Monday, October 5, 2015

An Open Letter to the Missionary (Woman) Quitter

When criminals entered our home last December 2nd and attacked our family, our lives changed completely. The obvious, immediate question after the crisis was, "Do we quit being missionaries?"

It was an excruciating question to work through, partially because it was completely unexpected. We had had no thought of leaving the field. My husband's screen saver on his phone when we were dating said, "Go tribal!" Hadn't I known what I was getting into? No, actually! And yes. His heart for the Unreached has defined him, been his core, since I've known him. It seemed there was no avenue forward that didn't involve reconstructing either Seth's or Amy's make-up. We reached out for counsel.

As you may have guessed, especially if you already heard of our situation and were thinking "in our shoes," not many counselors had an easy answer. It would have been wonderful if God had spoken to us in a vision. Most counselors were unwilling and unable to give a certain "yea" or "nay." Understandably so.

What a blessing that most counselors were amazingly supportive. By "supportive," I mean that they understood and articulated that leaving our field was an obvious and valid option, and that we weren't bad Christians to be considering it--that godly Christians have chosen both paths, to leave or to stay.

But a few comments stuck with me memorably--in a negative way--that, in my opinion, made our decision even tougher. They hinted or outright stated that they viewed me as weak or wimpy to even go back to the States for an eight-week visit to think about our future, that I was holding back my husband (because his personality did not struggle with the decision to return to the field even a fraction as much as mine), thus I was unsubmissive and "wearing the pants in the family" (and therefore, my husband had blame for not "leading me" appropriately), that I was not obeying certain Scriptures that encourage risking all for Christ, and that I was not a strong person or missionary or Christian if I couldn't go back.

Well, comments like these (made by people who have not experienced even a quarter of what I have) were not accepted well by a traumatized woman concerned for her traumatized children! And there, in that sentence, may lie part of the answer. Some people cannot empathize fully with a wounded person until they themselves have experienced the humiliation of trials and suffering. I cringe when I remember my naive judgmentalism as a young missionary. Oh, how I've changed now, and eaten my words (rather, thoughts) a hundred times over.

It is true that many leave the field for wrong reasons at the wrong time. And it is true that we do not hear enough encouragement to risk all for Christ. I don't want to take the teeth out of Scriptures like these:
Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
But: Around the time when I was struggling with the fact that I knew that we would be going back to the field, I heard of a missionary woman who was likewise struggling, almost...despairing. And my heart went out to her. She had "put in her time," labored for years on the field, followed her husband to a difficult people, had children in inferior hospitals on the field, and after numerous trials, was beginning to crack under the pressure. I cried for her, someone I'd never met. Why should she, dear timid warrior that she is, be criticized if she needs to come home (America) for the sake of her sanity?

Honestly, I struggled to even word that last paragraph, because I know alpha male theologians who would respond that she shouldn't need that, that if she were responding biblically she could handle this, etc. But I think long-term missionaries understand what I mean, because They've Been There.

So while I truly don't aim to encourage anyone to leave the field, especially for wrong reasons, please understand my desire in this post. I desire simply to offer compassion to that lonely, spent missionary woman who so badly needs to hear compassion, not guilt trips, if she goes home for good or simply for a rest. At other times, I will take the opposing side and encourage perseverance. But for right now I want to simply offer compassion, only compassion, in an open letter to the few missionary women who may be in this situation.

You dear woman,
You've been told so many hurtful things.

It is okay. It is okay to leave the field because you are cracking under the pressure.

Your hair is prematurely graying. You are beaten down by the degrading depravity of your field. Your health is failing. You have forgotten that you used to have an easy laugh and can't remember what it feels like to converse easily with another Christian without weighing every word and its possible miscommunications. And you struggle to list one positive item per every fifty negative things about your field.

You have fought on the front lines of the war for a long time, and you are coming home a wounded soldier. Yes, soldiers wounded in the war receive an honorable discharge. You deserve a medal. Indeed you are a hero! So few people want your job that you are irreplaceable.

God bless you! You tried. You gave your all. You gave beyond your all. You submitted to your husband and raised your children in challenging circumstances. Now channel what remaining energies you have into enduring yet more change, but hopefully a more restful change because of its familiarity. If your coming home allows you to gain the benefits that Jesus got when He "came apart to rest a while," and to continue being a helpmeet to your husband and to keep going in the ministry, though it be no longer foreign, then come. Come home, and continue to follow Christ as well as you can in the place where you are.

You will hear no word of condemnation from me. Only compassion.
Only compassion, dear missionary friend.

Love in Christ,



Anonymous said...

Great thoughts...and I applaud you for writing this. I'm a missionary wife in what I would term a difficult field...I struggle almost weekly with the desire to leave it all and go back to the life I knew, which wasn't all that easy in the first place. And yet, I have that peace of knowing that for the time being, this is where God has placed me, and He is giving me daily and sometimes hourly grace to continue here. I thank Him daily for that peace and pray I never lose it. But I agree that the vast majority would not understand the reasoning why someone would feel the need to go "home", unless they have been there. Thank you for your honesty, your kindness, and the grace of God that shows in your writing.

Anonymous said...

When I saw this link on my Facebook page this morning I saved it to read and due to the title, was ready to be upset. Upset because I've counseled hurting women. I've listened to their cries. I've listened to the hurtful words of others. I too am a missionary woman. I know the struggles. I feel their pain. I was pleasantly surprised to read your compassion and grace. Thank you for your kind words. We missionary women need them amidst all the hurtful things that we hear. May I share one more thought... missionary woman, go back to your passport country and find good, biblical counseling. It is out there if you find the right person. When my husband suffered from depression a few years ago after a long illness we finally went back home. In the first months we really thought we wouldn't return. We also expected a lot of negative comments, we received none. What we did receive was kindness, compassion and love. Away from the daily struggles of life on the field he was able to heal. He went to counseling, meditated on Scripture, prayed, slept - a lot, and went to church services that were culturally familiar and in English. It took five months of doing nothing more than what I wrote above, but he finally started to come up out of the fog of depression and could hear God calling us back. Sometimes it is time to leave, but sometimes getting away for a true time of rest is needed for God to bring healing and strength to return. Maybe for you the answer will be different, but getting away and getting help will make that decision more clear.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Amy.
I'm a brand new wife in a brand new country (ish). I don't consider myself a missionary but am sent in the representation of a mission board. Barely being married a week my husband and I have faced numerous challenges all at once some of my missionary friends have said they were able to spread over time. It's been difficult for sure but this was still an encouragement and a comfort. Thank you.

Jessi said...

Amy, thank you for sharing your heart. I'm a missionary wife in Kenya, and three years ago, we had a break-in. It was not as bad as yours, but still very traumatic for us, and especially for me as a mother. I understand to some degree what you went through because I really struggled with fear. Going through something like that changes you in ways that others cannot understand who have not been through it. I'm praying for you and your husband and little ones. And thank you for being willing to encourage others.


Samantha said...

Thank you for sharing from your heart. You are a brave courageous soul. To put into words those deepest feelings that our families face takes grace. People who have not served in your capacity and hurt in your capacity can never imagine the battles. But that peace has filled your heart knowing you have done all that our Father has asked. Jesus alone determines when you need to go back or come away. Thank you for being a grace giver today.

Carrie said...

Thank you for these words. Our field hasn't been on foreign soil, but we have gone through trials and struggles that have worn down our family, so much so that my husband's health got bad, and he almost died a few years ago. We have learned these things as well, and have had to even pull back from doing some of the things we used to do in the name of serving God, because our family and our sanity were suffering. It's comforting to know that there are still Christians out there with compassion for other Christians. It's too bad we sometimes learn this compassion only after going through traumas ourselves, but thankfully it was learned, and we didn't stay in our own ignorance. Thanks again, this was so encouraging.

Anonymous said...

Amy, thank you so much for being willing to expose your emotions publically and for sharing your personal thoughts. After 38 years of missionary service and one break-in when my husband was physically attacked, I understand your thoughts (although I cannot imagine having that happen with children in the house). "Showing compassion, and not putting on a guilt trip" was a comment full of grace. Thank you.
How many of us have heard, "the field is the world"; and yet when a missionary couple decides to make a change, they are criticized. If "the field is the world", cannot we serve anywhere? I also like the other lady's reference to "wounded soldiers". I suspect that few people who have stayed "home" realize the spiritual battle that we face as front-line soldiers.
Thank you for your timing. We meet with our mission board soon and plan on presenting our idea of changing our ministry.
Another thought that I had while reading your article and the comments is that we missionaries are not all exactly alike. We have different personalities and different abilities. Reading the book of Acts, we see that God used different men in DIFFERENT ways.
Also, facing physical violence leaves scars that do not heal quickly no matter how "spiritual" one is.
Praying for you and any others who are facing the decision of changing ministries or taking a time of rest.