Written by Carolyn Klejment-Lavin
Part of our work at Footstool is offering practical training courses for missions. One of the courses we offer is Long Term Missions Training, which prepares individuals who are going to serve long term on the field. The training sets a strong Biblical and theological foundation for long term missions work as well as practical tools to thrive on the mission field in all areas of wellness.
When someone is leaving for long term service on the mission field, there is always a very big checklist of to-dos. The focus usually gets put on raising adequate support, packing and moving and all.the.paperwork. However, in the hustle and bustle of the move and also the enthusiasm to actually get on the field and start to dive into the work, many often overlook the very important aspect of preparing for emotional wellness on the field.
It’s true that having your visa in order does seem more pressing when departing for the field than preparing for emotional thrival, but when we look at the top reasons that missionaries leave the field, it is rarely due to visa issues. One of the top reasons that missionaries leave the field is problems related to mental health. Thus, the importance of addressing emotional wellness before leaving the field can’t be overstated.
There are a number of areas of emotional wellness are good to address before departing, but I’ll list the categories I’ve observed to be the core areas. Consider this an emotional wellness pre-departure checklist. Hopefully instead of adding to the to-do list burden, this list can be helpful for both those departing for the mission field and those who are sending and supporting them.
1. Stress Management and Self Care
Studies have shown that missionaries have very high levels of stress in their lives. Areas of stress can be related to environment, lack of resources, sickness, trauma, culture, spiritual warfare, etc.. There is no getting around the fact that this tends to be high stress work! The long term impact of high levels of stress can’t be overstated- there are a myriad of symptoms related to chronic stress, but what is particularly important to note is that as time goes on our brain actually rewires itself to respond to continued stress. And this isn’t a good thing- it means we become emotionally agitated, have memory problems, trouble thinking clearly and our default emotional responses become worry, anger, discouragement and depression.
An important part of preparing for the field is to be able to learn to name the source of your stress, recognize your personal signs and symptoms or stress and learn to take the necessary steps to manage these stressors in a healthy way.
Self-care is also critical aspect to managing stress and protecting against burnout. It is important to “put on your own oxygen mask first” before you serve others. Before missionaries leave for the field, in our Long Term Training we usually try and create a self care plan which primarily focuses on daily, affordable, realistic activities to “keep your bucket full.” Some questions included in the brainstorming process are: What has helped you feel refreshed and renewed in the past? Are there things you used to enjoy doing that you’ve let slip away? What brings you pleasure and joy?
2. Sabbath Rest
It’s important to consider our theology of work and the necessity of Sabbath rest before leaving for the field. Most of us need to think about the importance of ceasing work and embracing rest and any issues we may have related to that. Work and rest are not opposing forces, but should work together in a rhythm to make true rest and good work possible. It’s important to remember Sabbath rest is Biblical, a form of worship, it fuels our work and is a way to practice faith in God’s sovereignty by embracing our fragility and the fact life is not completely in our control.
3. Good Goodbyes
One of the greatest takeaways from my pre-field training before departing for long term service was the concept of ‘good goodbyes.’ Essentially what saying good goodbyes means is that we have a desire to bless one another in the process of saying goodbye and to celebrate what we have come to mean to each other. Although a quick “see you later” can feel much easier than the vulnerability of telling someone how much they’ve meant to us and how much we will miss them, vulnerability goes hand in hand with wholehearted love for those we will leave. Saying goodbye well is also part of the gift we are giving to those we are saying hello to as it prepares us to risk offering the gifts of our hearts anew.
There is much more that could be said about preparing well for emotional wellness on the field, but this gives a snapshot of some of the key areas. May you head to the mission field having said good goodbyes, with ‘full buckets’ and some tools to care for yourself well as you prepare to pour yourself out for Kingdom work.
Resources for Further Reading:
Stress and Resilience: https://www.headington-institute.org ,Overcoming Compassion Fatigue by Martha Teater
Sabbath Rest: The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan, Out of Solitude by Henri Nouwen