The man in the red shirt

The expendables?

There’s a meme among Star Trek fans that any character wearing a red shirt (except for Scottie) will die before the end of the episode.  People wearing yellow are important; people wearing blue are useful; people wearing red are expendable.  The security men in the red shirts haven’t got names, they’re not played by famous actors, and most of them won’t even have lines.  They are really just there to show how dangerous the situation is.

In a world where most people want to be Kirk, Spock or Uhura, most of us are the redshirts.  We’re not missionary heroes like the ones featured in Syzygy blogs.  Our names will never been known to the general public.  We live, we serve, we die.  In the world of mission, most of us are playing a walk-on role rather than being a leading actor.  That means making a huge sacrifice in terms of our ambition, our goals, and sometimes even our lives.  Yes, sometimes the mission workers get killed too.

I was once told a story by an elderly nurse how when she first went out to the mission field there were separatist rebels in the area she served in.  One of her colleagues was kidnapped and a ransom demanded.  The mission agency refused to pay and the body was found a few days later.  The nurse told me “She bought freedom for the rest of us.  Because they knew we wouldn’t pay ransom, they never bothered us again.”

We all have our job to do, our person to be.  We don’t look at the others and compare ourselves to them, because that’s not the role the director has cast us for.  Our job is to do our very best with what we’ve been given.

The difference between Star Trek and the Kingdom of God is that although we may have a bit-part, nobody is expendable.  Every one of us is of immense value to God, and every death is significant to him (Psalm 116:15).  The souls of the martyrs are kept in a precious place close to God (Revelation 6:9).  And one day, we will all wear a yellow shirt.

Star Trek is copyright of CBS Corporation

Middle Space

No, it’s not something from Star Trek or a book by Terry Pratchett.  I was recently introduced (thanks to Ally Gibson of WEC International) to this aspect of phenomenology.  It’s the concept that when you and I sit down to talk, the space in between us is not empty – it is full of emotions that both of us put into it, but the other does not see.

So I may come to a meeting full of expectation, hope, anticipation and enthusiasm, together with a mental agenda of all the things I want to talk about.  You might bring your fears, anger and desperation.  Neither of us knows about what the other puts into the Middle Space, but unless we make each other aware of them, our meeting risks being dissatisfying.  If I don’t know about your fear, and you are reluctant to introduce the subject, I may go away from the meeting thinking it went well, but you will leave dissatisfied.

So how do we deal with the things in Middle Space?  We need to be aware that there may be things in it we don’t both know about, so we must discover them.  In a more formal context, such as counselling, we may be used to hearing “What would you like to talk about?”, but we need to find informal ways of doing the same thing.  “How are you feeling?” would be a good start.  A good friend of mine often asks “How are things with your soul?”, which drills a little deeper and leaves a simple “I’m fine” looking a little evasive.

Failure to address what is in Middle Space can have a huge impact on our relationships:

  • In any team meeting we may not communicate about the things that are really of concern to us.
  • In cross-cultural teams some of us may bring expectations about honour, respect, permission to speak which are not understood by others.
  • In cross-cultural marriages we may bring our own cultural expectations of a partner which are completely different in our spouse.
  • In member care we may miss issues which are bubbling away under the surface causing stress to our mission partners.

So let’s be intentional in putting our thoughts and feelings openly on the table, to improve communication, reduce misunderstanding and help our mission workers thrive!