by Rebecca Leverington, LMFT, LPC, LMSW

Many organizations provide training in contingency planning, evaluating security risks, and evacuation procedures.  There are also many excellent counseling and member care hand-outs that provide spiritual resources for coping with crisis.  This article focuses on another aspect of security issues: the interpersonal aspect.

The Parallels of Living the Life of Faith as They Relate to This Topic

  1. God is our rock in times of trouble.  Yet he doesn’t always deliver us from trouble.  At times, he instead provides the strength to stand in the midst of it.
  2. He is the all-sufficient one.  Yet he puts us in community and tells us to bear one another’s burdens.
  3. He calls us to have faith in Him.  Yet he also calls us to personal responsibility.
  4. He gave us different gifts, strengths and personalities.  He asks us to hold one another accountable for growth.  Yet he also tells us to have patience, humility, and see each other as more important than ourselves.

I’d like to share with you four case scenarios to help consider the interpersonal aspects of security issues.  Let me first assure you that these are composite scenarios.  They do not describe you or someone you know, although they likely describe situations you and your colleagues have experienced.  They are composites of the type of situations our colleagues in many areas of the world face.

Case #1—Couple, wife stressed

Sam and Sue were living in a country that was experiencing civil war.  They heard gunfire in their neighborhood periodically, couldn’t travel after dark, had been held up while at a restaurant, and had their home burglarized twice, once when they were home, at gunpoint.  They made it through their four-year term, but when they arrived home for furlough Sue experienced an increasing reluctance to make plans to return.  Working through this, they discovered that they both were able to deal with these issues.

However, there were two issues for Sue that needed to be resolved before she could return.  One was to talk through the threat of their daughter by a national, have Sam validate that this was a real threat, and come up with different arrangements for travel to school for her that were safer.  The other was the unclear triggers for a move from their village location, hibernation, and evacuation.  She did not feel they as a family had the experience and expertise to make those decisions themselves, and didn’t feel that there were mechanisms in place to help them evaluate these threats and give them guidelines to follow.  Sue took the time to understand these issues herself.  Then she conveyed them to Sam and together they processed them and come up with realistic plans to address them as a family.  Then they also met with their leadership and got clearer guidance about company strategies and planning for their location.  Working through these two issues allowed Sue to return to the field with renewed vision and love for the work God had called them to.

Case # 2—Couple, husband stressed

Mike and Jan lived in a country that had in the past year become more dangerous.  Jan loved her job and adjusted fairly easily to this very different culture because she found the culture within their team to be so supportive and her work valued.  Mike found the constant threat of action against the foreign community, the risk that their children could experience this threat directly while at a public place, and the sense of inability to protect his family unbearable after three years.

They struggled with what to do about their call to this work, what to tell supporters, and how to resolve this as a couple in a way that validated both spouses.  They decided to ask their leadership if there were assignments that fit their gifts in another location in the country or a neighboring country that had experienced less threats, and where their children could attend an international school.  This solution validated both their commitments and both their security thresh holds, and they’ve continued to serve effectively.

Case # 3—Single Woman

Sally worked with national colleagues four hours from her closest company colleagues.  She thought she was coping ok with the security threats but when she arrived in the stable, safe neighboring country on her way to a conference, she experienced a strong, almost overpowering, sense of relief and safety, and found her body nearly shutting down with a fatigue she didn’t know she had.

In sorting through the underlying issues, she realized she needed to find ways to visit other single colleagues in the country for holidays at least every few months.  She also needed to switch from doing her annual vacation in the capital city, to the neighboring country which was much safer, to get a true break from the constant guardedness she needed to maintain in her country of assignment.

Case # 4—Family, teen girl stressed

Jennifer, age 16, became increasingly quiet and withdrawn.  After much good listening by her parents, she finally shared that she was having nightmares of being in a suicide bombing like her best friend had experienced while she was on furlough.  As she worked through this in counseling, her parents learned that her sensitive nature was being overloaded with facts about terrorist activity in the city and she was afraid of one family member dieing alone.

After listening well to understand Jennifer’s issues the family together came up with the following plan:  Her parents would watch the news after she was in bed, and not discuss incidents unless she asked about them.  One parent would drive her to activities rather than having her ride with other families, so that they would be together if something happened.  They also would always go to church as a family for worship together at home as a family.  These interventions were the key for Jennifer, and her parents validating her fears as well as her strengths helped her overcome her nightmares and her emotional withdrawal.

Keys to Dealing Successfully with Security Issues Interpersonally

  1. Each team member or family member has a clear sense of call to this ministry and location.
  2. Each team member or family member has a role in the work here that validates his or her presence.
  3. A well thought through theology of suffering that has been worked through as a team/family.
  4. Each team/family member is a spiritual self-feeder, and has a flexible approach to growing spiritually that allows differing methods of taking in God’s Word, worship, and prayer that work effectively while under stress, in transition, during uncertainty, or in crisis.
  5. A team/family leadership style that facilitates the team/family pulling together under stress and threat, that provides reassurance rather than blame, and that provides realistic hope.
  6. An understanding and acceptance of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, unique stressors, coping styles, and needs as they relate to security issues.
  7. A plan that successfully addresses each person’s needs.
  8. Creative, regular “mini”breaks from the security issues that allow the team/family to be resilient long term under these conditions.
  9. Annual planned vacations in a safe location that allow the team/family to renew their strength, and to have the distance needed to adequately and realistically access the toll the security issues are taking, and then make adjustments in their security plans as necessary.
  10. Commitment that the family/team is more important than the ministry, and that you together will do what it takes to meet each individual’s needs, even if that means leaving this ministry location.

Questions for Thought or Discussion as a Family or Team

  1. Do you have a clear sense of calling to this ministry and location that holds you fast during security alerts, evacuations, and ongoing security threats? What is it?  Do your partner/spouse/children also have this clear sense of call?  If not, are you willing to take the time needed to pray with and for them and wait for the Lord’s confirmation or redirection to both/all of you?
  2. How do you effectively take in God’s Word, worship, and pray during times of crisis, uncertainty, and threat?
  3. What are the security threats for your group at this time? What aspects of the security issues are the most difficult for you to cope with?  Which aspects are the most difficult to cope with for your partner, spouse, each of your children?  What do you need to put in place specifically to help each one cope and serve effectively under these conditions?
  4. Ask each individual to think of an example of when you pulled together under stress or threat in ways that helped you all receive comfort, support, and helped renew your hope and faith in God in the midst of the threat.
  5. What have you learned about the length of time you cope will with the security risk in your location before needing a break? What places, activities, strategies work well for you to get regular “mini” breaks?  For your partner, spouse, children?  Are they sufficient?  Are you consistently utilizing them?  What else is needed?
  6. Are there any unresolved struggles with security issues that you have? What will it take to resolve them?  What is the next step?
  7. What most helps you recover after a security threat? How can you make that happen?
  8. Where and how can you have an annual undivided two-week vacation out of country in a secure, safe location?

How has your theology of suffering matured or deepened through this time?  How specifically have you seen God sustain you, provide for you, and keep you in the midst of the threats?  What area of challenge spiritually are you currently seeking to grow in as it relates to these security threats?

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