Healthy at Home: Healthy Minds Part 2—Professional Christian Counseling
Originally published on June 17, 2021 at The Upstream Collective
“Ma’am,” my driver said, “I can’t go forward and I can’t turn around, we’ll just have to wait for the danger to pass.” Heavy traffic had come to a standstill in both directions as gunfire erupted all around us. Local police were clearing the market nearby and throngs of people were running, spilling into the streets and blocking traffic. In spite of all my preparation and security precautions, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I was just as vulnerable as everyone else.
It is common for global workers to find themselves in even more tense situations than the one I’ve described. Depending on where they serve, their environments can induce high levels of stress. Everyday stressors related to marriage, mission, and culture may be compounded by crime, natural disasters, death and disease, poverty, tribal tensions, war, terrorism, and all kinds of safety and security issues. The current Covid pandemic is a crisis that perfectly illustrates this point. Prolonged exposure to tensions like these can affect every area of life and ministry.
"Professional Christian counseling may be necessary for returned workers who have experienced trauma or endured levels of high stress on the field."
The Holmes and Rahe Stress Inventory is a tool that measures stress and stress-related health outcomes. In a recent article for the The Gospel Coalition, Lloyd Kim references the modified version of this inventory specifically tailored for global workers. Those who score 200 or more points will likely have serious long-term health problems within two years. First-year missionaries are known to peak at 900 points. Even after being on the field for several years, missionaries level off at about 600 points.
If your returned workers have endured this type of ongoing tension, they will be showing the signs. Professional Christian counseling may be necessary for returned workers who have experienced trauma or endured levels of high stress on the field. For many, it is an essential component of care for health and healing upon reentry.
Solomon writes, “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out.” (Proverbs 20:5) Our hearts, the inner workings of our minds, our volition, motives, and our conscience are, as Solomon says, “like deep water.” Our workers may not be aware of all that lies hidden beneath those waters.
Who is this man of understanding Solomon speaks about? Like drawing water from a well, this person is someone who can understand, comprehend and perceive what is hard to know. While understanding is a gift of God, it does not come automatically. The possession of it requires a persistent diligence. It is more than IQ; it connotes character.
They can help a person examine his true motives – thoughts he may not fully understand otherwise. A wise counselor doesn’t have to be a professional but it is important to remember that professional Christian counselors are trained to apply a biblical framework that is imperative for those who serve on the mission field. This type of counseling is a resource the local church should seek to provide to promote health and healing.
"It is important to remember that professional Christian counselors are trained to apply a biblical framework that is imperative for those who serve on the mission field."
The church where I serve is fortunate to have an in-house counseling center. We provide reduced rates and scholarships for returned workers. If your church has an in-house counseling resource, make it available to your workers. They will benefit from being able to process their experiences in the safe confines of your church community. Otherwise, make an effort to develop relationships with counselors who are members of your congregation, or negotiate discounted rates at a local Christian counseling center. Offer tele-visits if they're available, especially during this time of Covid-19.
Most importantly, missions leadership should make every effort to remove any stigma related to professional counseling and to communicate to all global workers that the counseling they receive is a third party, safe, and confidential resource.
Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living overseas. You can find her on Twitter and texpatfaith.org.