  or equipment.  Whatever we’ve got, we always feel we need more.  We ask for it and pray for it.  Yet in this situation what was clearly not enough in the disciples’ hands was enough for God.  If we are experiencing shortages, let’s not try to solve the problem themselves – let’s take the problem to Jesus.  Which leads us onto point 2:

We can solve the problem – if we change our thinking.  Jesus told the disciples to feed the people.  So they could have done… if they’d had the imagination and the faith.  What are the big challenges in our ministry?  How can we see them from God’s perspective?  How can we increase our faith so that we can believe for God’s miraculous provision for us?

We come to God just as we are.  We know nothing about this boy – his age, his intelligence, his social status.  It is not relevant to the story.  The point is that what he had, he gave to Jesus.  We can often fall into the trap of thinking we need more skills, knowledge or qualifications before God can use us.  This boy came to Jesus just as he was and gave him everything.  That was enough.

Being willing gets us used by God.  This boy could have sneaked off by himself and eaten his supper.  But he got involved and offered Jesus a solution.  We don’t know what happened to him, but I expect he kept on telling that story for the rest of his life.  Perhaps he became a disciple and taught others about being available for God.  Having seen Jesus at work in his life, surely he couldn’t just walk away!  His faith would have increased as a result of what he’d seen.

Jesus cares.  He didn’t just shrug his shoulders and say that they should have planned ahead.  He was concerned about their hunger.  Which is why we can come to him with confidence when we tell him what we need.  He’s not going to give us a stone or a snake, but bread and fish (Matthew 7:7-11).

It makes a great story when we get home.  Can you imagine that boy telling his mother that he didn’t eat all his lunch but shared it with thousands of others?  Telling the big stories of God’s provision for us is an opportunity to be a witness to those who don’t yet know him.

So this week let’s not bother about what we haven’t got, or what we think we need.  Let’s come to Jesus in the confidence that in his hands, what we already have is adequate, and what he will do with it is more than enough.

More burnout?

Battery Charge IconA retired mission worker was discussing with me recently that he’d noticed that people now in their 30s and 40s seem a lot more likely to suffer from burnout than people of his generation.  He gave two significant reasons: lack of preparation and lack of integration.

In these days when there are still 3-year residential courses at Bible Colleges preparing people for mission, studying such modules as missiology, contextualisation and linguistics, we would think we are well-prepared.  But my friend was referring to the selection process of the agency.

In his day, there would have been a protracted conversation which would have climaxed in a month’s preparation before departure, six weeks’ more training on a ship (yes he’s that old!) and finally three months’ orientation in the field.  That would have given him and the agency a lot more time together to get to know each other and understand the culture that they would be sharing for the next few decades.  Long timescales and long distances made sure everybody took preparation seriously because there was no easy way back.

Unlike today, when we spend much less time growing to understand each other, and recognise that if it doesn’t work out, there’s another flight home tomorrow morning.  Preparation is much shorter, and orientation may be as little as a couple of weeks.

So with a shorter lead time, how do agencies effectively communicate their vision and values, not just in theory, but helping people think about what that would look like in practice?  Agencies need to think not merely as an employer when selecting their mission partners.  There is more to selection than skills and abilities.  People have to cope with cross-cultural changes and fit into teams where there is already a strong prevailing ethos.  This is not always thought about: we might consider whether people buy into the agency’s values, but will they fit in temperamentally with the team they’re destined to join?  And how effectively will we support them through that transition?

How do we get to know them quickly?  By encouraging them to walk with us before they go long-term is significant: going short-term, acting as a homeside volunteer, going to conferences and prayer meetings, researching our history, reading our website, talking with our mission workers on home assignment.  This of course takes time and effort which many agencies no longer have, so we need also to rely on our partnership with their sending church to help us work out if they will be a good fit.  A visit to the place they are going to serve is recommended, to meet the team and see how the team operates.  And of course, much time spent in prayer by everybody, to determine what we understand to be God’s will in this situation.

We’ve already addressed the challenges of not integrating in an earlier blog, where we looked at how technology has made it so easy for us to stay in touch with our family and friends that we may never really leave, which means we may never fully integrate in our destination culture.  It takes time and effort to fully immerse ourselves in a different culture to the point where our language is fluent and we can discern those small cultural nuances and unspoken assumptions that allow us to be fully at home, and we may be facing a more globalised era in which that level of integration is no longer necessary, or even possible as a postmodern generation thinks not in terms of a life spent in the field but in a life lived missionally in a wide variety of ways and contexts.

But if my retired friend is right, ensuring that new mission partners are a good fit in their teams, and helping them to thrive in their host culture are two practical things that agencies can do to help prevent the build-up of stress which can lead to burnout and attrition.

So thick-headed!

On the road to Emmaus

On the road to Emmaus

The Message translates Jesus’ words to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus as sympathetically as it can, but it is still a clear rebuke for their lack of understanding.  Which is not unreasonable since the Gospels all make it clear that Jesus had done his best to explain to them in advance that he would be killed, but would rise again from the dead (Luke 24:6-7).

In Luke 24 (verses 13-35) we are given a picture of two traumatised disciples.  Just three days before, their Messiah had been crucified, destroying their hopes of national redemption.  And now they were confused by rumours of him appearing to people.  Confused, Cleopas and his companion were heading home despondently to Emmaus.  They talked things over on the way, trying to make sense of what had happened.  But a stranger meets them on the road, and the ensuing discussion is an excellent example of how to do a debrief:

  • He asks them what the problem is.  He asks open questions, allowing them to tell their story.  He listens.
  • When they have had their full say, he leads them back to scripture.  He explains it to them so that they can understand.
  • In the process he clearly encourages them (verse 32).
  • In the final revelation, they are inspired to return to where they were supposed to be, and tell their story.

In this story, in a matter of a few hours two discouraged disciples regain their vision for ministry.  Sadly in our world it often takes a lot longer.  But this story reminds us that for all the skill and ability of professional debriefers, there is no substitute for letting Jesus do the real work in the lives of his wounded followers.

We accomplish this through prayer, and there is no substitute for many people to be praying into the debriefing situations of burnt-out mission workers.  Syzygy runs a prayerline so that we can mobilise prayer for the people we meet with.  You can read more about it here.  We really need your help in interceding for Jesus to work in people’s lives.  If you would like to partner with us please let us know by emailing prayer@syzygy.org.uk.  We sent out updates two or three times a month, and they are usually just a couple of sentences, so the work is not onerous!

We are grateful to Pastor Neil Le Tissier for the thoughts on Luke 24.

Middle-aged mission workers in crisis?

Souce: www.sxc.hu

Souce: www.sxc.hu

50 can be a challenging age for anybody.  On reaching half a century, we have to start coming to terms with ageing, knowing that most of us are now over halfway through our lives.

Perhaps we are no longer able to play 5-a-side with the teenagers, or we are starting to have to make regular nocturnal visits to the toilet or coming to terms with the fact that our body tells us we can’t have children.  We may need varifocal lenses or hearing aids.  At the same time, we may be dealing with the drama of our children leaving home, or confronting the tragedy that we might never get married, and dealing with the pain of caring for elderly parents.  So there is a lot for us to take on board.

At the same time, we are rising to the peak of our professional responsibility.  We may be in senior management positions, elders in a church, pillars of our community, trustees of various organisations.  We are expected to mentor younger people, act as consultants and advisors, and start ‘paying something back’ into the community.  People expect our behaviour to be better than when we were teenagers (“You’re old enough to know better!”) and there is less tolerance of our mistakes as we are assumed to be more mature.  But there’s also that nagging doubt that we’ve built on shifting sand.  Will our life’s work last?  Have we devoted our lives to something worthwhile?  Will our children thrive?  Or in others words:

The pressure of responsibility and expectation on us rises, just as our energy levels are starting to fall. 

50s crisisA simple graph can demonstrate this.  The red line indicates the rising burden on us; the blue line the declining energy levels.  And the point where they cross is where disaster is waiting.

The crisis can take a number of forms: a stress-related health incident, ministry burnout and resignation, moral failure, crisis of faith, divorce – and all these hazards lurk out there waiting to trip up the unwary mission worker.  For no obvious reason an apparently exemplary worker will suddenly crack under pressure and fall to pieces, injuring many others with the fallout.  Lives are damaged, churches shattered, faith rocked.  Broken and hurting people return to their sending countries haunted by words like failure and defeat.

So how can we prevent this happening?

Mission workers can:

  • Ensure you maintain a vibrant relationship with God, taking time off work if necessary to devote time to God.
  • Remember to say no to additional responsibilities if you do not feel called to take them on.
  • Take time to reflect regularly on your identity.  Are you a Martha or a Mary?  Which way round is your dynamic triangle flowing?
  • Have a frank relationship with an accountability partner or mentor.
  • If you’re married, make sure you take regular steps to invest in your relationship.  If you’re not married, make sure you learn to thrive in your singleness.
  • Learn to delegate effectively so that you don’t have to cope with excessive busyness as well as excessive responsibility.
  • Rejoice that though we are physically decaying we are growing more godly (2 Corinthians 4:16)
  • Take a break at the first sign of stress-related illness.

Churches and agencies can:

  • Take active steps to ensure their mission workers are not overworked and take regular holidays and study leave
  • Use regular appraisals to ask challenging questions about spiritual, emotional and physical well-being
  • Encourage mentoring
  • Organise training to help mission workers understand what makes them tick and why they may be tempted to overwork.
  • Ensure mission workers are sufficiently well-funded to be able to take holidays.
  • Have a good member care team in place
  • Send out family and friends to support and encourage.
  • Ensure that mission workers take regular and sufficient home assignment and have regular healthchecks
  • Recognise that cross-cultural living can take its toll on people’s health and spirituality
  • Provide practical support to help reduce the pressure on mission workers
  • PRAY!!!

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!

TCKs – the mission worker’s Achilles’ heel?

AchillesSending a mission worker out into the mission field is rather like sending an army into battle.  You don’t just stroll out and pick a fight.  It pays to be well-prepared.  Plans are laid.  Training is given.  Strategy is developed.  Support is put into place.  Scouting is done.  Weapons are provided.

Yet we all know only too well that no matter how much preparation is done, there can always be a chink in the armour.  Like King Harold’s woefully inadequate eye protection, or Achilles’ badly-designed army boots.  One small weakness which can result in a devastating defeat.

For many mission workers, their Achilles’ heel is their children.  Most of us go into the mission field prepared to make sacrifices for God.  Few us of want to think of our children as those sacrifices.  It’s all very well for us to risk everything for our beliefs, but to ask our children to risk everything requires a whole new level of faith, and many of us struggle to get there.  I’ve known mission workers pack up and go home not because they couldn’t cope with getting malaria regularly, but because they couldn’t cope with their children getting it.  It’s not uncommon for mission workers to return to their sending country because they can’t get the right education for their children in the mission field.  Or because their kids are not adapting well to living abroad and want to go home.

I’m not criticising them for those choices.  It’s right to look after the kids.  At the other end of the spectrum we’ve all come across TCKs (Third Culture Kids) who’ve been completely messed up by being brought up abroad and struggling to fit in.  Some have even lost their faith as a result.  That’s a tragedy.

So whether we stay or go, we need to be aware of the potential impact of serving in world mission on the kids, and take steps to remedy it.  Mission workers, agencies, churches and family all have a part to play in this.  Here are five things that we can all do to make sure that TCKs are part of the army not part of the problem.

Pray – many of us forget to pray for the kids when we’re praying for the family.  So it’s not surprising they can become the Achilles’ heel.  Pray for their health, happiness, education, sense of identity, safety and most of all their own personal, genuine walk with God.

Be informed – read books like Families on the Move or keep in touch with websites like:

Find excellent resources from the TCK Forum.  Ask sending agencies what they’re doing to support your mission workers’ kids, and keep the pressure on them to deliver.

Education – this is always an issue of great concern.  Despite the British tendency to assume that education abroad is significantly inferior to ours, some countries have extremely high standards of education.  There are also international schools in many cities, Christian boarding schools in many countries and even boarding schools in the UK willing to make very generous scholarships to TCKS.  There are also a significant number of Christian and secular home-schooling programmes available.  You can read more about this on the Oscar website.

Healthcare – nobody enjoys the thought of a child being sick.  Good health insurance is vital, one which pays for medical evacuation to a first-world country if necessary.  However TCKs may be no less safe in the field than they would be in the parents’ sending country, the risks may just be different.

Support – from simple things like remembering birthdays and Christmas to making sure that TCKs get an opportunity to connect with each other through events like reconnect or websites like those listed above, make sure the family knows what support is there for them.  There are also plenty of TCK specialists around who can provide care or counselling if necessary.  Contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.

TCKs don’t have to be sacrifices.  With appropriate care and support, they can thrive and make the most of their international experience as global citizens.

Prayer – an exercise in performance?

prayHere at Syzygy we receive lots of prayer letters – which is great, because we love to pray for mission workers.  In fact, we set aside time every week specifically to intercede for mission.  Sometimes, the letters we receive encourage us to ‘redouble our efforts’ or ‘pray seriously’.  While such expressions may express the sense of urgency the mission worker is feeling, what do they actually imagine we’re going to do?  Grit our teeth as we pray?  Sweat?  Shout at God, as if he can’t hear us otherwise?  How do we, in fact, prayer harder?

In recent blogs we’ve looked at the Protestant Work Ethic, which in simple terms can drive evangelical Christians to work hard in an attempt to ‘pay God back’ for the salvation they’ve received as a free gift.  We’ve seen how that can contribute to stress and overwork among mission workers, and we have considered how the Protestant Work Ethic might have affected our interpretation of the Parable of the Talents.  Today I’ d like to look at how it might affect our attitude towards prayer.

Despite what Jesus taught us about prayer, it can very easily become an exercise in works rather than faith.  We can fall into the temptation of thinking that by making our prayers longer, more verbose, louder, or emotionally more intense, they somehow work better.  They may work even better if they are accompanied by fasting, or getting up early.  These days we find that wearing sackcloth or beating ourselves is a little too uncomfortable, but we still buy into the same principle: we can make prayer more effective by working harder at it.

Jesus taught us that this is manifestly not the case.  He told us not to be like unbelievers who suppose we will be heard for our many words (Matthew 6:7).  He clearly said that God is not like the judge who answered a widow’s pleas only because she nagged him till he got fed up with her (Luke 18:1-8).  He compared God to a loving father who delights in giving good things to his children (Matthew 7:11).

What does that look like in practice?  It means having a relationship with God.  It means coming as a little child, unencumbered by doubt or unbelief.  We ask daddy for what we want because we know he cares for us.  Sometimes daddy says no, because he knows it’s not good for us, or because he’s got other plans.

Some of the most effective prayers in the Bible have been the simplest.  Physical healing in response to a simple expression of trust: “Lord, you can make me clean, if you want to.” (Matthew 8:2)   Salvation effected not by a complex statement of faith but a simple statement of trust: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” (Luke 23:42).

These Biblical examples continue to this day.  I have seen God provide miraculous healing in response to a simple request: “Father, please heal this woman.  Amen”.  Once in Zambia I spend half an hour trying in vain to start a car which had an electrical fault.  At the end of this time the Zambian pastor who was travelling with me had finished speaking to the assembled villagers, got into the car, slapped his hand on the dashboard and simply said “Father, we need this car to start NOW!”  It started first time.

Effective prayer is simple prayer.  Just ask.  If you don’t get the answer you want, don’t nag God.  Assume God has given you the answer he wants, and learn to live with the situation God has put you in.  Sometimes the answer is not a change of circumstances, but a change of heart in the midst of those circumstances.

Syzygy maintains a network of intercessors to pray into the needs of mission workers.  You can find out more by looking at The Syzygy Prayer Network.  To join it, or to send us your prayer requests, email prayer@syzygy.org.uk.

 

Is it time to move on?

Countries of the 10/40 window, in blue

Countries of the 10/40 window, in blue

Which are the countries which have the smallest proportion of Christians?  Most of the candidates are debatable because it is hard to collect accurate statistics in them, and many believers will be keeping their heads down for fear of persecution.  But the answer is probably:

  • Western Sahara
  • Afghanistan
  • Somalia
  • Yemen
  • Maldives
  • Morocco
  • Mauritania

All of these countries have fewer than 0.5% Christians, and are closely followed by Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey.*  Many other countries in north Africa, central Asia and the middle east have fewer than 1% Christians.  None of these countries are places where it would be easy to be a mission worker, and in many of them, it could be fatal.  As it can be for the believers.

You might expect the bulk of the church’s mission work to focus on countries like these.  Even if it’s not easy for us to go as mission workers, it’s possible to go and start missional businesses such as teaching English or computing, introduce the nationals to Jesus while they are studying abroad in a more open country, and train locals remotely to witness to their own people.  We can broadcast the gospel into their countries – see the work of TWR Europe, FEBA or Sat 7 for example.  We can pray.  We can go on holiday there and try to be a subtle witness or engage in prayer ministry.  Some agencies, to be sure, are trying to get people into countries like these, but of course we can’t tell you who they are in these pages, though we salute the faith of the few who engage in such a dangerous calling.

Yet a list of the countries to which the UK sends most mission workers tells a different story.  We actually invest most of our missionary effort in countries where Christians are already in the majority.  The top five receiving countries are:

  • Kenya (79% Christian)
  • Brazil (91%)
  • France (68%)
  • Zambia (85%)
  • Spain (68%)

In total there are over 10,000 mission workers in these countries from all over the world.  It is perfectly legal to witness to people and to start a new church in each of these countries (though occasionally very difficult!).  Although many of the ‘Christians’ contained in the statistics may be nominal, with the exception of France and Spain they have strong evangelical churches which are able to shoulder the burden of mission, and in France the church, though still small, is growing strongly.

While there are nearly two billion people living in the 10/40 window who have never heard the gospel, thousands of completely unreached people groups elsewhere, and hundreds of ethnic minorities who have no access to the Bible in their own language, does this seem an appropriate use of our resources?  Ok, perhaps the Christians in those countries do not follow our particular brand of Christianity, but wouldn’t it be better for us to let the local church take over the task of witnessing to the lost?

Is the continuing presence of overseas mission workers in those countries actually preventing the indigenous church taking on more responsibility for evangelising their own people?

Time to move on?

Time to move on?

I know a lot of mission workers reading this will already be angry with this suggestion (thank you for making it this far!) and I recognise that there may be many people working in those countries who will be doing tasks the local church may not currently be equipped to do:

  • providing theological education
  • discipling a young and inexperienced church
  • using those countries as a base for reaching out into other less evangelised ones
  • working with unreached minority people groups
  • providing vital technical support such as bible translation.

There will be other valid reasons for mission workers to be there.  Or are these countries simply ones where we like to be mission workers?  But if 90% of us moved on to minister to an unreached people group or a country in the 10/40 window, that would mean an extra 9000 people freed up to reach the world’s least evangelised people.  That’s over 150 new mission workers in countries like Tajikistan, Laos and Algeria.

Of course it’s risky.  Even today mission workers are being martyred in the 10/40 window.  But that’s part of following Jesus, and despite the western world’s risk-averse policies, Jesus didn’t shrink from paying the ultimate price to show God’s love for the lost, and neither did the early church.

Maybe it’s time for us to move on to somewhere more needy.  Or is that a bit too uncomfortable for us to consider?

* This article has drawn heavily on Operation World for its statistics.  Find out more about this essential guide to prayer for the world at www.operationworld.org

Pray for mission workers

prayMany mission workers have a desperate need for prayer – for their health in a part of the world their body didn’t grow up in, safety as they travel on dangerous roads, protection from those who object violently to their mission, the ongoing health of their spiritual life in a hostile environment, family relationships under great pressure, visas, the provision of more funding or co-workers, patience, cross-cultural adaptiveness, the success of their ministry, communication skills in a foreign language and so many more needs both chronic and acute.

They send regular prayer letters to their churches, friends and family, and often wonder if they’re read at all, let alone prayed into.  They seldom get a reply.  They don’t know how often people pray for them.  Sometimes being an overseas mission worker can feel like abseiling without being sure there’s somebody holding the other end of the rope.

912758_hand-holding_1Yet the desire to pray for them is minimal.  Even where prayer meetings for them are arranged, they are frequently poorly attended and are often deadly boring.  There is little originality, seldom use of videos or games to make them a little more lively.  Yet if St Paul asked for prayer, as he frequently did in his letters, how much more do our mission workers need it?

There are in fact plenty of resources available to help inspire us to pray for mission workers.  Most mission agencies produce them, and they’re more than simple prayer letters.  See for example OMF‘s ideas for prayer, or download their helpful guide Seven Ways to Pray for Missionaries.  Alternatively see Eddie Arthur’s helpful booklet praying through the Lord’s Prayer for mission workers.  Most mission agencies also publish prayer diaries and other information to help you pray for their mission workers.

praying handsA couple of weeks ago we invited you to pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send out more workers.  But there are already over 10,000 British mission workers working hard to bring in the harvest.  They need prayer too.  They need our cooperation, our help, our partnership in their mission.  They need us to share their burdens.  And occasionally, when someone prays, a mission worker on the other side of the world feels the clouds of despondency lift, finds miraculous provision for their needs, makes a breakthrough in their ministry.  Prayer is the fuel which powers the engine of mission – without it the mission workers aren’t going anywhere.

Syzygy’s prayer helpline links those with needs to our group of intercessors.  You can ask for prayer at any time by emailing prayerrequests@syzygy.org.uk, and if you’d like to join our team who pray for mission workers, you can do so by emailing pray@syzygy.org.uk.

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.  With thankful hears offer up your prayers and requests to God.

(Philippians 4:6, Contemporary English Version)

Start the year with prayer

SpurgeonPrayer pulls the rope below, and the bell rings above in the ears of God.  Some scarcely stir the bell for they pray so languidly.  Others give an occasional pluck at the rope, but he who wins with heaven is the man who grabs the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might. (C H Spurgeon)

As we start out on a new year, what better way than to begin with prayer?  It is only through prayer that we discern God’s direction and purposes, and while the secular world may preoccupy itself with new year resolutions for a week or two, each of us engaged in a mission for God needs to follow God’s instructions for the important steps we have to take.

Prayer is at the heart of all our activity.  We know that Jesus spent time alone in prayer at importance stages in his ministry, and yet so few of us follow his example.  My church, like many others, is starting January with a week of prayer, and I intend to take the opportunity to set time aside to listen to God for the future of Syzygy, and I invite you to join me to do the same for your ministries.

How often do we make a significant amount of time for prayer?  Most of us spend a few minutes at a time, or some emergency prayers for help when we find ourselves in difficulty, but how often are we, like Mary, to be found at the feet of Jesus listening to his words – even to the distraction of some of our colleagues who think we do not do enough work!  We are far more likely to be like Martha, toiling away diligently for him, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t actually take us away from Jesus.

Spurgeon’s great quote above reminds us of the need for determination, persistence and energy in prayer.  How can we achieve this when our church, work and home lives are all demanding time and attention of us?  Surely, not all of us have the luxury of setting aside great chunks of our lives for prayer?  I think few of us would think that Jesus did not have pressures and demands on his time and attention, yet he seemed to make time for it.  Perhaps it’s because we’ve lost the understanding that prayer is crucial to the effectiveness of our ministries and the fruitfulness of our lives.  Here are some of Syzygy’s top tips for developing a prayerful life:

  • Start and end each day focussing on God.
  • Pray before you start your work, and invite God into your busyness.  Focus your attention on God and remind yourself that He’s the reason you’re in this ministry.
  • Two or three times a day (more if you can manage it) pause in your work to remember God, ask for his help, and thank him for equipping you to do your work.
  • If you have colleagues, meet together regularly for a short time of prayer.
  • Create at least an hour a week for a time of unhurried prayer.
  • Set aside a significant time each week, month and year to get away and be alone with God.  Arrange for others to cover your responsibilities so you can get away.
  • Don’t be slow to communicate prayer requests to others.

Prayer is the boiler room in which we stoke the great fires which power our ministry.  The more we shovel, the more energy we generate!

Syzygy has a number of intercessors committed to prayer for mission.  If you would like them to pray for a particular issue, or if you are willing to join this band of heavenly bellringers, please email prayer@syzygy.org.uk.

Serving as Singles

mi1

This week’s blog is not a reference to the tennis championships at Wimbledon, but a consideration of the needs of single mission workers serving the Lord cross-culturally.

Not long ago, the HR director of a UK mission agency told me that they recommend that all their married mission partners do a marriage refresher course while they are on home assignment.  This is good practice as it will help them think about the damage caused to their relationship by their time in the field, and help them strengthen their marriage to be more resilient in the future.

However the same agency makes no similar recommendation to its single mission partners for dealing with their singleness!

And, to be honest, even if they did, it wouldn’t be easy for their mission partners to find the appropriate resources.  Marriage enrichment courses abound.  You can find them run at retreat centres or in many churches (see Relationship Central for more information).  Yet where do you find any resource to help singles?  It’s an issue that is not adequately addressed, despite the increasing number of singles in our churches.

Syzygy is very happy to be able to redress this balance.  We are happy to be partnering with Penhurst Retreat Centre, whose amazing ministry we have profiled before, to provide a 48 hour guided retreat for single mission workers in early September.

Serving as Singles is a celebration of singleness in ministry.  This retreat will be an affirming time helping single mission workers embrace their situation in life, look to Christ to provide our needs, and discuss strategies for coping with the difficult aspects of being single. There will be time for teaching, discussion, prayer, silence and laughter. It is open to all singles involved in mission whether unmarried, divorced or widowed.  Above all, we will be pointed back to Jesus as the lover of our soul, to spend time with him, listening to what he has to say to us.

Penhurst is a quiet, cozy retreat centre deep in the lovely Sussex countryside, which provides plenty of opportunity for rest and reflection.  It is an ideal place for an event such as this.  To book your place, visit the Penhurst website.  But do it quickly, as places are strictly limited!

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.

Where’s the guide?

Photo by Joe Roberts on Unsplash

I recently heard this story told by Elizabeth Elliot, the mission worker and author:

Two young Americans with high adventure in their hearts arrived in the city of Quito, Ecuador on their way to the “Great Amazon Rain Forest” east of the Andes.  They were going on a six weeks trek and planned to write a book about their experiences.  They had every imaginable supply that they thought they might need for this adventure.  They had been to an army surplus store before they left home and bought everything the salesman told them they would need.

They described their equipment to me with great pride and I could see that it was not going to be of much use.  I wanted to tell them that what they ought to have was a guide, but they had asked only for help on the language and not for advice.  So off they went, full of confidence.  Perhaps they found their way all right, survived, and even wrote the book.  I never heard from them again.

What we really ought to have is the Guide himself.  Maps, road signs, equipment is useful, but infinitely better is someone who has been there before and knows the way…

Many of us spend a lot of our time  sitting in meetings planning and strategising,   While those activities are necessary, they are no substitute for following the Guide, listening to His advice, and going where He leads even when we can’t see why he’s going there.

Can we change the way we do our meetings?  Instead of opening with a brief prayer for guidance and closing by asking God to bless our decisions, can we spend more time listening to God than we do to each other?  You will recall that last week I reminded us that the famous missionary call of Barnabas and Saul came not when the church leaders were strategising but when they were worshipping.  If we engage in God-focussed activities in our meetings, it will not be surprising if God participates in them.

The Lord is my Guide… He leads me in the right paths.  Even when the going is tough, I am not afraid because He is with me.

Elizabeth Elliot is one of the foremost mission workers of her time.  After spending many years working among the indigenous people of Ecuador, she became a renowned author and teacher.  You can read more about her at www.elisabethelliot.org.

The accidental mission worker

Source: www.freeimages.com

Much effort goes into careful planning of mission, as we seek to determine God’s plan, we pray about who to send where, and we set up, train and support teams.  Few would argue that this diligence is excessive, and we would be rather scornful of those who don’t plan carefully.  We expect them to have all sorts of difficulties, and when they do, while we don’t rejoice we may have a smug ‘I-told-you-so’ moment.

Yet it seems that much mission does in fact happen by accident.  I’m 20 years into my life as a mission worker, and I just intended to take a year out.  I’m sure the same is true of many others.  Noah was probably just getting on with his life when God made him a ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:5).  Lot would appear on the surface to have been only interested in his cattle (Genesis 13:11-12) but he ended up being a missionary in Sodom (2 Peter 2:8 says he was a ‘righteous man tormented by their lawlessness’).  One of the Bible’s most successful missionaries, Jonah, even tried to run away from his new calling.

In the New Testament, Philip was minding his own business when God sent him to tell an Ethiopian about Jesus (Acts 8:26), and Peter was on a ministry trip visiting the church in Joppa when he was invited to preach to a Roman centurion (Acts 11).  Barnabas and Saul were in a worship meeting when they were spontaneously sent (Acts 13:2).  Paul and his friends had to walk through Turkey trying out various options before they realised where they were supposed to be working (Acts 16:6-10).  And in the modern era, many of our famous mission workers didn’t end up where they thought they were going to be, or just went, like Jackie Pullinger, on the prompting of the Holy Spirit and got on with it when they arrived.

The point I am making is that (to paraphrase John Lennon) mission is what happens while you’re busy planning your mission.  Mission is how we deal with the people we sit next to on the train on the way to our mission meeting, or the people who want to talk to us when we are too busy planning.  Mission can take place in a variety of settings.  While you are sitting all day in a government office waiting for the man with the key to return from a funeral, are you just getting frustrated or is this God’s way of using you to be a witness to those around you?  When you are kidnapped, has your mission been derailed, or merely diverted?  Is this God’s plan for you to be a witness?

Mission is taking the opportunity to reach out to people wherever and whenever we are and all it requires is for us to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to prompt us (like Philip in Acts 8:26) and to be ready to tell our story (1 Peter 3:15).  It often happens spontaneously and unplanned, or so it appears to us, but in all those scriptural examples above, God was at work and it was all part of his plan.  It just wasn’t part of the people’s plans.  This is the essence of Mission Dei – that God is already reaching out to the lost and graciously allows us to help .

So when we are making plans for our mission, it’s worth remembering Proverbs 16:9 – We make our own plans, but the Lord decides where we will go.

The need for good followers

There has been much paper expended over the years on how to be a good leader, and it’s an important subject.  Without secure, conscientious, compassionate, visionary leaders, our churches and agencies can easily become stressed, fractured and ineffective.  But even the best leaders cannot lead an effective ministry without good followers, and since most of us are destined to remain followers rather than become leaders, it’s good to put some time into discovering how to be good followers rather working on developing leadership potential which may only end in frustration.

Being a good follower used to be equated with not rocking the boat, doing what you were told and not speaking out, but I suspect this definition was peddled by insecure leaders who interpreted every query as a challenge to their personal authority and slapped such ‘rebels’ down hard.  These days the leader/follower relationship is a lot more complex and subtle, with less power being wielded and mentoring and envisioning the order of the day.  So what key values do the followers need to develop in themselves in order to excel at it?

Serve leaders as God’s anointed people.  As mission workers, we often talk about working for God, but then don’t accept the people he appoints as our supervisors.  If they’re his representatives, we should honour them as such (Colossians 3:22-24).  Although that verse technically refers to slaves, it makes the point that inward obedience to those in authority is a godly attitude.

Don’t complain about the problem without being willing to be part of the solution.  We’ve all heard this before, but from a leader’s perspective it’s so much harder to work with someone who says “This isn’t working” than someone who says “I’ve got an idea for how this could work better.”  That person becomes a co-worker rather than a critic.

Following is not transactional.  Too many of us make our following conditional: we follow if we agree.  The Bible doesn’t make a case for blind obedience to godless or foolish commands (Daniel 6:10) but it does make it clear that we should obey and submit to leaders (Hebrews 13:7) and respect them (1 Thessalonians 5:12).  The minute we start thinking “I’ll be a good follower when he’s a good leader” we have stepped outside our God-given brief as followers

Being honest is not being rebellious, but the context and manner of our honesty can be.  There are inevitably going to be times when we disagree, but we can handle it well.  If you feel with all integrity you have a harsh challenge to make, do it in private like Nathan did to David (2 Samuel 12:7).  David’s response could have been ferocious, but he knew Nathan’s love and support for him despite the fierce rebuke.

Leaders need prayer.  It’s easy to believe we’d do a better job than our leaders, but how many of us actually help them to a better job?  Yet as the most prominent members of the community, they have to cope with pressure, demands and spiritual attack (2 Corinthians 11:27-29).  Praying for them helps them (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

Buy into a bigger vision than your own personal one.  If you’re going to be an effective follower, you sometimes have to subordinate your own plans to those of the leader.  For 40 years in the wilderness Caleb dreamed of owning the land he had seen when as a spy he had sneaked into Canaan, but he didn’t make a rush for it as soon as the invasion started.  He waited a further five years until the invasion was over before he asked for it.  He had helped secure other people’s inheritance before he gained his own. (Joshua 14:6-15)

If you have to leave, you leave alone.  There may come a time when it’s right to leave, but that doesn’t mean leading a rebellion.  When David had to leave Saul’s court for the sake of his life, he didn’t take his friends with him or make an announcement, he just quietly slipped away. (1 Samuel 19:11-18)

Much effort has gone into analysing the leadership style of Jesus, and devising universal rules of management from the results.  Yet the management gurus always overlook the fact that Jesus, too, was a follower.  The perceptive centurion observed that Jesus was a man ‘under authority’ (Matthew 8:9), and Jesus said he didn’t come to do his own will, but the will of ‘him who sent me’ (John 5:30).  He even said he didn’t speak on his own initiative (John 12:49).

The more closely we follow in the footsteps of the world’s greatest follower, the more we will become better followers of God, and the leaders he appoints over us.

In a future blog we will discuss how to act righteously when dealing with a destructive or manipulative leader.

Why do overseas mission workers need support anyway?

Photo by eric feldman from FreeImages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4)      Christian moves abroad to be an active witness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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