These don’t mean the same thing, at least not to me.
Paul uses the word soldier to describe someone faithfully acting in obedience to God when he exhorts Timothy, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3 NIV). It’s a good thing to be Christian soldier.
But when we use soldier as a verb, such as in soldier on, it can take on a different meaning. Around the early 1900s, to soldier on the job was introduced, meaning, oddly enough, to act as if you’re working hard while only putting in minimal effort. And then the mid 1900s gave us the shorter to soldier on, which means to keep going in the face of difficulty or trouble.
In this latter sense, soldiering on, too, is a good thing. But that’s not how the phrase often comes across today. When I hear “soldiering on,” I think of a joyless trudge, just putting one foot in front of the other without resting, without taking time for reflection, without asking questions, without sharing heartfelt emotions, without asking for help or relief or sympathy or grace.
If you’re like me, you saw at least one of the “those we lost” montages covering the deaths of notable people over the last year. And when you see some of the names and faces, you react for some with “I didn’t know they were gone” and for others with “That just happened this year?”
I recently saw a different kind of look back. It was a list of high-profile Christians who’d made the news for their failings in 2020. It included pastors, authors, and ministry leaders, among others. There were a couple I hadn’t heard about, but sadly, I thought of a couple more I could add. Not everyone’s transgressions took place last year, but that’s when some of them came to light.
Do cross-cultural workers also face temptations and sometimes give in to them? The answer, of course, is yes. Those abroad are not immune to temptations “common to man.” But added to that, new surroundings can present uncommon enticements seemingly around every corner—at least uncommon when compared to what used to happen at home.
Does the sin of cross-cultural workers sometimes become public? Does it sometimes cause them to leave the field? Does it sometimes bring their work into question? Does it sometimes destroy relationships? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Many of us have seen it happen, to fellow workers, to teammates, to family members, to friends, to ourselves.
I’ve prepared the following questions as a beginning-of-the-year gut check, with the aim of helping us stay off of someone’s 2021 those-we-lost list. Yes, that’s an excellent goal. But I also realize that for some, having their failings exposed is a necessary step leading to healing and restoration. Being on the list doesn’t have to be an indication of lostness. It can also be an opportunity for being found.
In October of 2001, my wife and I boarded a flight and moved our family from the US to our new home in Asia. Nearly ten years later, in June of 2011, we moved back to our old home in Joplin, Missouri. Those dates may not jump out at you, but the first was one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The second was one month after an F5 tornado destroyed about a quarter of Joplin, killing 161.
When you relocate to a different culture, your world is turned upside down. How much more so when the earth itself seems to be tilted off its axis.
Some of you are making a cross-cultural transition right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, a global recession, and far-reaching upheavals confronting racism. So much emotional multitasking. So many unknowns. You’re not only tackling culture stress or reverse culture stress, but you’re trying to get used to a new normal when the old normal is challenging enough already.
There’s another term for new normal. It’s abnormal (at least for a while).
Speaking of culture, you have your own “cancel culture”: cancelled flights. cancelled church services, cancelled good-bye gatherings, cancelled welcome parties, cancelled support, cancelled camps, cancelled vacations, cancelled retreats, cancelled trainings, cancelled conferences, cancelled debriefings, cancelled classes, cancelled job opportunities, cancelled leases, cancelled assumptions, cancelled plans.
And when you get to make your trip, your first experience after you land is to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Two months ago, I wrote about used tea bags in care packages, which led to reader comments about less-than-optimal gifts, including a single roll of toilet paper, ribbons from graveside floral arrangements, and pencil stubs. But “philcott,” reminds us of the joys that gifts can bring, by pointing out what can happen when they are absent. After sharing some on the topic, philcott writes, “Having said all that, I must add that it would be a blessing to receive a care package of any sort, or some other indication that someone cared about us and the work we are doing.”
Care packages are certainly one way that people can show that they care.
I can say that during our time overseas, we were blessed with some wonderful, thoughtful gifts that helped us know that we had people who valued us and our ministry. And while we appreciated them all, some of what we received stand out in our memory because of the stories that go along with them.
For instance, there was the time when a group from our sending church came to help with a country-wide missionaries’ retreat. They brought along some home-schooling supplies for us, as well as some books and a box of VHS tapes for our kids. (Yes, this was in the olden days, before Netflix.)
It’s a question I’m reluctant to ask, because I’m a strong proponent of more effort and resources devoted to caring for cross-cultural workers. But here it is: Can there be too much member care?
To help with the answer, I’ll dip once more into the deep well of data from ReMAP and ReMAP II, studies conducted by the World Evangelical Fellowship/World Evangelical Alliance. And more specifically, I’ll consult the analysis of those results by Detlef Blöcher and Jonathan Lewis, who first asked the question more than twenty years ago. The pair examine the effects of member care on attrition in Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition, and Blöcher addresses the issue in Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention.
Cutting to the chase, here is what they found: An increase in time and money devoted to missionary care, as a proportion of a sending organization’s total resources, tracks with a decrease in “preventable” attrition. That’s true, though, only until a tipping point is reached. Above that percentage, more care actually correlates with more workers leaving the field. While the first finding seems obvious to me, I have to say that the second one doesn’t align with my general assumptions and seems to fly in the face of my advocacy for more and more member care. But I can’t ignore information just because it doesn’t easily fit my personal views.
A group of five women, all daughters of missionaries, recently went on NBC’s Today to share their stories of sexual abuse in New Tribes Mission boarding schools. One dorm father, whom the women from Fanda Missionary School in Senegal name as their abuser, left the school in 1988. Another dorm father, named by the women from a school in Aritao, the Philippines, was removed from his position in 1993.
It’s been more than 25 years since the latest of their abuse took place, yet these women are still bringing it up. Why?
In their interview, Today‘s Kate Snow asks the five to pick a word to answer the question “What’s this about for you?”
“Truth,” they say. “Justice.”
When Snow commends them for their strength in speaking up, Kelly Emory, who is not only a victim but also a daughter of the accused abuser at her school, says,
I’m strong for the little girl that was never able to say anything, and I’m strong for her, and I’m a strong woman. And I’ll do my best to protect anybody who sees this and wants to speak out. You can come and talk to me. Come and talk to me. I will protect you.
Another of the group, Jaasiel Mashek, in an article at NBC News, says, “If we don’t speak up, it’s going to keep happening. And we’re going to pass on that mentality of covering it up to the next generation. It’s got to stop.”
That’s why they’re still talking. They don’t want it to happen again. They don’t want the rest of us to forget. They don’t want us to think that silence is a remedy.
After the interview aired, Larry M. Brown, CEO of Ethnos360 (formerly New Tribes Mission) responded with an apology and a thank you, writing,
We wish to express our deepest gratitude to these women who came forward and others who have raised awareness of abuse. It is because of their willingness to share their painful stories that . . . preventative measures have been put in place, and we want to publicly thank them.
I want to thank them, too. I know I still need to hear their voices. Their stories are not new to me, but I’d already swept them to the corners of my memory, stripped of faces and details, kept where I can know that they exist without having to acknowledge them often. But I need to remember, really remember, because otherwise it’s too easy for me to give in to my tendencies to ignore hard things, to avoid confrontation, to give the benefit of the doubt when faced with suspicious activities, to hope that things will take care of themselves, and to protect the mission. In this I’m not alone.
And sadly, children in New Tribes Mission haven’t been the only ones to suffer abuse—sexual, physical, emotional, verbal, or spiritual abuse—from missionaries. In 2008, the production company Good Hard Working People produced the film All God’s Children, focusing on accounts of abuse that took place from 1950-1970 at Mamou Alliance Academy, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) boarding school in Guinea. The film is available online in 10 parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
In the following video from The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS—now thirtyone:eight), Wess Stafford, president emeritus of Compassion International, tells of his own experiences as a victim of abuse at Mamou:
Beverly Shellrude Thompson, one of several former Mamou students we hear from in All God’s Children, gives another reason for speaking out, saying that “truth-telling is an integral part of my healing, because as a child I didn’t have a voice.” In 1999, she helped launch MK Safety Net to provide a forum for MKs and TCKs to share their stories, to network, and to learn how to bring their concerns to church/mission leadership. Former Fanda students have contributed to a similar site titled Fanda Eagles.
As part of the process of addressing the problem, New Tribes Mission and C&MA have produced public reports detailing the abuse at Fanda and Mamou and examining how the organizations responded. The investigation of Fanda was conducted by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment):
In calling attention to this information, I want to make it clear that I am not on a vendetta against missionary boarding schools. I know many fine people who serve overseas in such places, selflessly and righteously watching over and educating the children in their care. But while writing this post gives me pause, I am convinced that these accounts still need to be heard.
I understand that not everyone agrees. “Some,” say the writers of the Presbyterian Church report, “strongly believe that the Church would be better served if those who believe they have been abused or are aware of past abuse would keep such information to themselves.”
They then go on to present and dispute three myths:
The current mission of the church will be hurt by revelations of past abuse on mission fields.
The reputations of former missionaries, current staff, or advocates will be damaged by the investigation of allegations against them.
What is in the past is best left alone.
That is why those five women aren’t staying quiet. It’s because the truth needs to be told, and because these myths aren’t true.
In the past, I’ve written about “the need for safe confidants in the lives of cross-cultural workers,” using parallel anecdotes from the world of athletics to illustrate my point. In that vein, here’s some insight from UK professional bicyclist Molly Weaver into how, in the area of mental health, the need for outward perfection conflicts with the inner need for honesty.
Actually, my introduction of Weaver is somewhat misleading. Technically she’s not a professional bike racer, at least not right now. On her website, she labels herself “Former Cyclist. Future Cyclist? Current Media Type.”
Early last year, during a training ride, Weaver was hit head on by a car and suffered 13 broken bones, including fractures in her back and neck. And yet, less than six months later, she was competing again . . . until she wasn’t. In May, she wrote a blog post announcing that she was stepping away from racing.
She makes her announcement and then continues:
I originally wrote this blog without the next part. I simply stated that I was taking a break from professional cycling, and then moved straight onto the ‘what’s next’ part of the story. I wanted to keep things private. But I’ve decided now is the time for an honest reflection.
Her physical injuries weren’t the issue, she writes. Those healed over time. It was the “mental scars”—the depression—that had stolen her passion.
My biggest mistake was doing nothing to stamp it out at the first signs of trouble. But at the time, in the grips of the demon, I couldn’t see this. I didn’t want to admit I was struggling. That isn’t who I am. I’m stronger than that.
Turns out strength has nothing to do with it. Depression can find anyone, and most of the time you don’t even see it coming.
But finding help, at least within bike racing, wasn’t easy. She tells BBC Sport that only one of her former teams had a sports psychologist. She calls this a “fundamental problem with the industry.”
Victoria Garrick is another high-level athlete who deals with depression. She’s a senior starter on the University of Southern California volleyball team, and last year she gave an in-depth TED talk in which she covers her experience as a D1 athlete, the stigma of depression and anxiety in sports, and the cultural environment athletes live in:
The culture of athletics preaches, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” “The best don’t rest,” “Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.” Mental illness is associated with weakness. To appear weak is the last thing an athlete wants.
Not showing weakness is something that Weaver speaks about as well. Cycling, she writes in her blog, “is as much about your image as anything else.”
The social media lie is all too present in the world of cycling. Riders outwardly presenting the picture of the perfect life. The dream of being a professional athlete documented for all to see. For some this is probably the truth: for a lot of people it’s not.
The constant distortion of reality can be more destructive than we recognise. It looks like everyone else has it better than you. Everyone else is happier than you. But you don’t ever know what’s happening behind the filter.
I hid away my depression and put on a smile through it all. I said the right things. Some of which were true, and some of which I just wished were true. This felt like the only option. I thought I needed to paint myself in a certain light if I wanted to be successful. Mould reality around what people wanted to hear.
Then I would get home and take off the mask.
Now, by taking off their masks publicly, Weaver and Garrick are encouraging others to do the same, to be honest about mental-health issues, to be vulnerable in our humanity, regardless of our profession.
In her post “Closer to the Truth about Current Missionary Attrition: An Initial Analysis of Results,” Katie Rowe looks at the findings of a recent survey of missionaries, showing that respondents rated “lack of missionary care” as one of the most common reasons for leaving the field. One of those who commented on the post was Neal Pirolo, author of Serving as Senders—Today: How to Care for Your Missionaries as They Prepare to Go, Are on the Field and Return Home, and The Reentry Team: Caring for Your Returning Missionaries. The current edition of Serving as Senders—Today is a revision of the original, first published in 1991. Since then, it has been translated into 20 languages and has nearly a half million copies in print.
In reference to missionary/member care, Neal writes, “I have been ‘beating this drum’ since 1976!” I contacted Neal to get his long-term perspective, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions (and along the way, with his wife’s help, remembered that the year was actually 1978).
Why was 1978 a starting point for you to begin your drumbeat for missionary care?
Oftentimes, telling a story communicates better than “just the facts.” Let me tell a story:
I went to Brazil to administer the five schools Wycliffe/SIL was using at the time for missionary children. My wife was given the responsibility of overseeing the Group House in Cuiaba. We had a choice: move our family of six in with all the singles or move from house to house every three months as translators went to their villages and back. We moved in. We looked in the refrigerator. Every item had someone’s initials on it. We looked at each other. “This will not work,” our eyes said to each other. But how do you change a group of people so entrenched?