By a Missionary
Dear EMC family,
These unusual times, combined with an online course on missionary care I’ve been taking during lock-down in Eastern Europe, have meant a lot of introspection. This introspection has included thinking about what EMC has done well in the course of our 20-plus years as overseas workers. Thus, this letter: I wanted to take a moment to thank you for these things, with a few other suggestions sprinkled in.
As someone who has “married into” to the EMC (I met my husband while working in overseas missions), from the beginning I was welcomed, and this has continued throughout the years. EMC churches, small groups and families have readily given us space to share our experiences and to let us communicate how we’ve seen God work through our common mission.
But it’s not just a welcome because we are missionaries; it’s a welcome because we are people. When we’ve met with EMC leadership, they have wanted to know how we are really doing and have given their unhurried time to listen to us. We are grateful for this hospitable listening. Christian psychiatrist Dr. Curtis Thompson writes in his book The Soul of Shame, “Good listeners energize the storyteller, and so encourage the story to be told more faithfully.” We want to be able to tell our story faithfully, and those of you who have listened attentively have helped us do that.
Committed to Us
Which brings me to another point of thanks: EMC has also been committed to us through tough times. Just over nine years ago I suffered an accident while on the field, and we received encouraging emails from many in the EMC family, reassuring us of their prayers. When we were finally able to visit some of those who had prayed, I remember one of our supporters saying, “We’re so glad you’re okay.” Then, with a catch in her voice, “That was a scary time.” Even with all the miles separating us, they entered into our harrowing experience and kept us buoyed through their prayers.
More recently, my husband appreciated a call from EMC staff to find out how we were coping with lock-down. These thoughtful gestures show care and have kept us connected to you. This is in addition to regular emails, where your prayers and the sharing of your news help keep the link strong.
A Gathering of ‘Misfits’
Another event I appreciated was a gathering of missionaries during missions week at our home fellowship in Manitoba. The facilitators were themselves missionaries, and through the fun games and thoughtful sharing time, we realized we were with others who get our strange life. In a way, missionaries are forever ruined for normal living. This has its pluses, like being able to critically evaluate our relationship to worldly possessions. But it also means that we are often misfits in our “home” culture. (Just ask a missionary kid, “Where’s home?” and see how long it takes her to answer.) So, gathering with other misfits within the EMC family has reassured us that we’re not the only weird ones out there.
Related to this, we might have benefited during longer furlough times from having cultural guides to help in our re-acculturation. Working in a different culture, adjusting to different ways of viewing and doing life are the mainstays of our overseas service, and we often look for people in the host culture who can help us navigate the new waters. But when re-entering Canadian culture, we have to go through this process again.
We are usually missing friends and home, we may be grieving the loss of stability, or may be facing changes in ministry focus. We may do strange things, like pine after bread baked in a clay oven, or have trouble thinking of the English word for an everyday object. We may even have troubling questions about God and His ways of working. Here is where having safe people to be with, who will put up with our unusual ways and let us process through the changes we’re going through, can be a lifeline. The church family receiving us can ask if we do have those close relationships and encourage us in that direction if we do not.
New Ways of Connecting
One other thing we’ve appreciated about our home fellowship is their willingness to try new ways of connecting. After we moved to a new field two years ago, they organized a Skype call with us within the Sunday morning service. Yes, it was perhaps a bit chaotic, and maybe the screen froze more than once, but we appreciate their willingness to touch base and allow the whole congregation to “see” us.
I’ve already mentioned a couple of suggestions for strengthening the missionary-church relationship, but I’ll add two more here. Through my missionary-care course, I have been impressed by the reality of living an embodied faith—our bodies influence our souls and vice-versa. This means that how our bodies are doing can give us a clue as to how our souls are doing.
In The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, Christian psychologist Dr. Archibald Hart shares his own experience: “Since realizing that my body is intelligently designed, I have changed my attitude to pain and try to listen to the discomfort my body creates when I am under too much stress…I attend to the pressures in my life. I force myself to slow down, change priorities, and relinquish responsibilities that are not mine alone.”
While it is my job to monitor my own health, supporting fellowships can ask us about this area as well. The temptation is to just pray for health issues to go away (which is also important!), but in some cases they may point to inner issues which need to be talked about: anxiety, fear, trauma, relational conflict within the missions team, disappointment, among other things.
Which brings me to my last thought: keep us accountable for our Sabbaths. This is embedded in a wider concern for our spiritual health, but I mention Sabbath rest specifically because we can be busy with ministry and lose the priority of quiet, unhurried time with Jesus. Furloughs theoretically provide a chance to reassess the shape of our daily lives, but often such times can be no better, with full travel schedules packed with speaking engagements.
Ask us about our vacations. Ask us about our spiritual retreats. Ask us about what we need to do to sit at Jesus’ feet to listen well. Just the questions might be enough to make sure we include these vital elements our lives both overseas and on home soil.
Thanks for Listening
Thanks again for listening. The prayerful, thoughtful support of our EMC family has been a key part of us being able to stay on the field. I hope my letter has encouraged you in that; it has certainly helped me put to pen some thoughts percolating in my head and heart for the past few months.
As my prof said in her last lecture of the course, “Speak the truth.” We missionaries may sometimes be afraid to do so because we don’t want to disappoint those who have sent us or jeopardize our support, but effective, Christ-rooted ministry depends on open communication with you. Something for us to keep growing in, don’t you think?
Many thanks and blessings.
The writer is a missionary with Wycliffe Canada serving with her family in Europe. She and her husband are training a new generation of missionaries to go to the least reached.