Mental Health and the Battlefield of Missions
Updated: Apr 6
We have had a rough couple of months here at the ministry center between health issues among our church members and staff, COVID and COVID regulations, complex staff issues, and growing pains as the ministry grows. We've also had our share of spiritual attacks with people physically being demon-possessed as well as just general brain fog, depression and loneliness. The early pregnancy hormones are not helping either.
As the leaders of the ministry center, the weight of responsibility feels heavy. The word that currently defines my spirit right now is "downtrodden." On top of that, mental health issues have affected many around us. I have seen the same issues crop up over and over again and remain unhealed. In some cases, we have to refer someone to another ministry or support because we simply lack the expertise to support those specific mental health issues. While Jon has always been counseling at least 1 person since we've been in Guatemala, the amount of people he has been counseling has increased significantly. It has brought me to ask myself the question - Is this the way it's supposed to be? Isn't the mission field supposed to be "healing?" The longer I am here, I realize it is less like a retreat center and more like a spiritual battlefield. I am not sure where my notion that the mission field will solve your mental health issues stems from, but I think it comes from the idea that when you align your focus and purpose with God's purpose, everything should be easy and all your problems should go away. However, I am finding out that to be less and less true. Uprooting this notion has been a key learning for me as a missionary this year.
There's numerous reasons why I have never struggled as hard with my mental health as in the last 3 years as a missionary. I reckon many missionaries deal with the same issues that negatively impact their mental health. The main one, for me, is that I've been exposed to far more triggering events than ever as we support our community and church members - alcoholism, all forms of abuse, extortion, extreme poverty and even human trafficking are issues we deal with regularly. Bearing the spiritual and emotional weight of this is a heavy burden. Additionally, I am more isolated from my established networks of support back home. Lastly, what makes mental health issues even more complicated as a missionary is that I need to continue to support others while at the same time actively seeking to heal myself. I've learned that it is OK to take breaks to preserve and heal my own mental health, but also balance that with not abandoning my responsibilities.
However, I have learned a few things in these past years that I did want to share. I hope it is applicable to many as I know many deal with mental health issues, but for one reason or another are charged with helping others at the same time. These are the truths that I've held true to as I have had to dig deep to continue to support others.
Cover all interactions with patience and kindness. For me, patience is the most important one. Patience to listen actively and patience to wait for resolution.
Stay humble in my knowledge. One of the biggest awakenings for Jon and I early on in this mission field is how ill-equipped we are to offer inner healing. That doesn't mean that we should avoid supporting others in this way, but it does require us to stay humble with our knowledge and know our limits. We also are reading and studying and learning as we go. Like I said before, we now are not shy about referring people to others or simply saying "we can help you with X, but I am not fully equipped to handle Y."
Offer 1 tangible act of kindness. This one is as much for you as it is for the person you’re trying to help. I've baked cakes, driven people to the hospital, babysat, visited, paid for medicines and transportation, etc. While many times these tangible acts may feel so small compared to the major issues, they can make a big difference in someone when they feel like someone cares.
Pray, pray and pray some more. No matter the issue, there is something we can always give: prayer. The power of prayer is strong and we can trust that Jesus “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,“ Psalm 147:3. Some issues we’ve encountered makes us feel helpless and all we can do is pray.
As far as how I am dealing with my own mental health issues, this is still a work in progress, but some things I am hanging onto that are helping are as follows:
Remembering my identity is not in my work, in how people see me, or in my reputation. My identify is a gift received from a loving Father who has adopted me in spite of my failures.
Remembering that Jesus' blood is greater than any of my failures or sin. Jesus loves me despite my imperfections. My faith is set on the cross not in what I do in this life.
Being 100% honest with the people around you. You don't always have to give details, but remain honest with others and yourself.
Carefully evaluating my triggers, emotions and responses for root cause issues and redirecting untrue emotions or lies I tell myself.
Get rid of unhelpful habits. I found myself spiraling on social media and binging shows. I swapped it for more reading and prayerful meditation.
Get help. I started seeing a counselor and it has truly helped me to put action plans in place to tackle my mental health. I am also learning and growing in how to help others!
Thank you for reading! I try to use this blog to address what is on our minds and heart, and mental health issues have been on my heart for some time. Both in pursuing inner healing for others, but also for myself. I hope to grow in my learnings and share more as I progress in my own journey!