Finding Sabbath Rest on Overseas Assignments

Sabbath rest is a crucial part of anyone’s overall spiritual development and holistic wellness.  As church leaders, we spend a good amount of time trying to implement Sabbath rest in our own lives, as well as encourage those in our ministry to do the same.  In our culture that is fraught with busyness and over-commitment, it is not an easy task.  The time-orientation of American culture does not lend itself to rest of any kind, and people can often feel guilty or less productive whenever they carve out the time for refreshment.

Many people believe that when they are sent on an overseas assignment to live and work in a culture that is based more on relationships than on time, they will have endless opportunity for a balanced life filled with meaningful work and refreshing rest.

Unfortunately, they are likely wrong in this belief.

The fact is in many relationship-based cultures, the effort for survival is also increased.  Day to day tasks take a lot longer than in the U.S., and work, although slower paced, is also filled with complications that take time to work through.  Plus, in many cultures of Christians around the world, they work a secular day job but then commit their evenings and weekends to ministry.  There is no rest on Sunday because they are preaching or ministering in one or even multiple church congregations.

Where is the time for Sabbath rest?

When we as leaders send our people overseas, we must work closely with them to help them achieve a balance between work and rest that may be slightly counter-cultural but that will help them thrive in the long run and achieve the objectives they were sent internationally to achieve.

How can we help them?

1) Realize the importance of Sabbath rest.

Both before going to the field and while on assignment, leaders can invest in their people by emphasizing the importance of Sabbath rest and gaining their buy-in on the concept.  This can be done through intentional mentoring, education, research, reading books, and experiencing it first hand.  Whatever it takes, we must help our people grasp the fact that Sabbath rest is a crucial component in their ability to thrive while overseas.  However, pre-field training will not be enough.  Leaders must be in contact with their people while they are on assignment to check in with them, encourage them, and monitor their ability to maintain the habit of Sabbath rest, even in their new environment.  It will not be easy for them, and that is just fine.  Any effort toward creating a sense of Sabbath in their new home will create benefits that will launch them into a successful on-field career.

2) Plan it.

What gets planned gets done.  It’s an old adage but a true one.  Encourage your people serving overseas to create an intentional and achievable plan that will schedule Sabbath rest into their week.  It might not be on a Sunday.  It might be a different day.  It might not be a whole day.  Perhaps just an hour or two.  But put it in the calendar, and then keep that appointment with yourself.  Sabbath rest is not an option for holistic health; it’s a requirement.  It’s a best practice. It’s something that is critical in the life of people all around the world.  Be ready to explain to people what you’re doing, but don’t get sidetracked.  Sure, something important may come up and there may be need of some flexibility.  But make sure it happens.  Plan it and make sure to fit it in as a much-needed element of successful overseas life.

3) Have discussions.

Many people in a variety of countries around the world may not be familiar with the concept of Sabbath rest or may think it is more of an American/first-world cultural element.  Bringing people back to the Scripture and showing them how God ordained Sabbath as a natural rhythm-keeper for His people will be a good starting place in bringing the concept of Sabbath across the cultures.  When people learn that your time of Sabbath is important to you and a non-negotiable, they will naturally be curious.  Explain to them about your commitment to rest and find out from them what they might be doing to foster the same habits.  Even if you’re unable to convince them that they, too, should adopt Sabbath rest into their own lives, it will at least be an excellent opportunity to build relationships and bridge understanding as you spend more and more time together with the beloved brothers and sisters in Christ in your adopted home.

4) Be creative.

Traditionally and culturally in the U.S., Sunday is considered the Sabbath.  Same day, every week, no matter the time of year or our season of life.  This, of course, is not always the same in other parts of the world.  Sometimes we have to encourage those we are leading to be creative in how they find Sabbath in the midst of a busy weekly schedule. While serving in Asia for two decades, the suggestion that Sunday should be a day of rest was unrealistic.  We worked with pastors who preached at least two or more sermons and cared for congregations all day every Sunday.  However, when we suggested they take Monday as their Sabbath, they also balked at that idea stating there were no days they could take off: the fields had to be cultivated or they had to visit their believers.  Women had the same problem.  Where would they find Sabbath rest in days filled with ministry, household duties, and raising children?  Often a full day of Sabbath may not be possible.  Maybe an hour of reading or a 30-minute walk in a park is more reasonable.  Perhaps a meal out or dining with friends may bring the needed refreshment.  Maybe it’s just creating a change of pace in the monotony of an everyday schedule. Whatever it is, allocating time to true rest, reflection, and rejuvenation of the spirit and soul is essential to survival.  Be creative in how you find the time, but find it.  It will be worth the effort and will pay major lifelong benefits as a result.

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