Embracing Rest

The pandemic has forced many cross-cultural workers to stay in their home countries or residences, unable to meet with other members of their teams. Much of their work now happens online. After more than a year of practice, many said they have had more meetings and completed more work than before. While it is good to see progress, working at home has blurred the boundary between work, family and rest.

Some people say, “To rest is to prepare for a longer journey ahead.” This makes sense, especially to people who feel reluctant to take a break. There is simply too much to do; rest seems like a luxury. Yet, when rest is used as an excuse to do more, they don’t feel guilty anymore.

But wait. Are we that vital and not allowed to rest? Is rest simply a means to prepare ourselves for more work?

Illustration: Sophia Chong

Rest in the Scriptures

Rest is vital to all humans. It means much more than just re-energising our bodies and minds. It is also a spiritual concept that impacts our relationship with God, others and ourselves. In fact, God was the first person who took rest:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” (Genesis 2:2-3a)

In gospels, Jesus often withdrew to solitary places to rest and pray, especially after some heavy work and before facing big challenges.

“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:23)

As part of God’s creation, we should take rest with a heart of appreciation, gratification and gladness. Rest gives us the right setting and open hearts to be with God and to remember his grace and our calling. As we learn to depend on him, and not our own efforts, we are refreshed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A collage created by Sineina Gela, a member of the Prayer Team during the team’s virtual retreat. Collaging is a prayer exercise that helps participants to meditate. Through this exercise, Sineina reflected on her relationship with God, how he provides living water and sustains her even in threatening circumstances.

Team Retreat during the Pandemic

Though it is difficult to run team retreats during the pandemic, some teams managed to do it successfully. Jo Johnson, the Wycliffe Global Alliance’s Consultant for Prayer Advocacy, talked about the online retreat her team held in January 2021.

“Nothing is the same as being in the same space as each other, sharing meals, telling stories, et cetera,” she says, “but this [retreat] was a very valuable time and encouraging to me as the UK was in a particularly grim phase of COVID.”

The Prayer Team Jo leads is composed of five ladies who help to foster a prayer movement around the world for Bible translation and its related ministries.

To a global team like Jo’s, running an online retreat was not easy. “There is no ‘good time’ to meet,” she says.

Team members live across the world – from Papua New Guinea (UTC+10), the Philippines (UTC+8), to the UK (UTC+1), and Texas (UTC-6) and California (UTC-8) in the USA. Then there was a guest spiritual director from mid Canada (UTC-7). In the end, Jo chose 10 p.m. in the UK as the gathering time. That was not the best time for her, but the best to accommodate all. As for locations, due to lockdowns in their respective countries, they could not find retreat houses then. They could just stay at home and meet through Zoom.

The team invited Karen Block, part of SIL International’s Spiritual Life Team, to help guide the time around Jeremiah 17:5-8. They met together four days in a row, for one hour each day. Then they spent time in the day praying, meditating and doing prayer activities such as drawing, collaging and writing poems, as they sought God for refreshment and guidance for the year ahead.

Ling Lam, a member of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Team, was grateful for having the time and space to be away from routine busyness. She enjoyed the look from her hotel room toward Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo: Ling Lam

“It was a rich experience,” Jo says. “We were amazed how God spoke to us both individually and corporately. We left the time having a clear sense that God said that we were to be strengthened through resting and restoration in him to strengthen those with whom we related or had input.

“This has oriented the priorities we’ve set, the activities we have participated in and initiated and even influenced the theme for the World Day of Prayer — Strength for the Journey. I would say that it was a very positive experience for us all.”

Rest Involves Determination

In June 2021, the Alliance’s Asia-Pacific Leadership Team also held a two-day virtual retreat. The six team members stayed either in a local hotel or at home according to the pandemic measures of their respective countries. All but one single lady were joined by their spouses, and even young children.

Joining the retreat through Zoom from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong, approximate time zones allowed the team to meet for longer hours each day. Each morning, a member shared something from the Word of God. Then there was individual sharing, praying for each other and fun games. In the midst was ample free time for everyone to rest and relax. One member chose to tour locally at a slower pace; another stayed at home to enjoy TV dramas; still another took his wife and kids to the swimming pool for fun. In the evenings, they gathered again to share their reflection and how they experienced rest.

“This was such a unique and novel experience,” says Simon Wan, the Asia-Pacific Area Director. “The sweet fellowship with each other and our spouses; praying for each other, sharing transparently from our lives and ‘letting our hair down’ made it memorable and special. We were blessed by insightful devotions from the Word of God and we can say that we were refreshed by the rest from work.”

Although the online retreat had no particular theme, team members encouraged one another to deliberately stop work, to enjoy a time of rest, to practise delight and to contemplate God. Some members admitted that resting involved much determination as they were so used to busyness. To them, no emails was an intentional and difficult choice.

God ordained both work and rest. Although the world never stops for us, we as humans need to stop from work regularly. As Christians, we can pause our work by faith to embrace the rich rewards of God-given rest.

Story: Ling Lam, Wycliffe Global Alliance

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