16 June 2009

My Debriefing at Missionary Training International

Pikes Peak in the background

This is my discussion group (can you see me in the back row)? The couple on the right was our discussion leaders. There were 24 adults and 20 kids in attendance. 15 of the adults had served in various countries in Africa, 8 in Asia, and 1 in Central America.

the other discussion group and their leaders

“The fact is, one is never the same once they have experienced a cross-cultural ministry. The individual has become different. Something happens to us personally when we adapt to a new culture, and in that adapting, our parochialism (based on our unquestioned feeling that there is really only one way to live and our way is it) is smashed. We acknowledge cultural variety. Re-entry shock is caused by returning to a setting presumed to be familiar, but in reality it is no longer the same because both you and the culture have changed. You are out of step with your own culture.”

- Burt and Farthing, Crossing Cultures

I learned that I must allow myself time to navigate through the transition of re-entering the American culture. We discussed the various stages of transition that occur as we move back and forth between our host culture and our home culture:

· Settled: While we live in our host culture, we are settled. We have an established daily routine, a place to call home, and a sense of purpose. Things are familiar and comfortable.

· Unsettled: As we begin the process of leaving, there is a sense of being uprooted. It is a very unsettling time. We are forced to begin to detach and we have a feeling of abandoning people. We struggle with a mixture of emotions and so many good-byes. It’s hectic as we pack and tie up loose ends. There is much sorrow interspersed with so many decisions. A sense of dread and the unknown start to creep in.

· Chaos: We’re exhausted and overly emotional. We face visa issues, encounter repeated points of airport security, and suffer from the effects of jetlag. We’re disoriented, confused, and numb. In fact, we feel like we’re in a fog much of the time. We begin to realize that we’re coming back as a different person. Additionally, we’re unsure where we stand with various relationships.

· Re-Settling: We face reverse culture shock as we re-enter the American culture. We often feel like an idiot with all the changes in technology, etc. We may have to remind ourselves of seemingly simple things, like looking left first when crossing the street! We can be overwhelmed with all the decisions we have to make and getting re-oriented to our home country. We face loneliness and wonder what our role is.

· Settled: Finally, we do develop a new daily routine and create our own sense of space. We re-connect with old friends and family members. We still struggle, though, with an awareness that we don’t quite fit in. We make cultural blunders and social errors. We can be confused about how to properly greet others. We’re faced with the realization that things are not the same in our home country and they never will be. We are also different than when we left; we’ve become bi-cultural and our world view has changed.

“How do you pick up the threads of your old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back.”

- Frodo, Lord of the Rings

“Even after 12 years of living back in the States (after more than 13 years serving overseas), we still don’t feel completely at home.”

- George and Connie Blake, our discussion leaders

“Re-connecting with family and friends takes a great deal of emotional energy… Although it should not surprise us, it does hurt when exciting moments and new discoveries made overseas are of little interest to anyone else.”

- Burt and Farthing

“Sojourners who adapt well to the host culture, experience changes to their values, attitudes, and perceptions and must attempt to integrate them. Thus, their re-entry is painful and problematic. These returnees become marginal in terms of the home culture because they are cognitively and behaviorally different from their people.”

- Study done by Hara, LaBrack, Montgomery, and Smith

“There is an overlap as we move from the host culture to the home culture. It is in the overlap where the cross-cultural person lives, and there they become a bi-cultural person.”

- Burt and Farthing

“Bi-cultural is the capacity to understand and accept the cultural ways of other groups of people, while at the same time recognizing the validity of one’s own cultural heritage.”

- Lyman E. Reed

“A bi-cultural person develops a new self, a new personality. When we join a new culture our goal is to bond and identify with the people, and in the bonding a bi-cultural self emerges.”

- Burt and Farthing

My Debriefing - Topic: Stress

Twenty-five percent of all missionaries burn out on the mission field on their 1st term and never go back (according to Vern Dyck, US Center for World Mission).

Stress is the uninvited companion of every missionary. “Burnout” is defined as: A state of mental, physiological, and spiritual exhaustion brought on by long-term, unrelenting stress. It has even been said that depression is the “common cold” for missionaries.

I now believe that my recent health issues were, in large part, due to burnout.

Amy Carmichael left Japan after just one year, due to bad health. Later, she left Ceylon after less than a year, once more due to bad health. She spent her last two decades in India in bed… again due to bad health.

On day two of the debriefing, we discussed stress.

We listed various types of stressors, including: life events, daily hassles, situational factors, traumatic events, and our own personality as compared to the culture where we serve.

My own personal life events that I had to deal with during this last term were:

· Normal ongoing grief regarding my dad’s death

· My accident and recovery

· Finding a new place to live (not an easy task in Kenya)

· Birth of another grandchild in my absence

While listing daily hassles, we ran out of room! Some of the ones I listed:

· Horrible roads and traffic

· Inconsistency of utilities (power and water randomly and unexpectedly unavailable)

· No hot water from the taps (washing dishes and clothes by hand in cold water)

· Dealing with beggars

· Safety of food and water

· Bureaucracy (only being told one step at a time, which then requires multiple visits to government offices)

· People always staring at you

· Odd cultural things, like the apparent inability of local people to properly stand in line and wait their turn

Some of the situational factors that I listed:

· Kenya’s post-election chaos and violence

· Wild and unruly public transportation

· Theft, pick-pockets

· Feeling like you’re being used, in personal friendships

· Dust, dirt, mud, noise

· Government corruption

· Tribalism

· Lingering effects of colonialism

· Class distinctions

· Having white skin and always being viewed as a foreigner

· Somewhat major difficulties involving three key friendships

There are also numerous personality conflicts between me and the foreign culture in which I live, such as:

· A communal society vs. me as an introvert

· Kenyans share possessions, but not knowledge vs. American culture of sharing knowledge, but not possessions

· Major differences in keeping time

· Americans tend to confront issues vs. Kenyans sweeping things under the rug

· Kenyans seem to tell “little white lies”

· Hosts expecting me to eat large quantities of food

We also took a “stress test”, of sorts. We checked off a list of over 40 life-event stressors. My total for the past 30 months (since my dad died) came to 488. According to the people that developed the test (Holmes and Rahe), a score of 300 or higher has a 79% probability of creating health issues. Oh, my! I was way off the chart, and the test didn’t even include the many, many issues related to living in a foreign culture! I think we all realize that the effects of stress can accumulate over time.

Well… the good thing is that we also learned some great practical ideas to avoid burnout. I know that this day’s discussion alone was highly worthwhile to me!

“The human body was not made to run non-stop. Violating certain biblical principles bring heavy consequences, no matter how much you love the Lord.”

- Connie Sydnor Coffman, Weary Warriors

“Emotional fatigue can result from excessive work, but more often it is simply because the out-go is greater than the intake.”

- Dr. Bob Bremner

“Pain is God’s megaphone.”

- CS Lewis

“If the activities of your life consistently burn up more emotional energy than they replenish, you may fall victim to emotional fatigue.”

- Connie Sydnor Coffman, Weary Warriors

Hiking in the Colorado Rockies

I spent several days with a long-time friend, in Longmont, Colorado. It was great to get caught up with one another. We went hiking in the Rockies on 3 different days (with her dogs). Needless to say... I loved it!

Enjoying Naomi and her kids

Terran, 14 years old

Mia, just turned 3

Tony, 5 years old (he turns 6 in August)

A Few Photos of Me

enjoying KFC with Terran

looking for bugs :)

doing some (actually, lots of) yard work for my Mom

Enjoying the lovely June weather

A Few Final Photos

They fly to India in one month. Husband/Daddy Todd is already there. They'll be living in the Delhi area.