Healthy at Home: Healthy Minds Part 1—Debriefing

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“Personal debriefing allows time for sharing the paradoxes of the field experience. To be seen, heard, and understood in a safe space is invaluable to a global worker’s health. This vital process allows them to learn, grow, and look forward to the next steps in their life journey.”- Cynthia Barkley, Clinical Director, Juliana Poor Memorial Counseling Center, Houston’s First Baptist Church.

I have a friend who is an avid duck hunter and a natural-born storyteller. He loves to regale me with tales of his hunting adventures. By the end, I’ll know the details of every duck that entered his spread and get an analysis of every shot. I’ll hear about the satisfaction from success and the wistful lament over the ones that got away. The stories usually end with his conversation with the game warden as he departed and headed for breakfast tacos on the way home. Smoked or grilled, duck is on the menu for dinner that night.

The point of this illustration? It’s a good example of the debriefing that occurs all the time in our everyday lives. It is a normal, natural thing we do with our friends and family members because we care about one another. Reflective storytelling is how we process life and maintain healthy connections.

The same is true for the global worker; only their experiences span longer lengths of time and are much more intense. Without debriefing, life and ministry experiences on the field accumulate, becoming a burden that can affect their health and contribute to burnout. The stories they carry, bitter or sweet, cry out to be told.

Prioritizing Debriefing

“It was twelve years after our return before we had any debriefing. Back then, it just wasn’t done.” We were having lunch at the PTM Conference in North Carolina. This veteran global worker’s remark encapsulated the need for a shift in debriefing philosophy among those on the front lines of global worker care.

“Without debriefing, life and ministry experiences on the field accumulate, becoming a burden that can affect their health and contribute to burnout.”

It’s easy to understand how things have developed. Veteran global workers who spent twenty or thirty years on the field started in a very different environment. Expectations regarding travel, technology, and time spent on the field were different. It was normal for workers to be more isolated and be gone for years without return. When they did return, debriefing may not have been a priority. They learned to live without resources and without much contact with their church or sending organization.

Thankfully, gone are the days when global workers were expected to tough it out in silence, whether on or off the field, but especially when they return. Right now, many workers have returned home and will remain at home for the foreseeable future because of travel restrictions related to COVID. But rest assured, ease of travel will return in time, and most will go out into the field again. This is a good time for the local church to establish a sustainable reentry process that includes debriefing. This critical component of care helps ensure their continued health, resiliency, and well-being.

Jesus as Debriefer

How can the local church address a healthy debriefing methodology? The answer is in the Word, where we find several good examples. Luke 9:10, Acts 14:27, 15:3, are all good passages, but perhaps the best is Luke 10:17-24, where the “debriefer” is none other than Jesus himself.

As Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem, He sent seventy-two disciples to go into towns along the way, taking the message of salvation with them. The passage begins with the story of their success, “even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”(v.17). Jesus then puts things into their spiritual context, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (v.18).

Next, He gives them the proper perspective, “do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you, but that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20).

Finally, He praises God (v. 21) and encourages the disciples for what they have done in His name, “Turning to the disciples, He said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.’” (vv. 23–24).

“Local church, regardless of your size or the number of global workers in your charge, you can provide life-giving care for them upon re-entry.”

Together, Jesus and his disciples address the past, present, and future of their experience. They are seen, heard, and understood by the master himself. Dr. Ronald Koteskey uses three terms to describe this process for personal debriefing; verbalize, normalize, and contextualize. Verbal expression of thoughts and feelings clarifies experience; normalization occurs among others who understand or have similar experiences, and placing experience into proper context shows what God is doing in the long game of their life.

DEAR Steps

Local church, regardless of your size or the number of global workers in your charge, you can provide life-giving care for them upon re-entry. I encourage you to consider these four DEAR steps.

Develop – If you don’t have a care team, get one. There will be those in your congregation with a heart for the global worker. Seek them out and bring them together as a team.

Equip – Read everything you can about global worker care and especially debriefing. Make it a goal to train your care team in peer debriefing. Resources for training are plentiful and affordable. Even if your worker’s sending organization provides debriefing, commit to being at the ready as a safe, third party resource.

Assess – Know your workers. Who are they? Where do they serve, and what is their ministry? Be consistent in communications with them before they return so that when they do, you will know their needs, especially with regard to debriefing. They will feel seen, heard, and understood by your team.

Remember – Your workers have been called to evangelize the nations. They are at the forefront of bringing the Gospel to every nation, tribe, and tongue. Our commitment to their care can help ensure their longevity on mission for as long as God calls them to remain.

Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living overseas. You can find her on Twitter and texpatfaith.org.

This article was originally published at https://www.theupstreamcollective.org/post/healthy-at-home-healthy-minds-part-1-debriefing

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Healthy at Home

My first article in a series on how local churches can care for global workers – http://www.upstreamcollective.org

https://www.theupstreamcollective.org/post/healthy-at-home-providing-holistic-care-for-returned-global-workers

Healthy at Home: Five Ways to Provide Holistic Care for Returned Global Workers

“If you haven’t experienced exile, if you haven’t at least experienced a painful moment where things feel foreign, …disorienting, there’s a good chance you’ve missed a massive segment of your life.” – Santosh John

Last year, I participated in a virtual conference for creatives sponsored by The Rabbit Room. One of the speakers was ministry leader Santosh John, an Indian American immigrant. He described his feelings of displacement as a young child trying to adjust to American culture. His words deeply resonated with me concerning care for returned global workers,

His statement, quoted above, reflects the returned global worker experience. For them, re-entry does feel foreign and disorienting. Home, in the traditional sense, doesn’t really apply. They probably refer to their passport country as “home,” although it may no longer feel like home. Many of the familiarities of life they once knew are gone. They scramble to secure housing and transportation, friends have moved on, and family dynamics have changed. Turnover in staff at their supporting or sending church can heighten the feeling of alienation. Most of all, the reverse culture shock is, well, shocking. Like Joseph, waking up in Egypt, returned workers also wake up in a strange and foreign land, searching for stability.

“Like Joseph, waking up in Egypt, returned workers also wake up in a strange and foreign land, searching for stability.”

Who will remember them and walk with them through their re-entry journey?

Healthy at Home

For those who have answered God’s call to global missions, the local church should be their first line of loving support. After all, don’t we as believers also feel displaced, knowing that our true citizenship lies elsewhere? In his interview, John went on to say, “If you are an image-bearer, you have experienced exile of some sort… it’s an exile on the way home.” In our mutual displacement we share common ground, and that uniquely qualifies us to care for our brothers and sisters who return from the field.

Clark Reynolds, Missions Pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church, says it well, “We believe that sending and supporting global workers is vitally important in fulfilling the Great Commission, but it is only part of the story. Addressing their mental, physical, spiritual, and practical reentry needs are critical to a holistic, end-to-end care strategy.”

No matter the size of your church, your care team, or the number of global workers in your charge, there are five areas where any church can step in to help ensure workers are healthy at home:

  1. Healthy Minds: Debriefing
  2. Healthy Minds: Professional Christian Counseling
  3. Healthy Bodies
  4. Healthy Souls
  5. Helping Hands

I will address each of these in subsequent articles.

Opportunity Awaits

Reentry care is a multi-faceted endeavor that requires constant tending, much like a garden. We want our workers to flourish and bloom, not die on the vine. Our faithful attention to their care is key to their health and longevity on the field.

“Reentry care is a multi-faceted endeavor that requires constant tending, much like a garden. Our faithful attention to their care is key to their health and longevity on the field.”

This past year has been especially difficult. Failure to get visa renewal, country lockdowns, and problems raising support have intensified needs and resulted in extended or permanent returns for many. But even in the midst of Covid-19 there has been opportunity to bring global workers together with one another and to integrate them more fully into the life of the church. Their presence elevates the mission mindedness of the entire church community.

God has called them to evangelize the nations. Whether their return is temporary or permanent, your care team is an integral part of ministering to their health and wellness.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;” (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living overseas. You can find her on Twitter.

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Caring for Missionaries through Connection: The Three C’s

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A perfect illustration of “out of sight, out of mind” is that of the missionary serving overseas. We have heard this refrain many times in our conversations with missionaries in our church’s care ministry. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it this way: “not able to be seen, and so not thought about. Problems in remote places can be out of sight, out of mind for many people.”

Although connection may be one of their biggest desires, it is also one of their biggest challenges. A missionary’s support network usually consists of their family, friends, and church community. These are the people who know and love them and understand their purpose and work. They are key to their well-being on the field.

 

Paul expressed this same sentiment in his letter to the Philippians when he mentioned being “fully supplied” (Phil. 4:18 HCSB hereafter) and joy in his renewed care (Phil. 4:10). In this way, the dynamics of missionary work have remained the same over the centuries. So church, as much as it depends on us, as we send we must also support, and support means staying connected. Here are three key elements to consider in staying well connected to your missionaries.

Consistency

Your missionary should hear from you on a regular basis. With today’s myriad of communication apps, this is easily done. There is no better encouragement (perhaps outside an actual visit) for a missionary than to receive consistent communication from their support network. Regular contact allows you to get to know your missionary really well, and it provides a level of personal security for them to be vulnerable and share needs.

Make it your goal to be so consistent in your communications that your missionary can echo the words of Paul: “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Phil. 1:3–5) That is the sign of an excellent partnership.

Community

Paul had a reciprocal relationship with the Philippian church that he highly valued, made evident when he said, “because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7).

This kind of relationship between the church and their missionaries can be a challenge, but there are practical, effective ways to make it happen. The following ways are taken in part from Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care by David Wilson.

  • Church-wide prayer gatherings
    With your missionary’s permission, include photos, profiles, copies of newsletters, and specific requests from your missionaries and their teams in the field.
  • Short-term mission trips
    Go where your missionary is serving. “As you might imagine, this is where people really discover the real stories from the life of the missionaries and their ministries. When you’re eating, traveling and serving together, it is a great partnership and time of bonding” (Kindle loc. 1471–1474).
  • Care team field visits
    These teams can be incorporated into short-term trips, or they can be separate ventures. “A field visit goes a long way to connect your hearts and build trusting relationships that show them how important they are to us. The visit opens up vistas into the challenges these tough soldiers are facing day to day for our Lord and we see it as critical to bridge the understanding and compassion gaps that can so easily exist with the miles, time, and differences in a foreign country” (Kindle loc. 1353–1354).
  • Introduction
    Have returned missionaries recognized in the worship services. In whatever way you can, make their presence known by putting together faces and names. This will bring them closer to the church community.
  • Care retreats and conferences
    This is an excellent opportunity for your missionaries to return home for a time of connection with the congregation and for rest and restoration. Involve the church community in planning and providing for this special time.
  • Group involvement
    Incorporate your small groups, Sunday school classes, youth groups, etc. Have them consider adopting a missionary. Their efforts do not have to be burdensome. Here are a few things any group can do.

    • Prayers: set aside time for praying for them and their needs each time you meet.
    • Photos: send one of your group.
    • Phone calls and packages: Know their birthdays and anniversaries, send Christmas cards and care packages. Read and reply to their newsletters. Let them know you have sincerely interacted with their lives through the experiences they’ve shared with you.
    • Preparations: if they are returning home for any reason, find out what they need. A welcome basket is always uplifting during this difficult transition period.
    • Participation: include them in your group time (Skype or in person).
  • Church resources
    Churches are usually well-equipped for meeting needs. Examples are access to counseling, housing, transportation, perhaps even a fitness facility. Appeal to the congregation for any professional skills missionaries may need like tax or legal advice.

With Care

Above all, caring through connection means a support network that is a safe place. This requires you to be careful. Many global workers serve in sensitive areas where communication may be monitored. When you have the opportunity, ask your workers the following:

  • What is their preferred method of communication?
  • What is the best time for communication with them?
  • What words should you use or not use so you do not inadvertently put them at risk?

Being a safe place also means a support network that is trustworthy, a place where your worker can be known and accepted. Look to Paul’s letter to the Galatians for how important it is for us to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1–5). There should be a few people in the missionary’s circle of support who share a strong, trusting relationship with them. This is so issues related to emotional and spiritual health can be discussed in confidence and additional help on a more professional level can be pursued if there is a need.

Finally, consider holding an information session for anyone who is part of the support network for your missionary community. Training is key for a good missionary care ministry. Use this time to cover the three Cs of caring through connection.“I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

This article was originally published by the International Mission Board

Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the missionary care team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches a Bible study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband, Jeff, now reside in Houston after several years living overseas. You can find her on WordPress and Twitter.

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A Hero’s Journey

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,  who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

“The beautiful thing about this  adventure  called faith is that we can count on Him never to lead us astray.” -Chuck Swindoll


She was 16 when we got the news of a possible move to the Middle East. It would mean forgoing her senior year of high school in the U.S. Her feelings about it weighed heavily on our decision to stay or go.  

‘Is it fair to put that much pressure on her?’, I thought, ‘Is it pure folly to move an upcoming high school senior to a foreign country?’  

Most teenagers would have considered the prospect a hands down, ‘no way!’ But to our surprise, and for many reasons, our youngest daughter saw the move as an answer to prayer and the right way forward for herself. Looking back on that time, she likens her situation to that of a character in a classic Hero’s Journey: 

“I left my ordinary life and answered a call to adventure. With God’s supernatural help, I returned home a transformed person.”  

Her statement rings true for my husband and me as well. 

God’s wisdom can go contrary to our nature, guiding us down a road less traveled. That road requires bold steps of faith and trust. I would be lying if I said my family never faced obstacles during our time in the Middle East. There were days when I questioned whether or not we had done the right thing or the reckless thing. We made a decision that on the surface may not have seemed wise, but the test of time proved otherwise. We all grew in our faith in ways we couldn’t have imagined. 

“…we need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us understand how to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.”[1] 

The decision to uproot your family and move to a foreign country is a tough one. The times of doubt will come. When they do, ask God for confirmation and be assured of His faithfulness to you in the here and now. “He will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19  

And remember, wherever He leads you, you are on the ultimate Hero’s Journey. 

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 340). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


Lord, I praise you for granting me the privilege to be part of your kingdom work on this earth. I pray for your wisdom to properly discern your will for my journey. Help me to see where my desires conflict with your plans, and where they run parallel. Thank you for your faithfulness in all I will encounter along the way. Amen.

Resources

Book: The Will of God by Charles F. Stanley 

Book: Finding God’s Will by Gregg Matte

This devotional was originally published by Thrive Ministry at https://thriveministry.org/connection/devotional/a-heros-journey

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Crossing Cultures

“…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings…”

1 Corinthians 9:19-23


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Adapting to a new culture can be a challenge in your life as a global worker. The initial honeymoon phase of any assignment can be replaced by isolation and loneliness as the strangeness of your new land becomes a reality. God has called you for a purpose to this place, but you also must live in this place. 

My own struggle to adapt to a new culture is encapsulated in a vivid memory. A representative from our local bank explained to me that, as a woman, I needed my husband’s permission to have a debit card and that he would get a text message each time I used it. “Yes, this is the law,” she explained. I would face other, similar issues during my time in this new land. Freedoms I had enjoyed and taken for granted in my home country were replaced by laws I viewed as regressive and unfair. Over time, this new way of life and I declared a truce. I came to accept my new surroundings, encouraged by the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. 

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul indicates his willingness to become a participant in other cultures for the sake of the Gospel. He moved with courage among other people groups, his outer persona conforming to the surrounding environment–yet the truth of his message never wavered. Not surprisingly, he had an excellent teacher.

Jesus was masterful in his response to everyone he met. His interactions with Mary and Martha in Luke 10 and the Samaritan woman in John 4 are great examples. They illustrate how he spoke the truth to each one in a manner they understood, regardless of their social position. 

Are you struggling with cultural norms where you live? You are in good company. Jesus and Paul chose to step into the lives of others who were different in order to share the message of eternal life. Take heart, my friend, because you are a result of their work in those early days of the Christian faith, and you’ve been given the perfect example to follow.


Father, I pray for the willingness to set aside my freedoms in order to reach those in the culture where you have placed me. Make me alert to any opportunity to engage others with sensitivity and humility so that I can share the message of eternal life in a way they can understand. Amen.

This devotional was originally published at https://thriveministry.org/connection/devotional/crossing-cultures

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Meditation Amid His Majesty

“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.”

Psalms 145:4–5

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“The purpose of meditation is to enable us to hear God more clearly. Meditation is listening, sensing, heeding the life and light of Christ. This comes right to the heart of our faith.” –Richard Foster

In silence we made the steady climb up the Appalachian Trail. The cadence of our footsteps was accompanied only by the wind through the pine and poplar trees. Above, the sky was clear and blue, disturbed only by the wispy white trails marking the jet stream. Below, dappled sunlight bathed our path in the golden hues of autumn. 

As the traffic noise from Route 319 fell away, so did my anxiety about the eight mile hike. My husband’s long stride and fast pace always put him several feet in front of me so for the most part, I was alone with my thoughts. 

With the everyday noise and distractions of life stripped away, I became acutely aware of God’s presence. Amid the beauty of Appalachia, Romans 1:20 played out in real time, as I began to meditate on “His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen since the creation of the world.”

Richard Foster describes meditation in creation as a type of “contemplative prayer… a majestic monotheism in which the great Creator of the universe shows us something of his glory through his creation.”

The glory of creation is a perfect setting for the Lord’s guidance. No matter where I have lived in the world, I have found this to be so. Whether it be majestic mountains, desert dunes, cliff-lined coasts, astounding sunrises and sunsets, or a dark night sky strewn with a million stars, God speaks through His creative majesty. 

Wherever God has sent you to serve, I encourage you to seek out a place of refuge in your natural surroundings. Contemplation will bring clarity as God guides your thoughts. Perhaps the burdens you carry will lighten and you, like me, will be humbled and renewed in purpose and calling. After all, if He can, with a word, create such unimaginable beauty, what can he not do in our own lives?

“Meditation sends us into our ordinary world with greater perspective and balance.” –Richard Foster


CLOSING PRAYER

God of Creation, help us to be mindful each day that we are surrounded by the work of your hands. The beauty of your world is also a reflection of the beauty you see in each one of us. Help us to pause, pray, and listen for your voice as you speak through the glory of your creation. We trust in your guidance and direction. Amen.

Resources

Article: Spiritual Disciplines by Meredith Cook

Book: Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster

Song: So Will I by Hillsong

This devotional was originally published at https://thriveministry.org/connection/devotional/meditation-amid-his-majesty

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The BestQuest with MissionQuest in Chile

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Chris and Jamie Suel – The Center for Mission Mobilization

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Shaun and Abby Suitt – Sports Friends Kenya

Grab Some Coffee! Well, first off, we do want to apologize that we have been silent for a while now.  We honestly have been dragging our feet to send…

Shaun and Abby Suitt – Sports Friends Kenya
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Jeremy and Ella Cole – Mosaic Church Dubai

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