Archives for : crisis

What’s in YOUR “Go Bag”?

In the past two years, we have seen the world go through unbelievable pain and anguish that have left many people displaced, cities destroyed, and people’s homes turned into public grave yards. For sure, this is not the first time that we are seeing massive amounts of refugees searching for a new life in a foreign land, nor will it be the last. Yet, for me personally, the last months have been remarkably difficult.

In August last year I learned of friends of mine working in Afghanistan who were beheaded by the Taliban in a public square for their faith as they were not able to get to the Kabul Airport (hundreds of kilometers away) without first being interrogated and targeted at check points that ultimately led to their death. Then news came of people I had debriefed on numerous occasions who were massacred in an attack on an underground church shortly after the Americans left the country.

In January, my wife was stranded in Stockholm, Sweden due to a positive PCR Covid test prior to our flight home to Italy, which required her to remain in quarantine an extra week. Expensive for sure, but even more costly was the fact that her father died during this time and quarantine prevented her from being able to fly home and say a last goodbye to her dad before he went home to the Lord.

Since February, I have been debriefing and helping Ukrainian families going through trauma, transition, grief, (pretty much you could name anything). My wife and I have had the opportunity to house refugees in our home and listen to their stories and see the pictures of total devastation that they had to leave behind. Seeing the images and hearing the personal stories is heavy on the heart.

Yet, there is something that connects all of these tragedies: a backpack, a suitcase, or what others would term: The GO BAG!

Many of us in Member Care are familiar with this term/idea of the “Go Bag.” In the simplest of terms, the “Go Bag” is what one packs and has at the ready to leave in an instant. Therefore, the “Go Bag” is full of the bare essentials. For refugees, it may be the only thing left one can take from their homeland. For people like my wife, it may be the only keepsakes, pictures, books (in her case her father’s Bible with his handwritten notes), etc., that she has of her father before donating his things or selling a house.

As I work with these diverse groups of people going through trauma, whether children or adults, I often have them bring their “Go Bag” and talk about why they chose those particular items.  Every person is different. Some people pack what one might think: several shirts, underwear, toiletries, a few pictures, socks, shoes, etc. Others pack the bag full of things that some may find interesting or even useless:  ceramics, games, toys, favorite food spices, etc.  One mother had a zip-loc bag of a dried-up flower and others with dirt. When I asked her why she chose that for her “Go Bag” she said, “I don’t want to forget the smells of where I came from.”

So, what are common themes that people put in their “Go Bag”?

  • Heirlooms, memories and keepsakes: for many people, they may never have the opportunity to go back to where they came from. Packing something that brings back a memory, a smile or preserves their heritage in some manner is very important. These could be deeply personal: a handmade card that a child made when he or she was a little kid. It could be a sport’s trophy. For one young boy, it was his mother’s famous Lasagna recipe. Everyone is different.
  • Something Patriotic: nearly every Ukrainian I have worked with has packed a Ukrainian flag. Why? Because they tell me they have no idea if their country will be identified by a new flag. Others have preserved and packed CD’s, records and other recordings of music. A Moldovan I work with who fears Russian aggression is imminent tells me he is going to pack a traditional Moldovan folk costume.
  • Documents: no not just passports, but birth-certificates with official stamps and emblems, family-trees. Others pack old maps and official geographical documents showing that yes, Ukraine, or Syria or Sudan exist, or at least existed on a map. One Italian has preserved a copy of the first constitution of Italy once the many kingdoms of Italy were united into one country.
  • Essentials: clearly a displaced person has no idea how long the journey will last, so obviously, many people pack clothing, toiletries, etc. But as one talks to displaced people, one finds that the definition of what is or is not “essential” is highly subjective.

Asking people about their “Go Bags” is a way to encourage and foster discussion, healing, understanding and reflection for those experiencing immense grief. It’s a great ice-breaker for trauma and grief counseling both for children and adults, but one should be prepared that many, if not most, of the recounting of these stories will be painful, deeply personal, and overwhelmingly emotional.

So, what’s in YOUR “Go Bag”?


Mihai Lundell is a member of the board of Member Care Europe and a mission worker providing member care in Italy with OCI.

When vocation gets into a crisis…

In October 2020, German member care had their meeting online. The main topic was to discuss why young people return from the mission field before their term is over or will not return to the mission field after furlough.

Hartmut Wacker, who is on the German core team, allowed me to share his presentation.

Case study

A young family moves to an African country with the goal of working in church ministry there for an extended period of time. They had independently received the call to missionary service and met each other during their Bible school education. After marriage and intensive preparation, they left the country. In the first months after their arrival, the country went through a tumultuous political period – presidential elections were coming up. The everyday life of the foreigners was restricted. During this time, they had a traumatic experience when they unexpectedly got caught in a violent demonstration. They remained outwardly unharmed, but the woman suffered a great loss of confidence in the local community. During the years of the first term, the husband experienced fulfilment in his service while his wife repeatedly struggled with health problems. After the first term, medical examinations in Germany revealed that, unfortunately, leaving the country again was out of the question.

External circumstances played a role here, as did personal factors in one of the partners. This triggered an intense struggle with God about the question of vocation, but also a struggle with themselves and their partner.

We cannot point out all the areas that belong to the holistic coming to terms with this particular form of suffering experience today. I would like to focus my attention on the theological “beliefs”, that have been shaken by the experience and look for reorientation.

The question before us is: how can we provide assistance in this particular crisis, and how can new missionaries be prepared for such particular situations of suffering during their preparation time?

There are no ready-made solutions. Rather, from the wealth of experience of missionaries who have lived through different experiences of suffering, I would like to offer various food for thought for discussion, which – in my view – can be helpful for a personal (re)formulation of a theology of suffering.

Initiating a discussion for a theology of suffering

An empirical study of mine, which dealt with the resources of missionaries in coping with experiences of suffering, has led to interesting results. I describe them as perspectives from which individual aspects of their personal journey have been interpreted and processed.

The perspective of the inevitability of suffering

No one expected Christians to live a life free of suffering and pain. In some cases, their own suffering was even relativized in comparison to the suffering of others in the host culture. Or the view turned to the question of whether good could not also come from one’s own suffering. The most serious conflicts with God were among those whose service and calling were called into question by the event. Suffering yes, but why did it have to lead to the termination of ministry?

The perspective of a God who has all situations in his hands

This reflects faith in the omnipotence of God. Nothing happens where he does not have control. This comes across as comforting rather than threatening: “My life is in his hands, even though he has led me into this situation of suffering.”

The perspective of God’s love and care

A great trust in God’s love and care “for better or for worse” proved to be the strongest resilience factor in the crisis. This trust was formed in childhood and adolescence through credible role models in the parental home or in the community. But also previously experienced and survived crises in one’s own biography were found to be particularly helpful. Sermons or one’s own Bible school education were cited as less helpful or not helpful at all.

The perspective of ambiguity

This perspective refers to the ability to bear the tension between faith and doubt, between trust and disappointment. God’s actions are not always understandable from our perspective, but are sometimes even contradictory. Not only enduring such situations passively over a longer period of time, but also actively dealing with these questions can be the breeding ground for spiritual growth, but also spiritual failure.

The perspective of growing in times of suffering

All report their own spiritual growth, albeit in very different degrees and in different areas of life. The practical help from many known and unknown Christians, for example, strengthened the appreciation for the uniqueness of the worldwide church of Jesus.

The perspective of extraordinary spiritual experience

The survey brought to light another interesting resource. It refers to experiences described by a part of the respondents as “extraordinary spiritual experiences” that they experienced before, during or after the traumatic event.  This event was perceived as an immediate support by the Holy Spirit. When faced with difficult situations, Christians must not only count on their own personal resources and the support of other people, but they can count on the powerful presence of God, who can bring light and hope to a crisis situation in an extraordinary way.


Renate is a member of the board of Member Care Europe and works for the Association of Evangelical missions in Germany that hosts among other conferences, the German Member Care meetings. She is assistant to the CEO.