Monday, July 31, 2017

PTSD and Missions work

This was a difficult blog to not only write, but to write well, so bare with me.



PTSD - or post-traumatic stress disorder is typically something associated with soldiers after having experienced life-threatening, or traumatic experiences.  It can also be attributed to "civilians" who have experienced a traumatic experience such as an attack on their person, or other traumatic event.  I read an article by Ron and Bonnie Koteskey, on Missionary Care, and they described it as, "People who respond with intense fear, helplessness or horror when they are confronted with something that involves the threat of death or serious injury to themselves or others experience trauma. This may be something people actually experienced themselves or something they witnessed."

Having lived in Honduras (the murder capitol of the world for the 7 of 8 years we lived there), and in the incredibly dystopic society we lived in in Africa, we experienced both types of trauma on a daily basis.  Both personal harm to ourselves, and living with and around people who experience trauma every day.  I spent time in both Sri Lanka after the tsunami, and in Haiti after The Earthquake.  Both my parents died while I was on the field, I performed CPR on a man in the middle of the jungle who died, kept a man alive as we frantically drove through the devastation that was left of Haiti, to having to tell people they are not going to survive this crippling disease in a 3rd world country where I felt helpless to do anything for them.  I've lived through a "coupe", house confinement for a week, the inability to escape the country if I needed to.  Seeing the devastation of malnutrition, malaria, typhoid, HIV/AIDS.  Having been involved in no less than 3 different exorcisms, my house broken into, I was driven around town in an African secret-service car not sure if we were going to be "disappeared" or released. Having experienced the sting of friends who left us in the dust, who have knocked us down, and left us there...the examples could go on, and on, and on, and I may not even touch the surface of the trauma that we have experienced being on the mission field.

I can safely say that I don't suffer the severe debilitating long-term effects of PTSD, but the memories are there none the less.  They come out at the most unexpected times.  Just today Mike was talking to a man who was interested in why we've lived where we have lived.  He talked about the man I took through Haiti in a car, at 2:00 in the morning, avoiding both the living and the dead on the streets, and the images came back - they came back sharp and intact.  I didn't break down, I didn't even sweat it, but the fact that the images were as crystal clear in my memory as if they happened yesterday does make me aware that they are there...on the periphery....

But these are memories, for me, that I hold near and dear to my heart.  I've told my daughter over and over and over - we are a sum of our parts.  I would not be the person I am today if I had not experienced what I have experienced.  If I were to write the script of my life, I may have chosen quite a different path -but that's not what God had/has for me.  He continues to mold me, break me, re-make me, build me up, tear me down, all to make me into the person He wants me to be.  So I hold that to my heart when those memories return to me - of the family who was surrounding me as I desperately tried to bring him back to life, knowing there was no "back-up" -that just me - was the "Emergency Medical Response" - that no ambulance would arrive - and that when I "called the code" - that was it - I hold that to my heart, and know that God loves me.  That He is the only thing I need.  I lean on Him.  I feel grateful that I have not suffered the long-term consequences of PTSD - I certainly suffered the immediate, and short-lived experiences of PTSD - as my sweet friend Alice said - you have to feel it to heal it.  So I do - I cry out to God to let me go through these trials and come out the other end - a better person, a re-molded pot, and more equipped/prepared to take me to the next trial - because I certainly know that there will be one.

So remember this - you short-term or long-term missionary.  If you come back from a short-term trip and seem to not be able to "shake" what you felt/experienced on the field - know that this is quite normal, and hopefully something you will keep with you (in a good way) to always remember those who live differently than you - who suffer things on a daily basis - and encourage you to pray for them - to go on a trip again - to seek those who are lost or hurting when you return back home.  But do understand that you may experience some temporary PTSD - and seek help if you need it.

I think why missionaries may have more of a challenge with this type of thing is because our "normal" support system is not there.  Many BFF's are left in the States, our families are back there too, and our home church, that knows us, loves us and prays for us is not there for us either.  I'm grateful for Skype, text, FB chat, and other means of communication, but you have to work a lot harder when you are in a 3rd world country, with horrible internet, and 9 time zones away to potentially get to those people who can help you work through things.

So thank you?!  Yes...thank you God - for bringing me through the trials - and out the other side - thank you for making me who I am, because I like who I am, and I know my husband thinks I'm pretty cool too.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Coaching in Belgium

We've just finished up the month of July in Belgium being coaches for new missionaries that are getting ready to hit their various fields.  They love having "seasoned" missionaries to be coaches for the new missionaries so we can share our experiences and to mentor them through this month of training.  To summarize what the missionaries experienced - here is the final write-up of the time...

We all arrived on Tuesday, June 27. Nine different missionary units. All different ages. All different family structures. All different routines. All with different stories and backgrounds. All from different states. All preparing for ministry in different countries: Southeast Asia, the Middle East,Greece, France, Colombia, Bulgaria, Peru, and Romania. All different, yet all very similar, too. 

All eager, nervous, and exhausted in our own way from our travels and what unknowns we had lying before us at CCMI. All with a specific calling from the Lord to live incarnationally in cross-cultural ministry experiences so as to help usher in the restored Kingdom of Christ. All knowing what it feels like for others to unrealistically hold us up on a faith pedestal. All knowing what it feels like for others to question whether we're being stupid, irresponsible, or a little crazy. All probably actually a little bit crazy in our own rights. All living under one roof in crammed quarters for one month. 

15 New Missionaries
11 Children
12 Presenters
4 Coaches
6 Interns
11.5 hours of Worship and Prayer 
73 hours of Classroom Training
21 hours of Fieldwork, Ethnographic Research, and Service
7 hours of Presentations 
8 hours of Service Team Meetings
10 hours of Homework 

We learned how to analyze a culture and test our assumptions and biases to determine how to best serve cross-culturally. 
We refined our own missiology as we looked at case studies and learned from Bill Yarbrough. 

We added to (or started!) our toolbox for language-learning strategies and spent several hours making fools of ourselves practicing nonsense syllables and sounds, all under the tutelage of Nancy Craig and Mischa Marlowe. 
We discussed team dynamics and role-played how to deal with conflict with the help of Jeff Marlowe and Minette Lugo. 

We tested our ability to contextualize our conversations with others and move toward Gospel-centered evangelistic conversations with John Leonard.
We made plans for caring for our families and ourselves and finding joy and Sabbath in our new fields with the help of Michael and Tricia Lee, Erin Pettingill, and Katie. 

We played a lot of card games, sang karaoke, watched some movies, visited several other countries, and laughed at ourselves and each other a lot.
We became family. 
 
Four weeks ago, we came together as different individuals with the common bond of wanting to reach every tribe, tongue, and nation with the Gospel of God's Great Rescue Plan for taking His beloved people out of captivity. We are parting ways as beloved friends and colleagues who have bared each other's burdens, hurts, growth, and joys - many of us never to see one another in person again until we finally see that Restored Kingdom come to full fruition. We are living and loving in the almost but not yet. So with tears, hugs, prayers, and love, we send one another off to the ends of the earth with "Jehovah our Banner" leading the way, knowing that the victory already belongs to our Lord. 

Adiós, Au revoir, Довиждане, अलविदा, Αντίο, وداعًا, La Revedere, and Goodbye! 

The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still. -Exodus 14:14

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reconciling what I have experienced

Having lived on the foreign mission field for the last 10 years of my life, living in and among the severe poverty of two different countries, and I now find myself moving back to a 1st world nation, I find that I'm having to reconcile myself to what that means. 

I was talking to my daughter who just had an AMAZING time on an Alaskan cruise that her sweet grandparents got for her for her 21st birthday.  She absolutely loved the trip - because she made it HER kind of trip - she didn't go on the cruise excursions, go into the touristy shops...she went out of her way to get WAY out of town, and find the mom and pop shops.  She connected with an Alaskan trapper and spent most of her day with him just getting to know him, his love for Alaska, and his way of life.  She skipped all the tourist shops, by-passed the "normal" places to go and sought out the true heart of Alaskans.  While she was on her trip, she sent me such an "MK" response about a situation on board ship.  They had gone to the line for lunch, and were there at 11:30 for a 12:00 opening.  Within 15 minutes, she told me that people around her were complaining and upset that it wasn't open yet (although it wasn't supposed to open for another 15 minutes).  She was so irritated at their response, because she knows what it's like...living in a severe state of poverty...seeing the effects of malnutrition, poverty, disease, despair, with little to no food to eat - and here they were - getting ready to gorge themselves with as much food as they wanted.  And it bothered her...their response.  I reminded her that most people she is going to encounter don't have her same frame of reference, and they only know what they know.  

So here I find myself...in the same situation.  Having lived 10 years in and among those who have been living day by day.  Collecting my own rain water so I don't have to drink contaminated well water.  Living under mosquito netting, fearful on a daily basis of getting deadly malaria.  Visiting with people who have an average life expectancy of 54.  I take those experiences with me as I return to a 1st world nation.  As I return to a life that doesn't experience the hardships of the rest of the world.  I admit it - going back to a nation of "whatever I want" I find that I need to give grace to those around me.  Having my husband haul water from the well, filter it, bleach it, and prepare it before we can even use it is our daily life.  Now I can turn on the tap water and just let it flow.  I need to reconcile what I've lived and experienced the last 10 years of my life with what my life will look like in California.  I NEVER want to forget what I've lived through - what I've experienced - I want to use that to be a better person, to love people deeply, and to continue to try and make a difference.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

e-book now available for Termites Ate My Couch! Kindle, Nook, ibook

The e-book version of my book has finally hit the virtual shelves!

e-book now available!

Have you ever wondered what life on the mission field is like? Termites Ate My Couch is an attempt to share stories that are thoughtful, heartbreaking, inspirational, funny, and crazy – in other words – an average day in the life of a missionary. These are true tales from a mom, nurse, wife, and flawed person. These stories show how reliance on Jesus Christ brought her through the most emotional, rewarding, and hilarious times of her life. You are invited to read these stories and laugh and cry along with her.

It can be found at:

Amazon - Kindle

Barnes and Noble - Nook

Apple - ibook


Monday, July 3, 2017

Maintaining Traditions Part 3



I've written two previous posts about maintaining traditions part 1 here and part 2 here.

Once again I find myself in yet another country that is not the U.S. trying to figure out how to maintain that tradition of celebrating our Independence Day in the U.S.  I think what that will look like is cooking a "traditional" meal, watching fireworks on the computer, a few renditions of the National Anthem, and call it a night.

I think I long for the picnics, parades, community fireworks, and the military - but I know that there is a contentment that I must also find wherever I am.  I also recognize that not everyone shares the same desire for this particular tradition.  Each family, each person, finds the traditions that they can take with them wherever they are to help "normalize" their life in the midst of a foreign nation and a different culture.

Having spent 11 years in the military, I am proud of that, will salute the flag, and put my hand over my heart during the National Anthem, and will be content with computer fireworks, and go to bed knowing that next year I'll be in the U.S. during Independence Day - the first time in a long time, and I'm excited for that.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The big move - how you can help



So, you've probably heard by now, we are returning to California after having been on the foreign mission field for over 10 years.  Mike will be the director for a new hub MTW office in California.  We are both excited and not going to lie - a little anxious about the move.  When we left for the mission field, we sold our house, our car, and 100% of our belongings.  We will now need to get re-established in California - and that means putting an entire house together.  So...we are (once again) asking for your help.  We've set up an Amazon page for all those necessities for a house and if you would like to contribute - here's the link:  http://a.co/fS7oOPM

There is everything from towels, to spoons, to pots and pans, and more.  Just think wedding registry for a new couple that has never owned a home.

We are humbled, once again, as God is leading us to a new season of life and are super excited to see where that will take us.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

1st Team

Sweet Valeriana receiving her first pair of glasses in her life
Our first team arrived on Saturday after a cancelled flight and lost bag, but arrive they did.  We started off the trip with worship at the local little Baptist church we attend, then medical clinic on Monday.  It was a busy day with over 70 patients seen between the two of us.  In addition, I had the team bring down 500 pairs of reading glasses and they were a HUGE success.  Reading glasses are almost impossible to find - I know - because when my own pair broke, I couldn't find a replacement pair anywhere in town.  So, I'm pretty confident by weeks end we are going to have distributed most of the glasses.  It was a great day, super busy, and many souls were treated.

Day 2 - 4 will be much of the same, and day 5 is a "day off" and a trip to the beach after a long and hard week.


location of our clinc

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

25th Wedding Anniversary


Twenty-five years of marriage.  Silver Anniversary. True love.


Engagement Photo
 




Twenty-five years ago, I told my sweet future husband “I do” and life has been nothing short of a grand adventure since.  “Way back then” we never knew that we would end up in Honduras, and then in Africa, that I would be a “bush doctor” or Mike would be a pastor, teaching African men and women the fundamental truths of the bible. 
 
Along the way, we have found that we are a hardy duo.  We have been through the trials of life, the loss of loved ones, and the creation of new life in our sweet daughter who turns 21 in a few days. We understand was true love is, have triumphed through illnesses, tribulation, and loss.  We not only survived but conquered living in extreme situations of Africa, and the loneliness of being so far away from dear friends and family.

Together, we make this amazing team.  Each year is simply better than the last. We complement each other, but we are uniquely independent as well.  We love our simple pleasures of “pizza Friday” and “pay day sushi” (when you live in a country that has sushi). We enjoy watching movies together, taking walks along the beach, and living life together.

I love you sweet husband – more than I think you even know.  What a blessing, indeed, that God brought you into my life.  Looking forward to the next 25 years!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Termites Ate My Couch - PUBLISHED!!!



Termites Ate My Couch – PUBLISHED!!   


It has finally arrived – my book has been put to print.  It will be available at your local book store soon, but in the meantime, it’s available at all the major distributors including:


And will be available in Kindle soon.

This book has been through a lot of revisions, and a lot of love and angst has been put into the pages that you are about to read.  With the literally hundreds of stories I could possibly share in the over 10 years of being on the mission field, I tried to put down the ones that would interest, intrigue, enlighten, and inspire you.  I hope I succeeded in this.  

“Have you ever wondered what life on the mission field is like? This book is an attempt to share stories that are thoughtful, heartbreaking, inspirational, funny, and crazy - in other words - an average day in the life of a missionary. These are true tales from a mom, nurse, wife, and flawed person. These stories show how reliance on Jesus Christ brought her through the most emotional, rewarding, and hilarious times of her life. You are invited to read these stories and laugh and cry along with her.

Erin spent eleven years in the U.S. Army.  She received her bachelor’s in Nursing, is working on her Masters of Public Health (will be completed in September 2017) and worked at a children’s hospital for 12 years.  She has traveled the world working in disaster response and as a medical missionary.  After eight years as a missionary in Honduras, she currently works as a full-time missionary in Central Africa.”