by Carrie Ellis
In February of 2020, I was privileged to serve at a retreat for women with Thrive, a ministry that excels at offering respite and retreat to women serving globally. Finally, my kids were at an age that I felt I could be gone for 10 days on the other side of the world. I was ready and I couldn’t wait to get to Croatia.
On the first day of our orientation, we were asked to rate ourselves on a scale of 1-10 about how knowledgeable we felt about the world of an “M”, (M = ministry) global worker. We use the term “global worker” because some women serve in areas so sensitive that if any tie to the “M” word became connected to them, she and her families’ lives would be at risk. In my mind, and quite pridefully in hindsight, I quickly rated myself as an “8” because I had traveled on numerous short-term trips in my twenties and later, as a mom of young toddlers, led families to build houses in Mexico for a number of years. I had even had three different experiences living cross-culturally for 6 months. I felt fairly competent that I understood their world, experiences, cultural challenges, and joys.
Throughout the week there were moments of surprise. One evening, before the speaker’s presentation, the women were invited to share stories of cultural mishaps. The group laughed as woman after woman shared stories of misunderstandings and blunders, a common bond forming as they realized they were in good company. They felt seen and understood. One woman shared about the time her children were playing on the patio and came in covered in blood they said was raining from the sky. She went outside to learn that their apartment was underneath the goat slaughtering floor.
At one point the speaker talked of having a detailed safety plan and teaching her small toddlers how to count the posts along the frequently traveled road from their house into town in order that they could find the safe places if ever anything were to happen to her. She shared about her work teaching women how to survive an abduction, a common threat for the region in which they serve. My heart ached at the realities that some of these women and families face day-to-day. I also heard stories of parents and families not supporting their “calling”, missing events back home, and feeling alone and misunderstood when they were able to get back and visit. I will never forget the emptiness on their faces as they shared frequent experiences of feeling homeless or the look of despair and helplessness in not being able to admit weaknesses or short failings, out of fear of being sent home by their sponsoring board.
After the participants left, we spent time debriefing as a team in the very room where the participants had poured out their hearts to God and one another. Volunteer after volunteer shared stories of their impact. One touched me most strongly. The volunteer relayed the simple story that a woman in her small group had shared about receiving a simple care package. She described, “as they walked home in the dreary English rain, the woman noted how her soul felt the same as the weather; gray, heavy, dark and weary from the cultural differences, team challenges, and homesickness. Her heavy steps counted out the distance from the post to their home as her two young kids giggled and guessed about the potential contents. As soon as they got in the door, the children chanted, “open it”. They squealed with delight and danced around the room as her hands tore open the package and exposed 3 boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, something they couldn’t get there.” As she shared about the moment, God gripped her heart, as only a mother can know the joy of seeing your children “remembered,” and she felt encouraged to go on.
At the end of our debrief, as I reflected upon the week, I solemnly realized that my previous “8” rating was much, much lower on the scale. I was struck by the disconnect in my mind. Why couldn’t I forget the woman and the macaroni? Gentle conviction rubbed my soul. I mean, if I, a pastor’s wife and an experienced short term “M”, could be so disconnected, what is it like for the rest of the folks in the pews?
I began to imagine what could happen if we really understood the impact we could have and how to fully engage in global work and advancing the Kingdom in a way that resonates with our personal style and family rhythms. How would global workers feel empowered in new ways to live out their calling as we live out ours? I firmly believe, indeed, that we are all called to live out advancing the Kingdom. What if we truly saw our role as vital to the success of the mission? What would it be like if we no longer held global workers up on a pedestal and allowed them aspects of humanness that we may inadvertently deny them?
My prayer is that this journey will challenge you to re-imagine and find your role in putting the CO back into the Great COmission.
Thank you for exploring with us.