SEND U blog

Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

hard work
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Should missionaries work long hours?

I have observed that missionaries are no longer quite as willing to talk about how many hours we are working. Have you noticed the difference as well? I used to see it as a badge of honor that I had worked more than 60 hours in the past week. I am not so sure that I would admit that today. Would my colleagues see me as a workaholic or unbalanced in my priorities?

I also must acknowledge that I don’t have the same level of energy as I did 30 years ago. My work weeks rarely if ever exceed sixty hours these days, whereas when I was a first-term missionary, they were commonplace.

As missionaries, we still like to say that we are busy. But in contrast to what I remember from 30 years ago, we are now much more likely to think that something is wrong with us or our assignment if we end up working a 12-hour day.

The importance of sabbath and vacation

We are also more free to talk about the importance of sabbath and taking vacations. SEND developed a sabbatical policy in 2016. I have been amazed at how many SEND staff have already taken a sabbatical since then. I am one of them. These are good developments, I believe. Weekly sabbaths, vacations and sabbaticals are necessary and helpful. By incorporating these into our lives, we acknowledge that we are not God and that we are not indispensable to the work.

boundary - helping Ukrainian refugees

A different understanding of boundaries

A Gentle Word to Those Wanting to Help Ukrainian Refugees

Editor’s note: Julie Mosse and her husband Alfie have spent many years working as cross-cultural workers in Ukraine. Recently, they spent a few months in Poland, helping Ukrainian refugees fleeing the military conflict in their own country.

Recently, I sat with one beautiful Ukrainian church worker in a little cafe in Krakow, Poland. She loves Jesus, is a seminary mission program graduate, and has a wealth of ministry and cross-cultural experience. Currently she is also a refugee from the war in Ukraine, having fled Odessa with her mom, sister, and tiny nephew.1 See another blog post about refugees from Ukraine. She works with a local Ukrainian church which, like all of these churches, is flooded – with people, with needs, with decisions, and with opportunities.  

Weary leaders

The leaders of these Ukrainian diaspora churches are doing everything they can to be faithful in this flood. Meanwhile many of them carry much trauma and anxiety of their own. Even if they recognize the trauma they are carrying, many have no time to address the needs of their own hearts. My friend carries an enormous amount of responsibility in her church’s local ministry. God is using her in amazing ways. But she, like many other Ukrainian church leaders, is weary. She is in need of wise partners who can also refresh her. 

It’s a picture that tugs at many of our hearts. We Westerners long to jump in and help. Some of us have visited Ukraine and feel a connection to the terror and trauma our Ukrainian friends have experienced since February 24th. But while we feel the urgency to help somehow, we definitely don’t want already overburdened Ukrainian believers to also alleviate the needs of well-meaning, North American helpers. We don’t want them to carry additional burdens simply because their practice of both hospitality and boundaries differs from our North American cultural practices. 

children of missionaries
Photo by Amir Hosseini on Unsplash

My children chose not to believe

This blog post was originally posted on the blog “A Life Overseas“. The full title of the blog post was “I went to a foreign country to share the gospel. My children grew up and chose not to believe”. It is reposted with permission from the author who has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy. If you wish to reach out to her for support, please leave a reply at the bottom of this blog post. The SEND U blog editor will then connect you to the author through email.

Raising up children on the mission field

I never intended to be an overseas missionary. Then in 1997, I found myself living in Russia with my husband and four small children. We believed God had sent us to this place, and we had a glorious ten years of serving and ministering there. When we arrived, our children were two, five, and six, and eight. I homeschooled them, and they enjoyed being a part of the local church family.

I had always believed that if you raised a child in the love and nurture of the Lord, they too would follow Jesus. We believed the verse, “Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” You can only imagine the shock we felt when our son entered university, lost interest in spiritual things and began to date an unbeliever!

How could this happen to us?

We were wholeheartedly following the Lord! How could this happen? We tried to get him to go to the campus fellowships, but there was no interest. Little did I know at the time that two of my girls would follow the same path. My next oldest daughter went to a Christian college near our home. I didn’t want her to attend a secular university like her brother! She was fine for a while, but then she, too, began to drift. Eventually she lost interest in being a Christian. My next daughter stayed closer to home, faced some difficulties at college and did not stray from her faith. My youngest daughter, after graduating from a Christian high school, followed her brother to the secular university near our home and also lost interest in the things of God.

What can I say? I never expected this. I honestly thought that since they were being raised in the Lord with a loving and involved family, our children would never depart from Him. Since that time I have blamed myself, my husband, our mission, and even our church. But in the end I realized that it may not have been any of these things. I have come to believe it was their free will. They became curious about life “outside” the Christian world they were raised in. They, like all of us, need their own salvation experience, and though we trained them in the fear of the Lord and tried to do our best, God gave them the freedom to make their own choices. 

models of evangelism

Models of Evangelism

I needed a different model

I have never seen myself as an evangelist. Maybe that is a strange admission for someone who has been a cross-cultural missionary for more than 35 years. I enjoyed leading evangelistic Bible studies when I was a church planter in the Philippines. I found great delight in crafting and sharing a brief Gospel message at the end of each of our TESOL nights at the Central Baptist Church in Kyiv a few years ago. But just walking up to random strangers and initiating conversations about the Gospel has never fitted my personality. Nor did it seem particularly effective. My own distrust and avoidance of salesmen is probably part of the problem here. I would prefer a different model of evangelism.

My problem was further compounded by the amount of time I devote to interacting with other cross-cultural workers. The longer I have been in mission leadership roles, the fewer opportunities I have had to share the Gospel with those I meet on an ongoing basis. I needed a model that fit the new realities in my mission assignment.

As the years passed, my guilt due to my lack of evangelistic involvement prompted me to look for a different way of evangelizing. I thought maybe I should find a model that would play to my strengths in technology. I think I can also say that this was the leading of the Spirit.

staying on top of things
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Staying on top of things

A few years ago, I was planning for an upcoming “boot camp” for new field leaders. Our boot camps are two full days of training but hardly “a place or undertaking that resembles a military boot camp especially by requiring one to endure intensive training or initiation”.1 Merriam Webster definition #3 for “boot camp. But then maybe we should ask the participants, not the trainer! In preparation, I asked these new field leaders and their directors what topics they would want us to cover. I gave them a list of topics we had covered in previous years. Someone suggested “how to stay on top of things”, something not on my list. In subsequent years, participants have almost always selected this topic as something they want to address at boot camp.

The difficulty of staying on top of things

This suggestion initially surprised me, but it immediately made sense. New field leaders have a steep learning curve as they move from front-line ministry into more administrative roles in missions. One of the challenges in this transition is how to manage the myriad of expectations, tasks and messages that come with their new role. See my recent blog post on the paradoxes of leadership. But regardless of whether you find yourself in a new leadership role or not, we all struggle to “stay on top of things”. As mission workers, we all end up wearing multiple hats, filling many different roles because of a shortage of personnel.

In this blog post, I want to briefly summarize what we talk about in this hour and a half session at boot camp. These are the principles and tools that have been most helpful for me to “stay on top of things”. I recognize that you will need to adjust my system to fit your personality and work style.

Managing Leadership Anxiety
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Managing Leadership Anxiety: a review

I would not have readily chosen “anxiety” as the word to characterize my low experiences in leadership. Frustration, yes. Loneliness, yes. Overwhelmed, yes. Disappointment, yes. But I have not often thought of myself as suffering with anxiety. That is, I had not identified my struggles in leadership as anxiety until I read (listened to) Steve Cuss’ book, Managing Leadership Anxiety: Yours and Theirs. I now realize that anxiety has often been at the root of many of these struggles.

In this blog post, I want to continue the theme of the last couple of blog posts – reviewing helpful books on leadership. As was true of both previous blog posts, these books are not only for those in formal leadership roles. All of us in cross-cultural missions are leaders if we are seeking to lead people to change their thinking, beliefs and lifestyle. “Managing Leadership Anxiety” therefore applies to all of us who sense a call to disciple the nations to become followers of Jesus.

Leaders need to manage their own anxiety first

Besides being an author, Steve Cuss is a pastor who began his ministry as a trauma and hospice chaplain. In helping families deal with grief and loss, he learned that he needed to first of all manage his own anxiety. He needed to understand what was going inside of himself before he could truly connect with others. When he became a lead pastor of a rapidly growing church, he realized that anxiety came with that role as well. Cuss needed to develop ways of thinking and behaving that allowed him to manage that anxiety.

The goal of managing anxiety is not simply for relief, it is to connect more fully with God and to raise awareness of what God is doing. Anxiety blocks our awareness of God because it takes our subconscious attention. This means that anxiety can be an early detection system that we’re depending on something other than God for our well-being.

Cuss, Steve. Managing Leadership Anxiety (p. 17).

Not knowing what to do

Cuss defines leadership as knowing what to do. But as leaders, we often don’t know what to do. Yet we have to do something, because we are leaders. This makes us very uncomfortable and leads to anxiety. We worry because we can’t control what is going to happen. We are not sure that we have adequate information, wisdom, or training to tackle the task before us. As leaders, we wish that someone would tell us what to do or that we could be certain of a particular outcome. As Cuss says:

leadership paradoxes

The paradoxes of leadership

Is leadership harder today that it was in the past? I think so. A few weeks ago, I led a leadership training for four new field leaders. As I surveyed the challenges they face and the expectations we have today of our field leaders, I noted that what they are being asked to do is significantly more difficult now than it has been in the past.

Technology raises expectations of leadership

Yes, today leaders have a host of technological tools available to help them communicate and organize and collaborate. But those same tools have also raised expectations of them. Those expectations are about how quickly and creatively they will communicate, how neatly and completely they will organize their work, and how broadly and fully they were collaborate with others. Ironically, that which should make leadership easier has also made it more challenging. This is a paradox of leadership today.

When I first took on a major field leadership role more than 30 years ago, I had neither email, Microsoft Teams nor even a cell phone for communication purposes. I did not even have a landline in my home. In some senses, maybe this should should have made leadership more difficult. But no one expected quick responses, regular check-ins or even monthly communication from me. Most of our decisions were made after months of deliberation and extensive discussion with several other mission leaders. The sending offices back in North America had no expectations that I would be involved in communicating with or facilitating vision trips for new missionary candidates before they arrived. It is hard to even imagine such limited communication from a mission leader today.

The demands of leadership today

Tim Elmore, author and founder / CEO of Growing Leaders, very much agrees that leadership is more difficult today than in the past. In his latest book, The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership: Embracing the Conflicting Demands of Today’s Workplace, he describes why great leadership today is so demanding. The book was published in November 2021. So, it was written in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID has definitely added to the challenges that mission leaders face today. But the challenges of leadership today are not only due to the pandemic.

Leadership is seldom easy, but today it affords us the challenge of collaborating with a more educated, more entitled, more savvy population that has greater expectations of satisfaction and rewards than in past generations. Uncommon leaders stand out because they are able to juggle seemingly contradictory traits to lead such people.

Elmore, Tim. The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership (pp. 9-10).

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