Furlough fever: Real Stress from Cross Cultural Living

by mendibpng

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Another aspect that occurred to me when I contemplated furlough feelings are the real/normal stresses of the last four year’s worth of missionary service that we will [hopefully] be working through. I picked out a few of the stressors Joan Carter’s study outlined: (there are more if you want to check out the article cited below):

  • Seeing needs I’m unable to meet
  • Confronting Others When Necessary
  • Amount of Work
  • Communicating Across Language and Culture
  • Work Priorities
  • Self Expectations
  • Conflicts Between My Values & Host Culture
  • “Goldfish Bowl” Existence
  • Travel Difficulties
  • Guilt Feelings Over having Plenty in the Midst of Need
  • Furlough Expectations & Schedule
  • Frequent Moving
  • Recreation & Exercise
  • Family Responsibility vs. Ministry
  • Loneliness and Isolation

(Taken from Missionary Stressors and Implications for Care, by Jane Carter. “Enhancing Missionary Vitality”, p.102-103)

I would add a couple more not listed above that have significantly affected us:

  • Raising five kids and thus having little time to ourselves/spend with each other
  • Having multiple large appliances break in the house all at once
  • High cost of living and traveling
  • Illnesses of loved ones at home in the U.S.
  • Missing big (happy) events like weddings/births of babies, etc.
  • Sickness
  • Tribal fighting
  • Tasks of daily living (ie cooking from scratch)
  • Supporting national and expat colleagues who are dealing with crisis in their families and personal lives

I could write a paragraph or whole blog post on each of the above topics, but I won’t, as this post is getting too long already. I think it’s enough to say that those topics affect us at varying degrees and times. I’ve seen cross cultural workers with incredibly high tolerances for stressful situations who end up burnt out by the end of a long field term, just from the accumulation of all of them together. In other words, I suspect if we faced one thing at a time, the ability to handle it in a healthy way would be much higher. Each thing takes its toll and builds on the others. For me, having been here for nearly four years means that my margin and tolerance is at a low place. So hopefully heading back to the US in a few months will feel like a bit of a reprieve from those things, so that I’m equipped and ready to face them again once furlough is over.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I would change this life for anything. Nope. I’m all in. I am just a wee bit tired tired after four years.

I’ve said many times in this space but I feel compelled once again to say that any kind of adversity is an opportunity for me to practice the presence of God. In the same way, I am also aware that because these stresses are a constant reality, I am likely to overreact and have to repent fairly regularly unless I take time to notice what is happening before I react. I love it that God shows me these things gently, without making me feel condemned.

So if you bump into a missionary who has just come off the field, you may notice that he or she looks a little war-torn and tattered emotionally,mentally, physically and spiritually. My thought is, if I write these words out loud, maybe it will open some doors for dialogues on these topics and hopefully just promote grace for the road ahead, not just for me but for anyone who wants to understand what a missionary might be facing before and during furlough.

Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts/insights to add to this conversation!

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6 Comments to “Furlough fever: Real Stress from Cross Cultural Living”

  1. Mandy and Ben, Your blog brings to mind the times when we , as missionaries in Indonesia for may years,were forced to stop for a while during times of sickness. Now , during ministry times in the homeland,we see the Lord occasionally orchestrating the same forced times of rest. It makes the Apostle Paul’s writing under the inspiration of The Holy Spirit make so much sense: “I glory in my infirmities.” Sometimes during our times of feeling weak and useless, the opening in our lives is created for more of God’s glory to enter us and then be poured out as His mercy, grace, and love on others. All the seasons are ours to embrace because they are all His. Love to you, Josiah, Noah, Ellie, Jacob, and JennyBeth!
    (your Florida) Mom and Dad xxxxooo

  2. Mandy,
    I love your thoughtfulness. Definitely helps me know how to pray about for our many friends who are scattered around the world (PNG, South Africa, Thailand, Peru) doing missionary work. You also make me wonder how to be more reflective about what it means to live in our home culture and yet trying to live in the kingdom of Christ. Thanks for sharing!

    • Paula, thanks for writing. Yeah, I am pretty sure a lot of these stresses are common amongst missionaries all over the world! I am sure they appreciate your caring and support as much as I do 🙂 xoxo

  3. Just now a missionary mother of five children called up and we both shared our heart of imperfection and the great peace our Lord offered. After that I read your life story of furlough. Thank you for sharing. At present we as a family are going through a painful situation.

  4. Thank you for sharing from your heart! I’m an Australian missionary in Japan. I’m currently writing a couple of articles about cross-cultural stress (and how it’s different to culture-shock), because I think that many people don’t realise how stressful missionary life is. Thanks again.

    • hi Wendy! thank you for stopping by. I hope I can read your articles some day–they sound helpful!! You are right, it can be really stressful. It takes a while to adjust to not having those stresses, too!

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