September 2, 2015

Living in the shalom of God

Written by  Sherill Hostetter
EMM personnel engage in a little “stress relief” at a 2012 workers’ retreat in Europe. From left to right: Bob Phillips, Amos Stoltzfus, Alan Wert, Carol Wert, Stacy Nofziger, and Miriam*. Sherill Hostetter is in the background. EMM personnel engage in a little “stress relief” at a 2012 workers’ retreat in Europe. From left to right: Bob Phillips, Amos Stoltzfus, Alan Wert, Carol Wert, Stacy Nofziger, and Miriam*. Sherill Hostetter is in the background. Photo by Kevin Ruhf. *sensitivity concerns

This article appears in the September/October 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.
Well-being. One of EMM’s core values. What is it? Where does it come from? Is a person’s sense of well-being determined by a situation, personality, outlook on life, or level of physical, emotional, or spiritual health?

Well-being comes from embracing the shalom of God. The word shalom is a rich, biblical word meaning salvation, justice, and peace. It also means well-being, wholeness, integrity, abundance, right relationships, and harmony.

Jesus taught that the entire Old Testament law could be reduced to two basic actions — “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” — that leads to shalom, or wholeness of body, mind, and spirit.

Jesus modeled, and called His followers to, the vulnerability of abandonment to loving God and neighbor. His power for loving God and neighbor did not come from the strength of His “strategies.” His power came from living in the overflowing love and compassion of His Father.

So how does a mission worker maintain well-being or shalom? By opening himself or herself to the grace and love of Christ on a daily basis. The “messenger” must be in loving relationship with Christ to effectively share Christ’s message. Being in right relationship with Christ matters as much as doing good deeds for Christ.

A letter of Christ

When Darrel and I served with EMM in Swaziland from 1983 – 1994, we worked under the supervision of a Swazi Indigenous Church Bible School board that had asked us to come and offer leadership training. We tried not to be the Westerners who did their own thing or told the board what to do — we were intent on listening to their desires for our engagement.

But there was a time when the board seemed so dysfunctional that it was almost nonexistent. We wondered why we were in Swaziland, and why we should stay. During a time of listening prayer, Darrel received a Scripture reference. So, we looked it up.

“You are a letter, written on hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2,3, ESV).

We sensed that we were focusing on what we were to “do” to ensure that we were faithful and obedient in leadership training. But God was reminding us that we were to “be” a letter of Christ to those we had come to serve, that our lives were being read by all.

We took this message seriously. We focused on our own well-being, both personally and within our marriage. We also began to focus more on one-on-one relationships in addition to classes. Darrel visited leaders in their homes, no matter how difficult it was to travel there. We desired and prayed that our home could be a sacred, hospitable shelter for others; a place for others to receive and experience God’s love and healing for them.

When it was time to say goodbye in 1994, we did not hear so much about what we had taught in seminars or classes as about what our Swazi brothers and sisters had learned from who we were, how we operated as a married couple, how we parented, and what they learned of God and Scripture while being in our home, or when Darrel was visiting them in their homes.

Our Swazi father used some of Paul’s words during our farewell gathering. He said that “we were determined to share with them, not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). To share with others out of wholeness, well-being must be one of our core values.

The well-being of workers

So how do we at EMM help to ensure the well-being of our mission workers?

During initial interviews, we ask candidates to tell us about their beliefs and practice of well-being. We also ask them about their theology of suffering. Do they believe that God will protect them from all suffering while overseas?

During World Missions Institute, we ask workers in training to name the spiritual practices that nurture their souls, and to develop a plan for maximizing their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being while living overseas.

We also teach on the importance of keeping the Sabbath, and how to nurture resiliency skills. We discuss cross-cultural conflict and tools for embracing conflict as an opportunity to deepen relationships. We teach physical safety precautions, and help workers learn risk management in their decision-making.

Given the risks of political upheaval, violence, racial and or ethnic clashes, robberies, car hijackings, sexual assaults, and even kidnapping, we at EMM cannot be responsible for preventing suffering for our workers. But we do take responsibility for walking with our workers in times of crisis. We offer debriefings after critical incidents in order to help persons lament and express their feelings and thoughts. And we walk with them in the grief and loss involved in any difficult situation.

The power of suffering love

Just as in Jesus’ life, God's power in the world today may be most evident through suffering love. This kind of love is not easy for us to embrace. Peter rebuked Jesus when Jesus spoke about going through suffering, but then later wrote that we should rejoice in being able to share in Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:13).

We help workers come to find the presence of God more comforting than answers to the “why” questions that usually accompany suffering. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 5 that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Death, pain, and suffering are not the final word in life because Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection!” So we live in the hope of Christ, who makes all things new.

For many EMM workers, well-being is more about learning to live in a peaceful, holistic manner within a stressful environment than trying to find a low-stress lifestyle. In this, they join many national Christians around the globe who are seeking well-being within difficult political environments that are often laced with the risk of persecution.

Whether we find ourselves in the midst of lots of stress and suffering, or little, may God help us all to experience greater well-being — a deeper reality of shalom — in our lives!

Sherill Hostetter serves as co-director of Human Resources at EMM, a role in which she provides much well-being care to EMM workers around the world.

This article appears in the September/October 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.