I thought I could handle stress. I had lived enough life to know what the ‘real world’ was like. I was 28 years old, a wife, a mother, had earned a graduate degree, worked several years, and had traveled the world. Then we went to the mission field and – SURPRISE - my stress levels flew through the roof. Multiple pregnancies, burglaries, civil wars, revolutions, terrorist attacks, months without running water, sharing a home with a Muslim family, and my father’s death were just a few of the events that rocked my world. I had no idea what true stress was until I lived in another country. And is my story unique? No, it’s not.
According to research (Dodd and Dodd, 2000), the average American rates stress at 200, using the Holmes-Rahe Scale. The average overseas worker rates around 650. A score of 250 is a warning bell meaning that distinct effects of stress will be felt in the person’s mind and body. A score above that is approaching the red zone.
So, what do we do? Not go? Run away as Jonah did because the situation is too difficult?
With God’s grace, we walk in faith. We believe that the God of the Universe is alive within us. With this confidence, we enter high stress situations with the goal of spreading God’s love and hope. While some people are born with characteristics that help them be more resilient in the face of great stressors, many helpful characteristics can also be developed. A few examples of such factors are: high self-esteem, strong coping skills, ability to draw support from others, and ability to re-frame a negative situation into a positive challenge (Dodds, 2015). In addition, surviving one stressor gives you courage and confidence to face the next stressor successfully. Within communities, teams can work together to find meaning and purpose in their communal suffering and provide support for one another which also re-affirms the group identity and purpose.
When our family returned to the states, we found great comfort in sharing stories with other missionaries who had experienced both the stress of living on the field, and the stress of returning to the US. Within Compass Ministries I have found a place to minister to people like me, and to help others build stress resilience both in the U.S. and beyond so that the Gospel can continue to travel to even the most difficult locations of the world.
If you are feeling the effects of stress as a cross-cultural worker, please check out Compass Ministries to find resources and community. You are not alone in your coming or going, we and are all on this journey together.
Dodds, Lois A. (2015). Resiliency – The Secret to Longevity and Effectiveness in Ministry. Liverpool, PA:
Heartstream Resources. www.heartstreamresources.org
Dodds, Lois A. and Dodds, Larry. (2000). Love and Survival: Personality, Stress Symptoms and Stressors in
Cross-Cultural Life. Liverpool, PA: Heartstream Resources. www.heartstreamresources.org