Friday, July 3, 2009

Difficult Questions

I didn't post about this for several weeks because I found it hard to handle and didn't know how to talk about it. I came away very discouraged.

Our group here recently had a weekend conference/retreat for the whole area. We all gathered at one place for meetings, rest, and relationship building. I was looking forward to it.

When we arrived, we were greeted by different people. I guess I'd have to admit that I have been puzzled over the last few months that while our mission leader for this country lives only two hours away from us and he was aware of the situation last fall from the beginning, I never heard from him or his wife. What made it even more confusing is that two years ago, I made the trip alone to their house to ask for help about the growing problem, and was told that they would be praying. I never heard back from them then either. Not even a phone call to ask how things were. Never a visit.

So we greeted our other workers and smiled at everyone. Then walking the paths alone, I bumped into our leader, and he and his wife met me with a cheery, "Hi Ellie! Nice to see you!" Nothing more. No questions about how things are. No word that they've been concerned or praying. Nothing. The evening of the next day, I mentioned to them that I hadn't heard from them for a long time, and they looked a bit surprised. "Heard from us? Hmm... are you on facebook? If you are on there, you'll hear more when we put out little updates."

Yeah. Facebook is not exactly what I was talking about. I mean, when you have a missionary that you are directly responsible for living only two hours away from you and their marriage is in such a state that they are temporarily separated, I'd think it was time for slightly more communication than facebook.

Smiling through this retreat would have been difficult enough in the situation, but then we were doing a book/video series on top of it. The topic? Being real with each other. Putting down our masks so we can really help each other.

I sat through the series and the discussions afterwards slightly bewildered. Why are we saying this is such a great idea and we don't do it? Or is this just for others and not for ourselves?

On the last day, I asked to speak with another person in the main office who I know slightly better since we have some location history in common. He also knew that there were problems, so I asked for a minute. He was concerned, saying that as he watched me that weekend, he knew that things were not good. So I asked him simply if we do have member care in our central location and who am I supposed to talk to about that. (Maybe I had picked the wrong person when I talked to the leader.) He said that it was the leader and also he is just beginning to join that responsibility. I told him I was disappointed in any member care since in nine months since the crisis when my husband was out of the house, I have not heard once from the office there. Not so much as a phone call to ask how we are doing.

He understood that. He said, "Obviously we have failed; and what makes it even worse is that your expectations of us were pretty low to start off with, and we abysmally failed even that." He promised to check in on it and get back to me.

I felt encouraged by that. I didn't expect them to do much, but at least a call to see if things are ok.

A few days later, I got an e-mail. It briefly said that their position is that the "here" pastor was working with us, so they saw no reason to get involved or take control over from him. In the interest of discretion, they did not want to discuss it or to get involved and felt that silence was the best option, but that I should feel assured that their prayers and concern are with me.

I wrote them back that I felt that a phone call to ask, "how are things and are things working out working with the pastor or do you need anything else from us?" would not be taking things out of the hands of the pastor, but an appropriate way of expressing concern.

I heard back from them a few days later with a two sentence e-mail where they again expressed their concern and said that they are in regular contact with the pastor - except that they got his name wrong, not a little wrong, but totally wrong.

What do you say? I just felt discouraged to the point of throwing in the towel. At times, I feel like phoning up our old support base in this mission - where we used to be connected to. At least there, we had a person who was responsible for us who took that responsibility seriously. She would phone regularly just to see how we were - and that was when things were good!

But I am discouraged. Is this the Christianity we are preaching? If it is, I am not sure I want to have any part in it. Is this the love that we want to teach others? I feel like a hypocrite to tell people to come to Jesus - that there is real love and care in the church. Is there?

At this point, I would not recommend to anyone that they join our mission. Well - let me qualify that - not this location, not this team. Our other location was very different. I'm burned. And I was pretty loyal - having grown up not exactly in this mission, but seconded to it, working closely with it all my life. We are/were "lifers". But I feel betrayed.

It is not really that hard to express real concern in a phone call - at least once in nine months.... or even once in the two years you knew there were problems.

I left the retreat broken. Hurt. Not even sure how to understand that or express it.

I still hurt when I think about it. I've gotten to the place where it doesn't doesn't fill my head as much right now, but it still hurts my heart.

My son's teacher gave me a book to read recently about forgiveness. It is a secular book, but still good. It was God's timing, because the truths in that book helped me deal with this weekend. It talks about "unenforceable rules" that we have which cause us pain, and teaches us to change those into "hopes".

I looked at the situation and was able to say to myself that I had an unenforceable rule. It was "mission leaders should really care about those who they are responsible for and should take steps to show that care in practical ways." It didn't happen. I can't make it happen. I think it would be a great rule, but I can't enforce it. So I can change it into a hope. "I had hoped that the mission leaders would care about those under their care and show it in practical ways." It didn't happen. I can accept that I feel hurt about it. I can also accept that their actions were a result of their flaws (for lack of a more politically correct word) and not directly aimed at me to hurt me. Those actions likely have hurt others before me and will hurt others after me, too. I am not alone in this. Because of this, I can forgive them. They did not mean harm to me, but they are flawed individuals. And I can survive, and learn from this, and perhaps even make a difference in life from what I have learned. I can also feel hurt from it, but I do not need to let the hurt consume me nor focus on it most of the time.

So I don't. But when I do think about the hurt from that weekend, I think about it in the terms of how to fix it. Part of who I am is that I love to teach. I love to see things, share them with others, and together figure out ways to improve, and teach those ways. Another part of me is that I love to stand up for the hurt and mistreated. So when I do let myself think on the hurt, I think about ways to stop this from happening to others. Ways to answer the question, "How can we really care about each other on the field?" and "Where can we really be real and help each other?"

In reality, I am surprised at how little it really does take to show real concern. I've had a few people do it, and it doesn't take much. A simple question while really looking at someone, "How are things really going?" Or a, "I've been praying often for you the last month or two, are things any better?" I know because a few people in my "here" church have done that. A few in my school have done that.

It is only my mission which has been conspicuously silent.


Cindy said...

wow...that really is hard.
We have been in one ministry or another for 32 years. I have often wondered how this or that person ever got into leadership position.
But, then we have also been in leadership positions...and I wonder if we ever failed anyone like that? Has anyone every wondered how we got into leadership? Wow....that is
really something to think about!

Becky Aguirre said...

Hard questions, but sorry about this situation because it really is the pits what happened. Certainly not helpful and not building trust or a safe place for you. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps people in certain ministries don't actually have the gifts that those positions require...there perhaps might be an urgency to fill certain positions and the required giftings needed are overlooked? Like guesthouse personnel with little to no hospitality/service gifts, for example. I think I'm like you, I tend to mull these things over in my mind, not just for myself but for others. I wonder if that's a gift of compassion or mercy?

Ellie said...

That could be, you know. People put in leadership because they have a gift of administration also get "dumped" on them the responsibility for member care when they have no gifting whatsoever in that role. It seems to come with the role of leadership, but for efficiency sake, the giftings of administration and organization seem so much more important. Yet is seems to me, someone with a gift of administration should be able to delegate some responsibilities to people who do have the right gifting for that area.

Then there is an interesting comment the wife of my mission leader said to me two years ago... She said, "yeah, my husband is sometimes like that, too." And I wonder at times if I get no answer because it is hard for the men I have been asking help from to confront or deal with a situation which they themselves might struggle in to some degree.

This is another thought that at times plays in my head, especially when some men so adamantly defend my husband's right to anger and tell me that it is my fault.

I am NOT saying that they do have these problems, but that at times I wonder...

Ellie said...

Oh, and I'd LOVE to run a guest house since I do have that gifting. Love to notice the details and make people at home and care for the "little things", without being fussy or too fancy that you feel uneasy with kids.

My favorite being an unofficial guest house was when people came to our house to wait for deliveries. Nothing better than hanging out waiting for a new baby with someone!

Becky Aguirre said...

That was an interesting comment by that lady, almost as if to say, "deal with it"? I know that it is hard for men to confront other men with things, probably easier to just let it slide...seeming to forget that we are told to exhort one another in love when we see faults. I have been pleased to see our org. develop extensive member care and to hear that the "drop-out" rates have drastically declined because of it.

Funny, I've always thought I'd do well in a guesthouse situation, too, not because I'm so gifted with decorating, etc, but because I just really like to serve and make people feel comfortable. We like to be around people and have the excitement of the comings and goings. I heard about one gh situation where folks coming out of the tribe would be met with "we don't serve meals, here's how to get to the store"...quite inconvenient for those arriving at mealtimes with hungry kids! :( Not to mention how overwhelming it is to face shopping when one has been away from civilization for a while! And one family I know did anything they could to NOT stay in that gh because their kids were consistently reprimanded and corrected.

Becky Aguirre said...

p.s. not saying that gh's have to definitively serve meals, my point is that needs were not being met...

Ellie said...

I totally get that point. Can you imagine?!

I am not good at decorating, either, but I am good at noticing the details people might need. Listening to clues from their conversation, planning so that families with kids can settle in easily and all. Keeping a place welcoming because it is easy to be there. That is what I like.

I think that comes from growing up as a MK, and all those places we stayed where we had to "behave" and there was absolutely nothing to do!

Becky Aguirre said...

Probably, I tend to notice those things, too. It is not fun to be somewhere where the kids are bored!!!! Or can't touch anything...

Carrie said...

Your post made me cry. I'm so sorry! I understand missionary frustrations! Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. And sorry, that I am so late in catching up with your blog posts.

This is really sad, but I can see several of the points made by you or other commentors, such as not having the gifting, or maybe struggling in this area themselves and therefore don't know what to say to your husband.

Still, I fully agree with your rule. And if they don't have the gifting, it is their responsibility as a leader to delegate. That's the whole point of leadership!

Unfortunately, it seems to be a common problem. When I asked my class to pray for you, several who are in mission leadership and the professor shook their heads (in a grieving way, not about you), saying that they know that this is a problem that is often not addressed enough.

Anyway, I keep praying for you and if there is anything else I can do for you, let me know.

mom2twoboys said...


It sounds as though you've come to some good resolutions regarding your attitude toward them, but you are absolutely correct in thinking about how this will affect others (and probably already IS affecting others).

Ha ha, I do NOT have the gift of hospitality like you ladies do--but I do notice personal things like what you're talking about--I would be "on" my husband, were we in that position, to deal with the situation, or at least follow up (and I would as well).

But too bad that you are caught in the middle of dysfunction. Hugs and prayers.


Ellie said...

Actually, Becky, the lady did not say that comment in a sort of "deal with it" way. It was a brief moment I had with her without kids where she dropped her "outside face" and just quietly started to talk. She said that her husband is also so patient and kind in public, but at home sometimes he is so short and angry with them. That it bothers her but she has no idea how to talk to him about it and since they are the team leaders, too, no one to go to to get help.

She talked for about five minutes like that, and then shrugged and went on with washing dishes. She never talked to me again about it, just appearing smiling and well made up. And neither of them phoned back or did anything about what I had gone to ask for help for.