More Than Money: How Local Churches Care for Global Workers

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Have you ever given toward your church’s mission offering and wondered about who your dollars were supporting? Have you ever wondered how they’re doing—their ministry, personal life and spiritual well-being—but didn’t know how to find out? Are you aware that many global workers return from the field because of preventable reasons related to a lack of care?

Unfortunately, these situations are all too common in today’s mission environment. Over time, there has been a shift in roles as sending organizations have expanded in number and size, causing global workers to rely more on them for resources. Subsequently, the local church’s role and the global worker’s relationships with their home church have diminished.

How can the local church reconnect with their global workers and care well, helping to sustain them on the field? There is an example we can follow.

A NEW TESTAMENT MODEL OF SUPPORT

Sending organizations—whether formed as an arm of a particular denomination or as an independent entity—are vital to worldwide missions. However, when it comes to global worker care, they get mixed reviews. Even in the most established organizations, centralized headquarters, travel logistics, and size can make it difficult for workers to receive the personal, holistic care they need.

“Even in the most established organizations, centralized headquarters, travel logistics, and size can make it difficult for workers to receive the personal, holistic care they need.

When Paul and his companions traversed the known world in the first century, care looked quite different than it does today. The New Testament paints a picture of personal care in all areas of life by the local church and local believers.

Perhaps the best example is found in Romans 16, where Paul lists approximately 26 people associated with the local church that comprised his community of support. He speaks of a large and diverse group of people involved with those churches who supported him. They include benefactors, loyalists, companions, co-laborers, and hosts who assisted him in his ministry efforts. In essence, Paul was cared for by those who knew him best and were the strongest supporters of his work. Their names are immortalized in this passage—what a beautiful picture of community!

Can you imagine today’s global workers being able to list 26 people from their home church who provide this kind of support?

THE ECONOMICS OF CARE: MORE THAN MONEY

Our care team has observed that the scope of care (and the meaning of support) in the local church is generally understood to be purely financial. And while no one would dispute the necessity of generous financial giving to missions, the reality is that support means so much more. We see it in the timeless applications of holistic care in the New Testament writings.

As an example, in 3 John 8 we read of John’s commendation of Gaius’ hospitality. The Greek term for support (hupolambánō), according to one lexicon, conveys a sense of sustaining “to supply people with what they need” or “to give to people what is necessary” or “what they should have” (Louw & Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).

Paul’s writings bear this out as well. He mentions prayer (Rom. 15:30), refreshment (1 Cor. 16:18), participation (Phil. 1:35), fully supplied (Phil. 4:18), companionship (Rom. 15:24), physical care (Gal. 4:13–14), and spiritual health (1 Cor. 16:18). We get a picture that there are many different currencies of care by the local body outside of monetary support.

There is no question that today’s care environment is very different, but the fundamental needs described by Paul remain the same. Can we provide first-century care in our twenty-first-century world?

As our care team has stepped through this process, we have discovered three key areas that are essential to creating a culture of holistic care.

1. CULTIVATE AWARENESS

Andy Johnson writes in a book on global missions that

a healthy church partnership generally presumes that the congregation, not just a few leaders, actually owns the partnership. When the average church member understands something of the focus and direction of the church’s partnership, then the ground is laid for a fruitful relationship. This can be encouraged by regularly updating the entire congregation on the church’s international involvement. (Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global, 140)

Establishing this kind of care begins, as Johnson writes, with church leadership. They are the primary stakeholders and the ones most able to raise awareness of the importance of care. They can do this via weekly messages, social media platforms, and updates from supported workers (virtually or in-person). Leadership can communicate the number of workers the church supports, the agencies their workers represent, where they’re serving (if safe to do so), their mission, and most importantly, their needs.

Global workers are real people just like the rest of us with real struggles—which are only intensified by living in a different culture, navigating a foreign language, and most of all, experiencing intense spiritual opposition.

2. STAY CONNECTED

Regular communication is a healing balm for the isolation and loneliness many experience on the field. Remaining in contact will strengthen the relationship and build trust. The goal is to be a safe place where workers can be transparent about their lives.

Whether volunteer or vocational, a care team and dedicated care contacts are vital components of the local church’s connection. Consider connecting your global workers with someone with a heart for global workers or with a Bible study class that has chosen to “adopt” them.

It can be difficult for most sending organizations to provide this kind of intentional and personal contact, but individuals within the local church are well situated to be a safe haven.

Make it your goal to be so consistent in your communication that your worker 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 would be the sign of excellent partnership.

3. INVOLVE THE CHURCH COMMUNITY

If church leadership has successfully cultivated an awareness of care, the message will filter down and out into the local body, and people with the heart and passion for global workers will rise to meet worker needs. But they must know what the needs are.

“If church leadership has successfully cultivated an awareness of care, the message will filter down and out into the local body.

There is always a need for short-term housing, long-term housing, transportation, assistance with schooling, and medical issues, to name a few. One of the most prominent needs is for fellowship and community. Integration into the church community through small groups and bible studies is vital. We have found that a homegroup focused on returned global workers provides a safe place to share with others who understand their experience.

Care retreats are also excellent opportunities to involve the church community. Whether they are at home or on the field, they require people with a myriad of skills including prayer warriors, childcare workers, worship leaders, small group leaders, and counselors.

Care retreats on the field are a wonderful chance for church members to see what the life and work of a global worker really entails. David Wilson describes field visits in his book, Mind the Gaps, as “critical to bridge the understanding and compassion gaps that can so easily exist with the miles, time and differences in a foreign country.”

Going where workers are serving provides the opportunity to engage with a global worker’s life. Wilson goes on to say, “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.”

THE END GAME: WHY WE CARE

If you’ve ever traveled outside your home country, you’ve probably felt the weight of excess local currency in your pocket as you prepare to come home. You feel an urgency to spend it all. Why? Because that currency is of no value to you once you leave.

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 includes the local church, and the local church has the local currency to spend for the care of our global workers. It’s valuable now, for those who take the saving message of Jesus Christ to the nations. It is of no value when we’re gone.

As Andy Johnson writes, “we see the motivation that should drive all this going and sending and supporting—love for the glory and knowledge of the name and truth of Christ” (Missions, 65).

Reader, you are part of the Great Commission. As a member of the local church, let your love of Christ compel you to care well for those who carry Christ’s name to the ends of the earth.

This article was originally published at https://gcdiscipleship.com/article-feed/more-than-money-how-local-churches-care-for-global-workers?rq=shirley%20ralston


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 in the Middle East and the South Pacific. You can find her writing on her personal blog, as well as The Upstream Collective and Thrive Ministry. Follow her on Twitter.

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Healthy At Home: More Resources for Healthy Minds, Bodies, Souls, and Practical Needs

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Over the last couple of weeks, we have talked about holistically caring for returning sent ones—caring for their minds through debriefing and counseling, caring for their bodies, caring for their souls, and providing for their physical needs. Below is a list of resources that can give you further information on caring for sent ones in all of these areas.

Healthy Minds

Debriefing

Counseling

Healthy Bodies

Healthy Souls

Helping Hands

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-more-resources-for-healthy-minds-bodies-souls-and-practical-needs

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Healthy at Home: Helping Hands

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One of the returned global workers I’ve come to know served in the Middle East. She lived and worked in a modern Emirate governed by Sharia Law. Still, the Emirate had a thriving Christian community and it was filled with expats from all over the world. The confluence of international people in this modern city made for a unique and colorful living experience. When she came back to the U.S., I heard the lament in her words, “When I returned, I just felt like my life lost a lot of richness.”

One of the things this worker loved most about her host country was the ease with which she lived her daily life. The city was safe and easy to navigate. It had excellent public transportation and easy access to most everything she needed. A very different landscape awaited her upon reentry to the U.S., to a sprawling metropolitan city of 2 million people with an equally sprawling freeway system. One of her biggest challenges was just getting around. “I really hated driving. I missed the train and walkability of my host country.”

This is a familiar sentiment among many returned workers. Nostalgia about the life they left behind, combined with sudden emotional and mental adjustment of reentry, is compounded by the question they all face, ‘How in the world do I navigate daily life?’

Meeting Practical Needs

Neil Pirolo gives a great example of this in his book, The Reentry Team,

“… your missionary has been hurled at jet speeds of five to seven hundred miles per hour from one continent to another in less than twelve hours to face the challenges of a metropolitan freeway system. He is driving a Ford Expedition at an outrageous seventy miles per hour, with cars around him honking for him to get out of the way! ‘You’re going too slow!’”

Talk about stressful.

“Relying on the local church for travel, lodging plans, and fellowship has long been the norm for those sent out to deliver the Good News. Can the modern-day local church follow this model?”

Our care team experience has shown us that an integral part of reentry is meeting practical, everyday needs. Coming “home” is rarely permanent, but the essential elements of daily living remain. Even in the first-century church, this was true. On his way to Jerusalem Paul writes in Romans 15, “But now I no longer have any work to do in these provinces, and I have strongly desired for many years to come to you whenever I travel to Spain. For I hope to see you when I pass through, and to be assisted by you for my journey there, once I have first enjoyed your company for a while.” (Romans 15:23–24).

John Stott relates that the word, assist (propempō) was a term used for helping missionaries on their way. The dictionary definition of propempō is to “help on one’s journey with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.”

Relying on the local church for travel, lodging plans, and fellowship has long been the norm for those sent out to deliver the Good News. Can the modern-day local church follow this model? Those of us in global worker care can take our lead from Paul’s example. I believe we can address the everyday needs of our returned workers in a healthy way. But it requires the involvement of the whole church.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Unless your returned worker is in a city with an amazing public transportation network, they need to get around, and it can be a scary business. What are the possibilities?

  • Ridesharing – This service is usually easily accessible, and it is a good transportation resource.
  • Driver – Who is willing to serve as a driver to get your global worker where they need to go, especially in those first days of return?
  • Extra Car – Is there someone willing to share that extra car sitting in their garage?
  • Rental Car – Who in the church community can step up to cover the cost?
  • Car Ministry – It’s rare, but ministries that provide cars for global workers do exist. Our care team is fortunate to have access to a car ministry associated with our church.

A Place to Lay My Head

Most global workers will need housing when they return. This is another area where close and regular contact with your global workers is important. Their housing needs must be assessed in advance, according to family size and anticipated length of stay. Because of Covid, this has been a bigger challenge over the last year as returns have been unplanned and more numerous.

Pray for those in your church community with a heart for global workers who are willing to share their housing resources. Reach out to those who have second homes, rental property, or extra space.

Over the years, our church has developed housing dedicated to returned global workers. Because of our location in a large metropolitan city and the number of workers in our charge, our housing is rarely vacant. We consider it to be one of the greatest blessings we have to offer in our global worker care ministry.

My Father’s House

Do your workers know the rhythms of church life? Simple things like a schedule for church services, bible studies, and home groups are key for reintegration into the community. Be sure to include other resources like childcare and schooling options.

Do the church leadership and the church community as a whole know they are returned? Allow them opportunities to speak about their work to different groups within the church if they so desire.

“It is unlikely that any church budget or returned worker’s support will cover all of the returned worker’s needs. This level of care requires the involvement of the whole church community.”

Is there an effort to mobilize them in ministry at home, if they are interested? Remember that your workers are endowed with a variety of highly regarded skills and years of experience. They are valuable additions to the life of the church.

It is unlikely that any church budget or returned worker’s support will cover all of the returned worker’s needs. This level of care requires the involvement of the whole church community. It takes a committed team of laypeople and church leadership to connect and support returned global workers. It will require a combined effort to raise the level of awareness in your local church about missions and the importance of care for your returned ones. And there is the added blessing of allowing the church community to engage their many spiritual gifts.

Finally, remember the example set by Paul in Romans 15. It is a story of sacrifice. According to John Stott, Paul turned a fifteen-hundred-mile journey into a three-thousand-mile journey in order to serve the saints well. Or, as another commentary states,

“In our modern age of jet travel, this does not seem like such a sacrifice. But all one need do is read the accounts of Paul’s ultimate journey to Rome when he is shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 27:13–28:11), not to mention three previous shipwrecks, once spending a day and a night in the open sea (2 Cor. 11:25), to realize the cost of his decision. Such is the nature of a servant…. The next time we are asked by God to serve another saint or the church at large in a way that taxes our strength, we might only remember the apostle to the Gentiles who gave himself for others.”

Is your team and your church community committed to go the extra mile to give your global workers a healthy return?

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-helping-hands

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Healthy at Home: Healthy Souls

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“I’ve been adjusting well, though I also feel kind of lonely in ministry here. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m on a team in my host country, but it’s just me when I’m back home. I miss the interactions with my team.” – Michael Detana, Returned Associate Pastor.

Michael conveys what is common to many global workers on reentry. They leave behind their community and ministry team and enter an environment, at least at first, that is devoid of community support. It can be a lonely time, especially during our current pandemic, when people are not gathering together. Even so, care teams don’t want to miss out on those first days of reentry and the opportunity to connect their workers to the community.

In the words of care contact Rachel Hannusch, “Deep and lasting care of the soul cannot be done in isolation. God made us relational, and we are best healed, shaped, and sharpened when in community with other believers. Transitions for global workers disrupt those all-important relationships, and we as a care team need to do whatever we can to reestablish those vital connections as quickly and seamlessly as possible.”

I spoke with mobilizer Herschel Rothchild, who serves as the South Central Regional Director for SIM, U.S. His words ring true to the experiences our care team has had with our own returning workers, “When cross-cultural workers come back, they need to have a person or people that will pray for them, listen to what they have to say, and validate their experiences.”

It Takes a Village

If you want an illustration of what a support network should look like, read Paul’s litany of names in Romans 16. He lists at least 26 people that comprised his community of support. Striking in its diversity, he speaks of churches, benefactors, loyalists, companions, co-laborers, and hosts who assisted him as he traveled from place to place.

“Paul was able to do the work God had called him to do because of the incredible support of those brothers and sisters who are immortalized in Romans 16.”

Warren Wiersbe comments, “He (Paul) did not try to live an isolated life; he had friends in the Lord, and he appreciated them. They were a help to him personally and to his ministry.” Chapter 16 ends with the reason care teams do what they do, a doxology that gives glory to God and praise to Jesus Christ for the Gospel, and a command that Paul (and our global workers) “advance the obedience of faith among all nations—” (Romans 16:26b).

Paul was able to do the work God had called him to do because of the incredible support of those brothers and sisters who are immortalized in this passage. How can the local church strive to emulate Paul’s model described in Romans 16? Our care team has found there are three groups of people critical to global worker soul care on reentry; church staff, care contacts, and a global worker’s home group.

Staff

A designated person in your church or your missions staff should be the central point of contact for workers and supporters. This individual should be the one that knows all the workers supported by your church, where they are, what they do, and, regarding reentry, the timing of their return, including the details of their transition. This type of care requires consistent contact with your workers, and it allows for proper preparation well in advance of their reentry.

“Maintaining healthy souls on reentry is a community effort that takes time and commitment.”

The foremost priority is to know why they are returning. This will go a long way in identifying needs. Is it burnout, team conflict, regularly scheduled furlough, family or medical concerns? Knowing the reason, and the practical details, like flight arrangements, housing, transportation, schooling needs, etc. allow for mobilizing a support network that stands ready to welcome your global worker back into the community.

Care Contacts

Ideally, each supported or sent worker should have an established relationship with a home-based contact or advocacy team. If they don’t, then follow Woody’s moving buddy orders in Toy Story, “If you don’t have one, get one!” These relationships are the first line of defense against a lonely reentry. Your missions council members, bible study classes, and small groups are great resources for care contacts and advocacy teams. Recruit and train them to be part of your global worker’s support network.

Home Group

My own experience with reentry was the catalyst for opening up our home to returned workers. When my husband and I returned from overseas, we left behind a thriving home group vital to our well-being. We wanted to re-create that environment as part of our church’s care ministry. It has been our experience that a returned worker’s home group is by far one of the best things you can do for them.

A gathering place for people with the shared experience of serving the Lord overseas is therapeutic, and it meets a critical need for encouraging these servant souls while they are home. It is a place where they are seen, heard, and truly understood. They are on common ground with like-minded people.

Any local church of any size can do this for their global workers. All you need is a willing host. I promise, your home will feel like the first-century church, right out of the Acts of the Apostles.

Commit Together

Maintaining healthy souls on reentry is a community effort that takes time and commitment. Everyone involved in the ministry of global worker care has their own part to play to ensure a loving support network quickly surrounds returned workers. I encourage you to consider, “What role do you play?”

Don’t leave your global worker hanging out there alone. Embrace them with open arms, spend time with them, listen, and learn, as you walk alongside them during their reentry.

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-souls

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Healthy at Home: Healthy Bodies

Taking Care of the Temple

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“The very first issue of reentry is the effect of travel on the physical nature of your missionary friend. But jet lag is just the beginning. Change of climate, change of elevation, change of season, change of diet, change of pace—change!” Neal Pirolo, The Reentry Team: Caring For Your Returning Missionaries.

Driving is something I tried to avoid for at least a day or two after returning from our host country in the South Pacific. Travel time, plus crossing time zones and hemispheres, wreaked havoc on my mind and body. Once, after a long journey home, I broke my own rule and ventured out to the grocery store (pre-grocery delivery days). I was surprised to see flashing lights in my rearview mirror. My neighborhood law enforcement officer was quite incredulous at my behavior, “Seriously, you didn’t see the stop sign?” I had rolled right through it, oblivious to the big red octagon, and his police car, sitting at the intersection. Thankfully, I got a stern reprimand instead of a ticket. It was a good reminder of the physical dangers associated with reentry.

Anyone who has experienced reentry knows about the foggy brain, disrupted sleep, digestive issues, and the general feeling of disorientation that comes with flying across time zones. Fatigue and mood swings are common during that uncomfortable phase of adjustment. The general rule of thumb is that it takes one day for each time zone crossed to adjust to a new environment.

For the global worker, the physical toll of this transition is coupled with the reverse culture shock of reentry. In addition, they may be returning with a weakened immune system, making them more likely to fall ill. Even the most seasoned worker may be asking themselves, “Where am I and what am I doing here?”

Addressing the physical effects of reentry on global workers is one of the most overlooked areas of care. In fact, when I was researching for this article, I could find very little that focused on it.

“Addressing the physical effects of reentry on global workers is one of the most overlooked areas of care.”

Everything seemed to be centered on the responsibility of the worker for their own care, which is understandable. But what about the responsibility of those of us in the ministry of care? Should this be an area where local church should engage more fully with the struggles of their sent and supported workers?

Meeting Physical Needs

Biblical principles indicate a resounding yes. Several places in Scripture address the believer’s responsibility for meeting the needs of others. Foremost, Jesus says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. That principle is at the very core of meeting the needs of our brethren. Related, in 3 John 1-2, we find John praying that Gaius will “…prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually.”

John is acknowledging Gaius’s spiritual strength, but he also prays for his physical strength so that he can, in turn, meet the needs of the fellow brothers who were traveling and preaching the Word. And although the last section of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 25 is referring to future times, it is clear that we are to minister to the needs of others—especially fellow believers, as though they were the Messiah himself. The beginning of verse 35 is particularly relevant, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in…”

“Providing for the needs of the body lays the groundwork for rest and renewal of the mind, alleviating stress in your global workers’ reentry process.”

Ronald L. Koteskey’s brief on maintaining mental and physical health for missionaries states three areas of need for global workers’ physical health: eating well, proper rest, and exercise. These are ever-present needs, but they take on heightened importance upon reentry.

How can the local church meet these needs?

Fill the fridge

Your care team should be in consistent contact with their workers as they transition home. Be aware of where they are staying so you can prepare their abode before they arrive. Keep in mind that some returned workers will be coming from an area with dietary restrictions or limited access and availability to certain foods. Some will appreciate the freedom and choice, others will be overwhelmed by it, so get a list of what they would like and fill their pantry and fridge.

Thomas Kimber, in his article Healthy Reentry: The Shared Responsibility of Missionary Care, writes, “After twenty-five years serving overseas, one missionary family recalls walking into their home that had been completely stocked with food, cleaning supplies, paper products, along with cards, notes, and flowers from the congregation…They felt accepted, loved, and cared for the moment they arrived home.”

Find a Fitness Facility

  • If your church has a gym or fitness facility, perhaps associated with their school, investigate making it available to your returned workers. This can be an excellent resource for preventing the isolation and fatigue that often accompanies readjustment.
  • Reach out to your local YMCA or private clubs. Recruit the members of your congregation who have memberships that allow guests, and would be willing to accompany them as a workout buddy.
  • Provide your workers with a list of accessible walking trails, outdoor parks, and recreation areas. This small step will encourage them toward the process of reorientation and resetting their circadian rhythms.

Furnish a Medical Resources List

  • Many workers return with medical issues that need to be addressed. Having a list ready for them will go a long way in reducing their anxiety. Include medical professionals, Christian counseling centers, hospitals, urgent care locations, and pharmacies.
  • Seek out the wisdom and services of the medical professionals in your church community. Enlist their help in providing for your global workers.

Truly holistic care includes the body as well as the soul and spirit, and your care team can more effectively minister to the workers in your care if they address all aspects of reentry. Providing for the needs of the body lays the groundwork for rest and renewal of the mind, alleviating stress in your global workers’ reentry process.

“Work is a blessing. … He gives us hands and strength to do it. It is the joy of work well done that enables us to enjoy rest, just as it is the experiences of hunger and thirst that make food and drink such pleasures.” Elisabeth Elliott

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-bodies

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Healthy at Home: Healthy Minds Part 2—Professional Christian Counseling

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Going Deeper –Professional Christian Counseling

“Ma’am,” my driver said, “I can’t go forward and I can’t turn around, we’ll just have to wait for the danger to pass.” Heavy traffic had come to a standstill in both directions as gunfire erupted all around us. Local police were clearing the market nearby and throngs of people were running, spilling into the streets and blocking traffic. In spite of all my preparation and security precautions, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I was just as vulnerable as everyone else.

It is common for global workers to find themselves in even more tense situations than the one I’ve described. Depending on where they serve, their environments can induce high levels of stress. Everyday stressors related to marriage, mission, and culture may be compounded by crime, natural disasters, death and disease, poverty, tribal tensions, war, terrorism, and all kinds of safety and security issues. The current Covid pandemic is a crisis that perfectly illustrates this point. Prolonged exposure to tensions like these can affect every area of life and ministry.

“Professional Christian counseling may be necessary for returned workers who have experienced trauma or endured levels of high stress on the field.”

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Inventory is a tool that measures stress and stress-related health outcomes. In a recent article for the The Gospel Coalition, Lloyd Kim references the modified version of this inventory specifically tailored for global workers. Those who score 200 or more points will likely have serious long-term health problems within two years. First-year missionaries are known to peak at 900 points. Even after being on the field for several years, missionaries level off at about 600 points.

If your returned workers have endured this type of ongoing tension, they will be showing the signs. Professional Christian counseling may be necessary for returned workers who have experienced trauma or endured levels of high stress on the field. For many, it is an essential component of care for health and healing upon reentry.

Solomon writes, “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out.” (Proverbs 20:5) Our hearts, the inner workings of our minds, our volition, motives, and our conscience are, as Solomon says, “like deep water.” Our workers may not be aware ofall that lies hidden beneath those waters.

Who is this man of understanding Solomon speaks about? Like drawing water from a well, this person is someone who can understand, comprehend and perceive what is hard to know.[i] While understanding is a gift of God, it does not come automatically. The possession of it requires a persistent diligence. It is more than IQ; it connotes character.[ii] They canhelp a person examine his true motives – thoughts he may not fully understand otherwise.[iii]

They can help a person examine his true motives – thoughts he may not fully understand otherwise. A wise counselor doesn’t have to be a professional but it is important to remember that professional Christian counselors are trained to apply a biblical framework that is imperative for those who serve on the mission field. This type of counseling is a resource the local church should seek to provide to promote health and healing.

“It is important to remember that professional Christian counselors are trained to apply a biblical framework that is imperative for those who serve on the mission field.”

The church where I serve is fortunate to have an in-house counseling center. We provide reduced rates and scholarships for returned workers. If your church has an in-house counseling resource, make it available to your workers. They will benefit from being able to process their experiences in the safe confines of your church community. Otherwise, make an effort to develop relationships with counselors who are members of your congregation, or negotiate discounted rates at a local Christian counseling center. Offer tele-visits if they’re available, especially during this time of Covid-19.

Most importantly, missions leadership should make every effort to remove any stigma related to professional counseling and to communicate to all global workers that the counseling they receive is a third party, safe, and confidential resource.

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-professional-christian-counseling

[i] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[ii] Goldberg, L. (1999). 239 בִּין. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 104). Chicago: Moody Press.

[iii] Buzzell, S. S. (1985). Proverbs. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 948). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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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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