Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5: 11
If someone came to your home and cheerfully presented you with a bag of used tea bags as a gift, I suspect – like me – you’d be taken aback. Whatever your view on the double-use teabag strategy, I doubt it would be your first thought as a gift when you popped round to a neighbour’s for coffee or turned up at someone’s birthday bash.
The mission worker who’d been on the receiving end of this ‘unusual’ gift didn’t bat an eyelid. "Was it all the person could afford?" I asked. "Unlikely," they replied with a smile.
I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of an 'unusual' gift at one time or another but mission workers do seem to take the (stale) biscuit in this area. Like the Christian Worker who was given a giant Bob the Builder doll as a present from a supporter (let’s not even try to work that one out).
So to escape the nightmare of the giant Bob the Builder doll, the Christian Worker takes a night off to visit the cinema only to be spotted by a supporter who is surprised that she is taking a 'night off'. Just as well she wasn’t spotted taking a holiday – that might really have put the cat among the pigeons.
She then decides to pay £1.50 (local rates) to visit the nail bar – a great way to meet some of the local women and get to know them. Again, more raised eyebrows when she mentions it in her newsletter.
I think we’re starting to build a picture here. And it’s a slightly distorted one in which we see people in full-time Christian work being somehow different from the rest of us.
Maybe the givers of the 'unusual' gifts might have been more thoughtful in their choices and picked something that expressed generosity rather than economy. Maybe the eyebrow-raisers could have considered the importance of taking time out to relax and recharge batteries and the lifestyle commentators might have shown interest in the activities rather than making judgements.
It doesn’t just stop there, of course.
Holidays can be a real minefield. We know from evidence that people who don’t take holidays are less productive and more likely to burn out than those who do. We know that businesses regard employees who don’t take time off for holidays to be a ‘liability’ and will make it mandatory to use allocated holiday entitlement. So why would anyone be surprised that Christian Workers need a holiday? Even more concerning is that there are still Christian Workers who feel guilty about taking a holiday or break from work in case their supporters think badly of them.
While this may all be in the mind, it may be helpful for supporters to show an interest in holiday plans, perhaps occasionally making an ad hoc gift specifically for the purpose of ‘doing something for yourself’. In this way, we give the receiver permission and send the message that of course we understand that they appreciate the same considerations as we do.
A large part of our time may be spent working but we also need time with family and friends and to relax and recharge our batteries. This is just as true (and maybe even more so) for anyone in mission. We look after our well-being and care for ourselves with healthy activities, sports, visits to the hairdresser and so on. Again, true for anyone in mission.
Supporting someone’s ministry shouldn’t just be about the highlights that feature in the newsletter, behind the mission is a member of God’s family whom He has called into ministry but who still breathes the same air as the rest of us. What do you appreciate, need or worry about? They will too. Feel tired after a busy week? They will too. Feel blessed when someone gives you a thoughtful gift or genuinely wants to know how you are? They will too.
Ultimately, this is about encouragement of the whole living, breathing, three-dimensional person; not just the work they are called to do. So let’s consign any thoughts of the 'used teabag' variety to the compost heap and find more caring ways to build up our brothers and sisters.