“Ministry is a hazardous occupation! To be in ministry is a ‘high calling’ and a grave responsibility–and therein lie much of the stress and struggle which makes it so hazardous. Anyone who chooses a role in ministry across cultures compounds the hazards almost geometrically.”
So begins an article by Lawrence and Lois Dodds entitled “Stressed from Core to Cosmos: Issues and Needs Arising from Cross-Cultural Ministry.” The Dodds were cross-cultural missionaries for many years before founding Heartstream Resources to provide care for people in cross-cultural ministry. This article addresses the familiar topic of struggles that missionaries face. The strength of the article is that it also provides suggestions for dealing successfully with those struggles.
Three Categories of Needs and Struggles Impacting Cross-cultural Workers
1. In cross-cultural ministry, one’s self is challenged to change. Being plucked from a familiar culture and dropped down into one that is drastically different assaults a person’s sense of identity. In order to survive and thrive in a new cultural setting, the missionary is forced to change in both superficial and deep ways. Going back and forth between the home culture and adopted culture makes this adaptation even more complex. The missionary’s self-esteem can take quite a beating as a result. After opening our eyes to the depth of the challenge of identity issues and self-esteem, the Dodds provide several strategies to counselors for helping the person struggling with such issues. No need to limit their suggestions to counseling sessions: they can help each one of us in dealing with our own adjustments as cross-cultural missionaries as well as coming alongside fellow missionaries who may be struggling.
2. The second challenge for cross-cultural missionaries comes in adapting to the external changes inherent in a move across cultures. Personal safety and security, severe losses or catastrophes, the “ugliness factor,” and living on the edge financially can create an atmosphere of perpetual and unrelenting high levels of stress. Again, this article outlines suggestions for helping the missionary cope adequately with the resultant stresses.
3. “The third area requiring adaptation when we enter cross-cultural ministry has to do with [our view of] God, and ourselves and the world in relation to God.” In adapting to a new culture, our concepts of God are challenged, as well as our perspective on our role as God’s servants.
Every missionary can probably find something helpful in this article, regardless of stage of life or ministry. I would encourage you to read it through and especially take heart from the counseling suggestions. It just may give you the encouragement you need today to persevere in the “hazardous occupation” to which you have been called (or provide you with some tools for helping someone else who is struggling).
P.S. While you’re at it, glance through the other articles available on the Heartstream Resources website. One that is exceptionally insightful (and now required reading for appointees) is “Am I Still Me? Changing the Core Self to Fit a New Cultural Context.”