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"Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the freedom to talk about my emotional needs as a missionary. I can’t begin to tell you how utterly therapeutic this has been for me. Somehow there always seems to be the unspoken idea that missionaries aren’t supposed to have emotional needs, BUT I DO!! Or somehow we’re supposed to live above our needs, as if we weren't quite human. But the truth is I have more needs than what I typically care to acknowledge, and often I just downright don't know what to do with them!"

This particular response is similar to many which I have received as a result of surveyi ng 70 women in the last two years on the subject of their emotional needs on the mission field. The responses to these surveys, along with gleanings from counseling missionaries for over 20 years and my own experience as a missionary for three years have provided the basis for this paper. I would like to address here the needs most frequently identified, ways to address them, the consequences of unmet needs, and several practical applications that can be made.

How are the emotional needs of missionary women different from other women? Frankly, there is really little difference, but trying to meet emotional needs on the mission field can be ever so much harder. Women are typically more isolated in mission settings, limiting opportunities for developing friendships. The challenges of missionary living are greater and more demanding as women contend daily with a multitude of cross-cultural stresses and demands. Simple conveniences of life are often missing. Many basic supports that most of us take for granted are frequently not available on the mission field, such as reliable postal systems, telephones that work, dependable transportation, or even hot water and electricity. Furthermore, there is no ready access to the many helpful resources in abundance here at home, such as family members living close-by, a wealth of possible friendships, a sound church with quality teaching and worship, Christian bookstores, Christian television and radio programs, professional counseling, or support groups. The absence of familiar resources and support systems tends to quickly heighten one's 7sense of neediness and vulnerability...and how readily sin natures can manifest in the midst of neediness and vulnerability!

Because missionary women are involved in fulfilling the Great Commission in some of the darkest places in the world, they tend to be on the front lines of spiritual battle and are often subject to heightened resistance from the devil. As a result, these women are especially vulnerable to satanic attacks, some subtle and some anything but subtle. One tactic of the enemy commonly used against missionaries is attacking them through their emotional needs. When these needs are not being recognized and addressed in healthy ways, the door is inadvertently opened for discouragement, depression, despair, and ultimately, devastation in any number of ways. Unfortunately, too many of our missionary women become casualties in battle, and the whole world suffers for it. Their loss becomes our loss.

At heart, most women seem to thrive on roots, security, and safety---elements hardly characteristic of the typical missionary woman's experience. If anything, missionary life seems to be marked more by the antithesis of roots, security, and safety. A woman's emotional makeup does not suddenly change just because God may call her to the far ends of the earth. To the extent that she can identify her needs and address them appropriately, her effectiveness on the mission field will significantly increase. And to the extent that we as the non-missionary population can better understand our missionary women, our effectiveness in supporting, encouraging, and praying for them will undoubtedly increase.

One particular missionary woman articulates clearly her thoughts on dealing with the issue of emotional needs. She states: "I was stunned - no, shocked - to realize I'd have to grapple so much with emotional needs on the mission field. I think I just naively assumed that because I'm a committed Christian called into full-time ministry overseas, I would never have to worry about this area of my life. I guess I just expected these needs to get taken care of automatically or that God would miraculously remove them from me. I had never realized how much energy would later go into trying to meet my needs or how much pain I'd experience trying to live with needs that I had no clue how to meet. If only I had been encouraged to think about this area of my life in advance."

This article was originally written in 2001 as an unpublished manuscript, later published in adapted form in Enhancing Missionary Vitality: Mental Health Professions Serving Global Mission, John Powell, editor (Palmer Lake, CO: Mission Training International, 2002). It was then published in Frontline Women, Marguerite Kraft, editor (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2002).

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Copyright © Ruth Ann Graybill. All rights reserved.
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