I have written many times about the need for mission workers to be actively supported by their church, agency, family and friends – all of whom are very important for the resilience and fruitfulness of the mission worker.
However, the provision of intentional, pre-emptive, supportive care does not absolve mission workers from caring for themselves! With millennials in the mission field, who are accustomed to more attentive parenting, workplace nurturing and personal mentoring, there may be an expectation of higher standards of support than were previously considered appropriate. We need to lovingly remind mission workers that they are not children, they have been selected for their ability to thrive in the mission field, and have been trained to withstand the challenges of life in demanding places.
We must therefore resist the attempt to treat them as fragile, wrap them in cotton wool and run around looking after them. Instead we need to encourage them into self-care. This covers every aspect of who they are:
Physical self-care – They need to be paying attention to how their diet, exercise and sleep are healthily maintained to keep them well. They need to be aware of their own biological cycle, how they adapt in their body to changing months and seasons, the amount of heat and daylight available to them, and how they plan their life around their natural strengths. At what time of day are they at their best, and can they adapt their working time around that? Taking the full holiday entitlement, Sabbath days and weekends (where possible) will be part of this.
Mental self-care – maintaining mental well-being has two aspects to it: allowing the mind to unwind from stress, and stretching it to enable it to cope with more. So regular academic study, distance learning on practical or theological issues to keep people’s skills up to speed is important. As is the need to create downtime to give the brain a chance to switch off, particularly at night to allow more chance of good sleep. Developing a physical hobby, perhaps a craft or a sport, will go a long way towards facilitating this.
Spiritual self-care – mission workers are selected for their ability to feed themselves from the Bible and thrive in hard places, but regular times of retreat, seeing a spiritual director and being helped through podcasts or discussion groups can contribute to their spiritual well-being. So too can keeping regular hours of prayer, journaling, or using a personal liturgy to help with prayer.
Emotional self-care – often we find ourselves too busy to stop and reflect on how well we are relating to those around us: family, friends, church and co-workers. How do we intentionally deepen our accountable relationships? How do we live in ongoing repentance and stronger commitment to others? This can be complicated by being in cross-cultural teams, churches or families – can we identify the facets of the culture we live in which cause us the most stress, and find ways of coping better, even to the point of thriving in them?
In considering all these different things they need to do to care for themselves, mission workers may want to consider inviting a friend to be an accountability partner, to ask searching questions about what they are doing to look after themselves. Some people may feel that the idea of looking after oneself does not fit well with ‘laying down one’s life’, but like a good marathon runner, we are in this race to finish well, and in order to do that we need to pace ourselves rather than run the race like a sprint!
Blog post first published on 19 March 2018 on www.syzygy.org.uk.