Many missionaries and particularly mission leaders complain about overload. Too many emails! The technological conveniences of email, Skype and Facebook have kept us much more closely connected to our supporting constituencies and loved ones back home than the missionaries of the past. But they also have greatly added to the onslaught of information that floods our lives and puts pressure on the time available for ministry in our host cultures. Often time set aside for personal development and training is the first to be sacrificed.
Missionary life was much different in our first term of service. No, I didn’t arrive on the mission field on a boat. But my career as a missionary (I was single back then) began before the era of the Internet, or at least the Internet as we know it today. Back in the early 90’s, we had no telephone in our home in the Philippines, and had to make an appointment at another missionary’s home to use their telephone to make an international call. Calling back to Canada often took an hour of repeatedly dialing the operator in another town until the operator was finally no longer busy! Then the operator would seek to connect you to your number overseas, and hopefully that number would not then be busy, and hopefully the connection would survive until you had completed your call! Believe it or not, I asked Bertha to marry me over such an international call from the Philippines to Canada. It was a 12 minute call, before the connection failed. By then she had said “Yes” and so had her father. But not much more was discussed. It took another 24 hours before I was able to resume the conversation so that I could tell my bride-to-be where she might find the ring that I had so conveniently hidden for such a time as this! Another 7 months or so before I would see her. Cassette tapes and letters (letter = pieces of paper with writing on them folded into envelopes and mailed through the post office) were the primary means of communication. Now that type of communication provides its own type of stress. But I definitely did not feel overloaded with a flood of communication!
But I digress. The point of this blog was that missionaries suffer from overload. The suffering is real. It causes distress and pain. A book that I read last year addressing this very problem is currently free on Amazon for the Kindle and Barnes and Noble for the Nook e-reader: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Dr. Richard Swenson (yes, he is a physician) says the prescription for this pain is MARGIN, margin in emotional energy, margin in physical energy, margin in time and margin in finances. He writes, “Now that we have exceeded so many of our limits — personal, emotional, relational, physical, financial — we have no margin at all. Yet because we don’t even know what margin is, we don’t realize it is gone. We know something is not right, but we can’t solve the problem beyond that. Our pain is palpable, but our assailant remains unnamed.”
The first chapter of the book says, “Marginless is not having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress; margin is having the time to read it twice.” I have read it once. But not twice – not yet at least.