Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Hardship Page 1 of 4

refugee
Photo by a colleague from the Ukraine-Poland border. February 26, 2022

I am a refugee: reflections of a missionary leaving Ukraine

I am a missionary who is also a war refugee. I came to that realization a couple of days ago. My wife and I are Canadian citizens but residents of Ukraine. Or at least we were until about a month ago. We have our Ukraine temporary residency cards, recently renewed. Our home for the past 12 and a half years has been in the city of Kyiv. This has been the longest we have lived in any country or in any home since we got married and left for the Philippines almost 35 years ago. Now we are “back” in Canada. Because of the current war in Ukraine, we do not know for how long.

In the past week, I have experienced many different and sometimes conflicting emotions. I am thankful to God that we were given sufficient warning and were able to leave Ukraine before the fighting began. But I am also shocked and deeply saddened by the devastation and death that the war in Ukraine has caused. I feel a great sense of loss as I think about the possibility that we may never return to our home, friends and ministry base in Ukraine. At the same time, I am proud of and admire the courage, resilience and resourcefulness of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Fervently and continually, I pray for peace in Ukraine – and wonder what this all means for us.

What is a refugee?

But am I really a refugee? After all, we were born and raised in Canada. This is where our parents, brothers and sisters, our daughter and son-in-law, and three of our grandchildren make their home.

Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.

UNHCR – What is a refugee?
resilience in community
Photo by PNW Production from Pexels

Resilience in community

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).

Suffering and resilience
Photo by Hannah Gibbs on Unsplash

Suffering: God’s method of developing resilience

For several months now, I have been thinking about this topic of resilience in cross-cultural workers. I admit that I have been somewhat troubled by what the Scriptures tell me about God’s method of using suffering to develop resilience. As I have said in previous posts on this topic, the Scriptures do not use the word “resilience”. But the word “perseverance”1 in the Greek, “hupomone” is found repeatedly in Holy Writ. It seems to capture the idea of resilience.

So what do I find troubling in Scripture? In my thinking, the logical way to strengthen a missionary’s resilience is to:

  1. provide them with good training to prepare them for hard times
  2. ensure that they have excellent member care when they go through hard times.

From a human perspective, I struggle to see how suffering in any way contributes to the development of resilience. Isn’t our goal here to minimize the suffering?

Resilience comes from suffering

But what do the Scriptures say about how God produces perseverance in the believer? Look at what Paul says in Romans chapter 5.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Romans 5:3–4
Jesus' resilience
Photo by Thanti Nguyen on Unsplash

The inspiration for resilience

This year, as I have thought about planning my growth and development, I have decided that I want to read more biographies. In his great book, Resilient Life, Gordon MacDonald says “deliberating exposing oneself to people who are better and smarter” than we are is part of the process of disciplining our minds and learning resilience. Definitely, we can find amazing and inspiring examples of perseverance and resilience in biographies such as Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Imam’s Daughter by Hannah Shah. But the greatest example of perseverance and resilience is found in the Gospels. If we are looking for heroes to emulate in the character quality of resilience, we start with Jesus.

Inspiring them to persevere

In a previous post, I talked about the discouragement and fatigue of the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. These believers 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. So the author of Hebrews encourages them to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Perseverance is another word for resilience. How does he inspire them to persevere? By pointing to Jesus.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews 12:2-3 from “the Message” paraphrase

The writer to the Hebrews asks his readers to consider Jesus as a paragon of resilience from three different perspectives. We need to look back at Jesus’ example of resilience. Then we need to look up to him for his help and grace. Thirdly, we need to look forward with him to his coming reward.

resilience and grace
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The source of resilience – grace

What is missional resilience? In a nutshell, it’s grace not grit. We must receive Jesus’ resilience to join him in his mission as we turn toward the triune God, others, and ourselves for loving support.

Geoff Whiteman, Resilient Global Worker Study: Persevering with Joy, March 2021.

In my previous blog post, I talked about the need for resilience in cross-cultural work and particularly now in the pandemic. I mentioned Geoff Whiteman’s research. He surveyed more than 1000 missionaries to find out what contributes to making global workers more resilient. What was his overall conclusion? It can be found in the quote above – resilience in mission work is rooted in God’s grace.

In a workshop at the 2021 Missio Nexus Mission Leaders Conference, Whiteman presented various recommendations for mission organizations to support missional resilience. Based on his research, he talked about the type of training, leadership, and caring that would help global workers become and stay resilient. Whiteman’s research demonstrated that mission organizations have much to learn and many ways in which they can improve. Nevertheless, Whiteman still concludes that resilience is first and foremost a gift of God’s grace.

The witness of Scripture

This echoes the witness of the Scriptures. Repeatedly we find that the Word of God promises the grace of resilience to those who cannot endure in their own strength. Here are a couple of examples.

need for resilience
Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

Resilience: the need

Resilience is a critical topic

How do Christian global workers become resilient? This is the question that Geoff Whiteman posed to over 1000 missionaries.1 See ResilientGlobalWorker.org for information about this survey. It is a question that concerns anyone involved with member care for global workers. To illustrate, the title of Laura Mae Gardner’s highly-recommended book on member care is “Healthy, Resilient, & Effective in Cross-Cultural Ministry.” From the title itself, one can see the central and crucial role of resilience in productive mission workers. Kelly O’Donnell, CEO of Member Care Associates also highlights the importance of resilience in his book on global member care.

Member care, I have learned over and over again, is not about creating a comfortable lifestyle. Nor is it about trusting people instead of trusting God. Rather, it is about further developing the resiliency to do our work well which includes our character, competencies, and social support. It is also about developing relational resiliency, which includes working through the inevitable differences and impasses with international and local fellow-workers.

O’Donnell, Kelly. Global Member Care: Volume One: The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice. William Carey Library. Kindle Edition, Loc. 459.

Why do we need to understand resilience?

In this blog series, I want to share what I have been learning about missionary resilience. I will be unpacking what I have read about resilience from contemporary authors and in the Scriptures.

Understanding resilience is not only important so that we can minimize attrition. In other words, our goal is not simply to prevent missionaries from returning to their sending countries prematurely. We want our colleagues and ourselves to thrive. Our desire is that they bear much fruit, and grow and develop in their ministry gifts and skills. We want our children to reflect positively on their experience as TCKs.2 Third-culture kids.

What's right
Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Can I stop asking “what’s wrong?”

Note: This blog post was first published on the Grow2Serve blog and is used with permission. Our guest author regularly facilitates a 2-week online course entitled “Sustainable Resilience“.  This course is for cross-cultural workers who have lived at least 3 months in a new culture. 

Finding meaning and purpose

During “Sustainable Resilience”, we spend significant time talking about #10. We are referring to Southwick and Charney’s list of ten factors that were almost always present in those who demonstrated high resilience in adversity. Here’s #10:

Meaning and Purpose – were active problem solvers who looked for meaning and opportunity in the midst of adversity and sometimes even found humor in the darkness; used their traumatic experiences as a platform for personal growth.

Southwick, Steven; Charney, Dennis. Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, p. 16.

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