In our last blog we discussed the importance of asking for help. There were many statistics that showed that everyone, regardless of what they do, needs help at certain times in their lives. If they don’t get the help they need, when they need it, then they can get burned out, or do less of a good job and productivity suffers.
Compassion fatigue is another reason why people, especially in the helping field, often give up or want to quit. Compassion fatigue is when you are unable to end suffering. When you feel like there is just too many people in need, and you can’t help them all. This differs from burnout which is when you don’t have the support you need in your work environment and become overwhelmed . Compassion fatigue can come on rather quickly, where burnout may come over time.
This also holds true for missionaries and pastors. They too can feel compassion fatigue and it’s hard to minister. Not only people within the church, but also those outside of the church, will call the local church asking for help. This can come in many forms, and it doesn’t take long for a pastor to realize that there is a great need, and of course he wants to meet all those needs. The problem is that it is impossible for one person to meet the needs of all. But, often pastors may feel the burden to meet all those needs, and try and do so alone. If you do a google search of pastoral compassion fatigue, you get About 55,400 results (0.44 seconds), that’s a lot of talk about pastors (and missionaries) getting burned out, or fatigued when it comes to serving others.
According to the website https://www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue/ Charles Figley, a psychologist, describes it as this when talking to someone who has experienced trauma, and then shares their experience: “We have not been directly exposed to the trauma scene, but we hear the story told with such intensity, or we hear similar stories so often, or we have the gift and curse of extreme empathy and we suffer. We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.” This could be an experience for many, but the missionaries working in third world countries that come in contact with disease, poverty, and famine on a regular basis, maybe easily lose “optimism, humor, and hope” and I’d like to add, their reason and purpose for being on the mission field. Even mother Teresa made part of the plan, that her nuns would take 1 year off, every 4-5 years in order to rest.
When you google “what kind of HELP do missionaries need?” here is what you will find, in order:
- According to this website, LDS living: (http://www.ldsliving.com/20-Things-Your-Missionary-Will-Want-Before-Hitting-the-Mission-Field/s/76326)
Missionaries need: a new Bible, a new tie, a new bag, a new journal, belt, watch, towels, etc.
2.) According to this website, The Gospel Coalition (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/ways-you-can-support-missionaries/)
you can help missionaries by: praying for them, financially supporting them, sending care packages, help them acclimate on their “furloughs”, be helpful and flexible when visiting them overseas, sending people to work along-side long term missionaries-for longer than a short term (1 week-2 week period)
3.) According to this website https://team.org/blog/missionary-care-package/
you can help your missionaries through knowing the best things to send in a care package.
(note: If interested, you can also check out what Google says about helping your pastor here:
This is not bad advice, and I am sure many missionaries would agree they LOVE getting care packages from the States, especially of things they don’t have where they are serving. Missionaries may need supplies as well such as a new Bible, new clothes, new accessories, we know that missionaries need more than that. They wouldn’t be able to accomplish what they did if it wasn’t for us praying for them, financially supporting them, staying in contact with them and providing them with their material needs and wants.
During Hurricane Season the last couple of years, we were hit with a Hurricane twice in one year. When floods have hit your home and you don’t even know where to begin, it’s very difficult to think. It’s a lot easier in moments of stress and even panic, to accept help, even from strangers. When everything you own is laying on your front lawn and you don’t have any idea what to do. That is a time where it’s easier to ask for help. But, why is it that we wait until things become way too big for us to handle before we feel comfortable asking for help? Why is it that we can accept the help from strangers during a traumatic time, but we have a hard time going to friends, and saying I need help with something specific, before it becomes unbearable? God made us for relationship. There is a reason why friends and family are important. We are here to serve and help each other.
I know a missionary woman, living out of the country, who is a friend. She took to social media stating that she needed a very specific feminine product sent to her that she couldn’t get in the country that she was living in. There were two thoughts that came to my mind as I read her post. 1.) Wow, this must have been really hard for her to have to write without feeling a bit embarrassed 2.) Shame on me for not going to her ahead of time and asking her what I can do for her, so that she didn’t have to make something that could have been private, so public.
For missionaries/pastors. How can you ask for help. First, be aware that it’s okay to ask. Sometimes it might feel strange to ask people for something of material value because of how it may be perceived, but people won’t know what you need until you ask. Or, you don’t want to “overstay your welcome” and ask too many times for something, or ask the same person/people over and over for their help.
Moses who learned this important lesson from his father-in-law Jethro, in Exodus 18, was serving as judge at that time. He had people coming to him the Bible says from “morning till evening”. In verses 14-18 it says, “When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”” The story continues with Jethro saying “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to Him. Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people-men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain-and appoint them as officials.” Jethro recognized that the work was too much for Moses. Moses needed to ask for help, and delegate to other trusted men.
How can we help our missionaries from getting burned out? How do we help our missionaries when they are feeling compassion fatigue, to keep on going, to know that they are doing a great job and that we support them? Those who support missionaries need to be ready and willing to help out in any way possible, not just saying “I will pray for you”, but “I will either be there for you, for what you need, or find someone that can”.
If you are a pastor or missionary and you recognize that not only do you need help, but you want some help, you may be wondering, “how do I do that”? “How can I get help? Some reasons why it may be hard to ask for help, is because either you don’t want to let people down, or you don’t know where to go for help.
Here are a few examples of how to get the help you really need:
- Finding people who are trustworthy and capable, and delegate work to them.
- Have a core group of diverse friends. Being able to turn to one friend for help in an area where they are most knowledgeable, rather than turning to the same friend or few friends over and over again for each situation you need help with, have a list of friends that you can contact, and be specific who you choose.
- When asking for help from a friend, instead of expecting that friend to help you, ask if they have any friends who might be willing to help out. Instead of expecting this person to help, you can see if they can reach out to someone that can.
- Be specific with what you need, no one will know how to help unless you share how they can help you.
- Material things are important because you need to take care of yourself. It’s okay to ask for them, there are plenty of “givers” out there who would love to organize and send out care packages. Or to give in other ways needed.
- Have a close friend or a couple of friends that you can trust to talk about things when they get tough. People you can rely on to not only encourage you, but validate you and your feelings.
- When feeling burned out, or fatigued reach out to a professional to talk about it. It’s common to feel depressed or anxious and it’s important to talk to a professional about how to handle those emotions. Usually you are the one that people turn to when feeling down or depressed, but as the old saying goes, you can’t fill a cup from an empty pitcher.
Christy Paul, M.Ed, LMHC