Friday, May 20, 2016

The Cost of No Member Care

Our mission repeatedly told me that they just didn't have the resources to have a member care person.  Well, officially, they had one, but it was more of an intake person.  They had someone to help people through the process of joining.  Questions about taxes, passports, visas, etc.

They had no one to care for people once they were on the field.  That, apparently, was to be cared for by an on the field person, the team leader.  Sadly, that didn't work for us for two reasons:  1.  We were the local team leaders and 2. We were not on our field.  We lived elsewhere in a relatively safe location and traveled to a very unsafe location because of the nature of our specific work.  So we had no one immediately caring for us as team leaders and we fell under the jurisdiction of a office in a fairly safe country who had no idea of how to care for people in unsafe locations.

Those are just explanations that might give mild insight into the situation, but not solid excuses.  The people who should have stepped in had years of experience and were leaders for years and years.  They were not newbies and should have at least had the experience to know that help was needed, what was needed, and to ask for help from wiser people to assist.  They didn't. 

What happens when there is no member care after trauma?  I guess it could be described as a slow spiral downwards.  We had the immediate of no sleep for a week or so.  Horrific nightmares woke us the minute we slipped into REM sleep.  Our bodies ached and our minds were on hyper alert.  We were exhausted, but everything hurt and the slightest noise set us on edge.  We had a hard time processing logical thoughts because we were so exhausted.  After a few weeks of this, we hit a wall where we could sleep.  The hyper alertness settled, but nightmares still woke us several times a week. The lack of sleep dulled our emotions and we became "flat".  It was hard to muster a feeling besides a vague deadness.  Our eyes looked out of our heads stunned and confused.

As more trauma hit our field, we had a hard time.  Not only did we feel grief for our friends, we felt a deep sense of guilt or pain.  Why did we get the miracle and they didn't?  How do you explain to yourself that you lived and your friends were killed?  How do you process grief that is mixed with guilt?  How do you ask for resources and help when you already got the miracle?  When others maybe need those resources?  Were we whining to keep saying we weren't doing well?  We were alive... others weren't.

As the trauma settled in, we grew more exhausted.  We lost patience with each other.  We still didn't sleep.  I couldn't eat without pain.  Our children suffered, and we could not leave them even to run to the store without them worrying about us.  We stopped asking for help because no one was listening.  We didn't know how to write a prayer letter.  We didn't know what to say.  We felt dead and defeated.  Our church began to have questions about our "fitness" as missionaries because we weren't showing the joy of the Lord.  We weren't living victoriously.  We knew they were judging us, and we were unable to explain how we were feeling.  It was months in now, and most people in the church assumed it was "in the past", and they had no clue that we still dealt with fears, nightmares, and difficulty regulating our emotions.  Then we felt ignored and not valued on top of it.

A year went by, and we say our mission headquarters people again at the next conference.  We asked again for some debriefing and that some sort of member care protocol be put into place in case this ever happens to anyone else.  They nodded, but nothing was ever done.  Nothing has been done to this day.

We never healed.  We tried to do life by sheer force of will and habit.  It didn't work.  We just piled up stress on stress.  Our marriage began to suffer, our family life began to suffer, and of course our director stepped back into my husband's life to tell him that this was all his wife's fault because she was weak.  We literally began to fall apart.  And as we did, the church and mission was quick to step in and judge us for "moral failures".  It was a nightmare of a time, and we longed for someone to listen and help us process, but there was no one.

Surprised by God

If you were here with me, you could sit and laugh with me.  God is doing something that is simply amazing and still makes me giggle.  I've been swamped and busy, so not able to sit back and work through the rest of the story.  I will one day.  I feel it is valuable for me to write out.  Maybe I will learn; maybe others will learn from it.

But now....

Our support was low, so we were asked to raise support.  Oh how we all love that job!!  So we were asked by a friend to come to his church and speak to his pastor.  We did.  The meeting went for hours, until 11:30 at night!!  He did not want to let us go.  But at the end of the day, the pastor had a strange request.  "We've been looking and praying for a women's pastor.  Would you be interested?"  I laughed!  I have never even led a ladies Bible study!  Teens once, yes.  Years of children's work, yes.  Women?  Never.  

Before we got home, we got a text.  Would I consider sharing my testimony with the women's group?  I thought I could do that...  The day I showed up, the pastor was there and introduced me as "the woman he is strongly recommending for women's pastor."  I was a little shocked, but ignored him.  The funny thing is that this is a church of immigrants, and a people group I have never worked with.  
The meeting went well, and the women were wonderful to be with.  Before I got home, my husband had a message from the pastor again saying that the women were very happy and came to him and wanted me to teach their study.  Mild panic.  Mild is a mild word.  It was more like gut wrenching fear.  My mentor was gone - something about celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary.... some people!  So I phoned another friend who used to be a youth pastor and who knew me.  He laughed, and then talked me through some of it.  My husband and I decided I would take the offered one month trial position.

So here I am, three weeks in to being an interim women's pastor in an immigrant church.  I am one of the few white people there.  And yet, I fit so much more in with these immigrants than I do with the typical American church.  I feel at home.

I've been teaching on what I have been taught for ten years.  Who God is.  God is not a task master judging how well we do our faith.  He is a quiet God who sings over us with delight, who is gentle with those with young.  I taught them about our God-image that we have developed over our lives and how distortions in our God image leave us with handicaps in our relationship with God.  Then I began teaching them about us in community.... that God is not enough; He designed us to be in community with others. Also how community is not enough; He puts within our hearts a remnant of dissatisfaction with even the most perfect of relationships because we were designed for relationship with Him, and we were created with eternity in our hearts.  Next week, I will be teaching on God's plan for reaching out and healing is to work with people.  How we need to function both as wounded and those helping the wounded.  Community again, and the knowledge that God is smiling and encouraging our faltering steps towards Him.

In this church, these women have not heard this - it is a good church, but they came out of a first generation immigrant church that is more legalistic.  Every week, they have been in tears....  They are being challenged to rest with God, to know they are loved.

And I go away each week feeling both a sense of bubbling joy and a sense of wanting to sit down and cry.  Joy because it is unbelievable - here I am, a year ago, kicked out of a mission, strongly censored by my church, horrifically slandered by a team leader.  Now teaching, sharing with women in a church.  I suspect I will get called to go on past this trial month.  I am enjoying these women.  Enjoying seeing God work.  And laughing that God has this sense of humor.

But as I teach, as I see them benefit from the lessons I learned over these years of pain, as I hear them talk about how God is talking to them, I myself heal.  God is quietly healing the wounds of being rejected in my heart.

In a week or two, I will hear if we are asked to join this church with me in a pastoral role.  I'll let you know.  I still giggle at the thought.  But I have a quiet sense of calm.  God is working here, and I stand amazed.