Reading Shelley Trebesch’s book, Isolation: A place of Transformation in the life of a leader is refreshing. Using various case studies and biblical and historical examples, the author describes the cruciality of “isolation experiences” for ministry leaders’ inward transformation. Trebesch cites Clinton’s definition: “Isolation is the setting aside of a leader from normal ministry involvement in its natural context usually for an extended time in order to experience God in a new or deeper way (Clinton 1989:274)” (p.10). In my culture, voluntary and involuntary isolation experiences are viewed slightly differently than how they are described in this book. It is not culturally common among most Ethiopian church pastors or evangelists to take time away from ministry to rest and renew their relationship with God. I do not know why our churches have not thought about pastors and evangelists need to take vacations. Instead, they expect ministry leaders to fit their prayer and solitude times in their regular ministry schedules. Thus, pastors and evangelists are always around their faith community unless they get sick or face some other personal problems. I have not researched how Ethiopian churches in the United States might differ on this matter, but I have seen our pastor at my current church in Portland go on vacation for a month every year.
Another important note from Trebesch is how “war or natural disasters” force leaders to be “set aside for periods of time due to events which they cannot control ” (p.31). In my country drought is a frequent calamity. Our society generally views drought as a result of societal disobedience of God. For instance, I remember decades ago when our country was struck by severe drought. Our church members gathered in the church every day to confess their sins to God and intercede for rain. After several weeks of prayers, the rain began to come and it was a big joy for the whole society whose livelihood depends on rain for farming. While I do not know if God brought drought to rebuke our community, I can see the incident brought our church families together to seek God’s face as a community. This experience also confirmed to them that God listens to their prayers and is in control over natural calamities. Their willingness to prayerfully wait upon God as a community shows their complete trust in God for their physical needs.
One interesting point the author highlights is the importance of having the support of a community of faith when in isolation. As I noted in my church, if ministry leaders fall into some type of sin and are removed from their ministry, they often undergo unfair isolation experiences. They often do not have a mentor or the support of their local church family. There are cases where some ministers end up not returning to ministry or the church due to unfair isolation. For this reason, I agree with the author that it is “helpful when in isolation to belong to a community of people who are committed to [the isolated leader] and vice versa” (p.65).
Personally I am in a voluntary season of isolation with DMINLGP. I am away from my family and friends but very grateful to have the great support from friends and my church community in Portland. Grateful to you all in DMINLGP4 and the importance of your perspectives to my ministry context.