06 April, 2012

7. Any stress factors that appeared repeatedly in your ministry

This is the seventh in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. You'll find links to the other answers in the series here.

A question we often field when we're in Australia is, "What is the most difficult thing about living in Japan, aside from language?"

Well you cannot divorce the language from the difficulties of living here, it affects almost everything. It means we struggle to understand the culture, struggle to make friends, we struggle with things that are (relatively) easy in Australia, like using banks, negotiating bureaucracy, using the phone, organising household utilities, even buying basic groceries can be a challenge, and so on. I guess most of these are not the "your ministry" of the question, although that line is very blurred for a mother!

However, other stress factors, apart from language and culture include:

Finding time for rest
It isn't easy to rest with young kids in the house. But things that we might do for rest in Australia are not always so easy here. For example, just going anywhere with them is stressful. Traffic is slow, public transport is efficient, but the culture doesn't allow much room for energetic, loud boys on public transport. Japan doesn't have a holiday-culture like other countries. You cannot book holiday units or houses, they don't exist. And hotels are too expensive for a missionary's budget. OMF has compensated for this by purchasing and maintaining holiday houses.

Hobbies are limited in choice. We have a small house and face the challenge of storing our stuff every time we go on home assignment (every four years). We cannot have hobbies that require lots of stuff.

Setting time limits. When you don't fill our a time sheet, when you aren't paid by the hour, it is hard to set limits on when you work and when you don't. Much like running your own business. We also live in a culture that works very long hours. Having a husband who comes home at 5pm and eats dinner with us and helps with the evening routine is very rare.

Not to mention the strong work ethic that pervades missions. This idea: People are sacrificing to pay for us to be here, we shouldn't waste their money. Plus, there is always more to do than there are people resources to do it. We live in a land with less than 1% Christians. Where do you stop? Can you justify stopping?

Balance between family and ministry
This is a challenge any family in ministry faces. Not just that you have to set your own limits, then you have to refrain from criticising other people's decisions and from comparing yourself negatively with others.

We live in a fishbowl type situation. We have to write regularly to supporters about what we've been doing. We have Japanese watching all we do. We have regular reviews with leaders here in Japan, medical reviews etc. When we're on home assignment we have a lot of people wanting to meet us, hear us speak etc. We live fairly public lives. How much reveal to others is a concern. This fishbowl experience can also affect our relationships with our family and personal friends, who might not like sharing us quite so much.

Meeting other's expectations
This is a follow-on from above. A lot of people have a "piece" of us. Supporters in Australia, mission leaders in Japan and Australia, CAJ, various other people we serve with here, etc. We women also struggle with comparing ourselves to others. And there are a lot less people "like us" to compare ourselves to here.

This is a constant. Even if we ourselves are "still", others around us are moving, changing countries, roles, etc. Then every four years we change countries ourselves twice in a year. International moves are HUGE. Our friends, leaders, co-workers, frequently change and for a girl who spent her whole childhood in one town and went to two school, that is a challenge.

Belonging nowhere
We no longer belong in Australia 100%, nor will we ever belong here. I'm not sure how much of a stress it is, but it bears mentioning. I'm sure it will be an issue especially when we eventually return permanently to Australia.

There's a few. If I thought a bit longer, I'm sure I could come up with more. Again, it can sound depressing, but all those people who support us also pray for us. That is what keeps us going. I'm certain we wouldn't still be here except that God has heard and answered those prayers.

Next instalment for this series will be: "8. How you maintain spiritual zeal."

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