Keep the Light Burning

By Rachel Greco

Burnout. Like a star that burns brilliantly for years but then flickers and snuffs out, many mission workers’ lights threaten to extinguish due to the stresses in their lives and cross-cultural relationships.  

Bryan Friesen, the director of Learning and Development at JAARS, and his coworkers lead Spiritual Relational Vitality (SRV) events around the world for Bible translation partners. “The purpose of SRV is to serve our partners in strengthening their spiritual and relational vitality in a cross-cultural setting,” Bryan explains.

Some of the SRV Staff-Stacy Wyse, Marty Barkey, and Bryan Friesen

The SRV team tailors their events to suit the needs of the people they serve—needs like team-building, forgiveness, identity, or idols of the heart. Oftentimes the team and participants discuss cultural differences. “In the Bible translation movement,” Bryan says, “just about every place you go, there could be 8 to 10 cultures represented on a team of 14 people.”

Many unique cultures and nationalities conversing together

Recently Bryan and his team spent a day with a small Bible translation team whose members came from many different backgrounds. They discussed some of the common cross-cultural issues that arise, and the steps they can take as a team to address some of these issues to create their own unique team culture. These concerns could be complicated cultural difficulties such as processes for making group decisions, leadership styles, or conflict resolution.  Or, simpler issues like: “In the morning, when you walk in, how do you greet each other? Do you say hi? Do you not say hi?” Such nuances can be awkward when you don’t know what is normal in someone else’s culture, so just having a conversation with each other can help.

Prayers of dedication at the Close of the team-building workshop

After the SRV event, one person from this group said, “I could have made less mistakes if I had this information when I came to [this country].”

In organizations and cultures focused on doing as much as possible as fast as possible, it’s easy to forget the wisdom of verses like John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing” and attempt to do everything yourself until your light flickers out.

Bryan understands this mentality. He and his wife, Felicia, spent 17 years serving in the Philippines.

“Near the end of our second term we were near burnout,” Bryan shares. “My wife had a couple of miscarriages, and there were a lot of changes.” The family returned to the U.S. for furlough. But as they prepared to head back to the Philippines, they realized they couldn’t return to that situation.

“So I resigned what I was doing there and stayed here.” They ended up remaining in the U.S. for another six or seven months, seeing a counselor, and receiving help and healing. “It was the worst two years of my life, but also the best,” Bryan relates.  

The situation was humiliating because they had quit, and everybody knew they were struggling. Bryan and Felicia decided to tell their home church, “We’re going to be here [in the U.S.] longer. We’re not doing well. Pray for us.”

The couple thought the church would cut their funding, but the church’s response was opposite from what they expected. The church members said, “You guys are just like us. We also have struggles.”

That experience 20 years ago “really informed the direction of [my wife’s and my] lives and why I work with fellow missionaries,” Bryan says.

At SRV events, Bryan loves watching God work in people’s hearts and lives and seeing their engagement and responses. “A comment we hear often is, ‘I had no idea I needed this and how helpful this would be for me.’”

A workshop with JAARS partners in SE Asia

By God’s grace, these relational and spiritual vitality events help mission workers’ lights burn longer and more brightly.

Consider a gift to our Training Solutions so that Bryan and his team can continue pointing people to Christ all over the world.