Help for the wounded

We have already blogged on several occasions about the people who have been hurt by their own sending church or agency, either by the impersonal approach of its policies “We’re withdrawing your support for you because we have changed our strategy” or by the actions of individuals within it.

Sadly such situations continue to occur and what we haven’t yet consider how people in a church can support their mission workers who are wounded.

First, you will need to pay attention.  Most mission workers will not readily spill the beans, partly out of loyalty to their church or agency, and partly for fear that if the truth comes out their supporters will encourage them not to go back.  So you’ll need to watch out for signs of stress when they talk about their situation, reticence about their working relationships, or a lack of enthusiasm in their presentations.  Dig into this with questions like “what are you going to be doing when you go back?”, “How are you feeling about going back?” and “How do you get on with the people in your team?”

Once you’ve realised that something has gone wrong, encourage them to talk confidentially about it to one of their supporters, or maybe an independent debriefer.  Again, they might be reluctant to, but remind them they may need to get things off their chest.  Maybe find a retired mission worker they could open up to.

If it’s you who is they are opening up to – be prepared for a torrent of emotion!  They may have long pent-up feelings about this which they’ve struggled with for a long time and once they are released they may take a while to settle down.  Emotional discharge can be good for the person involved but alarming for you.  Once they’ve dealt with the emotion, they might be able to find a practical approach to resolving the situation.

If relationships have completely broken down with someone in their church or agency, offer to act as an intermediary, or to support them in a face-to-face discussion to resolve the situation.  That too may take up a lot of your time but having an independent observer present at discussions may calm any potential confrontation.  But remember not to take sides!  While you may be keen to support your mission worker, staying impartial helps you help them.  After all, you’ve probably only heard one half of the truth and they person they are in dispute with may have an entirely different perspective.

And if they have been bullied, abused or manipulated by a leader, have no qualms about helping them whistleblow!  Take it up with them at the highest levels you can.

You may like to give them resources that will help them process what’s happened.  We particularly like Honourably Wounded and A Tale of Three Kings.

Help them understand how personality traits can often complicate communication, and also language barriers.  Even if people speak the same language, they may speak it differently.  Some cultures are far more direct at speaking than others, while some will talk in circles to avoid confrontation or giving offence.  When they go to a foreign country your mission partners will be helped a lot to understand the culture they’re in – but they might learn nothing about getting on with each of the 22 different nationalities on their team!

And if all of your listening skills and wisdom get you nowhere, don’t give up!  Talk directly to the leadership of the church or agency, and bring in an outside arbitrator if necessary in order to resolve the situation.

Your mission partner may well be in a situation which could jeopardise their place with their agency, their missionary calling, and in extreme circumstances even their faith.  You might not feel qualified, but you can help them.

Resources on resilience

008In this series on resilience, we have made the point that resilience is essential for our survival as mission workers.  We need to develop it before we go, sustain it when the going gets tough, and restore it when things get easier.  Today we’re going to look at some resources to help with this, several of which we have already referred to in other blogs because they’re so good, but it does no harm to bring them together in one place.

Books

The best single resource we have come across on this subject is a small booklet called Spirituality for the long-haul, by Tony Horsfall.  It is a simple, practical and accessible way of making sure you have everything you need in place, and you can buy it online from Kitab for just £3.  Tony is also the author of Working from a Place of Rest, which helps us combat overwork.  Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings and Marjory Foyle’s Honourably Wounded are both classics in helping people wounded by their own leaders and colleagues. And Laura Mae Gardner’s Healthy, Resilient & Effective is a great handbook for leaders of agencies and churches in helping develop resilience in their mission partners.

Online resources

There is now a vast number of websites dedicated to supporting mission workers, and out of them all you might like to look first at Member Care Media with its vast array of podcasts on a variety of topics.    The Headington Institute has a variety of fascinating articles about self-awareness, stress and resilience.

Retreat

We frequently talk about the importance of retreat to restore our inner peace and create a space to reconnect with God.  While there are many places across the world providing retreat for mission workers (see our retreats page) we particularly recommend Penhurst Retreat Centre in East Sussex for its cosy, informal atmosphere, effective debriefing and focus on mission workers.  Those of you in extreme stages of burnout or trauma may find a visit to Le Rucher helpful, and of course there are similar resources in other continents.

Book review: Honourably Wounded

Honourably woundedSadly, 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”.

MarjorieMarjory’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.