In a supportive community, it is easier to remain resilient. Thus far in our series on resilience for cross-cultural workers, we have talked primarily about the resilience of individuals facing adversity and stress. But we all realize that we are more resilient when we face that adversity together with others.
As Ecclesiastes says,
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.Ecclesiastes 4:12
Jesus relies on his friends
Yes, Jesus is our inspiration as we seek to become more resilient and persevering. He persevered despite great suffering and merciless opposition. He demonstrated unfailing reliance on his heavenly Father. But our Lord also had his small group of close friends and disciples who walked with him through the hardships and rejection he endured. So, it is no surprise that he insisted on bringing Peter, James, and John with him to his place of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matt 26:36-39).
In the fifth section of his book, “A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What“, Gordon MacDonald talks about the importance of friendship in resilience. He specifically mentions that night Jesus was struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” He asks Peter (Matt. 26:40). I hear Jesus expressing a vulnerability that might be uncomfortable for the person who always has to appear strong. The Savior is admitting that He needs friends. And they’re letting Him down.MacDonald, Gordon. A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What, Kindle Location 3534.
We happy few
The title of this fifth section in MacDonald’s book is “Resilient people run in the company of a “Happy Few”. Although it has been a number of years since I read that book the first time, I remember that phrase, “we happy few”. It comes from Shakespeare’s work, The Life of King Henry V. In this play, just before the battle of Agincourt, King Henry seeks to encourage his greatly outnumbered troops. He refers to them as “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Apparently, Churchill’s famous line, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” was derived from this speech.1 See the Wikipedia article on St Crispin’s Day Speech.
MacDonald says that the older he gets, the more he recognizes his great need for his personal “band of brothers.”
We came to believe in the importance of something like an extended family where there would be a deep commitment to meet with one another regularly, to share life and its challenges, and to help each other find out what God was saying to us. The resilient life—this long-distance race—is not possible without such a personal community.MacDonald, Gordon. Kindle Location 3408.
Receiving God’s grace in community
I have mentioned Geoff Whiteman’s research on missional resilience a few times in this series. Whiteman emphasizes that the source of resilience is God’s grace, not our own personal grit. But how do we receive that grace? Yes, we need to turn toward God in prayer and faith. But God also mediates his grace through his people. Based on hundreds of interviews with missionaries, Whiteman concluded that we also experience God’s grace of resilience in empathetic and authentic relationships with others.2 Whiteman, G. (2021, March). Resilient Global Worker Study: Persevering
with Joy. Presented through ResilientGlobalWorker.org, Online. Our missional resilience is nurtured in our core relationships with family, friends, and mentors.
Relationships with fellow missionaries
For cross-cultural workers, these relationships can be with fellow missionaries or with local believers. Alfie and Julie Mosse, two of my colleagues in SEND International, did a survey of missionaries in Eurasia in 2019-20.
Thirty-two out of the fifty-four cross-cultural missionaries they surveyed talked about how important relationships were for cross-cultural missionaries to thrive. Though they mentioned many different types of relationships, most often these missionaries talked about their relationships within their ministry team and with nationals. The Mosses concluded that the model of “lone ranger” missionary is not an option if a missionary is going to thrive.
In my first term, the multicultural church planting team on which we served ministered God’s grace to me in many different ways. Most of us were first-termers and we faced significant opposition from older members of our new church. But with the support and encouragement of my team, I was able to stand firm and not surrender to fear or discouragement. I greatly appreciate a fellow first-term missionary on my team who suggested that we meet weekly to pray and sharpen one another “as iron sharpens iron” (Prov 27:17). Those weekly meetings kept me going – and kept me growing.
Relationships with local believers
Then in our second term in the Philippines, I found myself in another assignment where I felt very much alone. I invited a group of young Filipino men from our local church to join me to form an accountability group. None of them were cross-cultural workers. But what a lifeline these men proved to be for me at a critical time in my life! Whenever I return to the Philippines to visit, we still get together for fellowship and encouragement.
After moving to Ukraine, I again recognized the need for community. This time, I invited a few first-term language students to meet with me weekly for breakfast at a local McDonald’s. These men would often thank me for my support and mentoring. But I don’t think they realized that I initiated these meetings for myself as much as for them. They didn’t know how deeply I as a senior mission leader benefitted from their friendship.
More recently, I have benefitted greatly from regularly connecting with a spiritual director. Last summer, I read a short article by Bill Gaultiere entitled, “6 Ways to Finish Well as a Christian Leader.” One of the six ways that Gaultiere mentions is to develop a good relationship with a mentor.
Form a close relationship with a mentor. You can’t care for your soul by yourself — you need someone you can turn to for listening, pastoring, and counseling. It’s not enough to learn from books, podcasts, and conferences. All of us in ministry and leadership need a soul shepherd.Bill Gaultiere, 6 Ways to Finish WEll as a Christian Leader.
I found my spiritual director through Soul Shepherding, an organization that Gaultiere founded.
Relationships that nurture missional resilience are marked by empathy and understanding of the unique challenges that we face in cross-cultural ministry and life. They call forth the best in us.
We generally find these types of relationships in the context of friends with whom we meet together regularly over a long period of time. But sometimes connecting with a few authentic and empathetic people for short seasons can also be very helpful and healing. Paul sent Timothy to the church in Thessalonica for this purpose. Timothy visited the church to encourage and strengthen them in their faith so that they would be able to remain resilient in their trials (1 Thess 3:2-3).
For us, this might happen in the context of a counseling relationship. It is encouraging that our mission leaders are seeking to “normalize” counseling as a preventative measure rather than just as an intervention in times of crisis.
You might also experience this life-giving visit when you reconnect with good friends on a trip to see supporters back in your passport country.
A missionary finds it easier to remain resilient in the context of authentic and empathetic relationships. But resilience can also be collective, not just individual. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant talk about this collective resilience in their book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.
Resilience is not just built in individuals. It is built among individuals–in our neighborhoods, schools, towns, and governments. When we build resilience together, we become stronger ourselves and form communities that can overcome obstacles and prevent adversity. Collective resilience requires more than just shared hope–it is also fueled by shared experiences, shared narratives, and shared power.Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Option B: facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and FinDing Joy, p. 130.
There is something about persevering through a time of hardship and suffering together that makes the entire community more resilient. The whole community finds strength in a shared story of resilience in the face of adversity. They see themselves as hardy people, able to withstand difficult times. They persevered because they did it together, as a community. People helped their neighbors to get up and rebuild after some natural disaster. They stood together to defend the vulnerable in their midst. They withstood persecution by relying on one another to take of their families if one of them was imprisoned.
Unity and resilience
As I said in my first post on resilience, the recipients of the letters to the Hebrews were growing weary under the strain of the ongoing opposition and rejection that they faced as followers of Jesus. This was tempting them to lose heart and to give up. Maybe because collective resilience was being eroded is part of the reason why the writer to the Hebrews encourages his readers not to neglect meeting together with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer for his disciples in John 17, he prays for protection and he prays for unity.3 See John 17:11-12, 15-16, 20-23. Likely these two themes are more closely related than I as an individualistic Christ-follower from the West might first realize. As we become more united with our fellow believers, we also are more protected from the world and the evil one.
Resilience is fostered in community. Who is your community? What can you do to build more authentic and empathetic relationships within that community? Who do you need to invite to join that community so that together you can become more resilient?