Member Care: Learning from Each Other


Blogger Maria Foley, at I Was an Expat Wife, writes that her husband’s employer did a great job of easing her family’s transition to life overseas. In fact, she calls the help they got in their move to Singapore “wonderful.” But the return trip was a different story. When they came back to Canada, she says, “the silence was deafening.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In “What the Missionary Sector Can Teach Us about Handling Re-Entry” (May 6, 2013), Maria applauds the work of the Assemblies of God in meeting the needs of their cross-cultural workers. She tells about her friend, Heather, who is a youth coordinator in the International Society of Missionary Kids‘ reentry program, part of the AG’s efforts to help missionaries and MKs adjust to the comings and goings of their cross-cultural lives. Part of Heather’s motivation to help MKs comes from her own experiences as a child in a missionary family. “I wish I’d been able to go through a program like this. It would have been helpful to have those tools,” she says. “That’s why I think it means so much to me to work with these kids, because I had such a difficult re-entry.” (You can read more from Heather at her blog, Adventures in Transition.)

This is a common sentiment among those who work in member care: wanting to serve current cross-cultural workers and their families by providing the kind of help that wasn’t available when they faced similar difficulties in their own lives.

That’s what happened with Lauren and Jo Ann Helveston, who started The Mission Society‘s pastoral-care department in 2007. When the couple were missionaries in Ghana, they weren’t part of “an agency like The Mission Society,” says Jo Ann. “So debriefing, or even training, was not part of our experience.” Now they debrief missionaries who are back in the States.

Jo Ann’s comments come from The Mission Society’s spring 2013 issue of Unfinishedan edition devoted entirely to member care. The article “What Missionaries Don’t Tell You” describes the issue in this way:

The pages of Unfinished typically tell the stories of what God is doing through our missionaries. This issue, however, is more about what God is doing in them, particularly during those difficult seasons that aren’t typically chronicled in their newsletters or blogs. It’s about how missionaries themselves need to be cared for and ministered to.

Other articles include

  • When Hope Begins to Stir
    Missionary care can happen through listening (the source of Jo Ann Helveston’s comments above)
  • How Can We find Our Way?
    What happens to missionaries when disillusionment becomes their constant companion?
  • Top 10 Ways to Care for Your Missionaries
  • Top 10 Items to Include in a Care Package
  • A Different World
    Third culture kids speak about a life only a select population can relate to.

I stumbled upon Unfinished as I was collecting information for my post on African-American missionaries. What a find. Not only does it include great information and insights, it is an encouragement to see that when we participate in member care, we are joining a growing group that has common goals, lives out common experiences, and speaks a common language. It is a group that grows in understanding as we share with and learn from each other.

And the world is our classroom.

[photo: “Geography Lesson in a Grammar Class,” by Boston Public Library, used under a Creative Commons license]


Regrets and Remembrances: A Prayer for Those Who Leave Home

With one plane ride the whole world as TCKs have known it can die. Every important place they’ve been, every tree climbed, pet owned, and virtually every close friend they’ve made are gone with the closing of the airplane door.
—David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, Third Culture Kids

5420666395_e086b79cf9_mThis closing door doesn’t just happen to Third Culture Kids. It’s also the experience of immigrants who leave behind many what-could-have-beens in their old country. Cross-cultural workers feel the door close when they leave their work and return “home.” (What other job requires you to leave the country once you’re no longer on the payroll?) International students close the door with the hopes that new opportunities will open many more. And refugees often see the door slammed and locked by soldiers carrying guns.

5420666545_cd2c078381_mBut while the door is closed, the mind is still open to thoughts about what was left behind. Some thoughts are joyous and life giving. Some are hurtful and life stealing. And often they come intricately, painfully intertwined, called up by a scent, a word, a sound, a flavor, a feeling or a dream. Bittersweet.

For those who find themselves on the other side of a closed door, I offer this prayer, inspired by Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.”

God, grant me the confidence to let go of the regrets that I should not hold on to,
The ability to hold on to the memories I should not let go of,
And the wisdom to separate the one from the other. Amen.

(David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2009)

[illustrations: (upper) “Joined” and (lower) “Cupped“) by Pete Hobden, used under a Creative Commons license]

Live and Learn Abroad to Boost Creativity

You’ve been overseas and you’re back in the US looking for work. Not many job descriptions say that the “ideal candidate will have lived outside the US.” So what transferable qualities or skills have your experiences developed in you? How about adaptability, flexibility, resilience, and empathy?

Here’s something else you can add to your qualifications, and there’s research to back up the claim: creativity.

Finding the Relationship between Creativity and Living Cross-Culturally

A few years ago, William Maddux and Adam Galinsky conducted a series of experiments that demonstrate the link between living abroad and creativity.

  1. In the first, the pair showed that the more time a subject had spent living (though not traveling) abroad, the more likely it was for him to solve a particular puzzle. But the cause-effect relationship wasn’t clear. What if it’s simply because creative people choose more often to live abroad?
  2. The second experiment verified the results, this time using built-in controls for personality factors that are linked to creativity in order to isolate the effects of living abroad.
  3. The third study had subjects who had previously lived abroad think and write about their experiences. They were then tested, showing a temporary increase in creativity.
  4. Study number four looked at adaption to a new culture as the main driver of increased creativity. It showed that the more a person adapted, immersing herself in a culture, the higher the creativity.
  5. And, finally, the fifth study followed up by showing that subjects with past living-abroad experience who then imagined and wrote about adapting to a foreign culture exhibited higher levels of creativity in a subsequent exercise.

(William Maddux and Adam Galinsky, “Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship between Living Abroad and Creativity,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May 2009)

Wanting to Live Abroad Isn’t the Same

As described in a recent article in Pacific Standard, researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville, further validated the idea that studying abroad increases creativity, rather than vice versa. The study, by Christine Lee, David Therriault, and Tracy Linderholm, looked at three groups of students: those who had studied abroad, those who were planning to study abroad, and those who had not nor were planning to study abroad. The first group scored higher than the other two in levels of creative thinking, suggesting that it’s the actual experience of living overseas, rather than a personality type that is inclined to do so.

(Tom Jacobs, “To Boost Creativity, Study Abroad,” Pacific Standard, August 6, 2012; Christine Lee, David Therriault, and Tracy Linderholm, abstract of “On the Cognitive Benefits of Cultural Experience: Exploring the Relationship between Studying Abroad and Creative Thinking,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, July 2012)

Diversification and Flexibility

In the abstract to their research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers from the Netherlands and California note that “past research has linked creativity to unusual and unexpected experiences, such as early parental loss or living abroad.” Their experiments suggest that it is the “diversifying” aspect of these experiences that brings about great “cognitive flexibility.”

(Simone Ritter, et al., abstract of “Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2012)

Learning the Whys of Culture Helps Even More

Back to Maddux and Galinsky, this time joined by Hajo Adam. Working on the idea that adapting to a new culture brings about novel ways of thinking, the researchers asked, “What is it about adaptation to foreign environments that is critical for facilitating the creative process?” They hypothesized that it is learning about a foreign culture in a multicultural setting that boosts creativity, To test this, the researchers assembled a group of university students in Paris who had previously lived abroad. They then “primed” part of the group by having them think and write about a time when they had learned about another culture. Others in the group did the same about a time of learning about their own culture. As predicted, the first group scored higher in a followup test of creativity.

The three then focused on “functional learning,” or “learning about the underlying reasons for observed foreign rituals, rules, and behaviors.” Subsequent experiments showed that creativity increased even more when the priming focused on not only on learning something new about another culture but learning when the subjects were actually able to find out the reason behind the cultural differences.

(William Maddux, Hajo Adam, and Adam Galinsky, “When in Rome . . . Learn Why the Romans Do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, June 2010)

Boosting Your Resume in a Globalized World

So, in review, if you want to develop your creativity, here’s the plan:

  1. live overseas
  2. adapt to another culture
  3. learn about that culture
  4. and learn why a culture is the way it is

In an article posted by the Kellogg School of Management, Maddux tells the American Psychological Association that their research

may have something to say about the increasing impact of globalization on the world, a fact that has been hammered home by the recent financial crisis. Knowing that experiences abroad are critical for creative output makes study abroad programs and job assignments in other countries that much more important, especially for people and companies that put a premium on creativity and innovation to stay competitive.

(Audrey Hamilton, “Living Outside the Box: New Research by Kellogg Professor Adam Galinsky Suggests That Living Abroad Boosts Creativity,” Kellogg School of Management, April 23, 2009)

[photo: “Globeism,” by Joel Ormsby, used under a Creative Commons license]

Returning Soldiers, “Fitting Back into That World”

NPR is running a series on the members of the 182nd Infantry Regiment, which has recently returned to the States after spending a year in Afghanistan. Reporters will be following the group as they adjust to life in the US over the coming year. I’ve never served in the military, but I have come “home” after living overseas. I can only imagine the loss and trauma and stress that these soldiers have experienced, along with the challenges they are now facing. But I’ve also learned that it doesn’t help to compare experiences: every situation is unique, and different levels of loss and trauma and stress are all still loss and trauma and stress. When I read/hear stories such as these, I’m reminded how much we all have in common when we come back to the US after adjusting to another culture. And while serving in a war overseas certainly adds to the challenges of readjustment (war has a “culture” all its own), I know other repats, former missionaries and NGO workers who served in harsh circumstances, who carry some of the extreme baggage that soldiers bring back with them.

Following are some pullouts from the report. If you are readjusting to life back in the States, regardless of where you were or what you did while you were away, change a few words here and there and see how many of these ring true to you. As I said, I’ve never fought in a war, but I’ve tasted some of the challenges of reentry. I will pray for the 182nd Infantry Regiment today. . . .

Once they settle back home, they’ll begin the transition from soldier to civilian. Some could face unemployment and financial problems; others may struggle with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Their families face challenges as well, trying to integrate these men back into their lives.

“But listen, something is no kidding going to slap you right across the face when you get home within the first 72 hours, and it’s going to let you know that life has continued on in your absence,” [says. Col. Tim Newsome].

Newsome says these war wounds [like PTSD or depression] should be treated like any other. . . . “Somebody has got something wrong with their foot, they go see the podiatrist,” he says, “no harm, no foul. Nobody says anything. It’s when they got something wrong up here, that’s when we want to put a stigma on somebody.”

But going home comes with its own kind of stress. Like many guardsmen, [Spc. John] Nestico had a civilian job before he deployed. He worked at Radio Shack selling cell phones, but a lot of his friends there have moved on, and he’s worried about fitting back into that world.

“For a while, admittedly I was in a bit of a free fall,” he says. “It just took a change of environment and the ability to talk to someone who wasn’t in uniform to allow myself to open up a little bit [and] to feel like what I say here isn’t going to be held in contempt or against me, but in the best interest of what’s good for me.”

They’ll return to their civilian lives. . . . For some, that will mean packing up their uniform and picking up where they left off; for others, it will mean picking up the pieces and starting over.

(Rachel Martin and Tom Dreisbach, “A Rest Stop on the Road from Soldier to Civilian,” NPR, April 1, 2012)

[photo: “110828-F-JP934-057,” by ISAF Public Affairs, used under a Creative Commons license]