Three times a year the Member Care Team at the Christar Mobilization Center, U.S. hosts RENEW, a five-day retreat for workers on home assignment. I wrote some thoughts for Christar’s blog about how this event gives workers the opportunity to be refreshed, heard, and encouraged. This story was originally posted at https://www.christar.org/blog/renewed-day-by-day/.
“On a scale of 1–10, how excited are you to be here?” our member care director asks the attendees on the first morning of RENEW. Answers to this opening question range from nine (the extroverts who love connecting with colleagues) to three (those who reluctantly show up because it’s sort of required).
Sometimes we on the Member Care team don’t want to be in the room either. Concerns with family, other tasks on our to-do lists, as well as the anticipation of a difficult conversation with a worker can make it hard to be present. However, we welcome the challenge of increasing our numbers by the week’s end, whether for ourselves or our workers.
RENEW is not a conference. It is a restful place to take deep breaths and let down pent up emotions, to be seen and heard. To facilitate that ethos, we put plants in the room, turn off bright overhead lights and hang wall decor. We use couches for debriefing and homes for telling stories and eating meals.
This retreat provides face-to-face contact with workers on home assignment, giving our staff a glimpse of their lives on the field and the highs and lows of their ministries. We are privileged to hear the accounts not told on church stages or shared in public newsletters. We see the tears, the heartache, the betrayal, the trauma of life overseas. But we also witness their joy in serving Jesus, their excitement when someone comes to faith and the pleasure they’ve experienced as they’ve made a home in foreign places.
Our team offers understanding and empathy because we have lived overseas ourselves. We extend grace because we know firsthand that global workers are not super-spiritual. They fail and are sinned against and are often harder on themselves than anyone else.
We practice soul care, modeling engagement balanced with retreat. We give workers opportunities to rest and be refreshed. We pamper them with meals, and with a carefree morning of recreation and fellowship or of massages, haircuts and manicures. Plenty of time to chat with each other and the office staff elicits mutual encouragement.
We also sit in grief. We say out loud and acknowledge the many losses that each worker has experienced—teammates leaving, missed family celebrations, new believers walking away, children at college, parents’ failing health, deaths due to COVID-19. We give them space to process with tissues nearby.
Lastly, we reflect at a local retreat center. Being in nature, alone with God, is a gift that many don’t take, especially moms of small children. Several hours of walking in God’s creation gives space for each worker to hear the Spirit personalize the retreat for them.
Each RENEW is a unique cross section of workers from numerous fields. These seemingly random groups (a first-termer and one near retirement, workers serving among Hindus and Muslim, singles and marrieds, young parents and empty nesters, men and women) allow for old friends to reunite and new relationships to be made. God always takes the “random” group and clearly shows why He brought them together for this retreat. For instance, those who have seen little fruit are encouraged as they learn what the Lord is doing in another part of the world, while those who have served decades exhort the newbie. The one getting ready to retire is celebrated by all.
We come to serve our workers on home assignment. We laugh, we cry, we eat, we worship. We know we’ve achieved our goal when we hear, “My number is now a 10! I came tired and worn out. I leave renewed.”
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.2 Corinthians 4:16–17 NIV