Ok, a month and a few days have gone by. Some time to absorb what happened and to attempt to sort it out. To think about how we will respond. To get some balance in a world that was knocked out from under us.
It is confusing. I will attempt to explain. My apologies if it is still muddled.
I think our lives could be set out as an example on the need for member care... or the danger of lack of member care.
We set out twelve years ago excited. We chose the mission we had had much to do with growing up as a MK (me) and being a convert (my husband). We didn't worry about asking questions that perhaps we should have asked. Member care? That was for people with something wrong with them. We didn't need to worry about that! That was for weak people. We were ok. We didn't need to waste time on long orientation classes and all that - after all, we grew up "over there".
So we didn't ask questions. We didn't think we needed to.
Now I am not going to tell you where we served, but if you could think around the world of the possible top five more dangerous countries to work in over the last years, we were working in/for one of those. I'm not going to tell you what exactly we faced simply because missionaries have a great underground source of information, and that might tell you more than I want to disclose. I won't disclose who we are with.... maybe one day I will, but not today. Why? Because I still have this question in my mind that perhaps our mission as a whole, worldwide, is not bad. Our local country (and we are in a third party country) leadership leaves very much to be desired. So I will not yet name and shame our mission out of the hope that this problem is more localized.
We counted how many people we knew have been killed in the last years - missionary and local believers. The number would astound you. It is more deaths than many people will see in a lifetime. Beyond that, there have been traumatic incidents regularly. As leaders of a local team, we have been responsible for caring for/protecting people during these events and helping them process them afterwards. We also went through a critical incident of our own four years ago - one neither of us expected my husband would live through.
It's been a lot.
I wish I could have told that "just signed up new" me what we were heading into. What we headed into was not what we had grown up with "over there". Political events led to a very different experience than we had grown up with. We did not know what would happen, and when it happened, we were not prepared for the effect it had on us.
Stress became normal. News of deaths, grief, and tension during travel became normal. We began to make sure things were ready when my husband traveled. We bought more life insurance. We talked plans for the unthinkable, so that the kids and I would be ok. We didn't make these plans in the light-hearted way that one buys life insurance from a door-to-door salesman. We made them fully aware that we could likely need these. This became our normal. Grief, tension, stress.
We thought we dealt with it ok. Because it began slowly. And got worse. And the symptoms began slowly, too. Less patience. Less sleep. Eating changes. My husband ate more. I ate less. I slept more; he slept less. Dreams, nightmares. Irritation, anger, outbursts. Just not being ok. We struggled. We had good times; we had bad times.
In the middle of all this, we had Dick. He was our immediate supervisor. His reaction to the symptoms we were having was based, we think, simply out of the fact that he wanted a job done, and only my husband could do that job.
So he blamed me. For eight years, he "counseled" my husband that the problem was me. He heard that I had been sexually abused as a child, so he latched on to that and called me damaged. He sympathized with my husband for "having to live with such a difficult woman as I was". He excused my husband's anger because "anyone would be angry if they had to live with her." He did all this despite not even knowing me. Not ever living in the same place as us.
This had a huge detrimental effect on our marriage. My husband was younger, and he respected this man. It began to influence his thinking and behaviors. Dick also talked to all those in the mission above us and told them what an awful person I was. "Poor woman, damaged... will never be the same." It influenced all their thinking. So when I went to them and told them we needed help, and I thought the stress was causing problems in our lives, they shook their heads and believed that I was psychologically unbalanced. Years of this almost broke me, but I had a few good friends, and it is amazing the power of a few good friends praying, and God being with me.
Then came the events I talk about in That Cold Spring Day. Sudden trauma. A crisis. By that time, we were doing very well in our relationship. We had talked through a lot of what had happened, and were closer than ever before. (It helped that Dick had not been around much!) We handled the crisis well, but began to fall apart in the weeks and months that followed. We were not able to take time and heal because immediately after our crisis came several other ones - ones that we were responsible for helping others with. Ones that made our crisis look small.
One thing stand out to us during and after the crisis. How alone we were. No one came. We are only two hours from our mission's country headquarters.... yet no one came. They did not come, not during, not after the crisis. They did not phone when we were home safely. They did not come and drink a cup of coffee with us and ask if we were ok. They did not hear our story. They did not arrange any after care, no critical incident debrief, no meeting with a member care person. In fact, what they did was make a joke of it. The first time we were with them again, one of them said, "Oh, your little incident! giggle, giggle, So and So had that happen for (number of weeks) in (country)." He laughed, and slapped us on the back, and went on. We stood there still, stunned. We were still not able to sleep more than an hour without nightmares waking us... and it was referred to as "your little incident"! We cringed... and did not ask for help. Why ask? They didn't care and thought it was funny.
By the next year, and the mission retreat weekend, we were suffering. It had been an extremely rough year caring for people through multiple crisis. That weekend, we carefully suggested to "Harry" that we might need some help to recover. We were told, "your insurance might cover some help if you want to find some." Thanks. We shrugged and walked on. Where would we even begin to look? We were still feeling overwhelmed and sort of blank.... looking for help took more energy than we had... and besides, what if the insurance didn't cover it? Our support had gone down because we were not communicating well with our churches. It was so hard to communicate. Churches want good news, and we were so emotionally flat... we just didn't have it to give.
So we struggled on. Things got rougher at home because two people unable to cope with all life has thrown at them will not have much patience for each other. Then we still had "Dick" telling my husband that all the problems are because of his awful wife. As he believed some of that, he began to blame me for his problems and mine, too. So it got worse.
The next year, again we talked to "Harry" about problems lingering from un-dealt with critical incident. This year, "Harry" apologized for not doing anything for us after those events.... but still did nothing. We struggled on. Our daughter was suffering nightmares, headaches, and a persistent feeling that "something bad was going to happen". We found it hard to help her since we had no emotions to pull on. We survived, but only survived.
The next year was the year I spoke to "Harry" about "Dick's" influence and what he was saying. "Harry" did promise to deal with "Dick", and to his credit, he did. After the initial kerfluffle over how he dealt with it, things improved. Without "Dick's" influence on our marriage, our marriage grew stronger and healthier.
During this time, "Tom" had noticed anger, communication issues, and stress in our relationship and reported them to "Harry" and "Dick". "Tom", "Dick", and "Harry" decided that they would get us counseling. They sent us to a few different people for evaluations. One counselor that they sent us away to latched on to the fact that a older man was mentoring both of us. He got it in his head that people should only have a relationship with people of their own sex unless they were blood related and accused me of having "an emotional affair" with this person. (Not to mention that my whole family is friends with his whole family, and to me he is like a second father.... missionary kids grow up with "adopted uncles and aunties", and he and his wife were one of these for us.) One evaluator questioned our salvation because of the persistent problem of irritation and anger. (Continuing in sin is a reason to doubt salvation - see 1 John, right?) He never stopped to question our stress load and coping skills. To say that hurt was an understatement. Others were convinced that we needed to work on "communication skills". We tried to tell them that poor communication was a symptom, not the root problem, but they did not listen. They had already been "briefed" on the problem by Tom, Dick, and Harry, and reports from all sessions went back to Tom, Dick, and Harry.
There was no confidentiality, and our trust was being broken right and left. It was a very uncomfortable place to be in, but we were told we had no choice in these sessions, and had to participate in them. We tried to speak up and say what we saw as the problem in a meeting with Tom, Dick, and Harry when they met to explain to us what type of "help" we would be required to go to. We tried to tell them that we thought we needed help with dealing with a pack load of traumatic stress... but we were silenced. "Tom" actually told us, "This is like going to the doctor. When you go to the doctor, you do what he tells you. You do not ask questions because the doctor knows what he is doing, so you just do what he says." One of them even told us, "If you don't like this process, you can leave the mission." What to do? We wanted to stay, so we did what they asked. But it only made things worse, not better. We lived under constant discipline and judgement. It was an awful year. The stress only grew. We didn't know what to do. We were publicly shamed when they made our problems public. We were shamed more when they took sessions that were promised to us to be confidential and forwarded those notes to several on the team "helping" us. We were at a breaking point... but had no one to ask for help. We had asked for help, and this is what it got us!
At that point, we had a summer off. We took that summer and left, but instead of doing the circuit of churches to speak in, we chose to spend the whole summer with my husband's family. They are not believers, and were aging, and we felt we owed them some time, too.
A strange thing happened that summer. We relaxed. Sadly, our work phones did not work in this country, and the internet connection was sketchy at best, so we really didn't work. (All other holidays, we were only a phone call away to solve problems, so the phone rang constantly.) Here it did not. And we began to see each other as people again - not just pawns in a big game of people pitting he-said, she-said against each other in counseling sessions. We played. We walked. We talked. We swam. We toured. And we relaxed. We came back happy, working together better, happy in our relationship.
We came back, and were put back in counseling. They tried a new guy this time. The first meeting, he provoked a fight. (I know he did, because in his notes, he actually stated that he provoked a fight "to see how they relate while fighting".) Thankfully, we only had to see him twice!That was not helpful, and sent us back a step - more stress again, back to being judged, back to confusion, and being told what to do with no voice. But we bounced back slowly. By end of year, we were again doing well with each other. It helped, too that we had no more meetings with any "help" set up because they were waiting to decide what to do. So we thrived in the peace. Went back to work, enjoyed it, worked together well. I traveled on a service trip with my son with my mind at ease. My husband was doing well, and would be ok with the kids.
In the middle of January, we got a letter from "Harry" with news that looked for the first time promising. It asked that we write him together about what we think we need for going forward. We felt hope for the first time. Perhaps they were finally going to listen to us! So we did research, talked to people we trusted, and thought about what we needed. We both felt that we were dealing with the effects of stress, possibly PTSD, or if not the official disorder, at least post-traumatic stress symptoms. We gathered the information since Harry really did not know the full extent of the stress in the field we worked in. He was an office worker for a safe country, and heard occasional reports of violence, but did not understand that these were our friends and brothers and sisters. We carefully prepared the letter, had it checked by two good friends, and sent it off. Hope began. We had asked to be sent to a place that specialized in debriefing missionaries. We hadn't even known such care existed, and we had been told about it and were hopeful. This looked right. This looked like these people would understand and be able to help us. We researched the effects of trauma and stress and found ourselves nodding - yes, we know that, yes, it is so.
We sent the letter. Then, in April, our "here pastor" called us for a meeting with him alone first. He suggested that working in our team with the new interm leader they put in when they demoted us was likely difficult, and we should think about leaving to a new ministry. We thanked him and considered it. We had been praying about it anyway since two options were on the horizon that would fit my husband's gifts. Where we were, the job had changed from starting to maintaining, and my husband's gifts were in starting. We discussed it and thought that we were very loyal to our team, and would serve one more year to make sure the transition was smooth. We all left his office peacefully and happy. We were pleased to have shared our hearts with him and to have his support as we thought about transitioning to a new start-up ministry in about a year while still maintaining close ties with our current team.
A week later, we were called again for a meeting with Harry and our "here pastor". We went... a little dread in our tummies... after so many meetings of being told and not listened to, we were uneasy, but we remembered the letter they had asked for and had hope. No one, reading all that had happened in the way of crisis and grief in these last 12 years, would have any doubt that it had deeply affected us and we needed someone to help us process it all. So we were hopeful, too.
The meeting began with chitchat. "Harry" asked for coffee, so we ran and got him some nearby since our machines were down. We asked about his family. He asked about ours. Then, bam. He began to talk, and said that the team of Tom, Dick, and Harry along with our pastor had decided that we were to be put on an immediate leave of absence and do no more work. That we were to hand in our keys and our e-mail would be shut down. That although we had told him about improvements in our relationship, he did not believe them, and was asking us to take a year and half off to work on the personal issues and sin in our lives. He said that our support would continue, but he stated that if we were to say anything publicly bad about our mission or church, he would cut off our support. That they had made this decision back in January and it was unanimous.
We sat stunned. Silenced by shock. Questions ran through our mind.... if so, why the meeting last week, then? What was all that about if he already had made this decision? Why had they asked for a letter asking what we thought we needed.... when they had already made the decision.... what?
After a few moments of stunned shock, we asked, "What about the letter? About you asking for our thoughts? About the request to be sent to debriefing?"
He said he had read it and thought it might b a good idea, but that they were not going to be of any assistance to us in getting that help. As far as they were concerned, they were done with us. In a year and a half, they would talk to us and see if they would accept us again.
We blinked. We excused ourselves for a few moments to gain composure. We walked back in. Heard more words about how they cared about us, but we have problems and we need to deal with them, and they can not be of assistance. We asked again, "Did you read our letter?" Did you see? Did you realize that we have dealt with trauma and stress? Do you remember that you did not help us in any way to deal with that summer of trauma? We suffer still because of that. Our daughter suffers. We do need help with that. Harry told us that he can understand that it would have been hard to deal with, but stated that they did not help us because we were not available for a few days immediately afterwards and they did not know where we were. (That was a lie. They not only knew where we were, but had encouraged us to go there, and had talked to us while we were there.) We stared blankly and confusedly at them. Finally, we nodded, and began to leave. Then we said, "All of what we have gone through in suffering by not getting any help of support after trauma, all of it will be worth something if we can think you learned something and will treat the next person differently and provide care after a traumatic event (especially one that brings you face to face with almost certain death.)" He smiled and said, "Oh yes, because of what we learned, we are treating so-andso differently now." We only hope it is true.... but if they realized that post traumatic incident care is needed for him now.... why not us? So it hurt more. We also did not trust him because he had no comprehension about how trauma had affected us, so how would he have it for so and so?
We went home. Stared blankly at the walls. Slowly the truth began to seep in. It was April. They had made this decision in January.... but had been too busy to tell us for three months. Now we had only three weeks left...
It was beyond comprehension.
And they had said that this whole team - our here church, our home church, Tom, Harry, and another friend here locally were all in on this... (only Dick was out since he had been asked to step down six months ago from this team.) With one clean blow, trust was broken. Everything we had counted as "home" or "stable" was gone. All of these, our mission, our team, our churches, and our friends had voted against us and had known about this for three months and left it, not telling us, but acting normal and supportive.... Then to make matters worse, they chose my husband's birthday as his "please leave the office and the team you started" day. That hurt like an extra little dig.
So that is what happened. Thankfully, God was still there. And thankfully, our relationship was sound and stable. We clung to each other. And thankfully, that was not the only voices speaking in our world. But this is a long enough post, so I will write what next in the next.
We spent the next few weeks back awake with nightmares. It felt very similar to how we felt after going through the trauma. Sleep punctuated with awful dreams so you stay awake simply not to dream. Stress hormones affecting the ability to process food, to fall asleep, and to sit. Bewildering pain, questions, silence. No one there with us to help us absorb it again. Shame. Pain. We simply clung to each other and determined to hang on to each other and God, and to make it through.