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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.

“So, after all that, peace was only this!”

This disillusioned quote is from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). He was a French Jesuit priest, researcher, palaeontologist, theologian and philosopher.

When the lockdown in France was announced on March 16th, the French president declared we were at war, a difficult war against a brutal virus. Soon will come, for many of us here in Europe, the day after. What new opportunities for change will it bring? How will we manage them?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Covid was the First World War, during which he was confined for five years to the boredom and brutality of the trenches, working as a stretcher-bearer carrying injured soldiers from the battlefield.

When peace returned, he was horribly disappointed to find a world that had not changed. Then he realized that he had glimpsed, while confined in the trenches, the better world that he dreamed of, and that this fleeting vision was enough to mobilize his personal commitment and show him his way in this world.

Here is the full quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, written in 1919 just after the end of the war:

So, after all that, peace was only this! The peace which, during these long years of suffering, shone incessantly ahead of us, like a mirage… The peace that gave us the courage to hold on and resist because we thought we were fighting for a better world… But what this peace had in store for us was only this!

The war stripped away our surface banalities and conventions, opening a window onto deeper human needs and functioning. But now that peace has returned, so has all the old pettiness and monotony of our pre-war existence. Although moved, elevated and united for a time in our common posture of defence, people returned to their self-centred obsessions and preoccupations as soon as the grip of danger was gone.

Surrounded by the banalities of existence that have regained their dullness, with the contradictions of a society that has returned to its moral poverty and scattered individualism, I will patiently resume my usual occupations, illuminated by what I saw during those brief moments in the trenches when, for a great cause, millions of us were united together in the fight for the preservation of life.

But life is still beautiful! For I have glimpsed, from the top of the mountain, the Promised Land!”

If this global crisis can serve as a wake-up call to many things, including the profound changes that our societies must implement in their models of economic development and the way we must go about our daily lives on this fragile planet, it is important that our collective responsibility not detract from our personal need for change. In the aftermath of this crisis, it would be sad if our “self-centred obsessions and preoccupations” resumed as before.

Once we have been released from our present confinement, how will things be different in our spiritual, emotional and relational life? In the management of our work/rest rhythms? In how we consume, travel, slow down, study, help and think?

And how will things be different for those of us in Member Care?

For many of us during this time, the words of Psalm 46:10-11 have taken on special significance:

Be still, and know that I am God!

I will be honoured by every nation.

I will be honoured throughout the world.

The Lord of Heaven’s armies is here among us;

The God of Israel is our fortress.

Before we rush headlong into our new-found freedom, let’s keep sight of what this psalm invites us to do:

to be still, enough to pause and reflect;

to know, through all the turbulence, that He is God and worthy to be honoured;

to remember: He is here and He is present;

to rest assured: He is our fortress, and we are therefore secure.

 

The following questions may help us as we reflect:

  • What have I discovered about myself in this time of confinement?
  • What have I discovered about God?
  • What strategies have I acquired? What new strengths have I gained?
  • What limitations have I learned to manage?
  • What discoveries might I share with others?

Lord Jesus, we have not only “glimpsed, from the top of the mountain, the Promised Land”; you are our Promised Land. We know you and you know us. You are the way toward our dreams and desires for growth and change. May the communion of love that you invite us to enjoy with you allow your will to have full access to all areas of our lives. And may our lives, by your grace and your strength working in us, reflect more than ever your beauty, your consistency, your simplicity, your generosity and your joy. Amen.

 

[This month’s post is by Jonathan Ward of Pierres Vivantes, our board member representing France and other Francophone regions in Europe.]

Further thoughts on why we need Member Care

Following on from Tim Herbert’s helpful December 2014 article “What is Member Care?”, in which he underlines not only the biblical basis for Member Care, but also the fact that people need more psycho-social support the further they move away from their home environment, let’s consider another factor that demonstrates the importance of providing adequate Member Care for those involved in cross-cultural ministry. Back in 1997, the ground-breaking research in Too Valuable to Lose suggested that on a world scale, 5% of missionary personnel leave the field every year, and that 3% (representing 12,000 per year) of the attrition was deemed to be permanent, premature and preventable. That was before the turmoil we have experienced since 9/11, plus the economic crisis in recent years. My guess is that attrition rates have significantly increased since then.

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