A man’s perspective on rest, healing, and renewal (plus a discount on a men’s retreat!)

by Sean

I was 42 years old and had been serving internationally for nearly 20 years before I took a break.  I don’t know how I made it that long. But I know that I just barely did.

I don’t mean I didn’t take a vacation or time off work during a holiday–those breaks came and went over the years.  But, those times still left me mostly in charge: managing activities for the family or coordinating travel itineraries.  Or, more often, facilitating workshops and speaking at our large staff “retreats.” You know–the kind where you’re meant to be relaxing in nature and enjoying time away from the hustle and bustle of ministry–but somehow still on the clock?   

No, I mean the kind of break where you just show up, unplug, and stop serving others.  

Oof!  Honestly, that last statement would have felt like sacrilege to me a couple years ago.  I’m a missionary, for goodness sake. And a ministry leader on top of that. Serving is what I’m called to do.  

To make things worse, after decades at this pace, terms like rest and healing and renewal were fluffy words I associated with weakness, not the man I wanted to be.  Today I look back and wonder, how unhealthy had I really become?  

Maybe better put, how prideful had I become?

In 2017, our lives all but fell apart when we were faced with a mental health crisis for one of our six kids. We were living in Africa and helping grow a global organization.  We were experienced cross-cultural workers and had weathered quite a lot already. For so many years our marriage, our family, our ministry, and our faith had somehow been enough.  

This was different.  We found ourselves asking questions we never had like “How are we going to make it through this and not lose hope?”  And even more alarming questions we never imagined we would ask, like “Where is God?” and “Why has he lead us to a life on the field, only to abandon us on the streets of Nairobi while the hyenas wait for nightfall to come and rip us apart?”  The heartache was so deep and the fog of confusion so thick, we could barely remember what called us there in the first place.

Our story, through tragedy, has brought us to a place of redemption today, but it includes hospitalization and rehab and intensive counseling.  I can hardly believe it now, but we celebrate it all.  

I was shaken as a man and broken as a leader.  At some point, I was forced to stop serving and just focus on recovering.  As our family was rebuilding, my wife gave me a gift. She blessed me to go to a retreat just for men living and working cross-culturally.  

Perhaps for the first time, I gave myself permission to invest in my own soul.  

Over the course of the week, I met with a Christian counselor and processed some trauma and unresolved grief.  A whole team of professionals (counselors, coaches, pastoral care providers, financial advisors, doctors, the list goes on…) were there at my disposal.  They’d come on their own dime, and not representing any particular team or organization.  

And I wasn’t in charge of anything! 

I prayed.  I think I felt something like Jesus must have when he would get away from the crowd to be alone or with the father.  I met other guys who were just like me–husbands and dads and brothers–allowing themselves to stop for a much-needed moment and decompress.  

But, as restful as it was, that’s not even the best part.  As God was healing me, I was remembering… my calling.

I returned home with renewed vision for the relationships in my life, perspective on ministry and leadership, and confidence that God was still with us.  He had been through it all.

My experience was transformational, in the truest sense of the word.  In fact, it was so profound that I went back to the retreat the next year.  Though I was no longer in crisis, my encounters with God the second time around were equally life-changing.

I regret not doing this sooner. I hope my story inspires you to take real breaks that God will use to remind you of your calling, refresh your soul, and refuel you for the journey ahead.  I was misguided by my own thinking for too long about where the strength would come from to fulfill my mission to serve.  

These days, I’m embracing my weakness and desperate need for this kind of recharge.   And, I’m not the only one. My wife and kids, teammates, and the very people I serve see and feel the changes too. 

I’m convinced that building this type of pause into my rhythm is going to help keep me healthy so my family and I can stay fruitful and have long-term impact.  I shouldn’t wait until the next crisis comes along to give myself the grace to pursue rest, healing and renewal. Neither should you. 

Momentum Men’s Conference was created so guys who are global workers can have neutral, unbiased input from professionals into their lives–with no strings attached.  I know first-hand how important this is in order to have personal and ministry vibrancy with each passing year on the field. 

If you have men in your life serving cross-culturally, and they’re anything like me, they probably won’t sign up for a retreat like this unless you first give them the blessing to do so.  You can help get them there by clicking this link.  Type in “A LIFE OVERSEAS” in the discount code section and Field Life will give you $200 off the final price.

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Sean and his wife Celia have spent nearly 20 years in cross-cultural mission. They have lead small frontier teams, given national leadership to a large global mission organization in East Asia, and helped build a ministry in Africa before co-founding Field Life. Now serving in their fifth country, Sean and Celia live in Southeast Asia with four of their six children (two in university).

Misogyny in Missions {part 2}

by Tanya Crossman

I love writers who get me thinking – whose words promote discussion and exchange of ideas. I often have that reaction to Jonathan’s writing, and his thoughts on the “Billy Graham Rule” (and the thoughts in the post he referenced) definitely stirred a lot of ideas in me, reflecting both on Scripture and on how this works out in practice – especially as a single woman in ministry.

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“All things are permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:29)

This is a great guideline for Christian behaviour. Just because I have the freedom to do anything does not mean I should use that freedom to sin, or cause others to sin. In regard to gender separation, some people would argue that the BGR (Billy Graham Rule) is a small sacrifice in order to protect a greater good. Sure, I could have lunch with my opposite-gender coworker, but it’s a simple thing to not do, in order to protect my reputation/purity/spouse/ministry/whatever. The problem I have with this idea is that it implies (or even says outright) that cross-gender friendships are not beneficial. I realise that some cultures do have strict taboos, but theologically I take issue with making this part of Christian culture. Humanity, male and female together, was made in the image of God – we need each other in order to have full expression of our God-reflection.

We desperately need this full expression in the church. Too often in the church women don’t advance or have their voices heard because no one in power will talk to/meet with/befriend them – for the sake of propriety. If we limit cross-gender working relationships, our churches will lack the insight single women have to give. As a single woman in ministry I met one-on-one with pastors and bosses and coworkers – most of whom were men, and often married. If my male coworkers had time with the pastor we all worked under but I didn’t, that would have spoken volumes about my value/worth as an employee – or my relative lack of it.

It is possible to do this well, with integrity, without restricting the access and influence of women. Our meetings weren’t secret. We usually met in public (lots of cafes!) during business hours – part of the work day. In most cases I knew their wives well and we socialised together outside work. When single coworkers married I usually got to know their wives and they became part of my social circle. While I had less time with the pastors, given that they did not have an intimate mentoring role in my life (though often their wives did invest in me more deeply), I still felt very valued and heard, and one-on-one time was an important part of that.

“Reject all appearance of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:22)

A big reason given for BGR type restrictions is to “avoid the appearance of evil” as a Biblical command – but that’s not what the Bible says. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to reject all kinds of evil – “appearance” was a mistranslation which has been corrected. But even if we accept the “appearance of evil” translation, what is it about cross-gender friendship that we think looks evil? What is wrong about a man and woman having a conversation, or a meal? If I lack the ability to recognise innocent (and beneficial!) friendship, the problem is in my own mind and heart.

Many times Christian friends have told me sincerely that a man and woman cannot be close friends without at least one of them developing “feelings” for the other. That isn’t true in my experience, certainly not as a blanket rule. Sure, there is a place for wisdom – and Jonathan’s call to honesty is crucial – but there is nothing inherently evil about a cross-gender friendship! A man and woman talking together are not on the precipice of potential sin. And where does this leave our same-sex-attracted brothers and sisters? This seems to tell them they can’t have friendship at all – not just no romantic attachment, no family life in their future, but no close friends. What a horrible, isolating message. We are built for intimacy – and when we reduce intimacy to sex, we all lose.

I realise that concern with “appearance” is often connected to protection from false accusation – if everyone knows I never spend time with someone of the opposite gender, they won’t believe a false rumor should it crop up. I actually went through a period of extreme caution around any one-on-one time with men, in response to a specific “threat” – a former leader in the ministry spreading slander alleging impropriety among the remaining leadership. In this case there was a clear “danger” of false accusation and guarding against that protected a vulnerable ministry. I relaxed my extreme precautions when the threat was over. The problem with this as an all-the-time precaution is it does nothing to address issues of mind and heart – it only addresses how others see me. There is a dangerous sense of safety in being a “whitewashed tomb” – but if my heart is clean and honesty keeps me accountable, there is no need for legalistic rules that don’t fix anything.

Strict BGR restrictions can actually fan the flames of heart issues. If I buy into the appearance-of-evil thing, that it is somehow potentially sinful for a man and woman to spend time together, I will look at any interaction with suspicion. It may stroke my ego – that this person has something else on their mind when they look at/talk to/think about me. It may stoke my paranoia – that this person may be dangerous to me, may want something from me. It may stir gossip – that the two people I see talking must be doing something more in private. In each case, it makes me feel wary of cross-gender friendship – I can’t trust people, as they may be snares, predators, or deceitful. Instead of encouraging healthy relationships within the church, such separation and legalism encourages suspicion and gossip.

“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

Sometimes we as the church just need to calm down – enjoy healthy friendships and be family to one another without making a fuss about it. As a single woman I have become annoyed on multiple occasions at assumptions made (and gossip spread) by and among church people. If a man and woman are seen having coffee, suddenly people are talking about them and whispering that they’re an item. We can’t see two people together without making huge leaps, big assumptions. Why is that? Why do we assume that if a man and a woman are talking, there is something “going on”? Can’t two people having lunch be, you know, eating? Yes, we all know of situations in which there was something nefarious going on, but the problem wasn’t in public – it was in private.

One issue I have with this sort of gossip is that it can push what should be a healthy friendship underground – if meeting publicly occasions gossip, is it better to meet privately? But as Jonathan pointed out, secrets are a bigger problem. And imagine what this does to dating – it’s impossible to get to know someone without the whole community being engaged, watching with bated breath, making it much more pressured. Community involvement in a relationship is good – but until there is commitment, let’s leave space for healthy and innocent friendship.

A note about abuse

I know many women who have a paranoia response as a reaction to past abuse – and far too many women have experienced abusive, misogynistic or exploitative treatment. This is an important reason that the church needs to demonstrate healthy relationships between men and women. We need to know – and show our children – what this looks like! I need to see what healthy interaction looks like (both in and out of romantic relationships) so I can identify unhealthy/abusive interaction when I see it. Radical separation of genders can leave people more open to abuse. We learn that certain people are/aren’t safe, rather than certain types of behaviour/interaction are improper. I think it can also play into the sense of entitlement connected with rape culture – all women are sexually “dangerous” and therefore any woman who gives me a little of her time must be “up for it.”

“Don’t cause another to stumble.” (Matt 5:29-30, Matt 18:6-9, Rom 14:20, 1 Cor 10:31-32)

This concept appears several times in the New Testament, in the words of Jesus and the writings of Paul. There are two concepts – to prevent oneself from stumbling, and to protect others from stumbling. To prevent myself from stumbling, Jesus advocates radically removing from myself that which is a problem. If I have trouble being in a room with another person without seeing opportunity for sin, the problem is not the other person – it is my own heart. I need heart surgery, not to remove the so-called “opportunity”. Removing the opportunity does nothing to address the problem.

Paul depicts believers with different convictions in fellowship with one another, neither group needing to be “corrected”. So while I disagree with the need for strict gender separation, and will happily engage in respectful discussion about this practice, I will also do my best to respect the consciences of those I interact with. If a couple has decided between them that they will not be alone with a member of the opposite gender, I will not seek to break their trust.

Conclusion

I think strict BGR behaviour stirs fear, lack of trust, and assumptions about the thoughts/motives of others. I also think it means we miss out on full and free fellowship – we lack what the other half of our community has to offer. There are great benefits to cross-gender friendships which we lose when we create legalistic rules as a huge buffer from actual sin. Instead, wouldn’t it be great if we all cultivated healthy friendships with each other? Let’s practice being family to one another, with innocence and purity, calling out the best in one another.

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TC_headshot-sqTanya Crossman went to China to study for a year and ended up there 11 years, working for international churches and mentoring Third Culture Kids (her book about TCKs will be released later this year). She currently lives in Australia studying toward a Master of Divinity degree at SMBC. She enjoys stories, sunshine, Chinese food and Australian chocolate. | www.misunderstood-book.com | facebook: misunderstoodTCK | twitter: tanyaTCK

Misogyny in Missions

Ladies Who Lunch – With Men

That’s the name of an article I shared on Facebook recently, not knowing it would unleash a torrent of opinion. How should men and women interact? If they work together, what sort of rules should we put around their interaction? How do we safeguard marriages while treating women with respect?

Do our rules surrounding male-female interaction demean women?

It was an interesting discussion, and one that I think our community needs to have.

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Women as Traps
Are men and women who aren’t married to each other allowed to meet together? Ride in cars together? Be in the office alone together? If we allow those types of things, is an affair inevitable?

The author of “Ladies Who Lunch” references The Billy Graham Rule. She says, The ‘rule’ goes something like this: to avoid temptation, or the appearance thereof, it has been said that Billy Graham never meets with a woman alone. Graham has done his best to avoid solo encounters with females—whether over lunch, prayer, dinner, a meeting, or any other occasion.”

Many churches and missions agencies have similar rules and policies, and I believe they’ve typically been enacted with good intentions and without malevolence. However, I believe there are problems with strict enforcement, least of which is that it misses the heart of the matter entirely, treating women as traps.

These types of rules, broadly applied, end up sexualizing every woman I meet, dehumanizing her and turning her into an existential threat to my marriage. An illicit liaison waiting to happen. That, to me, is simply untenable.

Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, Josh Duggar, all had VERY STRICT rules surrounding their interactions with women. Or at least that’s what it looked like.

The thing is, moral purity cannot be created through rules. And frankly, rules provide much less protection than we think while objectifying women more than we think.

These rules have been made by men for men. And typically, the conversations are filled with male voices. I’d love to hear from the women. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. 

 

Culturally Sensitive?
Perhaps some of these policies are the result of cultural sensitivity. Great. There’s certainly a place for that.
Perhaps the driving force is our fear of false accusations. OK, we can talk about that.
Or perhaps the rules exist because deep down, to the core, we believe that women are scary.

Well, I’m not really ok with that.

Protecting marriages is a great thing. Recognizing the great risk of moral failure is wise. But when that slips into discouraging men from having normal and healthy friendships with women, we’re in dangerous territory, and we end up robbing our communities of something both the men and the women need; healthy relationships with one another!

The difference is subtle, but just because something is hard to see doesn’t mean it’s not there.

 

Objectification Much?
Do our rules actually end up objectifying women? Often, I think the answer is YES.

Now, if you’re a guy and you don’t like what I’m saying, can I ask you a question? Do you watch porn? Do you watch movies or shows that objectify women?

Using women in private and then piously protecting yourself from them in public seems a bit disingenuous. Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private. Deal with your own stuff.

My wife experienced this in a local church before we met. Strict rules, with high levels of outward purity. And a respected leader who abused girls. He’s still a leader.

I experienced it too. Charismatic leader, courtship culture, very restrictive purity rules, and a leader who’s now been accused of sexually molesting scores of young women. He’s still a leader.

I’m NOT saying that every guy that disagrees with me on this has a porn problem or is an abuser. It’s just that I’ve come across too many men with “high standards” in public who hurt women in private. I’m not ok with that, and I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t either.

 

Should we have rules?
Yeah! In Proverbs 5, the young man is warned about the immoral woman. [And I will certainly teach my daughters to take heed and avoid the immoral man!] This is the woman whose lips are “as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil.” This is the woman who “cares nothing about the path to life.”

He is warned: “Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house.”

The caution is to stay away from her door, not all doors. He’s not told to avoid walking by the houses of all women all the time. Just her house. She is dangerous. She’s looking for an affair and she cares nothing about the path to life.

This does not mean that all women are dangerous to him. Or me.

We shouldn’t check our brains at the door and avoid all women. We also shouldn’t check our brains at the door and embrace all women.

 

False Accusations
Strict rules on male-female interaction probably do provide some protection against false accusations, and there’s some value to that. Even so, we seem to be way more concerned with false accusations than Jesus ever was. He let women do stuff to him that REALLY caused a stir and ignited the burning glares of the religious elite.

He didn’t stop her and say “This looks bad. The important men are going to judge me.” No, he saw HER instead of the others. He saw what SHE needed instead of what he needed.

She needed love more than he needed respect.

There are lessons here for us.

 

Our Story
Early on in our marriage, I had to come to terms with the fact that my wife was in a male-dominated university studying engineering with a bunch of guys. She had male lab partners, she studied late on projects with guys; frankly, she was with guys alone a whole lot. I think my thoughts on this are greatly flavored by that experience.

And then, of course, I started studying nursing, which meant I was in a female-dominated world, with female lab partners, studying late on projects, etc. And then I worked as a nurse with a bunch of ladies.

And then, as now, we talked about it. There were no secrets, but there was trust. And it was totally cool.

Nowadays, I do a lot of member care and pastoral counseling, and since women seek out pastoral care too, I often meet with women.

If I’m going to have a meeting with a woman, Elizabeth knows about it. While protecting client confidentiality, I still tell Elizabeth when I’m meeting and where I’m meeting. There’s still trust.

 

Honesty as Protection
If I begin to feel any attraction, even slightly, for another woman, I tell Elizabeth. I name it and say it and steal temptation’s power. The light defuses the darkness.

When I do this, I’m not telling my wife that I’ve fallen in love with another woman; I’m telling her that I don’t want to. I’m acknowledging that there’s some attraction there, but I’m affirming our relationship, and I’m recognizing that in the telling, the temptation’s power is stripped and the threat greatly reduced.

Honesty. Trust.

We had conversations like this when I worked in a local church in America, when I was in nursing school, when I worked at a hospital, and now, when I’m working as a pastoral counselor.

Not talking about it doesn’t make it not exist. It just makes it a secret.

Women are not scary. Secrets are.

Talking about it brings it out into the open, and it also shows Elizabeth that I’m turning my heart towards her. And if I’m constantly turning my heart towards my wife, it’ll be much less likely to turn towards another woman. It’s locked on Elizabeth.

 

Conclusion
Rules are easy to make.

Rules make us feel safe.

Rules are simple to follow.

And rules are terrible at creating emotionally healthy, intimately connected human beings.

What if we spent more time growing intimacy on the inside of our marriages and less time trying to kill the threats on the outside?

What if we worked to develop trust and honesty within more than we fretted about the dangers without?

Sure, it might be scary, and it might be complicated.

But I think it’d also be really, really good.

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Questions
We come from a great variety of cultures and experiences, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A friend of mine commented on my original Facebook post that perhaps this is an American thing. What do you think? Are these types of rules something that Americans are hung up on?

How have you been impacted by these types of rules?

How do we balance the desire to guard against false accusations with the mandate to love people well?

How do we ensure that women on the field (married or single) feel like equal players, with equal access to relationships and opportunities?

 

Further Reading:
Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)

What is a Woman Worth?

A Letter to Singles

I asked a friend of mine to preview an early draft of this article. Her responses were so insightful and her perspective so unique that I asked her if I could publish them. In Misogyny in Missions {part 2}, Tanya Crossman gives us a whole lot to chew on.

Resources For Men Serving Cross-Culturally

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I received the following email from a man I’d met at MTI’s Debriefing and Renewal. Brian, his wife, and I were in the same debriefing group.

I was recently talking to a former missionary friend of mine who was going through some tough times in his re-entry to the States despite the fact that he has landed in a great job and community.  His talk about loneliness stuck out to me and got me thinking a little bit.  Do you know of a ministry like yours that focuses on mentoring, coming alongside and creating community for men throughout their missionary journey?  Any links, suggestions or resources you could pass on would be great.

The “like yours” is referring to Velvet Ashes. I know, and love, that men read the articles written for Velvet Ashes. But since the target audience is women, I also know men aren’t going to feel free to comment and engage in the same way.

This was my response:

You have tapped on something I think is lacking in the mission community — good support for men. So, sadly, no, I don’t know of much. Has he heard of the website Rocky Reentry? Not just for women. Or contacting Barnabas?

AND if it’s any consolation, I’d say that I’m similar to your friend. Good job, good community, but at times lonely. Last spring I started meeting with a spiritual director and that’s been a game changer. I didn’t need counseling, but I did need someone to help me sort out what’s going on in my soul :). So, that might be a suggestion that helps.

*****

My response has stuck with me in the weeks he emailed because it feels, well, so inadequate. I’m thrilled to see all that it blossoming on the web for cross-cultural workers. This summer I was a guest lecture for a class on missions and member care and I shared with them “10 Websites you need to know if you’re interested in Missions and Member Care.” A list I compiled trying to highlight the variety of online resources that exist now and was glad I had. In the classroom students had stacks of books around them. I’m all for books, but my hope was to show the more human, relatable side the internet can provide. Here it is:

  1. Thrive
  2.  A Life Overseas
  3. Taking Route
  4. Velvet Ashes 
  5. Paracletos 
  6. Rocky Re-Entry 
  7. Tending Scattered Wool
  8. Kids Without Borders 
  9. Raising TCKs 
  10. Market to Meal 

What stood out to me then, and I saw reflected in my response to my friend, is how very female heavy these resources are. Oddly, when so much of the world seems to have started out male dominated and has needed to create a space for women to be heard, we seem to be the opposite.

Two things I’d like to say:

  1. You have to start somewhere. I’m not sad or happy it started with women, I’m neutral. What would make me sad, is if it stays female dominated.
  2. As a woman, there could be FAR more resources out there for men than I realize.

Can you help me (us really)? In the comments can you list other resources? Let’s continue to curate lists of resources so that as people ask us if we know of any, we have them to offer. And if the Holy Spirit is stirring in you to start something or get involved somewhere … Go For It!!

Thanks for any resources!