“Being in Canada does not make someone’s global ministry illegitimate. Much can be done from Canada to further the mission and make the most of the global worker’s relational capital.”
We no longer live in the age when missionaries would purchase one-way boat tickets and pack their belongings in their own casket. Nowadays, travelling back from the field for a short trip is easier than ever, so the traditional one-year furlough after four years on the field is giving way to shorter but more frequent trips, now more aptly named “Home Missions Assignments” (HMAs). In addition to the increased frequency of routine HMAs, there are many other valid reasons why global workers make trips back to Canada. Health issues, urgent fundraising, paperwork complications (including work visa or residency refusals), and family crises all play their part.
Once home, sometimes a quick turnaround is not possible. Global workers can find their return overseas delayed for longer than expected for a wide range of reasons. It can be an elusive diagnosis or a treatment plan that takes time (especially when considering the weeks of waiting often required before seeing a medical specialist). It can be fundraising that ends up spanning several months or the slow process of resolving a complicated family issue. It can be a visa application to a foreign government that necessitates plenty of waiting or wading through red tape.
No matter the reason, being stuck is not nice. OK, that’s an understatement. My family is presently in such a season, and I detest it. It is fraught with frustration. Trying to live in flux, surviving on a budget built for use overseas, contending with the irreconcilable reality of having a passion for one’s calling without the opportunity to completely apply oneself, dealing with reverse culture shock, wrestling with questions related to faith and one’s future—all band together to create the perfect storm. Living with this reality helps me relate to what the disciples said to Jesus as they were doing the very mundane task of crossing the Sea of Galilee: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38b, NKJV). The disciples were ready to handle the crowds, the sly religious leaders, the formidable Romans, and various responsibilities as one of Jesus’ inner circle. But it was the relatively simple task of crossing the lake that made them cry out in fear of perishing. For the disciples, many of them seasoned fishermen, the crossing should have been simple—except for the fact that a storm sprang up. As a global worker, I would much rather face the challenges of ministry in a foreign land than have to be stuck with what seems like a mundane but essential task in Canada—especially when it is accompanied by such a storm of emotions and frustrations.
In the biblical account, I love Jesus’ action of hushing the storm. Yet it is Jesus’ pointed remarks directed at the disciples that challenge me most. In the quietness after the storm, He asks, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40, NASB). It wasn’t Jesus’ calming of the storm that exemplified the faith that He saw lacking in His disciples. The rebuking of the wind and the hushing of the sea were more of a concession to the disciples’ fervent fear. Jesus modelled faith by simply sleeping on a cushion in the stern of the boat in the midst of the storm. The ideal image of faith is peace in the midst of the storm. That is a greater challenge to me than mustering up the faith to rebuke the wind. It requires great faith to trust the God we serve in mission to walk us through the mundane and the frustrations of an unwanted season in Canada.
In addition to a faith that fosters peace in the storm, relationship with others is essential to navigating what often seems like the uncharted waters of being stuck locally. Global workers must choose to press into relationship with leaders and supporters rather than give in to the tendency to isolate themselves. Intrinsic to the very structure required to send global workers are supportive relationships. Prayer support, logistical support, financial support, and accountability to leadership are standard relationships for global workers, yet living overseas often fosters independence that makes receiving support when back in Canada difficult. These individuals and churches have a part to play in the journey, and no less so when the extraordinary or the mundane keeps global workers from returning to the field. But the shame of being in Canada when “we’re supposed to be overseas” can dissuade a global worker from being comfortable with even sharing details about the situation, especially when it seems out of their control. Ideally, relationships have been fostered so that global workers feel safe to open up about the challenges and frustrations they face when stuck. All things being equal, their vulnerability will elicit support and encouragement.
One potential pitfall is to focus on finances rather than relationship. Global workers and supporters alike would certainly place a higher value on people and their divine calling than on finances, but in actual fact, financial support (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) often drives the decisions. Repeatedly, financial support for global workers who have to stay in Canada beyond their official HMA becomes a point of tension. Here are some principles to keep in mind as global workers and supporters navigate extended time in Canada together in relationship:
- Remember that we are on the same team. Global workers, their leaders (to whom they are accountable), and their supporters do not want to see the global worker stuck, but desire to see them fulfilling their calling. So focus on the issues at hand. Pray, believe and work together within the leadership structure.
- Make principle-based decisions. The application of “Love your neighbour as yourself” is not suspended in this circumstance, but is rather appropriately applicable. Allow the values we hold dear of relationship, faith, and God’s sovereignty to guide our actions and decisions.
- Being in Canada does not make someone’s global ministry illegitimate. Much can be done from Canada to further the mission and make the most of the global worker’s relational capital. Skype, email, and easy travel can facilitate creative means of fulfilling the mandate even while residing in Canada for a season. In addition, there is plenty of opportunity to minister into the Canadian context and develop missions and a deeper connection with the global church.
- When it comes to decisions about financial support, instead of taking a “we’re paying you to be overseas” approach, it would be better to adopt a kingdom approach. Supporting global workers in the calling Jesus has given them—remembering that He is not only the head of the church, but also the One who is able to perform the miracles and open the doors required for the mission to be accomplished—will likely require great patience, flexibility and faith.
- Even if the end result is the transition for the global worker back into a long-term Canadian context, it is the support and encouragement along the way that model the Christlikeness for which we strive.
In hardship, our character is tested. Out of hardship, a great testimony can be birthed. As we continue to be moved with compassion for the people of this world who have not yet heard that Jesus died for them, we will face many challenges. If that trial includes an extended stay in Canada, may our faith give us peace in the storm, and may our love for each other be a testimony as we pray, believe and journey forward together.
This global worker and his family have been ministering in restricted access nations over the past nine years. They are currently in Canada until they can return to their ministry among Muslims. Please pray that they would know God's peace, provision and favour during this season.