All posts by rosiebuttonrc

Course Facilitator on Redcliffe's MA in Member Care; I am a theological tutor specialising in cross-cultural missiology and member care.

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Why don’t we talk about missionaries and mental health?

Traditionally, depression and anxiety have been seen as hard topics to talk about for missionaries and others involved in full-time ministry.

Actually, they are hard topics for any Christian. If a person believes that they have a loving God who is with them all the time, and who has a wonderful future for them in heaven, how can they be depressed, or anxious? And aren’t missionaries those who have even more faith and courage than other Christians? (er…not really!) And surely missionaries and ministers must know the added joy of living out their calling in their everyday lives? (Well yes… but this can actually add extra nasty layers of guilt and self-doubt…)

Because of these kinds of expectations, it has been easier for missionaries to avoid mentioning doubts and leanings towards depression in their prayer letters. How can it be that if a missionary expresses their negative feelings in a supporter update they can be criticised rather than sympathised with? (If you find this surprising, read some of the comments underneath a recent article in which Matt Redman admitted to his inner struggles.)

In the secular world, mental health issues are beginning to be talked about more openly and the traditional stigma is being challenged, not before time. The same needs to happen in the world of mission and ministry.

I was prompted to think about this having just finished an excellent book called Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. Funny, sad, revealing, and ultimately positive about human life, it contains vivid descriptions of what depression and anxiety felt like to the author. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to understand them better. One endorsement on the cover says, “This book could save lives.” That struck me, though, because Haig is not a Christian. He doesn’t talk about any kind of religious faith. I understand that the phrase on the cover was intended to mean, “This book could prevent someone from killing themselves.” And it could, I suppose. But to me, with years of Christian life behind me, language about saving lives has another layer of meaning – it is what the gospel does, and it leads to eternal life, not just a few more years of earthly life in our mortal bodies. Jesus saves lives.

But what are Christians saying to those suffering depression and anxiety? We seem to be saying, “You shouldn’t be depressed, and if you are, you certainly shouldn’t admit to it.” And all the more so if someone is in any kind of leadership or ministry role.

But the truth is that missionaries and those in ministry are just as vulnerable to depression and anxiety as anyone else – and further, there may be particular factors in these kinds of work that cause or exacerbate them. Prevention is obviously the best option; but if they do begin to appear, recognising and responding to them as early as possible is essential  – and this means talking about them.

Some writing has been done about missionaries and depression. Marjorie Foyle’s book Honourably Wounded (Monarch, most recent edition 2009) is a well-known resource for missionaries dealing with such issues, and is very helpful. Foyle’s PhD, written in 1999, was entitled Expatriate Mental Health (PhD Thesis, University of London, 1999). She found that whilst some people who suffered on the field had pre-existing factors, others developed depression due to factors on the field.  Her findings included recommendations for better selection and also better care on the field. But it seems as though the time is ripe for a more current study in this area.

The practice of and research into Member Care (pastoral care for missionaries) has grown a great deal over the twenty or so years since Foyle’s 1999 thesis. Much recent thinking has been done in the area of resilience (commonly defined as the ability to overcome and bounce back from adversity). A part of resilience is the ability to recognise early symptoms of stress or anxiety in oneself, and knowing the steps to take to maintain or restore wellbeing, before a plunge into depression happens. Member Care research has shown that whilst you might think of resilience as an inborn trait, it is also a learned skill. Recent Redcliffe graduate Duncan Watts urged in his dissertation the responsibility of the mission agency to help build resilience in their workers, saying

Mission organisations can no longer ignore the physical, emotional and psychological needs of their staff and trust that all will be well.

Alongside this, there has been a growing realisation of the importance of self-care for missionaries, and Member Care providers see part of their role as making sure their people are practising it. Self-care includes eating healthily, exercising, getting sufficient sleep, knowing how to relax, and taking holidays (again, there may be barriers of expectation in place: as in the old-fashioned view that missionaries shouldn’t need to take costly holidays or regular time off).

Another related area of recent exploration has been into the key role lamentation can play in aiding people to process and express grief, disappointment, or frustration. A healthy outpouring to God of negative emotions (as we see for example in some of the Psalms) is a valid part of prayer.

Finally, when a missionary or person in ministry is experiencing depression or anxiety, there should be avenues for expressing this without any judgment, and a ready willingness among supporters and the mission agency to help, support, and love them, and to provide the means for treatment, rest and recovery. Member Care providers have an important part to play in normalising this.

BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Former missionary, minister and writer Mark Meynell, has written a book about this topic which promises to be excellent: When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend: reflections on life and ministry with depression, IVP, available May 2018.

Duncan Watts’ MA Thesis Defining, assessing and enhancing resilience in cross-cultural mission workers: lessons member care providers can learn from the wider field of resilience research, Redcliffe College (2016), will also shortly be published: look out for publicity on the Redcliffe social media sites.

 


Rosie is the Course Facilitator of Redcliffe’s MA in Member Care. This course is designed for you if you’re involved in any way in caring for and supporting mission workers and those in ministry. It is the only course of its kind, helping students develop organisational support structures that help their people to thrive, wherever they are.

biblemissiology

The Emmaus Road: mission as ‘going out’ and ‘inviting in’

Recently I was reminded how much I love the story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35).

It is one of the many domestic stories of Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus is invited into someone’s home and sits down to eat with them. Very often, good things happen over a meal in Luke’s writings. Other meaningful encounters prompted by hospitality in Luke-Acts include Mary’s visit to Elizabeth’s home (Lk 1:40), Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law in her home (Lk 4:38), the healing of the paralysed man in someone’s house (Lk 5:18), quickly followed by the controversial dinner for Jesus with a dubious crowd at Levi’s house (5:29) – and the list goes on. It continues in Acts: for example, Peter’s visions concerning Gentiles while he was staying at Simon the Tanner’s house, (Acts 9:43ff), and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Gentiles whilst Peter was at Cornelius’ house, (Acts 10:24-48).

Both in the giving and receiving of hospitality divine encounters occur. God appears.

On the Emmaus Road, it is only when the disciples invite Jesus into their home, and share food with him – at the moment when he breaks bread – that they recognise him for who he is. And that changes their world. They had walked and talked with him along that road, where they had been discouraged, downcast. But in the moment of eating together, they understood who he was. Perhaps as some commentaries say, it was because they suddenly recalled Jesus breaking bread at the Last Supper.

We can’t help but remember the famous incident of Abraham welcoming and feeding the mysterious visitors, who turn out to be angels (Gen 18).

In the Gospels, of course, we don’t see Jesus hosting anyone in an earthly home, as he didn’t have one. But he did give the disciples breakfast in another resurrection appearance, on the lakeshore, in John 21:12. And the Last Supper could also be seen as an act of hospitality. It could even surely be said that our presence in this world is one vast act of hospitality on God’s part. John 1:11 says that Jesus, the Word, came into his own – literally, “into his own home” – yet his own did not recognise him.

Hospitality has long been recognised as an important element of mission, and an upcoming edition of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal is based around this theme.

The Emmaus Road incident reminds me today of two things. The first is, we do not only offer hospitality as a way of reaching out to others, of encouraging them and ministering to them – the blessing goes both ways. As givers of hospitality, we receive God in those we welcome. We might even host angels unawares. The second is, much as we are called in the Great Commission to go out into the world – we are at the same time taught in Scripture to invite people in, into our homes, into our lives, in missional acts of hospitality.

Choluteca Bridge, Honduras
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Bridge on the River “Why?”

How willing are we to change – to let go of our structures, our plans and our methods, to respond to the times, and do something new?

Recently I was at GOFest 2017. The GOFest leadership have decided to change their approach completely.  Rather than an annual national conference they now hold their missions festival in a different region each year, and link with local churches there, to encourage them in mission and help them connect with each other.

I heard a striking analogy in one of the keynote addresses, given by John Risbridger, (minister of Above Bar Church, Southampton, and Chair of Keswick Ministries). He showed a picture of a beautiful wide suspension bridge, in the green tropical surroundings of Honduras. The bridge was expertly engineered to withstand any storm or bad weather. The next picture showed the same bridge a few years later. It was still standing, as elegant as ever – but now it was eerily alone: no road attached to it, there was just brown desert on either side; no river ran under it. The roads had been swept away by Hurricane Mitch, and the river course had been completely changed and flowed around the side of the bridge some distance away. The beautiful, expensive, carefully designed bridge was now a folly, with no use or purpose in the world.

Our churches, our mission agencies, our organisations, can be like that. We need to keep checking – is what we are doing still useful? Is there still any point in it? Is it reaching people where they are now? Is it contextual? We can all too easily spend time, money and energy trying to keep our beloved structures going, while everything around them has changed and they have become irrelevant.

Redcliffe College “moved their bridge” when we changed from being a residential, largely pre-field training college, to running mainly intensive MA programmes to offer continuing professional development style training to people already engaged in mission all over the world. The new pop-up hubs are also a way of being able to train people wherever they are.

We may dislike change, but God certainly doesn’t: the Bible is full of references to God doing new things, making new creations, pouring new wine into new wineskins… And see the example of Paul, who was willing to be flexible, who didn’t hold on to set methods or formulas, but adopted different approaches for the different people he went among.

So let’s be willing to look again at our churches, our mission agencies, our strategies and structures and ask the questions: are they still fit for purpose, are they still relevant, or are they carefully constructed, elegant bridges over empty river beds?

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Wake up call – what are we doing about refugees?

The Calais Jungle is gone. The pre-Brexit threat of France opening the border which would move the camp right across the Channel to Dover has fizzled away. The Dubs Amendment which required the UK to take more unaccompanied minors already in Europe has been discontinued. Are the British people, even Christians, breathing the smallest sigh of relief – the flood never quite came our way?

I hope not but I do fear so. Thankfully, there are many organisations, both Christian and otherwise, in Britain and across Europe who are pitching in to give help and welcome to the thousands of refugees who are on the move, looking for a place to settle and call home.

I was recently at a conference in Budapest run by the Refugee Highway Partnership, where I met many such people working with refugees. The keynote speaker, Patrick Johnstone (Operation World author) predicted that this recent flood will be followed by more and more floods over the years to come, and we need to learn, as the church, how to respond. The focus of the whole conference was: if we as Christians don’t welcome and love the refugees, who will? And if we don’t, we have simply forgotten how the God of the Bible loved and shepherded displaced peoples, from the third chapter of Genesis to the end of the New Testament.

One hundred and fifty Christians from all over Europe shared stories of the work they are doing in all sorts of ways with refugees. Some are visiting camps, giving out clothes and phones, some are working with resettlement agencies, giving practical help, or language lessons, some are going into camps equipped with Bible stories in middle eastern languages, sharing the gospel with everybody they meet.

One of many excellent seminars, led by Rachel Uthmann of International Action For Refugees (IAFR) focussed on the ethics of evangelising refugees. Whilst everyone there would agree that we want to share the gospel with refugees – and indeed it has been said over and over that here is actually an opportunity for thousands fleeing from closed countries to hear the gospel – Uthmann raised the question of the power relationship between the refugee and the Christian helper – who offers food, shelter, community at the same time as, and maybe even conditional upon, preaching a gospel message. This could bring us all the way back to the holistic mission discussion. Mission practitioners today have well understood the need to follow Jesus’ example in showing God’s love for the whole person, offering healing, help and acceptance as well as showing the way to salvation. But Uthmann’s point was that we must avoid the trap of unintentionally manipulating people into hearing the gospel – we must find ways that enable the power balance between helper and receiver to be corrected, and then offer the gospel from a more even platform.

People at the conference held differing views on what we should be doing and the ways we should be doing it, leading to interesting conversations over lunches about the rights and wrongs of different approaches.  But the message I came away with was: we should all be doing something!

“Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus told his listeners in Luke 6:31. If I were a refugee, wouldn’t I wish that someone would offer me help, hope and a future?

Redcliffe is running training days for people working with refugees, focussing mainly on the Member Care aspect of building resilience in refugee workers.

Several current Redcliffe students are directly involved in refugee work, and some are writing dissertations in this area. Redcliffe also has a research project on the go, about how churches can be more involved with helping Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC).

What do you think about this complex issue? Where does evangelism fit in, and how do we point the way to Jesus in a caring manner, without taking advantage of the vulnerable and displaced? What lessons have you learned throughout this ‘Refugee Crisis,’ and what role would you like to see Christians play in meeting these great needs?


If you want to wrestle with the complex themes of migration, refugee issues, ethics and evangelism, sign up for our MA in Contemporary Missiology. You can even specialise your degree to recognise your skills and passions in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation.

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Gender, Violence and a Missional Response | an interview with Elaine Storkey

Violence against women and girls is not new, but there seems to be a growing awareness of the massive scale of the problem, and a realisation amongst Christians that it demands a missional response.

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Storkey, Elaine (2016) Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women, London: SPCK

Gender-based violence is one of the topics we will look at in the new Gender and Mission module at Redcliffe this summer, with Elaine Storkey coming to address it for us in two lectures. Storkey’s recent book, Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence against Women (London: SPCK), explores and analyses ways that gender-based violence occurs across the globe. She points along the way to those who are trying to oppose it, brave people who stand out in the book as beacons of hope. Each chapter looks at one troubling manifestation of gender-based violence, including selective abortion, Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage and honour killings. We meet women who have been raped in war, who have been abused in the home, tricked into prostitution, and watched – or even participated in – the killing of a daughter in a so-called honour-killing.

It is a very tough read. But we need to know these things, we need to be shocked, dismayed, and more than indignant about these stories: we need to be spurred into action. If a key part of the missio Dei is the reconciliation of all that was divided and scattered by the Fall, then surely this issue of the prevalent oppression and abuse of women and girls needs to be addressed and put to an end. It is an injustice on a grand scale. But it is only seen and understood by looking through the eyes of a little 11-year-old girl forced to marry a 40-year-old man, or a woman in labour suffering the effects of FGM as she tries to give birth. Storkey successfully describes the scale of the problem, with impressively researched facts and figures, whilst also revealing the all-too-human and personal implications.

Storkey spends the last third of the book discussing the “Why?” question. I found this section fascinating. She explains and considers the various theories that have been offered as to why violence against women has persisted through the centuries, by evolutionist thinkers, sociologists, feminists, and those who blame the patriarchy found in religions. She ends with her own view, a theological interpretation which leaves room for redemption and change. Thus alongside the call to action is a message of hope, much needed at the end of an often harrowing read.

Elaine kindly agreed to answer some questions I posed to her about Scars Across Humanity:

What were your goals as you wrote this book?

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Elaine Storkey

I had three main goals: 1) To help people everywhere to see that violence against women was a global problem, manifest in many different ways in different cultures, but with the same underlying story of women’s lack of value, and the abuse of male power. 2) To encourage the Church to see that addressing this problem is our responsibility also, and to enable Christians to have the information and strategies to make a difference. 3) To counter some of the explanations given for violence against women, and to ask what insights Christian theology might offer.

Was there one story you came across, or one encounter, that made you feel you just had to write?

Yes, my visit to the Congo in 2006, travelling down the North and South Kivu Provinces and seeing rape as a weapon of war. It was the extraordinary Christian witness of Heal Africa – a hospital which stressed integral healing, and treated women victims with enormous care and compassion. A young 17-year-old girl was brought in – a music leader in a local church. She had been gang-raped and was in a terrible state, physically and emotionally. I realized no woman was safe in that climate.

In hindsight, is there anything you would have said differently, or anything you wish you had included?

Oh, lots of things didn’t find their way into the book, and I would love to have been able to give more stories from the many Christian initiatives which are labouring in this area. I did write around but responses came in very late or not at all, and the book had to go to print! I don’t think there is anything I would have said differently. I chose my words carefully!

What kinds of reactions have you received to it?

Mostly shock, consternation, alarm at the extent of the violence, and support from those working in the various fields. Many women have written to tell me of their own experiences, and I have found that very moving. Some men have been tremendously responsive: writing reviews and recommending the book publicly, even creating openings for me to go to their part of the country and speak about it.

Your book is clearly calling out for a response from everyone who reads it: in what ways would you say gender-based violence is a missional issue?

Religion is often blamed for creating the culture in which men can violate women with impunity. All religions have their ‘patriarchal’ edge and history. Gender-based violence is so opposite to a Gospel vision and Christians must be challenged to eradicate it. But it is also certainly a missional issue in that it offers an opportunity to present the truth of the Gospel and call for redemptive change.

What are some things that ordinary Christians can do in response?

They can support the many initiatives already busy in the area, in prayer, financial support and sometimes in active involvement. They can call some of the Christian training agencies, like Spark and Restored into their churches to work on gender-violence awareness, and pastoral response training. They can join or form some advocacy initiatives – like the work that Jill Seward left behind on rape, after her untimely death – or IC Change, set up by a young Christian who caught the vision very early on after I had given a talk, and committed herself to getting the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. She has brought people together from so many different backgrounds and the campaign has taken off brilliantly. A Member of Parliament got the issue through the third reading of a Private Member’s bill and so it’s looking very good.

Are you already working on another book, and so, what is it going to be?

Yes, I’m writing the biography of Lyn Lusi, who founded Heal Africa along with her husband – Congolese surgeon Kasereka Lusi. We began it when Lyn was alive, but her death left me with many gaps in her story and it has been difficult to fill them in. I hope to finish it this summer. And of course, there is my novel which has been in gestation stage for quite a number of years…..

I’m looking forward to that novel!


Elaine will be one of the speakers in Redcliffe’s new MA module, Gender and Mission, running for the first time this summer. Have a look at the link if you are interested to hear Elaine in person and spend time thinking through a missional Christian response to gender-based violence, gender injustice, and other issues where gender and mission interact.
Find Elaine’s book at: http://spckpublishing.co.uk/product/scars-across-humanity