This is the nineth part of a series on our West Africa transmitter site from the personal involvement of TWR Canada President Ray Alary. Catch up on the ones you’ve missed:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8
Often your world is centered around your job or your ministry. This was certainly true in our life. While Sandy and I had friends outside of TWR, our life was very much about the mission. When you travel at the level I was travelling, you never came down from one trip before another trip was upon you. When you were home, it was a mad rush to get things done before the next trip. You played catch-up all the time.
Now, we needed to get on an airplane and totally disconnect. It was time to go back to Canada. I hadn’t done that since I arrived in Africa. Even on vacations I would find ways to connect. Furloughs were working two jobs: speaking and meeting our supporters and, most days, answering emails. Thinking back, why was I surprised I had gotten myself into this shape? Even though God would use this situation, it was not God’s fault that it had come to this. The blame was squarely on me. I had done it to myself.
Sandy and I got on the plane; we were going home to Canada for an undetermined period. I needed to get healthy in mind and body before I could return. It was determined that we would spend a month in London. Before anything else, I’d get an assessment on my mental health. Our Canadian President, Gerald Hayes, arranged a place for us to stay. The whole process started with me speaking to two psychologists. Fortunately, I knew both fairly well so it wasn’t intimidating. The next thing I needed to do was replenish my serotonin level. That meant taking pills and getting exercise. The psychologists were great. They helped me examine my past and figure out what I needed to change to be healthy again.
In Scripture it talks about God working six days and having a day of rest on the seventh day. I couldn’t figure that out before all this happened: why couldn’t you just go full speed all the time? I would take Sunday off if I was at home, but I wouldn’t relax. I would run 15 or 20 km or ride my bike even further. I had to be doing something. Now, that was going to have to change. I would have to learn to work at work and not take it home at night. As it was, I worked all day and talked to Sandy about it at night. If we had friends over who were with TWR, guess what we talked about? Right, work. This was going to have to stop. I needed to learn how to turn off my computer, my phone, anything that was going to make me think about work when I was at home.
The calls went back and forth with the psychologist. I was encouraged. Sandy was encouraged; she was getting her husband back! Within a few weeks of being home, I was already in much better shape, and I was learning quickly that the ministry would survive without me.
We were given permission to go to Kenora, my favourite place in the world, where I could further recover. I would continue to work with the psychologists, but the basic road to recovery for me was to go to the island and do something physical and get lots of sun. By the time I went to Kenora, they had determined it was not a full-blown burnout. My recovery period would be relatively short. In the end, they said I never was burnt out; I was just very tired, and I needed to learn some new skills so I could cope better when I went back to Africa.
When I got to Kenora, I discovered that my brother-in-law was building a cottage and needed help. This was perfect for me! I love construction, and I would be out in the sun all day, every day. This was just what the doctor ordered. I had my energy back, and I was so busy I didn’t give TWR a thought for the next two months.
We thought we would be home for at least six months. My progress was amazing, and they were already weaning me off the drugs they had put me on. I had agreed that I would have to slow down. I was going to have to pass off responsibilities to others, and, as a team in Africa, we were going to need to find new leaders to lead the ministry.
This was a great time to reflect on where we were in our lives. We realized it was time for change, and we determined our time in Africa had come to an end. We loved Africa, and we truly loved the people. There was so much work to be done there, but we would never accomplish it even if we stayed there for the rest of our lives. God spoke to me and said, “Ray, it is time to hand leadership over to someone else.”
There were many lessons I learned during this time; here are some:
Looking back at what I considered failure the day I got on the plane has turned out to be a high point in my life. It has made me a better leader. It has let me recognize the signs of burnout in others and take action before any real long-term damage is done. Today, I thank the Lord for his goodness, for allowing me to go through this whole process.
- Never think a ministry depends on you. It never does; it is God’s work, and he will use you, but it doesn’t depend on you.
- Every person has limits. You can do a great deal for a season, but, even the best runners cannot run forever. We need to set limits and then stay within those limits.
- We all need to work hard, but we also need to rest. This is probably the greatest lesson I learned. Its called having balance in your life.
- It is ok to turn off your phone at 7:00 p.m. It is ok to turn off your computer and play a game with your wife, hold her hand, watch TV and enjoy yourself.
- It is ok to take a vacation.
- There is always tomorrow; what doesn’t get done today can be done tomorrow.
- There is a time for everything, a time to begin and a time to finish. There is a time to rejoice and a time to grieve, and you need to do both. As a leader, you are not exempt from the grieving part; if your staff needs to grieve, then so do you, and you need to find a way to do that.
And, interestingly, had I not gone through this process, I wouldn’t have written this blog. It was during this whole process that I learned that I enjoy writing and that it gives me energy.