Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Jesus' resilience
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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
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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
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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
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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.
grumbling against leaders
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Unhappy with leadership?

Grumbling and complaining should not be the theme of our conversations at this time of year with Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas before us. But we are living in difficult times. Most of us know friends who have been sick with COVID-19 and many know friends who have died from the virus.

Frustrated with leadership decisions

But the grumbling we hear is probably not primarily about the virus. The preventive measures others are imposing upon us have caused much frustration. All around the world, governments are making decisions to restrict the further spread of the coronavirus. Despite their good intentions, these decisions are nevertheless causing additional hardships. We are limited in how much we can interact with friends and family. Most of our churches both back in our home countries and in our places of ministry are facing restrictions in how they hold worship services.

Many people, particularly in the West, resent the intrusion of the government into our social, family, work and religious lives. We see anti-mask demonstrations on the news, although those of us who live in Asia probably do not see any such protests. Nevertheless, if we follow posts of our friends and family in the West, we know that many are very upset with the government’s restrictions on their personal freedom. You may have found yourself wondering how followers of Jesus should respond if we feel that the measures to counter the spread of COVID-19 are actually more harmful than the virus itself.

Understandably, we are getting tired of this crisis. Longing for life to go back to normal, we find it hard to be joyful and thankful. We find it easy to complain when we are looking at spending another holiday season apart from our friends, hampered in our ministry outreaches and struggling to stay safe.

What is a good and godly response?

missions in midst of crisis
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Book Review: Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises

Every year the Evangelical Missiological Society publishes a monograph containing papers from the previous year’s annual meeting. This year’s title is Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises, edited by Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven. Yet before we assume the book is talking about COVID-19, we need to remember that when these papers were presented, no one knew a pandemic was coming. Jerry Ireland notes:

Practicing Hope

In September 2019 almost 300 missionaries, missiologists, sociologists, theologians, anthropologists, and students gathered near Dallas for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society. The theme was “Missions Amid Global Crises.” I do not think that any of us would have dreamed that eight months later the world would be engulfed in a global pandemic because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).1Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven, eds. Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises. Evangelical Missiological Society, 2020, xiii.

Overview of book

Though none of the twelve chapters address the current pandemic crisis, these papers give us much to learn and apply. The chapter titles are:

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Grief – Part 2

This is the second of two posts that explore the subject of grief in the life of a believer. Part 1 presented the hallmarks and pitfalls of grief, along with a biblical perspective of grief. This month, in Part 2, the post will present ways we can prepare ourselves for, and respond to, grief. 

Pandemic Grief

I am an introvert. Actually, I’m a flaming introvert. Which means that, though I love people and find them interesting, I really, really, like to be alone. Fortunately, I married an introvert. And though we love being together, we’re also adept at making space for one another. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I noticed myself suffering from loneliness during the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent work-from-home state of affairs—a situation I thought was made for introverts.

After some introspection, I realized I was missing my co-workers. Though we’ve seen each other over the Internet, I miss being with them, in person. I miss our impromptu prayer sessions. I also miss having lunch together. And I miss regularly sharing chocolate, coffee, spontaneous conversations, and laughter with them.

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