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EMCC 2022

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Contributions to mission worker resilience during Covid-19

As we are now well over a year into Covid-19 and for some of us the disruption and turmoil seem no closer to ending, I’d like to share some observations on our joint experience.

It seems to me (to make a subjective observation that is not robust or scientifically-based) that mission workers have, on the whole, coped with the challenges of the last 15 months with less obvious trauma than the average Christian, despite the difficulties of often being away from home for extended periods, not being in the same country as their children, or grappling with the fact that our comparative wealth gives us more options than the local people we work with.

If we have fared better throughout this crisis, what are some of the reasons?

Mission workers are already accustomed to change and turmoil.  Many of us will previously have had to move country rapidly for security or visa reasons; some of us live with an evacuation bag already packed.  We’re used to not seeing loved ones in person sometimes for years at a time.  And some of the challenges faced by the rest of the population, like home schooling or working from home, may be things we are doing already.

We have a sense of vocation which pulls us through difficult times.  Our activities may have been disrupted but we still have a sense of calling to a particular place, people group or activity which provides us with a sense of purpose and direction in difficult times.

We expect life to bring challenges.  Whether we were trained to expect difficulties, or have simply got used to dealing with them along the way, we have a theology of suffering.  We have experienced the doors closed to mission and know first-hand the risks of international mission.  So when we encounter another major challenge, it’s more like a huge pothole than the road ahead being completely destroyed.

We have good support mechanisms.  Most Christians do not have their own support groups, churches praying for them regularly, or prayer groups.  Most people don’t circulate a monthly prayer letter.  They don’t have a member care department checking in with them regularly.  We are blessed to have so many people actively praying for, supporting and encouraging each of us.

We have constructive working relationships (most of the time!)  Part of our role in being a ‘professional’ Christian is that we pray with our co-workers, expect discussion of our spiritual life to be normal, and regularly study the Bible or discuss theology as part of our work or fellowship.  This means we are constantly engaging with God, or with others about God, in our daily lives.  Our leadership is expected to take an interest in our spiritual wellbeing and may even be proactive in supporting us or holding us accountable.

It’s easy for us to forget that most Christians live and work in a largely secular context devoid of the sort of support and encouragement that we receive.  So how do we, who continue to receive so much in the midst of the current difficulties, help the rest of the church benefit from the structures, supports and relationships that are so important for helping us thrive through the adversities we experience?

It would be helpful to have feedback from our readers who are mission workers, to know what has worked to help you during Covid-19, or what help you would have liked but didn’t receive.  Email us on webmaster@membercare.eu or engage with us through social media links.

 

Tim Herbert is the founder of Syzygy Missions Support Network and provides practical and pastoral support to mission workers.  This blog originally appeared on the Syzygy website as part of a series on issues thrown up by Covid-19 and is reproduced here with permission.

 

Re-entry in Covid time

Chaos in my head.  Chaos in my life.  Chaos in my family.  What to do?  I am in transition!

Due to the COVID crisis, me and my family needed to return to our home country earlier than planned.  But what is my home country?  

There are many questions in my head? Sometimes I am sure about a lot of things and know this is the right step to go forward, but other times nothing feels sure, I only feel left with sorrows and lots of questions.

I couldn’t say a proper goodbye to the people I loved and served for many years, due to the fact that we needed to leave suddenly.

We don’t have a house yet where we can stay for longer period of time, thus we can’t make it a home yet. Our personal things are still unpacked.

What about a job?

What about schooling for our children, and will they ever make friends again? Due to the lockdown, it is hard to meet new people anyway, to go to church or to settle in and even to catch up with old friends and family.

We are still on our own ‘island’, sometimes that feels at home, cozy and it gives us a lot of peace and rest, nobody is asking us to give any presentations of our work overseas, we are still in our own bubble and enjoying it! But other times we know we have to pick up life again to adjust to our home country or can I better say to a new country after many years away? There are a lot of mixed feelings and doubts.

Even the question was raised: ‘Where is God in the midst of it?’ Sometimes I just don’t know where He is? How can this happen so suddenly anyway? Yes, we had planned to return, but not in this way. We wanted to prepare our goodbyes properly and we wanted to plan our return very well, but nothing has happened as we had hoped and planned.

These are just some of the feelings of missionaries that I often hear, as they are in the midst of a re-entry.  Re-entry is a chaotic period in life of missionaries, but it makes it even more chaotic because of the COVID crisis.

While I was writing this, I was thinking of the story of Daniel and his friends in the Bible while they were in exile.  They were completely uprooted, snatched away from everything they knew.  They didn’t have a home anymore.  They had been taken away from everything they knew to a complete strange Babylonian Empire, now called Iraq.  A new culture, new surroundings, new gods, new people, everything they knew was gone.  Even their names were changed, they got new names related to new gods, which they didn’t know.  Where is the God of Israel?

They were displaced.  Their lives were shaken because all familiarity was thrown away.  A comparison can be made with lots of missionaries today when they return from the field so suddenly.  Questions are raised: Where is God?  What about our ministry?  We had a strong vision, but now it is gone?

Transition in COVID time makes it even more difficult because you cannot connect to people in your new neighborhood, you don’t know how to find a job and how to connect to your church or join a new church.

Back to Daniel.  If we read through Daniel, we see that in the midst of the chaos, God is with Daniel and his friends.  He is not alone.  God gave people on his path; you can read this in Daniel 1 verse 9: ‘now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel’.  This is very special to read, because God gave a person to Daniel who was not a believer, but he showed compassion to Daniel.  Do we see the people who God gives to us on our path?  Do we look for them?  God gave Daniel and his friends also a mission in Daniel 1 verse 17: ‘To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.  And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.’

When I came back from the mission field to the Netherlands many years ago, I thought I did not have a mission anymore, it is all over and it is all gone.  The story of Daniel encouraged me a lot that my mission is not related to a special place, but it is related to wherever I go.  God is with me and I can still serve Him.  Wherever you are, sitting on your old-fashioned sofa in your temporary house, your mission isn’t gone.  Yes, your mission has to adjust to a different place and to different surroundings with different people, but it is still your mission.  God is still there, as he was with Daniel and his friends, He is also there with you and your family.

Re-entry means you are in transition, you are uprooted, all that is familiar and what you found so normal is no longer there.  You thought you knew everything.  You thought you still knew everything in your own home country, but had to discover it is not there anymore.  You thought you knew God.  You thought you had a mission, now it seems it is all gone.  God shows us through the story of Daniel that it is not about God being yours, but that is about you being His child.  God says: ‘You are mine!’  He is faithful.  He is there and you can still follow His mission wherever you are. He will be with you.

It is very normal that re-entry brings many mixed feelings.  Re-entry is a process of chaos in your head, a process of adjusting, and that is not always easy.  We often want to do it quickly, because we want to move on.  However, it is important to spend time dealing with your re-entry process.  If you’ve been away for 5 years, the figurative distance is actually 10 years. You went one way for 5 years, but people in your home country went the other way for 5 years.  It is very normal to experience chaos in your life!  It is very normal that it seems you are living in a blur.  It is very normal that you are feeling you live in two worlds.  We didn’t even talk about the effects of social media, that turns the world into one big village.  Some people might not even know where they are physically.

Take your time for this re-entry process.  Allow yourself this time!  Talk about it with people who understand or with people who have gone through these kinds of experiences themselves.  Re-entry is a huge change; it is saying goodbye to things and people you have lived with for many years.  Re-entry is a process of starting over.  Re-entry is also a grieving process and that takes time.  Take your time and don’t feel guilty about it.  That’s the beautiful thing of the COVID crisis, due to the quarantine and the lock-down you are forced or maybe better, you are allowed to get some more time to adjust to your home (new) country.  Make use of that time!

 

Margriet Muurling is the initiator of InToMission, an organization that provides professional member care, coaching and debriefing for missionaries.  Find out more about InToMission on their website or email info@intomission.nl  

This article is published with permission.

 

Debriefing retreats in Finland

An elderly missionary lady came to the first pilot debriefing retreat and she was welcomed by a young lady. She was really shocked and wondered in her mind, is this young people’s retreat and if so, what is she doing there. She nearly turned around, but luckily decided to stay anyway. And it was good for her, because in the end she was very happy and thankful for everything in the retreat. She received more than she had expected.

She is not the only one who has come to the retreat a bit suspicious, hesitant, reserved, tired, not knowing what to expect, but who has left relieved, joyful, and refreshed. We can often see a big change in participants in five days only. They look different when they leave: relieved, burdens have been lifted, new perspective to life, past experiences and hardships has been achieved. Often the first night when we all introduce ourselves relaxes atmosphere. You can nearly hear a sigh of relief when they find out that all debriefers are professionals and experienced.

Another helpful thing is that we all, both debriefers and participants, represent different mission organisations. It is comforting to see that missionaries have same kind of problems and burdens regardless of organisation. Peer support is another factor that helps a lot. There is mutual sharing between younger and older missionaries. Groups are different every year because participants are different.

It all began some years back, in 2014, when Erik Spruyt from Le Rucher Ministries, France, came to Finland to give training for member care people about debriefing retreat. Next year he came back with Catherine Fröhlich who gave training for child debriefing. Altogether they trained 32 debriefers for adults and children. About half of them are actively involved with retreat ministry team.

At that time, we did not know how successful debriefing retreats would become. Some of us who were involved with member care were very excited, some were a bit hesitant and sceptical wondering how it would work out financially and practically. However, we decided to organise a pilot retreat in 2015 and 13 missionaries came. Since then, we have had once a year a debriefing retreat and twice we have organised a family retreat. We have had 13-19 participants and 7-9 debriefers at a time. Altogether there have been 103 participants, among them 33 men, 70 women, 27 married couples and 14 children. They represent 18 mission organisations.

We are following the international Le Rucher Ministries model which is based on the Bible and psychological knowledge. It is neither a silent retreat nor a study seminar, but it is a combination of plenary sessions, personal times of reflection, and one-to-one sessions with a debriefer. The purpose is to facilitate the process of dealing with various issues of participants. Trained debriefers give plenary sessions and serve on one-to-one sessions. Retreats are held in the countryside by a lake, which is beautiful and peaceful surroundings. And there is a sauna as well, which is very important for relaxing and sharing for Finns.

All debriefers have one way or the other mission experience, which helps them to understand missionaries and especially cross-cultural issues. They are also professionals like medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, and pastors. Some of them are working with a mission organisation, some have a secular work, some are retired. We come together as a team 4-5 times a year for discussion, planning and developing the ministry.

We are working under the umbrella of Finnish Mission Council (FMC) and its Member care working group. FMC consists of 30 member organisations and churches. FMC is a member of European Evangelical Missionary Association (EEMA) and the European Ecumenical Mission Council (EEMC). FMC celebrated its history of 100 years in 2019.

This month’s blogger is Pirjo Alajoki, psychologist and author, who was Chair of Member Care working group in Finland 2002-2016 and Member Care Europe board member 2005-2016

How the Francophone member care network came to be

In the hope that the following might encourage the development of national member care networks, this month’s article focuses on the origins and development of Europe’s French-speaking member care network, called RESAM (Réseau de Soutien aux Ministères).

Many new ventures begin small, tentatively, organically, and without a clear picture of the final result. Such is often man’s way. But it also seems to be God’s way. The Holy Spirit will sometimes nudge and inspire us to dream and imagine an idea, and then God will orchestrate the subsequent steps, setting us on a journey that will see the idea become reality. This will often take time, and there will be obstacles. Even the Promised Land had giants that needed to be conquered.

Member Care Europe was seeded in this way, and so was its francophone equivalent.

Our network began with the awareness of a need: Too many people in ministry are isolated, struggling, underequipped and overstretched.

This reality led me and my family to move from Canada to France in 1999. Within a few months, God unexpectedly created a “chance” encounter with a retired Anglican minister who had moved from the UK to Paris for the same reason. Both of us were attending a missionary retreat, and when he introduced himself to the group by saying, “God sent me to France because I have a burden to care for those in ministry”, I could barely hide my surprise. Here was someone with the same calling!

As we talked, we envisioned a network of care providers in Belgium, Switzerland and France. But where do we start? We drew up a list of people we knew that shared the same burden. I could only contribute two or three names to the list, but my new friend had seven or eight. He had the contacts, I had the language (having grown up as an MK in France). I was in my thirties, he was in his sixties. We could see the beauty of what God does so well: weaving people together, with their backgrounds and gifts, for a common purpose.

So, the following year we organised a gathering for the people on our list: four denominational leaders, two mission directors, a missionary psychologist, two counsellors, and a Christian psychiatrist. We discussed with them the needs of those in full-time ministry, the lack of adequate resources and care, and our vision of a network of providers.

We gathered again in 2002 as a larger group of fifteen, including the general secretary of the French Evangelical Alliance. Having this person on board was the key to moving forward as he invited us to create the network as a commission of the French Evangelical Alliance, giving our network credibility and sustainability.

A committee was formed, membership criteria were developed, along with a constitution, and in 2003 the network was officially launched with a few founding members.

Some had suggested that we should function as a loose unstructured unaffiliated group. MC Europe was faced with a similar choice during its inception. But for something to endure, a certain amount of structure is necessary. This enabled us to integrate the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, and work in partnership with Connect MISSIONS, the federation of francophone evangelical missions, which is part of the EEMA.

Once the network was up and running, we turned our attention not only to the needs of missionaries and pastors, but to their families, to those serving in humanitarian organisations, and to the needs of French-speaking TCKs.

In 2004 the RESAM website  was created, allowing people in ministry to access the network’s resources and members, which grew from a handful to over eighty today.

Every year we hold a three-day conference for our members that includes training on a variety of topics related to the care of those in ministry, both in-country and overseas.

Our membership includes counsellors, life coaches, mediators, trainers, debriefers, organisational consultants, supervisors, and spiritual directors. It also includes places where God’s servants can go for rest and retreat.

In terms of membership criteria, our foundational principle is that every member must have the training, competency and experience that matches the service they provide. Simply wanting to help missionaries or pastors is not enough.

The past twenty years have been a wonderful adventure, with an excellent committee and a great network of member care providers. We have gained the trust of the missions, denominations and Christian leaders we are seeking to help and serve. The needs have never been greater, and our desire never stronger.

 

This month’s blogger is Jonathan Ward, President of RESAM, and Director of Assocation Pierres Vivantes, a retreat ministry based in the French Alps.

List of resources

Our members Hans-Georg & Margret Hoprich very kindly shared on our Facebook page this list of member care resources which they have compiled – click here to view it.

What resources could you usefully share with our members?

“I have learned I am not alone”

It could have been one of my own sentences, but this is a quote from a TCK who participated in one of our TCK groups as part of a two-year pilot project with 54 TCKs.

Returning to the passport country as a TCK is often a time of tough transition. Having met too many TCKs in a period of struggle, we decided to develop a group intervention based on three main theoretical principles:

  • Being part of a group with an atmosphere of the third culture, acceptance, and understanding can prevent children from failure to thrive.
  • Resilience can be built by helping children to comprehend the whole situation and giving them the capacity to use the resources available, as a sense of coherence in their life. Building on the work of Antonovsky, this capacity is a combination of the children’s ability to assess and understand the situation they are in, to find a meaning to move in a health promoting direction, and also having the capacity to do so—that is, comprehensibility, meaningfulness, and manageability, to use Antonovsky’s own terms.
  • Dealing with unresolved grief, the many goodbyes, and hidden grief as a dual-process, namely by oscillating between loss- and restoration-oriented griefwork, is helpful for the child in the first year of re-entry. It helps the child to adaptive coping to deal with both confrontation and avoidance of loss and restoration and to dose the grieving process. And it helps both the child and the parents by giving them words for the process and a way of speaking of and dealing with difficult emotions.

On these theoretical principles we made up a fictional TCK planet and together with the children we made up countries like family-land, missing-land, new friends-land, culture-land, goodbye-land etc. Each session we travelled together 2 adults and 8 TCKS to a specific land, and during the sessions we visited hidden emotions, played games that included mentalization and coping strategies, and – most important of all – the children travelled together, and learned they are not alone!

This very day we finished a research paper concluding on the results of the project (unfortunately in Danish). The results are very hopeful. It is effective and worth working with the children in a group setting, giving them hope, connecting TCKs, and giving them a secure base of a Third Culture while they are processing their re-entry. The quantitative and qualitative results are rather clear. Even though the problems and challenges did not disappear, the children began to thrive as if or maybe because they learned a new way of dealing with the problems, building up resilience, and finding a new way of dealing with or a language for speaking of grief and loss.

As early as after the first meeting with the TCK-group, he quieted down as if something finally was starting to fall into place. What made a difference, I think, was meeting other children with the exact same thoughts and experiences he has had who understood where he was or what he has been through.

(a parent)

TCK groups are now a free intervention for all families returning to Denmark, and I strongly recommend you wherever in the world you are located to begin the work of TCK re-entry groups, because it matters for the TCKs, their families – and it is one of the most meaningful engagements to be part of.

In the end of the project, some of the children together with some of the project members produced a re-entry plan for schools, churches, parents, and for the children. The children’s part is translated into English – and attached here. Feel free to use the material.

 

This month’s blogger is Maria Techow, a psychologist and Member Care worker in Denmark, who regularly does presentations at the European Member Care Consultation.

 

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