This was my second time to attend the De-Briefing and Renewal retreat, put on by Mission Training International. It's held at a lovely conference facility within view of Pikes Peak.
It was a rare week to rest and reflect, to disengage and sit back. We were encouraged to unplug from the world... knowing it would be waiting for us on Friday afternoon.
The facilitators for the two discussion groups (of 14 adults each) were two couples with extensive personal experience as full-time cross-cultural missionaries.
"We understand you. We get it; we've been there. Even though 90% of your friends and family won't have time for more than a two-minute update on your recent field-stay, we like to hear your stories and your struggles. We missionaries are from the same tribe."The assumption - and it was a correct one - was that every attendee was exhausted and depleted emotionally, physically, and every other way. A good debriefing involves space and time to rest and think. A busy life undermines a wise life.
Tears are sometimes the only response to our experiences.The retreat provided a safe environment to be honest with ourselves and with each other. Let me just say.... there was a lot of Kleenix being passed around.
-from my notes
One our first day, we were encouraged to speak in paradox. For example,
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.The pain of what it costs to be in Africa (or any other foreign land) - and the joy of seeing God work - reside in the same heart at the same time. Allowing the seemingly contradictory statements to reside side-by-side, without weakening one or the other, is an essential goal in debriefing.
Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities
People tend to applaud the good things, but not see the bad... and yet God gives both.
A general paradox that we 100% related to was -
In the foreign country/culture where I live and serve, I have a feeling of belonging.We agreed that within a period of one short hour, we can move from hate to love regarding our host culture (the country to which God has called us). We also agreed that only because we have the confidence it's God's will that we live and serve in a foreign culture... are we able to go back.
In the foreign country/culture where I live and serve, I will never fully fit in.
One of my paradoxes was -
My last field-stay was very satisfying and I had a sense of God's call on my life.
My last field-stay was difficult and, at times, quite disillusioning.
We shared about the many losses we experience and also the many issues that cause stress living and interacting cross-culturally. We discussed self-care and other healthy ways to deal with those factors. We were taught methods to avoid burnout.
If I act on my deep longing to become more connected to my God and my true inner self, it may make me more inaccessible to others... even those I'm called to serve.
Jesus modeled both public ministry and private retreat. As his disciples, we are called to lay down our lives, to give ourselves away, and to serve. Yet God has also designed us for rest, renewal, and practicing the Sabbath. The epidemic among those in full-time ministry is vast and long-term spiritual dryness aggravated by life imbalances, particularly in the areas of rest and renewal.
- MTI's De-Brief and Renewal packet
We were given thought-provoking questions to ponder and answer -
- How does God want to live during my next field-stay?
- Is my spirituality sufficient for my vocation?
- Is the texture of my walk with God such that I can be what my family members need? My friends? My ministry relationships?
- What fresh, soul-shaping spiritual practices do I want to develop?
Your mind and body were designed for 'camel speed'. Instead, your life is moving at the speed of a cheetah.
-Archibald Hart, Anxiety Cure
We were taught that it's easy just to exist, but that flourishing is on a whole other level. We can't give out to others... unless we're flourishing.
When life moves uphill and we're strained, we mutter under our breath and complain. Instead, we must maintain an environment of flourishing.
I must fight to practice the Sabbath - one day in seven - to simply rest and sit at the Lord's feet. Good intentions will lead me nowhere.
Being focused and living an intentional life goes against the culture of this modern era in which we live. But I must go against the flow and follow the example of Jesus. He often stepped away from the crowds and the noise.
I must do so, as well!
Jesus says, “Come to Me.”
That is the place to meet Jesus.
“All you who labor and are heavy laden...”
And how many missionaries are heavy laden?!
We completely dismiss these wonderful words of the universal Sovereign of the world,
but they are the words of Jesus to His disciples meant for here and now.
-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest