When the Truth is Scary

This week I asked missionaries around the world to share their stories on social media to illustrate the importance of a little R & R in their work and their family life. I intentionally reached out to former missionaries because I knew they no longer had the fear of losing their financial support if they spoke up about the difficulties of life in ministry. Do you know how many actually shared their stories?

One.

One person was brave enough to share their truth on social media. That should be a warning to all of us. Even now, years later, it is too hard, too painful, too risky for them to share what it was really like to live on mission without the kind of support Restored and Renewed Ministry is offering. I know this because I heard from them in my private messages, and they all said the same thing. “We don’t want to hurt anyone. We don’t want to damage any relationships. We’re still friends with churches who supported us, and we don’t want them to feel like we were ungrateful.”

For others, it was more than that. It was simply too painful to return to those moments that broke their hearts, and forced them out of the work they were called to do. The pain is still fresh, and years haven’t healed the wounds. I cried over those notes, and I prayed for the healing that can only come from the God who witnessed their pain, and saw their tears. My friend Jessica was one of those people. She wrote to apologize, ” I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to post this on Facebook.”

Reading through her story, you could see that the pain was still there in her words. She softened the truth with kindness, forgiveness evident in the way she spoke about what had happened, but you could tell it was still a wound that hadn’t healed. She ended with this…

We were so run down, hurt, and exhausted that we actually lost faith in the team aspect of the mission altogether. We needed to be able to detach from the team and focus on our own personal relationships with Jesus in order to see the situation more clearly. A time out to be ENCOURAGED, supported, and surrounded by loving believers would have greatly eased our burdens and helped to refresh our perspectives. #RandRmatters

A time out, and a little encouragement. That’s what she believes could have kept them in the field, doing the work they loved for the lost in their adopted country. Instead, they were forced to return home to the midwest where they tried to return to “normal life”, and put the pain of it all behind them. But it doesn’t really work that way. That pain stays with you. It lingers, it festers, it spreads, and it can keep us isolated from the very thing that could bring healing. When our pain has been caused by the church, our hearts broken by the actions or words of those we trusted to lead us, our enemy digs in and makes his home there in the pain. He isolates us from our family, friends, church, and even God by convincing us we’re alone in that pain. We can find ourselves sitting in the middle of church, and feeling more alone than we ever did on mission, thousands of miles from home.

The best way to heal the wound is to expose it. Be honest about the damage that has been done to your heart, and soul. Sometimes a counselor can help you to give words to the pain you’ve been carrying for too long in silence. A counselor who has been in ministry for many years is a precious resource because they not only have the tools to help you work through that grief and anger, but can empathize with your situation. That’s why we are so very grateful to have the talented counselors we have here at Restored & Renewed Ministry. They can help, and they can meet you right where you’re at thanks to the incredible power of technology.

Another powerful ally in your healing is found in other missionaries like you who have lived through the painful experiences of life in the field, or the intensity of returning home, and all the grief that carries with it. Sharing our stories with one another says You’re not alone. That’s why we will continue to encourage former missionaries and current missionaries alike to share their story, and declare to the church that #RandRmatters. Like our friend Jessica said, a little time out to be encouraged could have saved their work. It could save a family. It could save a life.

Please share us with your friends:

A Story About Furloughs

They sat at my dining room table looking too tired to eat as they told us about their work overseas. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that look on a missionary’s face. We’d been hosting missionaries in our home for nearly twenty years, and I’d seen it many times before. Weary eyes that crinkle at the edges as they force a smile, shoulders that slump over their dinner plate, too tired and defeated to be held straight for another moment. The little ones shifted in their seats, casting a pleading gaze at their mother, their food hardly touched. She shook her head, a silent message that was met with a pout, but submission as the boy poked the food on his plate with a fork and kept quiet.

“How long have you been on the road this time?” my husband asked.

“Well, it took us two days to get here to you from our last stop, but we’ve been on the road off and on for nearly two months. We’ve just got another week to go in this furlough, and we’ll be headed home.”

“Wow. That must be tough. Have you had a good trip?”

The missionary nodded, his mouth twisted into a wistful smile.

I could see the hesitation in his eyes.

“You can be honest with us. We know how hard it is to travel like that, and most see it as a great big vacation. I’m sure the excitement wore off weeks ago.”

That’s when his wife started to cry. Silent tears at first that trickled out onto her lashes. When she sniffled, we glanced her way, and the dam that had been holding it back for weeks broke. Embarrassed, she jumped up from the table, and ran out of the room.

For many of us who support mission work in our local churches, we have very little idea of what it is like to live as a missionary, and even less what it is like to come “home” for furlough. But this time period is not only stressful, it can be the beginning of the end for a family in missions. The stress and expections of those back home can be too much for a family, and create wounds that grow into painful issues that destroy a family, and a career in ministry.

Although it may seem like a vacation since missionaries leave their place of work behind, and get to travel around the world on an extended road trip, furlough is NOT a vacation. Ignoring the pain of leaving your work behind for two months, and for a missionary work = people, it can be extremely overwhelming to begin such an extended trip, especially if you have children in tow. Long flights, weeks of driving, sleeping on pull out sofas, futons, and guest beds while your children are sometimes left on pallets on the floor is exhausting. Everywhere you visit is excited to see you (hopefully) but they have a long list of questions, and usually they are the same questions that you just answered twenty times in a row that week. And some of the questions aren’t nice, either. Often laced with prejudice, or even veiled threats, churches and family can both feel entitled to criticize your decisions for your family, your work, and any other choice you’ve made since moving overseas.

Most missionaries are required to visit every church who donates money, even if the total amount donated that year didn’t cover the gas needed to visit them on furlough. Every church has the right, and responsibility, to ask about how the ministry is progressing, but some take this too far. However, even if every single church treats the missionary with respect and love, it can be demoralizing and exhausting having to prove your worth again and again and again for two months straight. Your wife, and children are on display, too, and they better be on their best behavior. You can imagine how a three year old acts in Sunday class after driving all day the day before to arrive late, and then sleep on the floor. They’ve been forced to say hello and good bye too many times to count over the course of the last two months, and sitting still in church in their pretty dress just is asking too much. They’re ready to go home, and be quiet and play with their old toys again, but by now they may wonder if they’ll ever see home again. Two months is a long time in a toddler’s life, and it’s not her fault the grown ups in her world are expecting so much of her.

I’ve met hundreds of missionaries and ministers now in my life, and I guarantee not a single one of them want to say just how hard it really is for them to be constantly on trial. “It’s part of the job,” a minister said to me once. It may be true, but that doesn’t make it right.

Here are some ways we can make our missionaries and ministers feel more loved when they are on furlough:

  1. Volunteer to host a visiting family, or invite them over for dinner.

  2. Try your best to give everyone in the family their own bed. If necessary, book a comfortable hotel suite for them to stay in during their visit to your town.

  3. If there isn’t a NEED to have them visit your congregation, let them know you are happy to see them on another visit. Let them off the hook, but reassure them their funding is secure.

  4. Send them away with a basket of road trip treats like bottled water, cookies, and books or games for the kids.

  5. Ask about more than their work. Show that you care about them as people, their family, and their feelings. If they are struggling, offer to connect them with a counselor through R & R Ministry.

  6. Check in regularly with the family, and focus on loving them. Fight their fear that funding will be cut by communicating often, and encouraging them to keep doing their good work.

  7. Surprise them with some time alone together as a family complete with everything they need to have a REAL vacation together. Plan ahead so that they can work it into their schedule before their trip begins since most families are on a tight schedule to visit as many places as possible. Need an idea to help you get started? Book them a stay at our chateau for their return trip to give them a quiet place to reconnect with one another and refocus on their mission before going back to work.

Are you a missionary with a few furlough stories to tell? Help us show the church that a little R & R could save a family. Share this post, and your story with the hashtag #RandRmatters on your favorite social media. Together, we’re helping those who share the good news around the world.

Please share us with your friends:

A Story About Depression

It broke my heart, but looking back…I understand why it happened.

We were in Maine in our third year there as vocational missionaries, and our dream had finally come true: Our best friends were joining us with their brand new baby in tow! It took everything I had not to be over at her house every afternoon. I was just so excited to have my best friend living nearby, and especially glad to have someone around to talk to about all the challenges of living on mission so far from home, and without a church to support us. Finally, we weren’t alone. This was going to change everything.

Except, it didn’t. The loneliness I already felt, the isolation, and the painful distance from family still living in the south…she felt it double. A first time mother, she was experiencing all the biggest, most beautiful experiences of raising a new baby a thousand miles away from her own mother. It wore on her heart, and weighed on her mind. She called a little less. She stopped coming over. She was too busy to have me around. I didn’t see it at the time, mostly because my own feelings created a haze that kept me blind to what my sweet friend was enduring. It was heartbreaking for both of us when she finally told me the news…they were going home.

That announcement had a ripple affect in my life. We followed them a year later, leaving behind the families we’d worked so hard to minister to, and carried home with us a mountain of regret. But the winters were too long, and too lonely, the work too hard to do alone. It’s not our friend’s fault that we left our work in Maine, but it seemed to confirm what we already knew…ministry is hard, and meant to be done with a support system. The other thing I learned from that season in life is this: depression is real, and loneliness is like a death sentence to someone who is fighting depression. I know, because I discovered I was suffering from seasonal affective disorder, and postpartum depression just months before we decided to move south. I couldn’t find a Christian counselor anywhere who would help me work through the issues I was dealing with at the time, and it felt like going home was the only thing that would keep me alive. I couldn’t take another winter alone in Maine, no matter how beautiful it was.

A ministry like Restored & Renewed could have changed our whole story. What would have happened if we could have spoken with a counselor every week through video conferencing? What a blessing it would have been for me, for my friend, and for the families we were serving who needed marital counseling, too. Christian counseling is a lifesaving, marriage saving work, and now that we can have access to experienced counselors through technology anywhere there is an internet or cellular connection, we should be using this resource more often. Are you a missionary or minister who could have been helped if you’d had access to private, confidential counseling without having to leave your mission field? Help us show the church that a little R & R could save a family. Share this post, and your story with the hashtag #RandRmatters on your favorite social media. Together, we’re helping those who share the good news around the world.

 

Please share us with your friends:

Share Your Story

“It’s really heartbreaking,” she said, shaking her head. Her eyes were filled with sadness, and something else…frustration.

The noise of the café hummed behind us as we sat talking over our lunch of deli sandwiches and iced tea. I hadn’t seen her in a very long time, and her unexpected house guest had kept her busier than usual, making it hard for us to find time to get together and catch up. A missionary friend of theirs recently moved in, finding their home a safe refuge as he tried to put the pieces of his life back together and return to the work he’d left behind overseas.

“I wish I knew how to help him,” she continued. “It’s so hard to see him like this, and know that it probably could have been prevented.”

She was right. There was a good chance it could have been prevented, but it’s hard to help someone avoid a painful trial like divorce when they won’t share the pain they are going through before it’s too late. That was the case for her friends, a couple ministering overseas as missionaries…until it all ended in a surprise divorce. The wife hadn’t been prepared for the reality of life overseas, or on full time mission. The pain and resentment built up until she couldn’t take it anymore, and left. He came home to try to win her back, but it was too late. The divorce papers were already on their way. She was done.

“If only she’d said something before…” my friend lamented.

If only she’d had a counselor available, I thought.

A good marriage counselor, or family therapist could have helped this young woman work through her feelings and difficult emotions. In counseling, she could have explored her alternatives with someone who could help her find ways to give words to her painful emotions. Learning to communicate with our spouse is difficult in the beginning, but even more so when the two of you are on mission thousands of miles away from your support systems. Add to that the stress couples in ministry often feel to pretend everything is perfectly wonderful between them in order to set a good example, or to convince those who pay their paycheck each month that everything is fine, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Even if they wanted help, who could they trust to be both helpful and discreet as they work through their issues thousands of miles away from the closest Christian counselor?

You might be surprised how many missionaries leave the field because of trouble in their marriage, or with their family. It’s frustrating to think how many of those families could have been spared that pain, and remained in the work they loved if only they’d had the help they needed. R & R Ministries was created to help missionary families find the resources they need to keep doing the precious work they were called to do. Help us help more missionaries stay in the field by sharing this post, and tell us your story of how a ministry like Restored and Renewed could have helped you, or someone you love. When we speak the truth about our situation in love, it inspires others to speak their truth as well. So, by having the courage to share your story, you could help another family out there see themselves in your story, and reach out for the help they need.

Use the hashtag #RandRmatters when you share this link and your story on your favorite social media, and help us tell the church that a little R & R could save a family. Together, we’re helping those who share the good news around the world.

Please share us with your friends: