September 2, 2015

​​More than R&R

Written by  Bethany Umble
Juliana, Kai, and Bethany on the way to Kai's preschool in Phnom Penh. Juliana, Kai, and Bethany on the way to Kai's preschool in Phnom Penh. Photo by Ryan Umble.

This article appears in the September/October 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.
Sabbatical. The mere idea felt like the relief of cool rain after a long, dusty dry season.

As we neared the end of our sixth year on the field in 2014, I was weary and depleted, ready for a break from Cambodia and looking forward to the R & R we were encouraged to take because of EMM’s core value of well-being.
My husband Ryan and I made our lists and dreamed of what our “home leave plus sabbatical” might look like. We anticipated regular, corporate worship in English, catching up with family, friends and supporters, and introducing our three children to more of their passport culture. Once on sabbatical, we planned to take a break from ministry/work with “free time” for spiritual nourishment, reading for personal growth, playing as a family, and resting.

Just before we left Cambodia, a friend spoke prophetically to me during a prayer time together that our sabbatical would be like a pregnancy, that God was going to birth something new and was preparing me to be a new creation after the sabbatical. She declared that God had more for me and more for our whole family. I didn’t know then what her words meant, but during our sabbatical season Jesus spoke to us, shifted our perspective, and began “new things” in our lives. How like Him to surprise us and exceed our expectations!

Struggling to slow down

Our time in the U.S. started with Oasis (a “family reunion meets resourcing retreat” held at Black Rock Retreat for all new and on-home-leave EMM missionaries), and the topic for the week was … Sabbath! It was a wonderful way to kick-start our time, learning more about the importance and practice of Sabbath-keeping, something we hadn’t done very well on the mission field.

As those involved in full-time ministry, we were encouraged to pick a day of rest other than Sunday, and to experiment with ways to meet with God, rest, and play that were life-giving to our whole family. As we began implementing some new ideas, “worship dance parties,” and Lectio Divina readings as a family became highlights of our Sabbath days. Local parks with their abundance of green grass (something we don’t have in Phnom Penh) became special places for celebrating the Creator who welcomes us into relationship and gives gifts of rest and recreation.

During our home leave, the joy of sharing God’s work in Cambodia with supporters and churches, and raising the necessary funds to minister overseas blended with the exhaustion of lots of travel and being out of routine. After a busy four months of traveling and sharing, it was time to start our sabbatical.

I found it took me a long time to slow down enough to be still on the inside. Granted, I was still home schooling our older children and keeping house, so the “free time” I’d dreamed of wasn’t as abundant as I’d imagined! But another obstacle to slowing down was my tendency to fill the downtime I did have with fun projects instead of being in God’s presence.

My question during sabbatical was the same one I had asked at times during weekly Sabbaths: Shall I do fun/playful things I don’t otherwise get to do, or just rest and make time to listen for God’s voice? Recreation and play are great, but without precious time in God’s presence, “play” can become hedonistic and the time more about me than God.

In my struggle to slow down and be still, the Lord graciously spoke to me through the book, Breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life, by Keri Wyatt Kent. I related to the illustration she gave of a frantic person living in a city who thinks that moving to the country (or going on sabbatical, in my case!) will make her less frantic, but finds that the craziness follows her — because it’s internal, not external. In order to rediscover inner peace, I needed to re-fix my eyes on Jesus instead of looking outwardly at circumstances/location and to remember that peace comes from a Person, not a perfect situation (clean house, well-behaved kids, great ministry, lots of free time, etc.).

Hearing from God

Once I started to hear Jesus speak, He just kept speaking! Through a women’s conference speaker, He reminded me that He’s uniquely blessed and called me for a purpose, and hiding my “talents” out of fear or insecurity will have consequences, just like in the parable of the talents. The challenge was timely and specific, and Jesus gently spoke to my heart about fears that kept me from living wholeheartedly for Him.

Then at a whole-family homeschool convention that was spiritually encouraging and educationally inspiring, one workshop caused a paradigm shift for Ryan and me. The speaker, Bob Sjogren, spoke on “Cat and Dog Theology,” comparing the way that cats and dogs approach life and relating that to how we view Jesus. In an over-simplified summary, cats live for themselves while dogs live for their masters.

We reflected on the implications of whether we believe that Jesus died primarily for us or primarily to glorify His Father. I reached the humbling realization that even as a missionary living among a largely unreached people group, I had been more focused on myself, my issues, and doing things in my own strength than on living passionately for God’s glory.

And lastly, through God’s gracious intervention in a friend’s life, we had the opportunity to learn much about spiritual warfare, prayer, and the authority we’ve been given through the blood of Jesus Christ. Our eyes have been opened in new ways to the reality of the darkness around us and the need to walk closely with Jesus.

As a result of all that God did during our sabbatical, we returned to the field more equipped to live into the calling God has for us and newly re-committed to following that call by the power of the Holy Spirit. There truly was a spiritual birthing of new life for me and our whole family, just as my friend had prophesied. We are back in Cambodia changed, enjoying renewed vision, and thankful that the Lord did indeed have more for us than just the R & R we were anticipating. All for His glory! mm

Bethany Umble and her family serve with EMM in Phnom Pehn in leadership development, and student and family ministries.

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