As part of our ‘Riverside Story’ blog post series, this post will focus on a mission that Riverside is helping to facilitate here in Birmingham, the UK and around the world; supporting our vision to bring LIFE to every generation in every community. This month we are catching up with Elke Hansmann.
Mind the gap…
When I joined Operation Mobilisation (OM) in 1990, I thought it was going to be a gap year, that I’d be giving as a sacrifice to God before getting on with my life. Little did I know the adventures God had prepared for me.
Throughout my life I can trace a passion for seeing people live well and flourish in both their life and ministry. My missions career, if there is such a thing, has been varied, including giving young people from Germany opportunities for exposure through short term missions, co-leading a church planting team in the former East of Berlin where Jesus’s name was literally completely unknown, and coming alongside individuals and families that were looking at longer term overseas service. With time, I began to become interested in what it was that enabled some missionaries to stay long term in ministry and be fruitful and what led others to leave the field prematurely, often giving acceptable reasons, while hiding more difficult realities that had brought them to a point of giving up.
After completing All Nations Christian College in the UK and focussing on missionary attrition research, God clearly led me to come alongside as a ‘Pastor Care Worker’ for our missionaries in North Africa; a place where resources and support for Christians were scarce and demands were high. For six years, I had the privilege of accompanying over 55 staff and their families, along with some missionaries from other agencies. I experienced first-hand that this type of intentional investment and support really did result in missionaries staying longer and helped them to be physically and mentally healthy. Previous and current missions directors (field leaders) in Morocco have been people I helped work through their challenges in the early 2000s. Both attested to the power of pastoral care as a major contributor to their longevity of service and have served for more than 22 years in the country. In 2005, God clearly spoke to me and called me out of a specific country and region into an organisation-wide role. After God had told me that my time in North Africa was coming to an end, I received a clear prophecy from someone who knew nothing of my circumstance but told me that God was taking me out of my current context and laid out the specifics of the role he had for me. Freaky…The lady who gave me the prophecy had no idea that our international HR director had been trying to recruit me into exactly the role she described to me for more than 2 years already. For two years I had said “no” as I felt my calling to North Africa was strong. This time I knew God had new things for me.
With the role shift came a location shift. The UK became my new home, initially London, then Halesowen/Birmingham. With a myriad of churches to choose from, I followed a friend’s recommendation and landed in Riverside Church. I felt at home from the start and decided there was no need to look further. Riverside became [and in many ways remains] a place of spiritual renewal, deep friendships and a source of support for my ministry.
From local to global
My purpose at Operation Mobilisation is to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached established. In order to multiply vibrant communities, you need to be a vibrant community. Ensuring that our staff globally is resourced and equipped for spiritual and emotional vibrancy, and “Thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy, Chapter 3, verse 17), is what is at the heart of what has become the focus of my life and work now. Specifically that translates into developing and facilitating learning and development opportunities through our leadership development initiatives globally and locally. It also includes designing and delivering new training resources that empower staff; especially local staff who often have much better understanding of the local culture but have had few opportunities to receive training. In December I was able to develop 10 new trainers for a coach-mentoring essentials course which for the first time was delivered completely in Nepali to 46 participants who oversee all the church planting and evangelism work in Nepal; 200 staff, out of which 160 are Nepali.
Throughout my missions life I’ve recognised the crucial role that leaders play in enabling ministries and people to bear fruit and do well. Much of my time and energy is focussed on providing support and empowerment to leaders around the world, who often carry heavy burdens of responsibility, a multiplicity of expectations from various stakeholders; but themselves receive little. J. was a mission director in an African country who approached me literally saying “I need help, I am drowning”. We set out on a coaching journey which enabled her to lead from a different set of leadership assumptions, manage her team differently and complete her term of service instead of giving into the temptation to “submit the resignation and run away screaming” (as she said). Not only did she succeed in her own leadership but currently she is giving oversight to the whole of leadership development within OM globally.
When I think of missions I think of a beautiful mosaic. Each piece makes it more complete and more powerful. “How can they call on the one they have not believed in…how can they believe in the one if they haven’t heard…and how can they hear if no one has come to preach…and how can the message be proclaimed if messengers are not sent out” (and my addition to Romans Chapter 10; and how can they last if they are not equipped and supported). We all play our part in reaching the world and making Jesus known; locally and globally. I’m so grateful I am not doing my calling alone but together with the riverside family. Thank you!