Sunday, February 28, 2016

When No One Cared

My husband left early that afternoon for that trip that changed our lives.  It was a routine trip that he had done many times, and we had nothing to worry about.  But it did not end up routine.  I still am unable to blog about all the details of what happened, but he was taken and went missing.

I knew almost instantly because he was going to phone me the minute he got through an upcoming checkpoint - a task normally taking less than five minutes, but I never heard from him again and his phone and his friends phones went silent.  I knew immediately we had serious problems.

But what was I to do?  Phone Dick?  The man who demeaned me at every turn and labeled me as unbalanced and talked behind my back?  I hesitated, waiting, hoping that my husband just met a friend and was talking and forgot.  Dick would belittle me and use it as another example of my instability and weakness.  So I waited.  I phoned others who I knew could pray and be silent.

Two hours later, Dick phoned me.  He had heard an hour before, but decided to phone all the other people on the team and tell them first and me last.  I was only the wife after all.  I still remember that call.   "Hi.  We just heard from (a friend who saw) that your husband was taken.  I've told everyone else on the team.  If I hear anything more, I'll tell you.  Oh, do you have (another friend's) number, I need to tell her.  You do, thanks.  Ok, bye."

That was it.  Nothing more.

My whole life had been spent in the "missionary family".  I already knew without a doubt that this was a distinct possibility and had already battled it out with God before I headed into this ministry.  I had also had the expectation that if such an event happened, I would have the immediate support of my missionary family and we would get through it.

I remember the overwhelming silence after the phone clicked down and Dick moved on.  He never even asked if I was ok, if I needed anything.  No expression of sympathy.  No prayer.  No nothing.  Still, that is Dick.  He is likely somewhere on the Asperger's scale - never been one to do interpersonal relationships well.  He thinks he does them well because he can teach on the "how" of them, but he doesn't actually do what he teaches, just teaches it.  But nothing.

Still, I remember the distinct thought that people would be coming.  After all, we are only two hours from the head office for our mission in this country - from people that will be working to help get him back.  Someone will be here in no time at all.  We also have a local team; they will be here in ten minutes, for sure.  So I quickly cleared up the living room of some games I was sorting, and made tea and set out cookies.  It was the last logical step that my mind was able to accomplish before the fog set it.  I then phoned a few friends, but they were out of town, and I told them to check on me when they got in, but that my team and my mission would be here soon, no doubt, and we would be ok.

Instead Silence.  No one came.  No one even phoned.  Two hours away, and my head office, who were quite aware that my husband was taken and his life was in serious risk, did not either phone me to see how I was or drive over to be with me.  To this day, I can not understand that, and it left a wound that may never completely heal.  I still flinch at the memory and struggle with it.

The next four days were a marathon of pain and hard work and strategic silence.  Everyone needed me.  Getting them out was my job.  The mission did phone the next day and ask for my help with another person.  Then they phoned me the next day and told me that they did not want their name involved, and my husband's best chance lay with the government, so I should phone them and ask them to help get him back.  So I did.  I don't think they ever phoned me again during that time.  I was entirely alone.  Dick phoned a few times.  He told me what was happening over there, which was that no one knew anything.  Once he told me he was turning his phone off and taking a sleeping pill so he could sleep.  Thanks.  I didn't sleep.  Besides trying to get my husband out, I also had to assume that my husband was being tortured and I had to block all methods he had of accessing data that would endanger others.  I worked night and day, and when there was no work, I sat.  I organized prayer support, and I sat quietly.  My church stepped in and the school, but no word from the mission.  Three days later, someone from our local team did come by and provide some support, but from our head offices, nothing.  On the third day, I got a two minute phone call from "Harry", the director to tell me they were thinking of me.  I said thank-you.  I was too busy and too numb to call him out on it.  Besides, he was Dick's good friend and Dick had already stated in his letter that he had shared freely with Harry all he thought about me.  I assumed that my mission did not support me because they thought I was worthless anyway.

Thankfully, God was still there when His people failed, and he had a few people who stepped in totally unexpectedly when people failed.  A widow who lost her husband in conflict phoned me and helped me process the next hours.  A good friend came over and wrapped his arms around me and held me since his wife was out of town and couldn't.  Another friend stopped by and brought snacks.  Others stepped in with food.  People were there after the first 36 hours.  But not the mission.  I guess two hours is a long drive...

And after four very long days, God worked a miracle and returned my husband to our family.  Then began the next season in a very twisted and complicated story with our mission.  My husband wanted me to fly and meet him and spend time with him and his friend who had been with him, but separated.  They needed time together.  Harry, the director of our mission, told me that I should not go, that my kids needed me, and that if I went I would be being a bad mother.  My husband insisted, and I flew to meet them.  I left my kids with my mother who flew in.  But we had to pay for our ticket ourselves and do all the arrangements.  The mission still did nothing, except tell me that my kids needed me and I should just wait until my husband came home.  My husband was furious with them by that point and bluntly told me to tell them that he needed his wife and I needed him, and that was that.  So I left.

Now my husband had already had one night in transit and Dick was able to phone him that night and gather all the critical information to ensure others were safe and all, but on our first night together, Dick phoned at 11:30 at night and was on the phone with my husband until after 1.  That was after being on the phone with his friend all afternoon.  He had no clue of decency, of the fact that we hadn't slept in four days, and that we needed rest and each other.  He continued to phone and disrupt the few days that we had with the four of us trying to recover.  He wanted to talk to help himself process it and decide what to do later.  When my husband refused to take his calls, he began e-mailing me very rude letters insisting that I "make" my husband take his calls.  It was disturbing.

After a week, we came home, and sure enough, Dick flew in and wanted to see us both that first night.  My mother forbid him to come to the house and insisted that the kids get first dibs on their dad.  Then we began the process of a team debreif - what happened and what will the policies be next.  In that team debrief, there was a lot of criticism of us that we did not do enough to reassure people and talk to them during our first 48 hours of freedom.  They felt that because they were all concerned (even though never stopped by our house to show that concern), they each wanted to talk to my husband themselves to reassure themselves.  We had issued a statement that we were ok, but it wasn't good enough.  They were upset that they didn't get to talk to us personally.  No one was there to advocate for us that we needed some rest and recover time.  After a day of talking policy and procedures, Dick was ready to move on to strategic planning for the next six months.

At no time was there ever a personal debrief.  At no time during, after, or in the months to come, did anyone from our mission sit down with us as a couple and ask how we were.  At no time was counseling or trauma debreif offered to us.  At no time did anyone come have a cup of coffee with us and listen.  We actually made the two hour trip hoping to meet our home team, be heard, and be with "family".  We went to an evening event, walked in, and someone came up to my husband, slapped him on the back, and said, "Hey, heard about your adventure!  Four days - that's nothing; so and so spent three weeks in jail in Turkey!"  We were stunned.  We still were not sleeping from the nightmares that would plague us for six months every night, and then decreased to only three or four times a week.  We still have them.  The case in Turkey was a totally different situation,  That man had no fear of death.  It was awful, and he faced separation, but it was not the same.  No one seemed to care more than a few more slaps on the back and an occasional, "Good to see you; we were praying!"  We left feeling ignored.  No one asked how we were doing.  They didn't even sit still long enough to ask.

We came home, and existed for the next several weeks.  We couldn't function.  Thinking through cooking a meal was too much.  I stared at the washing machine once for ten minutes and couldn't figure out how it turned on.  My husband would come home, we'd put the kids in bed at 8:30, and go to bed ourselves to stare at the ceiling.  If we slept, we had nightmares and woke again.  But our brains were too tired to do anything but sleep.

After three months, we asked our mission for help with some debrief counseling.  They told us that perhaps our insurance would cover it, and we should check our policy and if it did, we could arrange it and bill insurance.  We hung up.  Life took so much energy to even write a shopping list; there was no way we would figure out an insurance policy.  We just lived, trying to manage one day at a time.

Now, years later, we look back and wonder what our lives would have been like with proper member care.  Honestly, it never crossed my mind that one could face that type of a crisis and have NO member care provided.  I expected someone with us during the crisis.  I expected at least to be called in to the main office and to meet with a member care person and be heard.  I expected some sort of debrief and trauma care.  But we had nothing.  Then the very fact of being completely ignored in trauma became in itself another trauma actually harder to recover from.  The first was perpetrated by evil men, and there was some sense in that.  Evil will fight against good.  The second was perpetrated by God's own people, and it was hard to comprehend.    Looking back, though, we wonder... had appropriate member care been given, could we have avoided some of the pain of dealing with years of PTSD?  I think the answer is a resounding yes.

Then only weeks after this trauma, our field was plunged into the worst season of trauma after trauma after trauma where you could not even catch your breath between them.  We lost so many friends that it was hard to count them; we cringed turning on our computers and reading the news in case it brought more news of deaths and missing.  We had no more time then to even deal with our own trauma since we were so caught up with others.  Nights brought nightmares and days brought grief.

And our churches began to drop us because we weren't "doing much" and we weren't getting our prayer letters done on time.  Money got tight, sleep didn't come, more deaths hit, and we just weren't functioning well.  Again we asked our mission headquarters for help, and this time they said that they would find someone, but months went by and we never heard from them again.  We felt entirely alone, and began to feel judged even by the church we attended in our "over here" location because Christians are joyful and victorious, and we sure didn't look it.

When no one helps, that itself becomes a secondary trauma.

Harder to heal from.

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