“Yes, but help and healing are needed.”
A disproportionate number of those going into missions come from wounded backgrounds and often have a strong desire to rescue or help others. These young adults from “dysfunctional” families can be as able a servant on the mission field as anyone else. However, they first need to allow our Lord Jesus to heal the wounds remaining from their upbringing.
Family problems can be a very sensitive issue, and must be dealt with in an atmosphere of love and trust. Most mission agencies have personnel staff ready to help potential missionaries prepare for service with them. Don’t try to wait until you’re perfect before beginning application! Pastoral care from your church and/or campus fellowship are other means of getting help.
Professional counseling is not the only way to recovery. Seek out counsel, understanding and accountability from believers, a pastor, lay people at church, friends, or campus staff workers who are older, more mature and emotionally healthy.
Note: This answer is excerpted from Dysfunctional Families: Going into Missions from a Wounded Background, by Timothy Boyd and Brent Lindquist. We encourage you to read the rest of the article. The resources section of this website lists a number of articles on the topic of guidance.
Answer from Drs. Timothy Boyd and Brent Lindquist with the counseling and restoration ministry Link Care.
“Jesus is the redeemer, so yes, you can.”
I experienced several childhood and early adulthood traumas before going to the mission field. When I was eight, my dad died. That was traumatic. Later, just after my high school graduation, both of my grandparents died on the same day. My grandfather had been ill, but my grandma had not. Later, my 28-year-old brother was killed in a work accident. Five years later, I lost my 29-year-old younger brother and my 26-year-old sister. Those losses were painful. I was a believer and dealt with them as I could and sensed God’s help in getting through those struggles.
Three years after the death of my sister, we were appointed to serve in Chile. We spent eight months in Costa Rica and then moved on to Chile. During a very stressful time in the life of our mission, at the start of my second term, while my son was eight years old, I had panic attacks. I had never even heard of them before. I thought I was dying. Then I thought I was going crazy. Thankfully, our member care person helped me to understand what was happening. I realized that I was trying to control the uncontrollable and that I was, in fact, trying to be God. With the help of medication, prayer, a loving wife, and several professionals, I was able to overcome the PTSD problems.
Although I would not wish such anxiety on anyone, I learned so much about Jesus as my redeemer. All of the traumatic events in my life were like coupons, just worthless, meaningless pieces of paper unless I took them to the right place to be redeemed. He gave me meaning for these events and even turned my own anxiety struggles into opportunities to care for others and to offer hope and encouragement. God uses cracked clay pots.
I would certainly tell you to seek all of the great help that is available now, before you go, to make sure you are ready and resilient. However, just because you have suffered loss or abuse or trauma, you should not consider yourself unfit to serve the Lord. You may, in fact, be better to touch the lives of others who need Jesus.
Answer from Ken in Spain, who served with the Canadian National Baptist Convention and Fellowship International in Chile and Spain for 15 years.
“Sometimes, it depends on how much healing they’ve had.”
Dr. Robert Grant, a psychologist who counsels missionaries, is exploring this issue a lot because those who are still wounded can wound others. A traumatic childhood should not preclude someone from missions, but a lot of inner healing work and counseling should be a priority first.
Often where we’ve experienced healing can be a place where we have the most compassion for others. We just have to be really careful and do our due diligence.
I’ve written a little bit more about this on my blog here: What I Wish I’d Known about Missionary Burnout.
Answer from Sarita, who has served with Zion Project in Uganda for seven years.