An interview with Susann Haehnel on what it’s like to walk alongside people as they reflect on their mission call and put it into action
BY JO MITCHELL, FREELANCE WRITER
How does Church Mission Society help someone discover their call?
We invite people to tell us their stories – and then we listen. When they start sharing I often begin to spot patterns and connections. It’s like holding up a mirror in which themes and threads in people’s lives start to become visible. My role is to give people who are sensing a calling the space to work out what’s in their heart (their motivation and desire) and in their hands (their skills and abilities).
How does CMS select people for overseas mission? What does the process look like?
People come to us, often via word of mouth, publicity or through our presence at events. We also work closely with churches, sending speakers who encourage anyone wanting to explore a call to get in touch.
Once the process starts, there’s a form to complete and at least two interviews. If a candidate is looking to go overseas long term, we invite them to a selection weekend. This is an intense two days with a panel of independent selectors who interview and pray with, and for, candidates. At the end of the weekend there’s a decision – either “yes”, “no”, or “yes, but not yet”, as sometimes it becomes clear that there are areas that need working through first.
Who are you looking for?
We’re looking for someone who feels called, has a personal, mature Christian faith, is self-aware and has a skillset to offer. But more important than any skillset is the right attitude: a willingness to learn from others, especially in a local context overseas, and a good sense of who they are themselves.
We’re looking for people who can imagine a different world – people who won’t try to take over but will work sensitively alongside local Christians and ask, “What does ‘shalom’ look like in this place? And how can we work towards that?”
What factors determine if someone is selected?
We have a person specification, but there’s no model that every mission partner has to fit. God works differently in different people and in different communities. Everyone has gone through pain in their lives, and we look at how people deal with that. It’s a concern if someone is still angry, because anger is a dangerous motivator. But if someone can say, “I don’t fully understand it, but I’ve learned to live with the tension and mystery”, then it’s likely they’ll be able to help others find healing.
Sometimes it’s a question of timing. One family wanted to explore a call to a challenging location. Their sons were still young, and the husband was considering going by himself. As I listened, I felt strongly that his first calling was to his sons. I encouraged them instead to explore the sense of calling they felt to representatives of that people group living in the UK. Hearing our response was painful, but they got in touch later to thank us for saving their family.
So often people see a stark choice between mission in the UK or mission overseas, but the calling is to both. The question is: what am I called to right now?
What are your first thoughts when you meet someone who says they want to be in mission?
I usually say, “Tell me more.” Occasionally, people see overseas mission as a way of escaping what’s going on in their lives. But more often a clear thread is traceable – a praying relative, or an enduring sense of connection with a location. Many people simply lack the confidence to recognise their call. It’s a privilege to be able to listen, join the dots and say, “You do have a calling. Look at all these things in your life. This is God making a way for you.”
What are some of your favourite recruitment stories?
One recent applicant, now in her early 60s, became a Christian in her 20s. She felt called by God early on, but life got messy. Decades later, however, she still had a heart for overseas mission. She prayed that if God really did have a call on her life, he would give her clear confirmation and at least £2,000 to fund it. When she next checked her bank balance she found an unexpected deposit – of £2,000! A couple of weeks later, Philip Mounstephen of CMS spoke at her church and she shared her story with him. She’s just been selected to go on short-term mission.
Then there's Phil and Sylvie, who came to a crossroads after their children had grown up. With at least ten years before retirement, they recognised that they could pour their energy into their outdoor activity business, or change track. The memory of a Land Rover adventure across Africa and a sense of calling was strong. They have now embarked on another adventure together, and will be using their skills in facilitating the work of the Life Center in Beirut.
Do you feel called to your own role?
Yes. I can see how it brings together two themes that have run through my life: a heart for global mission, and a desire to see people released to be all that they can be. When I first saw the job advertised online I was immediately drawn to it. Getting my application in, however, was a challenge. Just two hours before the midnight deadline my computer crashed and my entire application was lost. But, determined not to give up, I wrote it all out again, and submitted it with half an hour to spare.
As the process continued, I witnessed doors opening, one after the next. My transition into this job has been one of the easiest I’ve ever had, and I have a deep sense that God is in it. It draws on both my experience and my passion. My background in youth and community work has taught me much about identifying and nurturing people’s gifts and potential, and it’s something that gives me real joy.
By God’s grace I can often sense what he is saying to other people and I love the privilege of helping people to explore, discern and discover their call.
Can you describe how the calling process worked for newly-selected mission partners Festo and Grace Kanungha?
Grace’s relationship with CMS began when she went on short-term mission in 2010. She later met and married Festo, and they moved to Manyoni, central Tanzania, to lead St John’s – a school that provides education for children at nursery, primary and secondary levels, and Bible teaching for local evangelists and pastors.
Their aim is to give children from the local area the best start in life by improving the quality and inclusiveness of their schooling. Government-provided education is often patchy and inadequate – it’s not uncommon for teachers to fail to turn up for scheduled lessons – and many students don’t make the grade needed to move on to secondary school.
The Kanunghas’ vision for St John’s is to provide a stable and stimulating place for local children, particularly those who might otherwise fall between the cracks. They offer places to students who have not been accepted at government secondary schools, and thus an invaluable second chance to continue their education and all that represents for their future. Students from other schools are invited to St John’s to do their homework after school, and benefit from extra support.
Recently, Festo and Grace took time to review their demanding roles and what the future might hold, and their sense was that God had more for them to do. They talked and prayed with friends, and a desire to explore a closer connection with CMS grew.
They approached us, acknowledging that they were different from candidates who normally come forward to test out a call, as they were already in Tanzania. As they are already fully committed to the work at St John’s, the question for CMS was not, “Is God in this work?”, but rather, “Does God want us to partner with it?”.
The local bishop gave his wholehearted support to their application, and they went on a selection weekend earlier this year.
There was a sense of joy when the selectors approved their application, and shared how they saw something special and prophetic in the way Festo and Grace work and conduct themselves at every level: in their family, school and wider community.
Living in the reality of the context to which they have been called, they are imagining a different world, and working creatively and concertedly to make it happen.
What would you say to someone reading this article who’s been sensing a call to mission?
Act on it. Take time to explore it. Pray and talk to people who know you, and then get in touch with me!
The Call in Action: PRAY
- Pray for courage, clarity and conviction for people currently in the process of exploring their call to mission.
- Pray for more people who can imagine a different world to identify and respond to the call of God on their lives
To explore your call, contact Susann.