Sadly, many overseas mission workers are wounded in the course of their ministry – as a result of burnout, spiritual fatigue, enemy action and sometimes even ‘friendly fire’. Many of them return to life in their sending country with a deep sense of loss for the ministry they have left behind, and mourning for the lost relationships. Often their churches do not know how to help them, and the agencies one might expect to be able to help them have often been part of the problem, so there is no opportunity for supportive dialogue. Syzygy often meets people who still have unresolved issues many years after the field. They don’t know how to handle their hurt, or even explain it to themselves let alone others.
Dr Marjory Foyle spent 30 years as a mission worker in India and Nepal, initially as a medical doctor and then as a psychiatrist. Her work on understanding the need for better care for mission workers led her to become one of the founders of the member care sector. Her seminal work Honourably Wounded (Monarch 2010, ISBN 978-0825463334) is a small book which has had a major impact on how churches, sending agencies and mission workers understand and deal with the emotional and psychological damage that can be caused to workers on the mission field. To those who have been wounded in action, it has been a huge comfort to know that someone understands and can help.
Much of mission workers’ inability to cope well with stress is due to the false conception of ‘laying down our lives for the Lord.’ This is often taken to mean that we deny ourselves everything wholesome and enjoyable in order to get on with the task we have been given. Marjory points out that:
“dedication and commitment to God, while essential if we want to go on with God, do not mean the wholesale denial of the real person within, but provide us with freedom to expand, develop, and enjoy the good things God has created”.
Marjory’s book is highly readable, honestly addressing difficult situations, and bringing good psychiatric awareness to the layman. It covers a wide range of subjects including depression, culture shock, occupational stress and interpersonal relations, and it has an extensive bibliography which is also informative. Marjory’s extensive experience of missions, and of the problems people can encounter has fed into a very practical resource. She has a clear understanding of the dynamics or the relationships between family members, colleagues and the local culture and places all this in a firm biblical context.
While Marjory’s biblical understanding informs every chapter, the final one – a God’s Biblical Model for Member Care – makes it abundantly clear that God doesn’t want his workers burning themselves out and is passionate about their health. She writes of mission workers: Because there is always such a lot to do and they feel personally responsible, they overwork and use up a vast amount of physcial and mental energy with inadequate recharging of batteries.” This book is her response to that problem.
If you have been wounded in action, or are trying to help someone who has been, this is the single best resource you can buy.