There’s a rule that we live by in our household, and goes like this: “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” So, if we’re going to represent Forget-Me-Not Ministries by placing a quote on our homepage, boldly positioned front and center, we know that we better be able to back it up.
To us, the Narramore quote clearly expresses what we know and understand and have witnessed in the lives of missionaries all around the world (ourselves included), and it perfectly conveys the purpose for Forget-Me-Not’s existence.
If you’re not already acquainted with the quote, it states:
Every year at least 5000 missionaries leave the field unnecessarily because of excessive stress involving personal, family, social and ministry related problems. Those remaining on the field face life stressors at least 2-3 times those experienced by individuals at home in the United States. –Narramore Christian Foundation
The claims are far from trivial! They’re alarmingly dangerous, and every missionary and every person or church that knows and supports missionaries must be aware of the facts behind the claim.
What Does It Mean to Face 2-3 Times More Stress?
- The research was conducted by Drs. Lawrence and Lois Dodds, a physician and a counselor/psychologist, respectively. They have worked with thousands of missionaries for more than 40 years.
- The findings are based on research inventories called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Event Inventory. The inventory, which was originally created to measure stress in servicemen, was modified by a committee of the Quest program of Wycliffe Bible Translators to take into account the kinds of stresses unique to missions life.
- The inventories were conducted over five years and administered to 582 missionaries originating from more than 20 countries and serving in 40 countries. Data continues to be collected; however, to date, there are no indications to suggest that the findings have changed since Drs. Dodds and Dodds published them in 1999.
- Based on the original Holmes-Rahe Inventory, a score of 200 points during any given year indicates that the cumulative stress would have an impact well beyond that year. Findings show that 50% of those scoring 200 points were hospitalized within the subsequent two years for heart attacks, diabetes, cancer, or other severe illnesses. For scores reaching 300 points, the rate of hospitalization increased to 90%.
- Missionaries rate an average of 600 points, with levels peaking up to 900 and beyond!
Stages of the typical missionary career were observed to reveal a pattern in stress levels, lending the following valuable insight:
Stage 1: Pre-candidacy/Seeking Missions (1-10 years) – 175 points
Stage 2: Candidacy/Orientation (1-3 months) – 400 points
Stage 3: Intermediate Training (0-5 years) – 700 points
Stage 4: First Field Assignment and Furlough (2-5 years) – 900 points
Stage 5: Mid-Career (5-30 years) – 600 points
Stage 6: Late Career (5-10 years, often home) – 600 points
Stage 7: Retirement (1-15 years, often home) – 600 points
In their professional paper, Love and Survival: In Life, In Mission, wherein these findings appear, the Dodds go on to state:
“In typical missionary life, the stresses keep mounting up at a pace far faster than one can assimilate. Seldom is there time to fully adjust to one change and regain equilibrium before the next demand for adaptation hits. This means the life style itself becomes chronically full of high stress. The “tails” from stress-upon-stress stretch out for years. Physiologically, this means living for years with increased adrenalin, which leads to physical changes in the brain and other body systems.
“The positive side, for those who survive, of the chronic high stress is that most missionaries do adapt over time, becoming more resilient and enlarging their repertoire of coping skills and attitudes. Even with such high stress scores, we don’t find 90% of cross-cultural workers in the hospital. People stretch and grow. However, it is also just as likely that many drop out because they don’t receive sufficient support in developing more coping skills and strategies. They may become either ill or discouraged with the chronic high stress life style and give up in the face of insufficient support and guided recovery.”
Care is Crucial!
Narramore adds to these findings, stating that at least 5,000 missionaries leave the mission field unnecessarily every year due to unmanaged, unresolved stress. Forget-Me-Not exists to change that trend. And there are ways you can help, too.
- Just by knowing these facts, you can pray more specifically for missionaries and their well-being.
- Summer is short-term mission season. If your church is sending out teams, include these facts in the team training so they can be aware of and sensitive to the realities their host missionaries face on the field. Plan a way/time to honor and encourage the host missionaries during the mission trip.
- Do you know someone who is considering mission work? Make sure they’re informed and seek to be adequately trained and equipped to encounter the stress.
- Numerous and varied other ways to care for missionaries to help relieve the stress they face can be found in our post, Supporting Missionaries Without Spending a Dime, or our free ebook, The Essential Guide to Caring for Missionaries.
One caring act…
Your willingness to care could make all the difference in a missionary’s decision to continue on or to quit!
Take the modified Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory for your personal stress rating.
Missionaries: We welcome your comments on these findings.