WOMEN –THRIVING, NOT JUST SURVIVING THE REALITIES OF LIFE ON THE FIELD
Rebecca Leverington, LMFT, LPC, LMSW
Associate Director, Olive Tree Counseling Center
Living on the field has unique spiritual, emotional, physical, and safety challenges that most of us as women have not experienced previously in our home cultures. Understanding and actively building in key aspects that help us thrive, rather than just survive, these challenges also decrease the likelihood of premature departure, depression, and other effects of stress.
One way to look at this is seeing it as a “road map” that helps us navigate around potholes, detours, and handle rough terrain. Today we’ll look at some of the key determinants of success in field ministry. We will cover them using four categories: spiritual health, emotional health, physical health, and safety considerations.
A key thing to keep in mind is that we only have to change 10% of the issues/stressors to make the difference between surviving and thriving. So as we consider these various areas, think of just 1 or 2 things that you might change. You’ll be amazed at the difference these small changes make in your overall joy, effectiveness, and energy level.
Understand the way you most vibrantly worship God, take in His word, and spend time with Him.
- God designed each temperament.
- Look at prayer/worship styles that draw you closest to Him.
- Maximize your Quiet Time by doing it in the way He created you to best connect with Him.
- Learn church practices that enhance your relationship with Him.
Take responsibility for spiritual growth independently.
- Actively plan how you will regularly get your spiritual input if you don’t have a church fellowship in your location or a church that doesn’t meet all your growth needs
- Determine how can you best do Bible study and worship at this stage of your life in this place.
- Understand how you take in God’s Word best when under stress.
- Be flexible in how you do prayer.
Cultivate the practice of daily verbal or written gratitude.
Take time to ensure/review your personal and specific call from God for this work that fits with this life stage.
- Clarify the nature of this call so that you have a good balance between being flexible to meet needs within the call, but also know the way God gifted and called you so that you can say “No” to requests for positions/tasks that wouldn’t be a good fit.
- Grow in understanding and use of the spiritual and natural gifts you have been endowed by God.
- For singles, reflect on the other aspects of how God made you, this life stage, and what specific things confirm God’s call to this specific place and time.
- For Moms of young children, plan one way you can be weekly involved specifically in the work. This is absolutely critical.
- For homeschooling Moms, perhaps a school project directly involved in the work, mentoring your children in direct ministry involvement (rather than “their parents work”).
- For a wife whose husband travels a great deal, balancing work around this ebbing and flowing schedule.
Realize friendships will take more active commitment, but have deeper, long-lasting outcomes.
- Understand the type of friendships that are most important to you at this stage of life, in this ministry.
- Recognize that several individuals who each may meet one aspect of your “friendship quota” will best meet this need.
- Actively pray for these friendships.
- Actively seek these kinds of relationships, by reflecting on interactions regularly.
- Build time into each week for friendship building and time together in meaningful activities.
- Recognize that limited energy during language learning and busy times in the ministry cycle are normal. Give yourself permission to choose activities that take little or no preparation during these times.
Build in an oasis or break from the cultural stressors that are most difficult for you.
Learn ways to exercise here.
Grow in your commitment to and ability to rest wisely.
- Sabbath rest. Hebrews 4:10-11 Make every effort to enter into Sabbath rest, lest others follow in your disobedience. Jesus is our rest. It’s a person, not an experience. One day set apart for worship, play, rest.
- To physically rest. Work/rest balance. To limit work to a reasonable # of hours in the week, and a clear delineation between work and family time, and rest.
- To rest emotionally: to cease striving, to let go of the desired outcome. Isaiah 30:15
Planfully build renewal into your budget, into your time, into your priorities.
- What are the things that most renew you in this place, at this time of life?
- How can you plan now to build them into your plan for this year, whatever you know of this year?
See vacations as a priority, a part of the God designed work/rest cycle and find new ways to do them that work with this ministry.
- For singles, for married women.
- Schedule vacation into your regular travel schedule.
- Schedule weekly breaks that truly renew you.
Take active steps to ameliorate aspects of the assignment, location, climate that deplete you.
- People in your home all the time.
- Lack of recreation opportunities.
Get specific safety/security briefings and training that fit the specific assignment location.
- Crisis Consulting International.
- Risk Assessment and Management workshops firstname.lastname@example.org
Develop a plan that fits you and is realistic.
- Recognize the different and often additional risks for women and children.
- Educate husbands and male leadership on much greater effort and strength required for woman and children to live in the same security environment.
- Agree on a plan that sets predetermined targets that will activate leave plans.
- Seek an outside consultant to review your plan and hold you accountable to it.
Learn how to make yourself a hard target.
- Locations to avoid.
- Awareness of surroundings.
- Appearance, stance, eye contact.
- What to say if propositioned, groped, touched.
- Physical protection and escape course, with practice.
- Public and private transportation, walking.
Utilize resources that will enhance security.
- Handling questions, phone calls, or unexpected contacts from police.
- Personal devices.
Actively work through your theology of God’s sovereignty, protection, and suffering.
- Hampton: A Biblical & Practical Guide through Risk
Plan ahead for times of security confinement to make it enjoyable.
- Prepare a hibernation kit containing fun activities, special treats, and a way to view that time.
- Plan how you will tell your children about this time.
Plan creatively for evacuation to reduce stress if/when it occurs.
Seeing this active learning curve to thrive in this location as an incredible opportunity, rather than an overwhelming burden or challenge that you’re not sure you can succeed in, changes your focus, makes you more open to God’s work in your life, and renews your energy for the task.
Cultivate the practice now if you are not already doing so to actively review the day with God at the end of the day and find three things to be thankful for, including at least one item of personal growth or personal effectiveness He helped you experience today. (Not just items checked off your to-do list).
We spend a lot of time and resources getting training in the areas of culture, language, team-building, and assignment skills. Adding these other areas of focus will pay dividends throughout our ministry. We can look with expectation and anticipation that small steps of growth in each of these areas will help us to one day be the “mighty oaks” sheltering others, both colleagues and national friends and ministry partners.