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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.

 

Step by step a dream comes true

Face your dream, pray and share it!  I think it was in 2012 when for the first time I put the dream about an “Intercultural Member Care Center” in Portugal in writing. I had always thought, it was just a crazy idea I´ve had, but then I met other people with a similar vision and we started to pray and dream together and got more serious about this.

Have the courage to dream big!  We desire for the center to be intercultural, interorganizational and self-sustaining. This requires lots of people and resources, as well as a big property and solid administration. Even though our main focus is on Portuguese speaking servants of God, we hope to receive people from all over the world and to be able to counsel them in their own heart language. We want to offer scholarships for those who are struggling financially and feel they cannot afford to take a break away from their ministry.

Look out for people who share your passion!  In 2012 we also started a Member Care Network in Portugal and soon came in contact with others who are passionate about caring for pastors, missionaries, Christian leaders and their families. We are promoting opportunities for physical, emotional and spiritual care for God´s servants as we share our resources and organize retreats for them.

Make your dream known!  The vision of the Intercultural Member Care Center was published on the internet for recruitment purposes and a variety of people from different countries showed interest in the project. Most people though, gave up when they found out the center still had to be created. But a small group of Brazilians, Americans, Portuguese and myself, a German, continued to pray for and talk about it frequently.

Never give up!  The Member Care Portugal team has experienced lots of ups and downs with several changes in the leadership, and more than half of the group experiencing early stages of burnout or other health issues, losses, change of ministry or location, or simply feeling overwhelmed with the challenges of an intercultural team. But, we have continued to practice member care in each of our organizations, tried to be an encouragement to one another, and even held several retreats together

Find your specific “Niche” (role/purpose)!  When I was asked where in the “big dream” I could see myself, it was obvious to me that I would not be the director or business manager. My gifting is in the area of counseling in an informal setting, as well as hospitality in helping people feel at home to start to decompress.

Follow your dream and start small!  While waiting for God to bring together a team and other resources for the Intercultural Member Care Center, some friends encouraged me to find a small house with three guestrooms and helped to get it ready to start using the gifts God has equipped me with. In 2017 We were able to inaugurate “ReCanto da Fonte” on the Silver Coast in Portugal.

Look for what God is already doing!  In 2019 we held a workshop through the Member Care Network with more than 20 people in attendance who were already involved in some kind of hospitality ministry for Gods servants. They serve in various smaller houses spread all over Portugal. It was a great opportunity to connect and share about our experiences. Today we can refer people to each other’s ministries according to the specific needs of each individual and the various services offered in each place.

Re-evaluate the needs!  Knowing there are about 11 houses in Portugal where people can stay, the question was raised if we still need a bigger center here. We believe that there is a reason for God to give this bigger vision to various people from different backgrounds. We need a place for Gods servants to not only rest and be restored, but where they can also experience a loving and caring community within which it is safe to share about their struggles and joys in ministry. Another important aspect is the need for a place to provide training in counseling, interpersonal and intercultural skills, as well as spiritual guidance and disciplines such as silent retreats.

Expect God to do the impossible!  Recently God miraculously brought another family to Portugal to join the team for the Intercultural Member Care Center. They have spent 6 years hoping and preparing to come here and could write a book about “God´s Waiting Room” including chapters about excitement, fundraising, grief and loss, temptation to give up and other personal struggles, hopes, adventures, delays due to Covid 19, goodbyes and wildfires as well as administrational “impossibilities”.

 

God did, God does and God will do the Impossible, including an Intercultural Member Care Center in Portugal.

 

This month’s blog is written by Amrei Wehmeyer, who has been working with DMG interpersonal and TEAM in Portugal since 1991. She is currently leading the Member Care Center ReCanto da Fonte in Lourinhã on the Silver Coast of Portugal.  For more information write to recantodafonte@gmail.com

 

Across the Bridge – UK

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www.acrossthebridge.org.uk

Across the Bridge was launched in 2009 by Chas and Nicola Woods to “advance the Kingdom of God by supporting and encouraging Christian leaders and churches overseas, through prayer, pastoral support and prophetic ministry.”

Around the World
Across the Bridge supports ministries in cross-cultural pioneering situations through sending short-term teams offering prayer, teaching, prophetic ministry and pastoral support.

In the UK
They network with other UK ministries, introducing world-wide ministries to wider connections. ‘Across the Bridge’ also welcomes and partners with overseas ministries to encourage and stimulate cross-cultural outreach in the UK.

ARREST – UK

486125_445293142217741_770921756_nwww.resilientexpat.co.uk

Dr Debbie Hawker and Dr David Hawker offer services to help mission personnel and humanitarian workers become resilient.   Arrest is derived from the French arrȇt, meaning stop.  Resilient expatriates know when to take a rest.  They offer mission and humanitarian workers a chance to stop and reflect, during assessments, reviews &  debriefing, retreats, education & training, supervision & mentoring, and therapy

Check your toolbox and sharpen your tools before working, and your work will be more effective!

Copyright © 2015 Member Care Europe.