I woke up yesterday and realised it was exactly two weeks until we fly out to Tiberias. And I was conflicted: did I jump out of bed and rush around like a headless chicken trying to do everything that still needs doing, or did I simply burrow deeper under the duvet and hide away?
Neither, as it turned out. We had a training day to go to.
When I finished at Old Saint Paul’s in August, and my date for moving to Israel-Palestine kept getting pushed back, I felt a bit frustrated. I really just wanted to get started, to move seamlessly from one ministry position to another. You know, like normal people do. Instead, my diary filled quickly with meetings with people around the Church of Scotland offices. Endless organisational emails flowed back and forth as I tried to sort out meetings with partnering presbyteries. The occasional talk or conference demanded attention and preparation.
I struggled that first week with being in an office, with meetings, with being around people in a different context. It was a hard adjustment moving from parish ministry where, by the time I finished, I had pretty much just been left to get on with things, to feeling like I was having to itemise my time and justify my existence. I’m not sure anyone at 121 George St would have put it quite as starkly as that, but you know what it’s like when you start a new job, right? You want to assure your coworkers that you’re going to pull your weight.
Thankfully I had the insight months ago (after the encouragement from a wise woman in World Mission) to schedule a few days off in the Highlands as a kind of retreat where all I had to do was drink coffee (or wine, depending on the time of day) and stare out at the scenery above, resting in God’s presence. But even that got squeezed a bit in between training sessions.
So in the past fortnight, I’ve been down to Luton and up to Sutherland. I’ve attended security training which thankfully didn’t involve being kidnapped in the middle of the night, but did involve a rather intense simulation exercise in which we were shot at, mugged, detained at a checkpoint, accused of carrying drugs, and then had to save the lives of three people who had been in a horrific road traffic accident (the biggest cause of injury and death amongst aid workers and missionaries, I have learned). There was a huge emphasis on first aid training in the field where professional medical help might be hours — or even days — away. And lots of difficult questions about when to help and when to prioritise one’s own safety. I am much more aware of how I react in high stress scenarios, and Justin and I now (semi) jokingly test one another on the first aid sequences as we’re driving around.
I’ve attended training on conflict and nonviolent communication, which was useful in helping me think through my own response to conflict. (I move towards it — not that anyone who knows me well would be surprised about that!) But I am more aware now about when that might be helpful and when I just need to stay put and keep my mouth shut, temporarily at least. I am also more aware about how conflict impacts me physically.
And this week, we attended excellent training led by HealthLink360, the organisation which did our medical and psychological assessments in the summer. The staff guided us through physical risks and disease awareness, psychological and spiritual stressors, guidelines for work/life balance, ideas about our communication with our partnering churches and presbyteries, and — best of all — an afternoon of contemplative prayer. Silence in the midst of busyness is such a gift.
So, do I feel more prepared after these months of orientation and training? Yes, absolutely. But it’s not just been about the practical preparation. I am grateful that the Church of Scotland has wanted to ensure I am healthy physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually, and that I have the resources available to keep myself that way. I am grateful that parts of the training has been compulsory for Justin, that it was assumed we work as a team, and that he was welcome to access other training voluntarily. It has given us an opportunity to reflect together, to have difficult conversations in safe ways, to encourage one another in what has been a stressful time of transition. And we have had the chance to think about what our roles will be ‘in the field’: I am Mission Partner and Minister, but what does that actually mean, and what does that look like?
Most importantly, perhaps, I have become acutely aware that I am not alone, I am not heading out to Tiberias on my own. I go with the love, the support, the encouragement, the prayer of an even wider network of people now. It is overwhelmingly humbling, and my heart overflows with thanks. Let the countdown begin….