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The Critical Journey

In the July article “Hartmut Wacker: When vocation gets into a crisis…“, we were presented with some “food for thoughts” on the theme of suffering – or rather how we process and cope with suffering.

The short summary of a survey where missionaries share resources that helped them to cope, inspired me to reflect on my own experience and the experience that many missionaries and missionary candidates go through these days. At the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak many were told to leave their place of service. For some, the time since then has been a prolonged period of uncertainty, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, a high degree of ambiguity: Can I go back or not? When can it happen? What to do in the meantime? Others have had similar problems like waiting for delayed papers, facing new visa restrictions, health problems or sudden development of conflict, like the Afghan crises.

Earlier this summer I discovered a book called “The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith” by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich.

In this book, a third stage is described as “the doing” stage. It is a time in life when we are working for God, being productive in his service. It is usually a very active phase on our faith journey. It is a time of responsibility, authority, recognition, titles, and often praise from others. Several of the missionaries who were sent back were probably in this productive stage of life. A good place to be. But then in the next stage we may experience external events or internal conflicts that lead us out of this productive place, and into a time of questioning and doubt. The focus is no longer our service for God, but God himself and our relationship with him. This is a battle between God and the individual, an inner journey when we struggle with questions to God and about God, as well as inner struggles with our own hurt and disappointments. It is a struggle that God allows for a purpose.

In the July article Hartmut Wacker describes this as a time of ambiguity, a time when we experience the tension between faith and doubt, trust and disappointment. It was pointed out that how we view God is a crucial factor at this stage of our faith journey. The struggle can lead to a time of spiritual failure, of giving up, but it can also become “the breeding ground for spiritual growth”. The strongest resilience factor was to be able to trust that God is in control, that He is a faithful, loving and caring God even when we do not feel like it or do not get the answers we are longing for. Experiencing His love and care in the midst of difficulties is not something we can learn academically; it is learned through real life experience.

In the survey, some missionaries pointed to the importance of “extraordinary spiritual experiences” they’ve experienced before, during or after the traumatic event. It is a personal experience when we just know that God is there, that He is real and cares for us personally and intimately.

This has also been my personal experience. Hearing God speak, recognizing His inner dealings, receiving words of knowledge through others, was the deepest and most helpful support to me at a time when I had to leave the place of service because of illness and through a prolonged time of recovery. When God and His goodness and kindness become the center, it is easier to accept His direction even if it means redirection for us. Because we trust Him and His power, we can look to the future with hope and expectation. And – as described in The Critical Journey – our service may be more fruitful because we learn to serve in dependence on Him, under His direction, rather than for Him.

 

Reidun Haugen Dalseth is a board member of Member Care Europe and of mission boards in Norway. She is thankful for the opportunity to mentor/coach missionaries serving in many countries through different net-based platforms.

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