Global Outreach leadership and church partners recently facilitated a member care retreat in the Middle East. Almost 40 of our missionaries from around the world attended. It was an excellent time of corporate worship, one-on-one conversation, and small group workshops; we watched some of the best learning experiences and conversations unfold as brothers and sisters in Christ were transparent with one another about difficulties they face.
One conversation about stress was particularly memorable to me. We used a learning tool called Visual Explorer, which is basically a collection of images is used to facilitate dialogue. After dividing up into smaller groups, we asked our missionaries and church volunteers to choose images related to their own definitions of "stress," as well as related specifically to their own unique stressors. Once they'd all chosen their images, we debriefed around each group.
We don't have images in front of us right now, but before I continue, pause for a moment and consider your own thoughts about "stress." If you had to define it in a sentence or two, what would you say? What images, adjectives, or associations help you to define "stress"? Let's get more specific. What are the things in your life that stress you out? How do they get to you? Again, what images, adjectives, or associations come to mind when you reflect on your own unique stressors?
I'll offer my own definition: Stress is anything--internal or external to me--that makes it harder to be the best version of myself, which is to say, the self I have received and am receiving in Christ.
The conversations in my group humbled me greatly. All of our workers shared stressors that we could relate to in some way; we were left laughing at how common our stressors were even across great cultural, geographical, and vocational divides. On the other hand, one missionary in particular, Mark Karnes, shared a reality that shook me and has thrown my own stress into new perspective.
Mark is an Obstetrician / Gynecologist. He and his wife, Allison, life in Soddo, Ethiopia, on the medical compound of Soddo Christian Hospital. Mark shared with us that before moving to Ethiopia several years ago, he had enjoyed a long and successful career as an OB/GYN. In fact, in over twenty years of practice he'd never had a mother die while under his care.
At this point he held up his image: it was the two back legs of a donkey, tied together with rope. Someone had hobbled the donkey so that it wouldn't run off. Mark explained to us that this was how he felt on a daily basis in Ethiopia. Because of unpredictable and scarce access to very basic equipment and medicines, Mark loses mothers on a regular basis. Tears ran down his face as he explained that he is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because he is the only OB/GYN at this hospital--and still it is not enough to prevent mothers from dying.
All of us had tears in our eyes by this point. I thought to myself: From this point on, I will never think about my own stress in the same way again.
During a different part of the retreat, we visited the Garden Tomb in Israel. While nobody knows with certainty where Jesus' tomb is today, the Garden Tomb is located next to a cliff face that some believe is Golgotha ("the place of the skull"), where Jesus and the thieves were crucified. There is a lush garden with an ancient cistern and winepress nearby, as well as an ancient tomb, dating to the days of Jesus, constructed in much the same way that Jesus' tomb would have been constructed. Our group spent time hearing from a guide about the historical realities of crucifixion and being reminded about the narrative, and then we were free to approach this tomb and see for ourselves.
As we approached, Mark raised his voice in a hymn to celebrate the resurrection. Many of us joined in, and for a few moments the stone courtyard was filled with voices celebrating the empty tomb.
In Christ, the things that stress out--even the worst versions of ourselves, that make us feel guilty about responding to stress the way we do--have all been beaten and redeemed in Christ. Jesus' resurrection from the dead means that death is already a defeated enemy. As the Spirit forms the mind of Christ in us, we are reminded that we have been adopted into a loving Father's new, worldwide family. We can learn from one another's stress and have our own stressors put into perspective (as mine have forever been!). We can also remind one another that Jesus, who lives forever as a resurrected and glorified human being, understands what it is like to be human and to experience stress--because stress is not a sin; our responses to stress can become sinful.
Jesus responded to the stressors in his life, while he was on earth, in ways that were glorifying to his Father in heaven. You and I can do the same today in the power of the Spirit and in community with other like-minded believers. I am thankful that my friend Mark was vulnerable about the stressors in his life. May you also be open with your community of faith, so that you can hold one another up and the Spirit can use you to form the mind of Christ in one another.
Global Outreach Member Care Retreats are only made possible through the generous gifts of financial partners like you. Our Home Office facilitation team is able to travel and meet face-to-face with missionaries, and provide occasional scholarships for missionaries unable to afford to attend, because partners like you believe in our work and support it through monthly contributions. If you think missionaries should have access to excellent care and support, consider becoming a Member Care Champion with a monthly gift to the Home Office. Click the button below.