The Mount Horeb Experience

by Martin Lee
Posted on 1st January 2005

When and why times of retreat are important.

Times of retreat are vital for any full-time Christian worker and none more so than for people based overseas, either when returning home on furlough or at the end of an assignment. Spiritual refreshment for those involved in cross-cultural work can often become secondary to the more obvious physical needs and the enormity of the task in hand. Returning home often involves having had to pack up a house, sort out banking, finance, bills, visas and the like, as well as making sure that the pastoral side of the work is adequately taken care of. Add to that the length of journey and jet-lag and often it is as much as anyone can do to be even partly intelligible.

Then comes the re-entry into the home culture and all the re-adjustment involved with just living back in what should be home, but which seems more alien each time the person returns. Coupled with the many people who want to see him or her and the sending churches desire to get 'our missionary' to do a little talk, it is no wonder that disorientation and fatigue can all too quickly take over.

At these pivotal points in life it is vital to prioritise time to rest in God's arms and to seek the same pattern of caring that He demonstrated to Elijah on Mount Horeb as outlined in Marjory Foyle's excellent book 'Honourably Wounded, Stress among Christian workers' (published by Monarch). God's approach was simple and obvious: He got Elijah to stop, really stop, to eat well, to rest and to receive some tender loving care. Then, as Elijah's physical state and ability to concentrate improved, God provided spiritual restoration in the form of a gentle whisper.

Quietness, the ability to rest and the chance to have those physical batteries recharged is paramount. Once the flesh is restored then it is the turn of the spiritual. The battering that a person has had from the change in environment, value systems and relationships mean that a time of peaceful reflection is necessary to readjust to God in those new circumstances and to create new rhythms. Feelings of loneliness, a disruption of the working practices and loss of 'value' are things that have to be countered with a strong dose of the truth, unclouded by busy-ness and worry. Taking what may be considered in other circumstances to be an unnecessarily extravagant time alone with God becomes a necessity, since often quiet times up to then have probably been shorter and interrupted by worries of a much more mundane nature. The luxury of a quiet retreat at the beginning of a home assignment and before a person goes back to overseas are times which should be recommended most strongly.

This being the case, it is vital that any sending agency or church with member care at heart should make it a policy to include just such opportunities as a matter of course. Mission partners who may feel that it is self indulgent or somewhat weak to use up valuable funds in this way should be reassured and persuaded that this is a matter of self preservation. If we are happy to support those who step out in faith to do God's work, we must also be prepared to apply God's pattern of restoration when it is needed. There are many retreat centres that offer good hospitality as well as tranquillity, peace and the chance to soak in the beauty of creation. "Penhurst Retreat Centre in East Sussex is just such an environment. In a beautifully quiet setting and with all meals provided, the missionary has just such a place to retreat to. With a warm welcome awaiting the tired missionary, tranquillity and peace pervade throughout. It is an excellent place in which to recuperate and draw close to God. The chance to join in prayers at the beginning and end of the day mean that the slight awkwardness of a totally silent retreat is mitigated somewhat. An admirable place which I cannot recommend highly enough". Alaric Dunsmore-Rouse, OMF (Japan). These centres are valuable gems that should be sought out and used to their full potential by those who have the welfare of the mission partner at heart.

Martin Lee was the Executive Director of Global Connections for 10 years and serves as Chair of Trustees for Penhurst Retreat Centre, East Sussex.