Scripture continues to amaze me because it was written with such scope as to validate all human experience. The Psalms invite us to express and unpack all manner of emotional experience before the Lord. It allows us the freedom to express our pain and loss and triumph in every regard. Christ himself cried out in pain before God as well as expressed his triumph over his enemies. Although we laud Christian stoicism, scripture walks through the highs and lows of lives filled with normal human experience. Knowing that we walk with a God who wants us to express our greatest sorrows and share our victories allows us to have hope in all life’s challenges. We have a God who knows us intimately and has the grace for all our experiences in life and in death. God allows us space to debrief our lives because he knows our need for validation, expression, healing and restoration.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Missionaries are a peculiar people. They face unique challenges that are sometimes hard to relate to. It is not everyone who has the opportunity to serve in areas with politically unstable and life threatening situations. However, with those privileges can come great stress and trauma that often goes unchecked. In a very recent event, a missionary had the misfortune of running over a child and killing him on one of her ministry trips. (this is more common than you would think..) Dealing with those challenges takes care and sensitivity. After a conversation I had with one of the member care personnel on the field, she responded in an email for me to consider getting my counseling degree to help with the ongoing challenges of the field. Hmm. This is not something I had considered before but please pray that God gives me wisdom. Missionaries have an empathy for their fellow missionaries through shared experience. Why not help each other practically?
At Missions Fest, I was asked to share concerning the importance of debriefing with Missionary Kids (MK's). In thinking about what to share, one memorable experience came to mind. While living in the tribe we had an armed militant communist group who came in during the night. They were a group of 10 armed soldiers who were apparently fleeing from the military. They broke into one of the tribal families households just up the hill from us and held them hostage. After news spread throughout the village, the military contacted me asking the position of the hostiles. Although we strongly desired to stay, we were urged to evacuate. At that time we were also dealing with a medical emergency with one of the ladies in the tribe who had breast cancer and was near death. After a nerve-wracking night, our partners signaled down to us to leave quickly. We slipped away just as the military were coming up the hill. Less than an hour later a shootout ensued and we had just reached the next town over. Afterwards we heard our friend had passed away. We were not able to come back into the tribe until the danger had passed.
The contingency coordinator called us in and we travelled down from our station to Manila, where we had a debrief. Thinking back, it was probably one of the most helpful things to get us back on track.
In that debrief we received: validation of our traumatic experience; practical support for the physical effects of trauma; ventilation so that we could verbalize our experience; and subsequently, normalization and restoration. That was just one of many bizarre experiences that our kids went through with us. Kids also feel vicariously the stresses going on around them. However, what I now find amazing is that our kids were not a part of that process of debriefing. No validation, no one to recognize their experiences, no practical helps to normalize their emotional challenges.
After coming back and repatriating to Canada and attending seminars, reading books and having conversations with adult MK’s, I discovered many things about the MK experience I had not previously known or understood. I could not help thinking that many MK’s are still waiting to tell their stories… Still waiting to be recognized… still wanting validation… still wanting to be heard and to unpack their lives in a meaningful way with those who care about them. For them as with all people, to be listened to is the best way we are shown we are valued and cared for. As you take time to have missionary families over, please make time for the kids to tell their stories as well. Pray that we can continue to educate and give tools to parents to help support their own kids on the field. One book I read called "Home Keeps Moving," written by an adult MK gives a great snapshot into the life of a Third Culture Kid (TCK).
The last few years, I’ve been able to make trips back to the Philippines. This year was memorable because Elliot came with me to work on a school project. As with all visits, they are way too short, this one in particular because we had only a week before Elliot needed to be back from his university reading break. Due to time constraints and logistics, we could only touch down in the tribe for an hour. We are grateful for the people who were around at the time. The people loved seeing Elliot as he has not seen them in 3 years. They wanted to hear news of all the kids and what they were up to now. They couldn’t help but to remark on his beard and how much he has grown. They were delighted to hear news that he is going to get married later this year.
We were able to meet with our partners who were at a conference in Baguio. They gave us encouraging news that the fellowship continues to grow and meet on Sundays to worship, and lots of kids come for children’s ministry. Men are taking on some leadership roles and one of the women has really taken on the kids ministry. Roderick and his wife Leya, who are tribal missionaries, joined the work 3 years ago. They are trusting the Lord to be able to buy the land that the current chapel stands on. He also shared that the congregation has even given money towards that purpose. Please pray the remaining landowners agree to sell the land and give a fair price.
At the end of 2018, I realized that this is the longest we have ever lived in one location as a family. Life has no lack of surprises. There have been many mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical challenges as well as the hardship of grandma succumbing to dementia. However, there have also been many triumphs academically, spiritually and relationally. God is faithful.
Like church planting, one way in which we measure church health is through the community that goes on around it. Relational realities are tough to navigate, especially when you are new to an area. Building friendships is not easy sometimes but totally worth the effort. I am grateful for each friend that the kids have made over this past while. Pray that they continue to grow their respective communities.