Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life.
Be the light that helps others see;
it's what gives life its deepest significance.
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
It was dry season in Africa, the sunflower heads wilting in the heat, thirsty for drops of rain. Somehow it felt strange to be celebrating Christmas in near 100 degree heat.
We bought a miniature plastic tree and put it in the corner, but it looked kind of pitiful, like it was trying to pretend to be something it wasn’t. There were no presents or care packages that year. I found myself daydreaming about cold things. Wintry cabins tucked in the mountains with icicles hanging from their roofs, being cozied up next to a blazing fire with a big cup of hot chocolate.
But we wouldn’t make it “home” that year.
And even if we had, I imagined a Christmas that came with it’s own set of difficulties. Cringing at the massive displays of wealth and uneaten food on the table, having a panic attack at a mall not used to the materialism, plus feeling like I no longer understood my friends' lives, nor they mine, missing the bright smiles of our women and kids back in Uganda.
Suffice to say, the holidays can be a tough time for missionaries.
We are always caught somewhere between multiple worlds. Displaced. We long for the nostalgia of times past, yet we don’t belong in that world anymore. We long to invite others into the lessons we are learning from suffering and joy, beauty and pain, having little but having everything, the extremes of living in a poverty stricken world.
This post is for the churches, supporters, donors, and families who want to understand and want to help, but don’t know how.
1. Be non-judgmental
Most missionaries have been through a lot on the field. There may be hurts and griefs they haven’t had a chance to process yet. They are probably exhausted from their rigorous schedule. Reverse culture shock can be debilitating, ranging from feelings of guilt to enjoying the vast pleasures of the developed world, to not knowing how to handle themselves in crowds, to feeling like family and friends have moved on without them.
If they’re burned out they might experience outbursts of uncontrollable anger. Shopping malls can be terrifying. Even family dinners can be full of land mines as missionaries often have a more global perspective. Comments are made about the work they do, or why there are still there, or when they’re going to “come home.” This can lead to feelings of loneliness and feeling misunderstood.
Have grace with them. Really listen to them.
Give them space to be and do what they need to without feeling they have to commit to too much. And try not to relate your one-week service trip to Mexico to their current experiences. Also try not to place too many expectations on their time. Don’t just care about their ministry, but care about them as a person.
2. Purchase a counseling/coaching session for them
Most missionaries do not receive regular, encouraging contact from someone they can trust. They often don’t have someone they can process the difficulties of life with or the suffering they witness on a daily basis. They face many challenges, responsibilities, griefs, and traumas, and yet they often face them feeling alone and feel like they have to hide from the world.
Because many people put missionaries on a pedestal, they can buckle under the weight of other’s expectations. Often, they feel they have to hide their fears and their weaknesses for fear of being judged or losing support. They put on a “good show” meanwhile feeling stressed, depressed, and overwhelmed.
One way you can help is to offer to pay for them to get the help they need, to feel less lonely and more understood. They can get the healing and support they need.
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Personal hint from me, Deb:
While I'm back in the States this Spring, I hope to do some debriefing with Dave and Irene Lewis at Bean Sabai in Indiana.
Would YOU act on Sarita's advice and help pay my way? I would greatly appreciate it! See the link below.
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See Sarita's full blog post here: