Written by Carolyn Klejment-Lavin
The Need for Member Care
Missionaries can be a stressed out bunch. I know, because I’ve been one. I’ve also been married to one and the both of us will likely be stressed out missionaries again.
Once upon a time my husband and I were brand new rosy-cheeked cross-cultural workers in Southeast Asia. We fully expected the transition to our new home to be difficult. We were Intercultural Studies majors in undergrad, we knew all the stages of culture shock, we read the books on transition and adjustment, we took the pre-field training- we knew what we were getting into. And we were right, adjustment was hard. There was the oppressive heat, the crazy traffic, communication difficulties, intensive language school and the fact that the culture was barely anything like the dozens of pocket sized guidebooks we poured over had told us it would be. But there was also something deeper than some of those expected difficulties. We felt an incredible pressure to produce and perform. Surely our sending churches and organization had high expectations of us, however, most of the pressure was from within ourselves. Doing development work to be salt and light in the world was our dream. It was what we went to school for. What we stayed up for hours talking about. What we raised support for almost 2 years for.
"We felt an incredible pressure to produce and perform. Surely our sending churches and organization had high expectations of us, however, most of the pressure was from within ourselves."
We had to be effective. This was it. And people were sacrificially giving so we could do this! However, intense pressure to perform, high expectations, loneliness and 90% humidity is not going to end well. Several months after our arrival, the circumstances caught up with us and we broke down. When we got to the breaking point, we didn’t know where to turn for the professional help we needed. We eventually found some help outside of the country we were serving in, but it was very limited and we still needed more support. We were also ashamed that we needed help and didn’t want anyone to know. We were afraid we would lose our financial support if people knew how much we were struggling because they would think we weren’t a good investment. So we pretended we were okay.
"Missionary attrition can have negative effects on the missionaries, their families, the sending missions agency, other missionary staff and the local people the missionaries were working with."
Today, as a counselor and as someone who has been serving cross culturally for 6 years, I feel so sad thinking of how we felt and how we didn’t reach out to more people during that time. I wish we hadn’t been so afraid. I wish we had known how normal cross-cultural stress is and how necessary the need for care is. On one stress scale called the Holmes-Rahe scale, 300 points of stress or above is considered the danger zone for potential physical illness and a person is encouraged to make significant life changes. A study done on a modified version of this scale found that the average missionary has approximately 600 points of stress a year! Many of the stress factors are not unique to the missionary experience but the physical, cultural, political and geographical contexts in which missionaries live and work increase their risk. When all of these stressors and challenges add up and cannot be coped with any longer, it can lead to unplanned missionary resignation from the field, otherwise known as missionary attrition. Missionary attrition can have negative effects on the missionaries, their families, the sending missions agency, other missionary staff and the local people the missionaries were working with. In a study by the World Evangelical Fellowship, they found that of the career missionaries that leave each year, 71% leave for preventable reasons.
"This January, Footstool is offering a free member care retreat for missionaries serving in Asia to come and rest. To have time to process and reflect. Be loved on and cared for through time of Bible study, prayer, counseling, and pampering."
So what can we do? Well, I think there is a lot we can do! One starting point for both senders and goers is to promote a healthy ideology of work and stress from psychological perspective and prioritizes Sabbath rest and identity outside of work from theological perspective. At Footstool, our heart is to do all we can to support missions work in the 10/40 window and with the clearly critical need for member care we want to do our best to support those serving in the 10/40 window by caring for their emotional and mental health. This January, Footstool is offering a free member care retreat for missionaries serving in Asia to come and rest. To have time to process and reflect. Be loved on and cared for through time of Bible study, prayer, counseling, and pampering. We believe this kind of time of rest is necessary as preventative care so that cross cultural workers don’t reach the breaking point and to enable them to thrive in their work.
Would you consider helping us to provide this member care retreat?
The member care retreat will have seasoned member care speakers who have experience in leading missionaries into times of rest and refreshment. In addition to the speakers, there will be counseling services available, rest/relaxation specialists, free childcare, and medical/dental specialists to serve the retreat attendees. The retreat will offer room and board for four days and three nights for all participants and volunteers, including free transportation to and from the airport in Seoul, South Korea to the retreat center.
Footstool is partnering with a number of churches and organizations to host this member care retreat for those serving overseas in Asia. We are looking for help 2 major ways:
- Finances: this retreat will be free for all the missionaries. We are looking for churches and individuals to come along side to care for these missionaries.
- Volunteers: we need volunteers to help with children’s ministry, worship, prayer, logistics, and hospitality. We are also looking for medical, dental, massage, hair/nails, and education specialists.