Saturday, September 1, 2012

Throw Down The Anchor: The stress of a missionary

For missionaries I feel there are subjects that are not much covered, can't always be taught and some that are neglected and sadly so.  To be free, vulnerable and transparent in writing, it is risky.  On the other hand, it might be a tiny gift that God has given to paint a picture for some that wonder what missionaries really face.  For those that have answered their call to missions (or will) know:  you are not alone

A topic seldom discussed is stress. This is a different type of stress than a common person would be familiar to; a type on a much higher level that I did not even identify with although I have been involved in missions for years.  Let me share, for the empathetic readers, just a few random cross-cultural stresses I have had to adjust to:  

Anxiety.  You feel every eye starring at you in the grocery store, not knowing if it is because of your white skin or blue eyes. Worry. You have a curfew for the first time in long time because it might not be safe to go out alone after dark.  Frustration. You fumble through conversations because you are still translating your (second) language in your mind and how to best express yourself among a much warmer people group. Panic.  You hit yet another big un-marked speed bump and hope it doesn't cause damage to the car you can't afford to repair.  Fear. You wonder in case of an emergency what number to dial like “911” as you recall how to state your situation in a foreign language.  Sorrow.  You can't hug best friends, or celebrate birthdays and any expression of how much you miss the ones you love who are far away will never ever succeed.  Disappointment. The several occasions trying to voice these realities the insensitive, yet very common response is “It was your choice to move away…”  (really.)

Those are adjustments to daily living.  But all things cultural and ministerial  are against the grain of your core… the center of who you are.-

I will not unpack today what I am experiencing ministering within a Red-light district…yes, God is there and yes, there is victory.  But the majority is negative to the soul.   I will only express the questions that race inside of me like- “How will (and is) this work changing me?  And will people be able to understand me and love me the same after I come home from this “war?” I surely hope so.  
I learned recently about stress-levels on individuals.  Simply put, when stress levels reach above a 200 {on the Holmes-Rahe scale}, doctors will advise patients to make life changes– drink a glass of wine, exercise, sleep more, that kind of thing. The goal is to keep stress levels below 200, since above that puts you at risk for heart attacks, diabetes, cancer, or other severe illnesses.  The effects of high stress can be an extremely damaging to the body and mind.

Then, they used the same standards and scale to assess missionary stress levels. They found that the average missionary’s stress levels for the first year are typically around 800-900, and the sustained stress levels of a cross cultural worker stays around 600.  - 600. -Triple the suggested highest level.  (I am speechless.)

On top of stress, recently I have found grief.   It is not until this current season that I had flashbacks of everything I owned in a garage sale, my old apartment and its sweet memories and the dog I had for 14 years who I gave I could “go. “That breaking passed so rapidly I never had time to let all the tears out…You just put on a smile, put your head high, thank God, thank the ones sending you  and pack the next suitcase.  That’s what you do… right? 

You are the missionary, the sent one and sent out of great need somewhere else.  A missionary’s life is lived in a state of urgency, importance and precedence.  You do not retreat, you do not pause to cry, and you do not stop.  Yet, it is a must.  

 We indeed do go,  abandoning everything to be sent and I would never trade this new life.  But when the water rises and we feel like we are sinking…we have to let the anchor descend and lodge. We must draw back.   We must de-stress. We must grieve and we should be required to.

Above the millions of adjustments to be made within a culture, within culture-shock and the culture stress of just doing "life," let the best adjustment be made to take care of ourselves.   Throw down the anchor.  Stop. Cry. Grieve. Breathe. Repeat.

"When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oak trees grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure."  Peter Marshall

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