Saturday, July 25, 2015

Narrowing down my paper topic

My summer class on Counseling Grief and Loss will be over for me as soon as I complete a Final Integration Paper. This is the part that I wish I didn't have to do -- and yet I really look forward to preparing material that would be useful for our Member Care work at SIM USA.

I am a bit late in getting started--there are a list of reasons, and I have appealed for an extension, but I need to keep working in case I really DO have to turn it in within the next two weeks!

So I'm struggling with narrowing down my topic. There are certainly plenty of issues that missionaries experience that can be looked at through the grid of the Theology of Suffering, a Grief Theory of my choice, taking into account the culture of the missionary population I am studying, and suggesting the implications for grief counseling or missionary care.

The one that I'm particularly interested in is the one that first drew me to the field of Member Care nearly 25 years ago. In my "motivational statement" for pursuing these studies I wrote:
It was the beginning of our second term that I began to notice that many of our language school companions were no longer in the country.  Since then we have said “goodbye” to many fellow missionaries—family issues, frustrations with language, private and public sins, a restlessness caused by lack of visible results, and issues with their sending organizations were some of the reasons they went packing.  
In the terminology of today, I would call this "Premature Departure."  The challenge I am having with this topic is finding materials. Tonight I ran across several from the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ) but many of them are rather "old" and not overly academic. I do have a few articles that an SIM affiliated physician from Australia gave when I was in Turkey that are quite relevant--and she actually applied two different grief theories to this population. There are a couple of books on my shelf at the office that I need to review for relevant materials as well.

Our personal experience of departure was planned and executed in a systematic and timely manner after a long career.  We frequently see, however,  people coming through our offices who have left the field abruptly and are struggling to process the losses and figure out how to move forward. And if they come back as a family, each one has different responses and reactions. Sometimes they cannot tell their support constituency the reasons for their return. Sometimes they are fearful of what people will think of them. In most cases, their dreams of serving God overseas have been shattered.

If you are a praying person, please pray that I will be able to focus and collect the appropriate materials, process them well, and then be able to write material that will help me to understand and help us to care for our fellow missionaries with compassion and insight.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

On the threshold of Year Three!

Yesterday we marked two years since we arrived in the US bringing to a close our 30 something years of ministry in Japan. Keeping a 5-year diary brings up these kinds of reminders.

In many ways it feels much longer than two years. The work we started here in Charlotte six months after we landed has been especially intense for me, and time has become one major blur between  events and even a few crises which seem to come with regularity.

In the two years we have purchased a home--something I didn't think would ever happen as a missionary.  We have become grandparents--of a sweet young man who lives across the sea. Yet we have seen him three times in person in his short little life and he has discovered how to turn the iPhone off when we're FaceTiming with him. Clever little boy!...   We have visited churches from a wide spectrum in an effort to figure out where we belong--and Stan has been blessed to lead a men's group at the closest church.  We're starting to feel like we have friends, and hope that we won't spend another Thanksgiving just the four of us.

We have also missed friends who are still in Japan. Facebook gives us a glimpse into their lives, and we email or Skype--but its not the same. When events happen over there that were a part of our annual rhythm, we feel sadness and loss. When kids graduated from the High School this past year who were little ones in our church years ago, we wondered where the time had gone.  When the young man, who came into our church years ago telling us he knew he needed to become a Christ-follower, got married and later became the father of a sweet little girl, and is now preparing for a pastorate, we look on as wistful parents from afar.

And there are practical things we miss.  This video has been going through our Japan and Japan-Alumni friends on Facebook this week. And you know what, we really do miss the Japanese bathrooms! 

The last house we were in had this level of technology in the bath--and even today I wish I had a display in the kitchen that would let me know if the hot water was running anywhere in the house--how else can I know if my kids are in the shower? And for those of you not from Japan--can you imagine the freedom of not having to worry about water on the floor?

It was very timely that God enabled us to have people over Sunday evening who are preparing to head to Japan as missionaries. From Charlotte we are impacting the next generation of missionaries who will serve Jesus in Japan! One couple is currently serving with SIM International and hope to do a vision trip to Japan next year. The other three are in our Candidate Training program, SIMGo these next two weeks.

And then yesterday friends who retired from Japan a couple of years ago stopped by the SIM office on their way to the North East where they will serve as an interim in a Japanese church for a few months. This couple has 103 years of missionary service between them!

What a blessing we have--to encourage new missionaries and be blessed by visits from those who have served faithfully many years!

So here we are--at the threshold of year three. In my grief class I am reading about one of the tasks of grief --developing "continuing bonds" with what you have lost so you are able to find a place in your life to keep the memories alive while also moving forward in a healthy way with life. I think that we are doing this. And so we wonder, is this the year to consider a trip back?