UNOH Pastor, Melbourne, Australia
An invitation to ….. open, explore, wonder, imagine, pray. This is the way that UNOH workers are invited to commence a day of retreat, a day of solitude and silence, a day of prayer and discernment. Retreat days have become part of the rhythm of UNOH international, regional and team gatherings. It has been my privilege to have led a number of retreat days for UNOH, and I affirm the commitment that UNOH leaders and workers have shown in scheduling such days into the rhythm of their life.
Retreat times provide the opportunity to reflect on what has been happening in a worker’s life, and discern where God might be leading. They provide a balance to the intense involvement that happens when mission in local neighbourhoods is taken seriously.
Questions are open-ended and stimulate deeper reflection on activity. What are you noticing around you, during your retreat time – sounds, sights, images? How are you encountering Christ in your life? How are you encountering Christ in your neighbourhood? Where are you exercising soul care and reflective practice? What is the challenge for you in the next season?
Recently in the beautiful setting of Jells Park, Wheelers Hill, the Melbourne UNOH team held a retreat day early in the Spring season. Reflections were shared after several hours of walking, sitting and contemplating a season of new life bursting forth. In the northern hemisphere, Spring coincides with Easter – death, burial and resurrection. We talked about how that cycle is a common experience in our lives. The discipline of drawing aside from the usual daily and weekly schedule for a few hours enables thoughts and experiences to rise to the surface.
‘When we stop for quiet reflection, we begin to see that one of the major problems we have in listening to the heart of our spiritual self is that the world’s anxious voices have drowned out the seemingly little voice of God that speaks of justice, mercy and humility.’ (make this a pop-out quote). On the retreat day, the voice of God was able to be heard, inviting workers to lay down the burdens they were carrying at the Cross during a time of communion.
When making decisions, UNOH workers have realised that providing reflective space – after discussion and before a decision is made – allows time to consider the views that have been presented and to seek wisdom, sensing what is best for all. Time is needed to sift all the aspects that have been discussed, and to listen deeply to what God might be saying through others, and through one’s own experience.
On a recent visit to the UNOH team in Bangkok, I was walking back to the UNOH home in Klong Toey where I was staying and decided to call in and see one of the UNOH workers. It was an unplanned visit and I felt pleased to be able to respond to a spontaneous inclination, simply because I was there. It was a timely visit during which we were able to share heart-to-heart about what has happening in family, life, ministry and neighbourhood. We prayed together at the end of the visit, both of us feeling that it had been a ‘God moment’.
In times of change, transition and uncertainty, the purpose and direction of mission work can seem unclear. There are UNOH workers who are going into a sabbatical time now and in the next few months. A UNOH sabbatical is designed for workers after they have served for several years to rest, recover and reflect on the past years of ministry, and to discern whether to commit to a further term of ministry with UNOH. It is rare for a UNOH worker to know definitively what their decision will be about extending their commitment, prior to taking time to review and reflect on their call. It is a time of honesty about what is energising and life-giving, and what is life-draining.
Stepping back from the intensity of life in mission provides space for different rhythms, interests, connections with people and time for healing and renewal. Motivations and drivers can be identified, which is an important part of the process of allowing the deeper voice of the soul to be heard.
Part of my role as Pastor includes being a guide for workers as they take their sabbatical time, encouraging them to make sure they have times of rest and recreation, before re-connecting with the process of discerning God’s guidance to them about their vocation. An important aspect of discernment is providing a way for trusted people (UNOH and non-UNOH people) to share insights, questions, prayers, words from God or wisdom that they might have for a worker who is taking a sabbatical to consider. Decisions in discernment are usually not made in isolation from a community of people who know a worker and who have committed to support and pray for them.
In times of discernment, the voice of God rarely comes as a thunderbolt, but rather as a gentle whisper nudging our souls into a particular direction. But the outcome of obedience to this voice is far from small. Significant decisions are made in these times which will shape the person for years to come, and have a Kingdom influence on many.
I encourage you to pray for UNOH workers in this season, and particularly those who are discerning their future, that all may have the courage to face their fears, their vulnerabilities and their uncertainties, knowing that the still, small voice of God will be their guide for discernment and for decision.