Posts Tagged ‘missionaries’

Story-telling, listening and spiritual direction

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Gentoo penguins by Andreas Butz

Saw the following in Ken Royers’s email newsletter that he sends out (for free) to personnel involved in missionary member care.  In his January letter, he passed on “Good Listening: Three Before Me,” an article by Steve Karum of NTM. Although Karum does not use the word spiritual direction, what he is suggesting is a way of accompanying fellow missionaries in their journey with God as we listen to their stories.  Is that not a form of SD? I suppose he is offering a little bit of SD and a bit of coaching He suggests we ask the following three questions as we listen to another’s story:

1. “In light of this how are you and God doing?”
2. “What strengths do you have that will help you meet this challenge?”
3, “Whom do you know who could help as you face this challenge?”

Following is Karum’s article in full:

“Three before me” is a little self-reminder, like a string tied on my finger, to stay focused on the one with whom I’m conversing by asking three important questions.

Currently our ministry is with missionaries on home assignment.  We find that while all missionaries have a story to tell, telling the story is just half the experience.  If “telling the story” is to be effective, the story-teller needs to have a good story-listener.  Therefore the main question:  How good a story-listener am I?

Has this ever happened to you?  As the story-teller you’re deeply engaged in relating an incident when all of a sudden, out of the blue, your story is intercepted, hijacked!  Somewhere in the course of your story telling the listener grew bored and took over the conversation!  It might have happened in a short millisecond in which you paused or you said a word that triggered a story or memories, or even a hobby horse the listener insisted on relating.  It’s hard when that happens.  How do we handle it?  Do we speak “Readers Digest Condensed” the next time we’re the story-teller?

As much as I don’t like it, how many times as a story-listener have I hijacked another person’s story?  Have I adopted the un-golden rule, “Do unto others as they have done to you?”  Seeking to encourage while interacting with the story-teller (without hijacking their story), I aim to ask three important questions to bring perspective into a difficult story.

We recently met with a couple en route to PNG.  Since they had started “Partnership Development” they had several setbacks.  After I heard of these events I asked them Question #1, “In light of this how are you and God doing?”

Although it may seem silly to do so I like to ask this question even when everything is going well.  Maybe this is a question that should come later but I ask it first because we are spiritual beings and I believe it is best to start with the most important relationship we have — God and me.  Question #1 pulls our attention to God.  He knows all about our struggles and just as He knows about battles so He also knows the way through.

It is not uncommon to hear a challenge / struggle / disappointment woven through a missionary’s story.  The missionary may not be sufficiently aware of the struggle to put it into words but I believe it’s there and it’s causing them stress, emotionally, physically or spiritually.  Therefore I like to ask Question #2 in a positive way, “What strengths do you have that will help you meet this challenge?”  This question focuses on our God-given strengths.  These strengths will with His direction help us overcome the problem and grow stronger.  It is a question that hopefully will draw the heart toward hope.

Humans are part of a social network and missionaries have several networks:  friends, relatives, churches, mission organization, the ministry country or location, local believers, and co-workers.  Within some networks missionaries feel very safe to the point they will reach out for help.  Therefore Question #3:  “Whom do you know who could help as you face this challenge?”  This query points them toward another who can come alongside.  Suffering is a given but suffering in solitude can seem intolerable.

Of course every conversation has a life of its own.  It’s never the same as the previous one and that makes listening enjoyable.  By utilizing these questions, each conversation will tell of one’s relationship with God — the questions, the blessing, and the challenges — the strengths they never knew they had, and the strength they drew from the rich wisdom of their friends.

Sometimes the “three before me” doesn’t seem to fit.  The surroundings are important.  Is it quiet?  Is the topic safe to talk about publicly?  How well do we know each other?  These all need to be considered.  So with that in mind here is what I try in conversation with missionaries.

It all starts with their story.  I realize that is so “duh,” but I really believe missionaries, actually all people, feel honored through good listening.  Through engaged listening the listener communicates respect, safety, and love to the missionary.  Billy age 4 is quoted on the Internet, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different!  You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”  I’d like every missionary to say, “I know my name is safe with Steve and Patty.”

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Too many goodbyes

July 23, 2010 2 comments

Although these words are written about missionary kids (MKs), they would be true for many of their parents as well!

“Many MKs carry with them the scars from too many good-byes. They harden their feelings, put on emotional armor and turn inward in an attempt to insulate themselves from further hurt. They draw back from intimacy and remain in “emotional exile”—alone, separate and protected.”  James Gould

What if joy was a place?

June 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Joy on a swing by markkitaoka

As Christians, most of us understand that joy is more than a feeling and is not necessarily to be equated with a smile on our face! But, what if joy was a place?  When people commented on the joy in Damaris Zehner, even though she felt anything but joyful she began to wonder if joy was not more of a place.

“I concluded that joy isn’t a feeling or a thing we have; it’s almost more of a place, one that we’re invited to enter into and abide in.  Joy is the keeping of God’s commandments; it is faithfulness in discharging duties.  It’s the result of endurance, and also the reason for it.”

Reminds me of a post I made a few weeks back when I suggested that obedience turns pain into joy.

Zehner quotes Hebrews 12:1-2; James 1:1-2 and Psalm 125:5-6 in support of her comments about joy which I appreciate.  I think what Zehner is saying is that joy is the place of obedience (my words, not hers).  In obedience, we will be content, we will be joyful, we will be in the will of God.

But, what grabbed my attention was Zehner’s allusion to the weight of people’s  expectations.

They all wanted to know about my work overseas and my spiritual life.  Many of them presumed my spiritual life was triumphant – I was a missionary, after all.

Does anyone have a story or comment out there on the presumption of missionary spirituality? Please share them with us.

Another post on missionary spirituality seems to be in order!

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Ethnocentric thinking about Haiti

March 9, 2010 Leave a comment

In an article, Theyr’e Not Us, Roberto Carlo expands our understanding about the disastrous attempt of well-meaning Christians who tried to rescue 100 Haitain orphans and bring them back to America.  Sigh!!!  He goes on to describe other ill-fated attempts of missionaries to help.  His conclusion for success in mission endeavors: “That requires doing something that most Americans are terrible at: seeing ourselves and our history as the rest of the world sees it, never mind taking it seriously.”

What Carlo describes in this article is ethnocentric thinking–an assumption that our way is better, resulting in a lack of respect for people in their own context and an inability to see how God is already at work.  I understand that people “just want do do something to help” but in too many cases, that help makes things worse in the long run.

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one’s own.

Ethnocentric: characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own group is superior.

Missionary conversations: part 5

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Final post on a discussion with missionaries that have returned from the mission field and are experiencing Re-entry Grief

J: What they [home community] quite likely recognize is loss of role, but not the loss of relationships [in host country]. Changed relationships in the home country may be experienced with family members, the community or within the mission organization, but are not acknowledged.

H: How they [family] see me? I have no idea but . . . I don’t think any differently to how they used to think. . . . You know families hold memories more than reality, I think.

A: it may be . . . “what a relief that you’re back and you’ll feel relieved and you know, this is your home and your family’s here you know, thank goodness everything’s rosy for you now.” So I think there’s probably not . . . quite understanding of that loss.

G: It’s [re-entry] just something that everybody goes through so they [the mission community] just expect you to adjust I think. . . . Yeah, I think in a way they kind of expected you to go through those feelings, … but, it wasn’t as if anybody offered to even listen.

G: I feel put up on a pedestal. . . . And so when people ask how are you going, they’re already thinking in a mind set that says you’re doing all right because you’re missionaries (laughter).

B: No, for many of them, like when you think about grief, . . . they think that meant loss of a person. . . . I don’t think they’ve really got an understanding of how, how the change in situation can cause grief or loss.

Finally, the way the re-entering missionary grieves and their expression of grief is not supported by their community.

N: There are very few people to express it [grief] to. . . . The missionary society tended to professionalize it.

From “Back Home: a qualitative study exploring re-entering cross-cultural missionary aid workers’ loss and grief” Published in Omega 59:1 2008-2009

Missionary conversations: part 4

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment

photo by gerard laurenceau

Some common grief phenomena experienced by missionaries upon re-entry to their home country

S: . . . so I guess the sense of loss is kind of different to say when we leave Australia. When we left Australia . . . to go overseas because we knew that we would see basically everybody again when got back, but leaving [host country] to come back home, then (pause) really it’s a probably won’t see you again sort of goodbye, . . . I guess that sense of loss in some sense is more acute for me.

J: I heard one other missionary on home leave . . . who felt like a dried up raisin. . . . And I thought that was very, very good—lost juice. You were all there but just dried up.

C: . . . there’s, there’s a real sense of not really belonging, whereas in the place where we worked we had very close friends of many years.

H: . . . you know I get really, excuse the French, but I get pissed off that people are so stupid here [in Australia] and so short-sighted.

A: I think…buying a house and setting up a house sometimes has been a bit overwhelming in seeking to make the right choice

N: [I have] basic struggles with nuts and bolts of getting around and to help the children settle better.

F: . . . just sitting on the verandah and ignoring all the mess inside . . . and the feeling that we were home . . . and the feeling of well-being that that gave me.

From “Back Home: a qualitative study exploring re-entering cross-cultural missionary aid workers’ loss and grief” Published in Omega 59:1 2008-2009

Missionary conversations: part 3

February 6, 2010 Leave a comment

More conversations with missionaries about what what happened when they returned to their home country.

Loss of Control

N: I guess it’s . . . not having an environment where you know and understand and have some control over what’s happening . . . that’s all become incredibly wearing and tiring.

S: It [loss of a family relationship on re-entry] was completely outside of the control that we had. . . . I guess it’s really quite a shame.

B: . . . in one sense you’ve got a bit of disappointment because we left sooner than we wanted . . . so there were things on the field that we hadn’t got done before we left.

J: I have just had to say, “God I just can’t do this [care for children in different locations], you know, I don’t have control over this, I’m just going to have to let you . . . be the boss there.” . . . He’s come through every single time (laughter). Does that make it easier for next time? Not always.

From “Back Home: a qualitative study exploring re-entering cross-cultural missionary aid workers’ loss and grief” Published in Omega 59:1 2008-2009