When I tell people, especially fellow missionaries, that I am a counseling intern for missionaries, invariably, that person will get emotional and say something like, “That is so needed.”
Underneath that statement is hurt, pain, and loneliness that only other missionaries can understand. For the past several months, I have had the opportunity to serve as a counseling intern for Compass Ministries. I am enrolled at Columbia International University in their master's program for Care & Counseling, specializing in Missionary Care. This internship has perfectly dovetailed my studies, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. In addition to counseling a third culture kid (TCK) and a couple of missionaries, I have also been involved in several debriefs for returning missionaries.
Many organizations offer debriefs, but often they seem geared toward debriefing what has happened ministry-wise in the missionary’s previous term, and the personal life of the missionary is not the focus. While mental health in missions has come a long way, there are still so many missionaries and their families who struggle upon return to their home country, whether for a home assignment for a time, a change to ministry stateside, or leaving the ministry altogether these missionaries should be allowed to debrief their latest assignment, to move forward to what is next in a healthy way. Several years ago, we left the field to return to the United States. We had been serving for almost two years, but one of our sons was not doing well. We know he was not doing well, but we were committed to staying until it was time for a home assignment, which would have meant staying another year. However, after telling our field leadership what was happening in our family, it was determined that we needed to go home and take care of our family. The elders from our sending church agreed with that assessment. It was a difficult decision, and we felt it was being made for us. Yet, in hindsight, it was the best decision for us. When a missionary is in pain and loneliness, it can cloud their judgment. We were sure were could stick it out for another year, and we would have been wrong.
We had incredible support from our home church and our field leadership. However, many missionaries do not have that kind of support. Not only that, but many would have never felt comfortable telling their field leadership what was happening. I would have never known about proper missionary care if we did not go through that really challenging time as a family. When I counsel a missionary who has had to come home from the field, and they have so many questions about their time overseas, I can relate. “What was it all for?” “Was it a waste of supporter’s money?” “What did I actually accomplish?” Doubts can fill their minds, and they need someone who can relate and to be a safe place to ask those questions without fear of judgment. The missionaries I know all went overseas because they were spurred on by their love of Christ and His church and the heart to see lost people get saved. But so often, the hard life of a missionary has gotten in the way, and they need extra support aside from financial and prayer support.
Compass Ministries provides an invaluable service to missionaries. It has become known as an affordable, safe place with compassionate counselors and coaches who want to see missionaries continue to live out the calling that God has placed on their lives. We do not want to see missionaries needing to leave the field because of mental health issues, struggles within their families, or becoming generally ineffective ministers of the gospel. I feel incredibly privileged to serve my internship at Compass Ministries under the incredibly capable supervision of its clinical director Amanda and its executive director, Roni. They have been patient with me and given me many experiences to serve in various ways. Whether counseling a missionary or helping to lead a debrief for returning missionaries, I have been given incredible opportunities to serve.
Compass Ministries' mission statement includes the following statement. “Our mission is to offer hope and healing to those who need it most and support them in every stage of their missionary journey.” It is a most worthy organization to support