Thursday, May 29, 2014

What God Is Teaching Me: Self-Care

Eric and I recently came across a blog post that describes the normal stress levels of cross-cultural missionaries. Here’s a snippet:  

When stress levels reach above a 200 {on the Holmes-Rahe scale}, doctors will advise patients to make life changes– drink a glass of wine, exercise, sleep more, that kind of thing. The goal is to keep stress levels below 200, since anything over that can result in some incredibly negative effects, especially over the long term. In fact, 50% of the people scoring a 200 were hospitalized in the two years following the scoring with heart attacks, diabetes, cancer, or other severe illnesses. Apparently, the cumulative effect of stress on the body and mind can be an extremely damaging one. Then, they used the same standards and scale to assess missionary stress levels. They found that the average missionary’s stress levels for the first year are typically around 800-900, and the sustained stress levels of a cross cultural worker stays around 600.”’
Our first thought was “Wow! So this is why so many mission organizations stress self-care.” As we thought more about it, especially about our last week, we can definitely see why many missionaries get burned out.
This week we experienced the many normal stressors—
·    Trying to teach students who have many gaps in their education
·    Trying to support other teachers who are overworked and underpaid
·    Trying to function in a language that does not come naturally
·    Missing key pieces of information either because it is not yet available (a lot of decisions here come last minute) or because of the language barrier. We often feel like we are the last people in town to know what’s going on.
·    Patiently -- or not so patiently-- enduring sporadic internet that toys with our emotions, sometimes allowing us to stream Youtube videos, but sometimes distorting our Skype calls with family beyond the point of recognition
·    Bargaining for many of our needs in order to get a good price and still paying too much sometimes
·    Trying to determine when and how to help when someone comes to us with a need
·    Driving 30 minutes to two hours for cash, mail, and supplies, and still not always being able to find what we need and want. And bless your heart if you forget something on your list, because it will have to wait until the next time you are in that town.
·    Spending 40 minutes to 2 hours preparing meals every night.
·    Having things break in our house pretty much weekly thanks to low quality products (this week it was my hairdryer and our cd player in our car. Replacing the hairdryer meant a two-hour drive to Mwanza, so it wasn’t a quick fix).

However, we also had some “fun” bonus stressors this week.
·    Losing power for almost two days which means terrible sleep without our fans, changes in our menu thanks to the lack of an electric oven, minimal use of electronics or having to find a place to recharge, and doing everything at night by flashlight.
·    Having to siphon water into buckets from our lower water tank because the electric pump couldn’t pump the water to the upper tank. We used those buckets to do everything from washing dishes, hands, and clothes to flushing the toilet.
·    Getting a sliver of glass stuck in my foot that must have come in from outside
·    Getting shocked by our electric oven/stove and realizing that we are going to have to call an electrician because it is not working properly.
·    Having our debit card—our primary source of income—rejected because there is a limit on how much you can withdraw during a weekend. Being a national holiday weekend in the U.S., we would have to wait four days before we could access money again.
·    Coping with the additional homesickness that usually accompanies the U.S. summer. In the winter, we just miss the people. However, in the summer we miss family vacations (my family will soon be en route to Hawaii for my cousin’s wedding and Eric’s family will travel to Colorado later this summer), baby-showers, weddings, the Deaconess Annual Meeting, reunions, and favorite summer activities like hiking, swimming, and attending plays and festivals.

Yep, this is why we have been told to consistently monitor our stress-levels and put in place habits that ease the stress. Self-care is so important. Exercise, the occasional evening walk, evening devotions/prayer, watching childhood TV shows, talking with a Skype counselor who specializes in missionary care, listening to music, and reading books are a few of the ways we’ve found to cope with the daily stresses. However every now and then we just need a vacation. Two things officially brought us to Dar Es Salaam this week—meetings with Bishop Makala at the Ministry of Social Welfare and chaperoning our Form 4 students with their senior trip next week—however, we’ve decided to use the time before and after these events to breathe. We are looking forward to enjoying time with some of our former language school friends in Dar. Then, since we are “in the neighborhood” we will pop over to Zanzibar for three nights as a belated birthday present to Eric and 3rd anniversary present to each other. We pray that this time will allow us time to process the months past and rejuvenate us for the work ahead J Thank you to everyone who supports us in our work and in our rest.

** As a side note, we know missionaries don’t have the market cornered on stress ;-) We pray that you all, who work so tirelessly, also find ways to cope daily and that you get some opportunities to breathe deeply this summer.