Pastors, I thought, are those who take care of others. But who was taking care of the pastors?
In Colombia, our MB pastors work hard, often with little recognition for the sacrifices they must make in order to care for their church members. Many are bi-vocational, holding down other jobs in order to provide for their families, while devoting themselves heart and soul to their ministry. As conference minister, I also experienced this stress; I simply accepted it as being normal, part of the calling.
Then, suddenly, one of our pastors was in crisis.
Victor had been pastoring for over eighteen years, faithful and uncomplaining. The only vacation he ever took was a few days each year to take his family to the beach. His church was rural, a congregation largely made up of local farmers and miners, many with serious health issues because of the chemicals they used to fertilize the soil or to extract gold from the mines. It was not an affluent church; their resources did not allow for Victor to draw much salary, so he also worked in the mines.
The day came when sickness, depression and exhaustion made it impossible for him to function. When he called me, I recognized the symptoms of burnout, but I did not know what to do. During this time, God led our MB conference of Colombia to form a partnership with the conference of Brazil. The Brazilian churches were healthy, thriving. I asked their conference leaders, how do you do it? They told me, “You must pastor your pastors!” It was a moment of revelation. Such an obvious truth, how had I missed this?
I called Victor and told him, “You are taking a sabbatical.” He had no idea what that meant; we had never used this word before! Our conference enabled Victor to take six months from his role as a pastor to seek God, and to care for his family and for his own physical and spiritual health. Victor found rest for his body, mind, and soul; he returned to the ministry refreshed. His congregation was told, “Don’t just look to your pastor to help you. Pray for him, watch over him, take care of him!”
Our partnership with the Brazilian conference has been a great blessing, showing us how we can all learn from one another in this global MB family.