Friday, June 26, 2015

Accepted, No Longer Rejected

Yesterday and today were big days in our lives.  We cleared all the hurdles, jumped through all the hoops, and went through all the testing, interviews, and more testing and have been formally accepted by our new mission board.  We then formally withdrew from our old mission board.  That withdrawing will not actually take full effect for another month, but it is done.

We both felt a palpable sense of relief.

I don't think we are ready to say that our previous mission agency is a bad mission agency.  We would clearly state that it has some serious flaws which under the right leaders can cause it to be weak in some areas and under the wrong leaders can cause it to be damaging and harmful.  Our first two years were spent under a few right leaders.  Our last dozen under wrong leaders.  We're wiser now and sadder.  

Today, though, we lay that aside and quietly celebrate freedom.  Freedom from the judgement we have lived under for 12 years.  Freedom from the stress.  Freedom from the quiet, underhanded attack on our marriage.  Freedom from a gag order.  Freedom to relax again.  There will be a time I pick this story up again in the next days and sort it though in my mind and on paper as a way of leaving it and yet weaving it into my life story so I am integrated and not scattered, but today is a day for quiet relief and a quiet, but determined joy.  

We have been accepted, no longer rejected.

Yesterday, we sat through the hours long psych evaluation summary.  Something I was tense about even though my better judgement told me not to be tense.  Ten years of two mission leaders telling me I had serious psychological issues and possibly mental illness (neither with any training whatsoever to even dabble in making such statements!) had made me tense at being assessed once again.  The difference in this testing was that it was done by a professional and by a professional who was not related to and "briefed about your problems" first.

The session was actually a delight, and fun to go through.  It confirmed what I had thought about myself and even answered some questions I had about who I was.  For example, I am an introvert.  I've known this forever.  I recharge alone and dislike large gatherings with people doing small talk all at once.  But I am not anti-social.  I am not hard to get to know.  I am warm, outgoing, funny, and love to form deep connections with people whether in the short term or longer term.  My tests showed that while I was introverted in low key, reserved, quiet way, preferring space at times, and seeking intimacy and one on one with individuals, I am extroverted in that I am demonstrative, easier to know, and self-revealing.  That explains me so much more than the simple label "introvert", because I will be the first person to walk up to you in a crowded room if you are alone and begin a conversation with you and really want to know about you and let you know me.  The counselor said that that type of a result shows that I am quick to share my heart with others.  That is me.

This report was good for us to go through piece by piece.  If you hadn't lived in my twisted judging authority structure that we found ourselves under for the last twelve years, you would not be able to fully understand the relief going through this report was for me.  Another time, I will actually include statements that were made about me and to me because I feel that it is important to tell this story so that we may learn together.  (Just this last week, we sat around a kitchen table with another missionary in another agency who has faced a twisted situation like ours.)  I believe we are not alone, and I believe that we need to be aware of the signs of unhealthy, dangerous leadership and be prepared to take proper steps to be protected.

Today, I don't want to do that.  Just to sit in the quiet relief this was.  To be told that I had extremely high ability to handle stress, great coping skills, a robustly healthy mental health status, and had extremely high emotional intelligence.  My weakness was the risk of feeling a high sense of duty and becoming over-committed. (This I also knew!)  To have on paper the professional assessment that yes, I had been abused as a child, but there were no issues of concern at all that they could see.  I am not now saying this next thing to boast in any way, but simply to contrast what had been said repeatedly about me for the last twelve years.  My husband's and my reports were side by side and we went through both.  I scored consistently more stable, well adjusted, and at less risk factors than he did.  This in the face of two leaders saying they didn't want me because of my "mental issues", "being emotional", and "her not being able to handle stress or be strong."  I actually did expect to score higher than my husband.  He is a first generation believer who is amazing and awesome... but he encountered Christ as a late teenager, and there were a lot of patterns and foundations that were laid in his life that are different than someone with the privilege of growing up in a home where Christ is taught.  The fact that he scored as high as he did on many of these tests shows just how much God has worked in his life, and I am proud of him.  

Today, we sent those reports to our home church.  A church missions board who has been requiring me to get counseling for my mental issues for the last year without any independent assessment that I had any, only on the recommendation by our country office that I had them.  A missions board who has treated my harshly and judgmentally for the last year and a half because they simply took communication about me behind my back without verifying it in any way or even allowing me to answer to my own defense.  (The unique trick people have of accusing you not only of having serious issues, but also of being 'defensive'.  There is no way to object to that accusation without by default confirming it in peoples minds because they say, "See, she IS defensive.").  Now these reports go back to them.  Page after page detailing my relationship with God, with others, my trust in Him, and my mental health, my personality, and the final counselor's personal assessment of me.  Our new mission read it and accepted us within the hour.  I pray that our church mission board reads it and feels some remorse.... not that I want an apology to take away the pain, but that they think before they act like this again.  Every person deserves the chance to be heard when accusations come up against them.  Not to do so is not Biblical.

So today, is a quiet day.  Quiet because I am an introvert.  My husband, who over the year away from a damaging leader has learned to value and defend his wife, is celebrating louder.  He went out with a good friend who has stuck by us.  I celebrated by smiling, sitting quietly and smiling. Later I will celebrate with friends, but there was much I had to suffer silently these last ten years here, and there is a sense in which I wanted to celebrate silently at first.

It is over.  God has defended.

My life verse since all this began was Psalm 3:3 "But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head."  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sit Down, Grab a Cup of Coffee, Put Your Feet Up, and Let Me Begin...

I am going to sit down and explain (for my three readers!) where I am now and what happened.  I need to do this to be able to explain where my heart is right now and what I am struggling with.  It is complicated, and I have to go back over some things to explain, but I will try.

We've been here for several years.  Working outside our target country while living here a distance from there.  It worked.  We enjoyed being overseas while we were there, but it was also a difficult time.  Life was harder than we expected it to be due to some political events.  Then we moved here suddenly.

We moved here two hours from our mission's headquarters in this country.  They didn't meet us until a few months after we arrived.  We didn't notice this as abnormal at the time.  Then we met.  They seemed nice.  We transferred to this office, did paperwork, and went home.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  Perhaps an intake discussion - a post field debreif.  Especially considering all the events that had happened between us beginning to head out to the field and our move from there to here.  By that time, we already had been through several critical incidents and several deaths of friends.  A debrief would have been beneficial.

But we were ignorant of what would have been "normal", and we went on.  We began to struggle.  Each of us differently, and our own personal struggles caused more struggles for each other.  Early on, I made the trip back to headquarters and sat down with "Harry" there and asked for some help.  I said that we were struggling and we needed some help.  He thanked me for sharing and said he had no clue what to do, but that he would pray for us.

In retrospect, again, we see what was missing...  Harry was the leader, and a leader of a fairly decent size mission should have some access to member care.  There should at the very least be a member care person on staff that he should have been able to refer us to, one who would have recognized the need for debreif and a listening ear.

But we were ignorant of that and tried to struggle on.  I began to wonder where God fit into my personal life... not in the sense that I didn't believe in Him, but that I wondered where He cared for me, or if He did in a real sense at all.  If I was just a "tool" for Him to use, but not someone He deeply cared about.  That was all I was, it seemed, to my mission, and to the church.  When you understand my past of childhood sexual abuse happening almost as soon as my parents joined missions, it became an aching question I had before God.  Am I valuable to You in who I am or simply someone for You to use?  My husband's own struggles during this time made him a very unsympathetic person to my insecurities and struggles and his feelings came out as frustration and anger.  He was dealing with his own fears, past, and struggles while trying to lead a team and without support of any good friend near him.  It was a rough time in our lives.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  We're interested to hear that our new mission believes that their member care person should actually sit down with their missionaries by skype or in person a few times a year and ask how they are doing.  Even when we gave clear indication that we were struggling, our mission never reached out to us.  We made the drive to our headquarters a few times a year to go to prayer meeting.  I think someone from there came to visit our team once or twice a year - usually for a board meeting, lunch, and that was all.  We felt alone.

During these first years, we also lost more friends.  Grief became a constant companion.  My husband traveled several months out of the year leaving me alone with four young children.  Danger existed. It always did, but having grown up in it, we were not aware of its toll on our lives.  Us being unaware did not remove the toll.  It slowly drained energy from us.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  A visit or at the least a phone call to help absorb news of deaths, debreifs after long trips, cups of coffee and checking in with us would have been expected member care.  It would have gone a long ways to helping us be able to cope in a stressful ministry.

Those first two years, we went to a large church.  We did ask to meet with the pastors and elders and introduce ourselves.  We waited two years, but they were too busy.  During two years, only two people in the church ever invited us over for coffee or dinner.  My husband is a hyper social person, so for him not to even be able to make friends was incomprehensible.  We felt entirely alone.

There were some bright spots in those first years.  We had a friend, "Seth", who had just been there over the years.  To be honest, I hadn't really thought much about him except that he was one of those people who had been around a long time - I had seen his name on e-mails and paperwork.  He came to visit, and I think he was the one person who paused long enough to know we were struggling.  He began to be a listening ear, walking alongside of us, and praying.  In contrast to all that we had experienced so far, this meant more than we could express.  Seth allowed us to be ourselves with him - no "missionary on a pedestal" situation at all.  We could completely fail and screw up, and when I got enough courage to look up and see his face, he was quietly smiling.  His quiet faith held us during the rough years and still means a lot to us today.

That was the setting.  Into this came a leader with serious blind spots, but without the wisdom to realize this, more critical incidents, and some interesting choices by the church.  But that is for another post.

My Friend, "the Lesbian", and the Lessons She Taught Me

I picked up a book someone lent me a few years ago  (I know.. I will return it!)  I had been sharing with them about my new lesbian friends at work and the horror of "Christians" at work response to them.  That I couldn't understand how being a Christian meant you were supposed to be mean to, ignore, refuse to help, and talk behind someone's back.  I loved these girls - at first simply because I chose to, and then because I got to know them and they were lovely, kind, respectful, funny, warm-hearted friends.  As I loved them, laughed with them, stuck up for them, and befriended them, we began to have some serious talks about what we believed... late nights at the nurse's desk.  We also had a great sense of humor.  My closest friend of them is also a fan of "The Amazing Race" and would love to be on it.  We thought we should apply together; they could dub us "The Missionary and the Lesbian" and we could blow a few people's minds.  Through this friend, I was able to ask questions and listen.  We started with the small things, "What do you prefer I call you?  How do I address your spouse?  Who does the dishes?" and moved on to deeper subjects.  I learned what it is like to be discriminated against.  To be on a honeymoon and want nothing more than peace with your spouse and get nasty looks.  To go for dinner and hear rude comments about you made in the earshot of your kids.

Excuse me, followers of Jesus, the same Jesus who hung out with prostitutes and cheaters,..

However much we may disagree with another person's choice or be sad about the sin in the world, that give us no right to hurt people.  To see my friend's face when she grimaced after one of the old people said a rude comment, and she told me, "That isn't as bad as it gets; try dealing with Christians telling you you are an abomination."  We need to get past our "religious right" and see broken hearts.

THESE COMMENTS HURT MY FRIEND.  As in hurt - real pain, real tears.

To my given knowledge, no one yet has been hated to Christ.

As I got to know my friend "K" more, I learned that she believed in God.  She struggled in her faith due to trauma in her background, but she believed God and was seeking to know Him better and follow him.  Now before you get your panties in a wad, pause a minute and think - can you be a Christian and still have a sin you are failing in?  Yes.  So, let's give her (and God) the benefit of the doubt.  If she is His, her sin will be something He speaks to her about and deals with.  If she isn't, then her biggest need is not "to become straight", but to know God.  Me hating her will not draw her to God.

To be clear, she knew what I believed about homosexuality.  But I made sure she knew that AFTER she knew that I loved her, would befriend her, would defend her from attacks, and enjoyed being with her.  Nothing about my faith was against her.

The hardest day for me?  To watch my friend's shoulders slump and tears come to her eyes.  She was on a private facebook account for gay and lesbians discussing their faith in God and wrestling with spiritual questions.  A "Christian" had lied about who he was to gain access to that account and then posted long, rude, vile comments about these people harshly judging them.  Her question:  "Why would anyone go through so much trouble just to throw hate at us?  We are trying to talk with each other and talk about God... why?"  I had no answer besides that I was angry for her and that I loved her.

I enjoyed my friendship with K.  We laughed and discussed parenting, relationships with our spouses, housework, working with the elderly.  We talked about our pasts, our dreams, our hopes.  I watched as she defended my faith to someone who was rude to me.  I got criticized by other believers at work who told me that I was wrong for befriending K and that they "would pray for me".  I thanked them for their prayers.

And my friend at church gave me this book.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  About a lesbian who became a believer.  I didn't read it all then.  Actually, I read the end of the book, and then it got lost when I cleaned my room.  Too much was going on in our lives, and I put it down.  Today, I picked it up.  K has moved on to a new job, and I miss her.  We are moving on to a new place.  But my life is enriched by her friendship.  And I picked up this book to read again because my heart is still burdened for the response of God's people towards gays and lesbians.  But my heart is also deeply hurt by the actions of some of God's people towards us.  I hadn't expected this book to speak deeply to my heart, but it did. ( I will write about that later.)

I still find it funny that we work among a people who some would fear and hate.  We teach, "We can not hate (this group) to Christ.  We have to love them, and when we love them, they will see Christ, and come to Him."  And yet, the same people teaching this about (this group) will fight tooth and nail against all gays and lesbians and shudder in horror at them.  (I even had a Bible study leader saying she won't let her daughter in her house anymore since she became a lesbian!)  

I promised my friend K that I would listen to her, learn, and speak up.  We will do more damage than we can even imagine by hating.  We need to love, to befriend, to have honest discussions, to have coffee together, to love.  People say we need to "defend" marriage or God or... you name it.  Really?  Since when does God need me to defend Him?  And if marriage is the image of God and the church, I think God is quite capable of defending His image.  I see no where in the Bible where God asks me to defend Him.  I do see where He calls me to love, to get involved in the messiness of the world...  to do what He did by befriending and loving those who the "religious" drew in their robes in horror at.

To my friend K, T, and G - I love you girls and will remain thankful to all you taught me, to the compassion you showed to the weak and elderly, and for the patience you had with me and my endless questions.  I respect your quiet courage in the face of rudeness and your strength in not answering back in kind.  That was and is an inspiration to me.  I still pray for you - that you would find that relationship with God in a satisfying depth that you are searching for.  You left a mark on my life and made me a better person for my time with you.  Thanks.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Time Moves Slowly

Time moves slowly when you want it to hurry.  We're still on wait.  Not much longer, but still on wait.

While on wait, we are moving.  We know it is time to, so we are taking steps.  Things are packed, simplified, prepared for final clearance to take off.  We will move.  We are waiting for the final details with the new sending agency, but we are packed.

It is tempting to fuss and grumble and wonder why they are taking so long, but those very things that are taking long are the very things we were looking for in a new agency - member care.  It takes time to get all the papers filled out, to schedule all the appointments, to cross every t and dot every i.

We wait.

We will move, though.  In just a few weeks here, we will move.  We are saying goodbyes to ones we love, relationships that are important to us...

and.. to those who have hurt us.  There will be freedom in that when it is all said and done, but this week, it is getting to me.  It's complicated.

Tom, Dick, and Harry...

Tom lives in this town with us.  He's seen me a few times... and walked right past not saying hi at all, not acknowledging my existence.  Now he wants us to come to a formal goodbye and thank-you dinner.  It seems odd... if you can't say hi, why say bye?

Dick.  He's in town for this.  I could handle never seeing this man in my entire life and being thoroughly happy with it.  He sets my teeth on edge.  He is constantly talking bad of me to my husband, and it is an odd thing to watch.  He is a man who took trust and burnt it.  He learned of my past (being abused as a child), and used it and still uses it to devalue me.  There is a serious reason I chose this name for this man.  Later, he told me that, "Well, I really know nothing about child sexual abuse since it just doesn't happen in my community."  Sure.  A man that ignorant and prejudiced is dangerous to the community around him.  He called me "damaged, and perhaps unable to be 'normal" again because of 'her past;."  One day, when I am free and clear, out of under his leadership, I intend to answer that accusation.  If he seriously wants to exclude those of us "with pasts" of being abused from Christian ministry, then he better cross off about two out of every three.  Also, with his attitude, I am afraid he has silenced some who might have asked for help, even in those close to him.

Harry.  Harry sadly had other plans.  They only planned for this six months ago...  but that is fine.  Actually, I have a little respect for the man for being too embarrassed to show his face.

There are others: some who participated, some who were silent, some who fought for us.  A mixed bag of emotions.

I wish we didn't have to go.  It would be one thing if there had been any listening or reconciliation.  An apology, a discussion, something... but no.  There has been nothing.  Harry said he would sit with us and hear us about how it could have been handled better.... but he's just been so busy...

So we leave.  We must face this farce next week, and then we leave.  Our hearts are broken.

We go forward.  We know God is still here.  We know we are still loved.  We are wiser.  We should have left years ago.  We came so close... but we were loyal...

The day after the "goodbye" from people that won't say hi to us, we have the goodbye from my work. That will be redeeming.  People who love us, love our family, who have been there, who value us... their love will help heal the wounds of the day before.

Then we leave.  Moving on.

I am still waiting.  We were placed under a gag order over a year ago.  "If you say one word bad about us, we will cut your support (which we raise)."  Out of... respect.... fear... threat... of that, I have been largely silent here, but that threat will end soon when we leave.  Then I will have some things to say...

.... about what to look for in a mission....

.... about how to survive the aftermath of trauma...

.... about signs to look for in dysfunctional leadership...

....  about how to help when things go bad.

The time is coming.  I've been more relaxed as that time nears.  I've told a few of my friends.  The shock and shame of the last years wearing off, and I've found my voice.  Told a few coworkers what was said.  Spoke up.  I will not be silent forever.  I am, by nature, an advocate.  I will speak up.  It is time we discuss these issues.