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How bridges relate to Member Care

During the difficult lockdown days that many countries (especially in Europe) continued to endure this spring, my organization required us to take at least a half-day retreat somewhere in our city, find a bridge and reflect on its significance.

As I found my bridge in a beautiful park in my city of Genova, Italy, I made the following observations about bridges:

  • Bridges are often used to cross or overcome an obstacle
  • Are often the fastest means to get from point A to point B
  • To cross a bridge can often be scary (water, fear of heights, high winds, instability, etc.)
  • Crossing a bridge also involves trust, not only in the engineering, but also in the foundation
  • Bridges require maintenance and attention
  • Bridges can be diverse and innovative
  • And finally, bridges add perspective, allowing one to see things from a different point of view

So how do bridges relate to Member Care?

In the past year, I have debriefed numerous people working in dynamic and often volatile teams of both married and single people. The thing that everyone had in common was that first of all, they all have struggled in some way or another during the Covid-19 pandemic, and second, all felt that others on the team have failed to understand or acknowledge their life situations.

Some who are single talked about feelings of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic and frustration that their organizations and teams didn’t offer more support during difficult lockdown days. In contrast, other singles felt that because they are used to managing on their own, they were better equipped not only to deal with government restrictions and quarantine, but also available to offer support and care to those who needed it the most during lockdown. But what the singles DID have in common was that all felt that their married colleagues need to learn more about how to be sensitive to the needs and struggles of singles.

One young single woman (permission granted to share her story) serving in a closed-access country offered an interesting example of the conflict and misunderstandings that can occur between single and married colleagues. During a mandatory hostage training course that her team participated in, her team went through a simulation in which kidnappers asked for a person to be offered as ransom. This particular woman was both hurt and shocked that her team said she should offer herself up as ransom in order to save the other members of the team because she is not married and doesn’t have to look out for a family. Moreover, she was shamed into thinking she was selfish for not offering herself voluntarily. Clearly her team had a lot to unpack, debrief, and reconcile.

Other single inter-cultural workers have often talked about how their married counterparts often ask them to babysit because “obviously being single means you have more time on your hand,” or “don’t lose heart, God is your husband,” to which a close friend of mine says, “No, God is not my husband, He is my Lord and Saviour!” And finally, singles often hear not only from teammates, but also supporters and churches, “we are praying for you to find a spouse,” to which singles might say, “that’s funny, I never asked for you to pray about that.”

But what about teammates who are married? Many married people have shared that this past year added a whole new level of stress on their marriage. Why? Because they were forced to spend 24 hours a day together with no break. I have heard one married person say, “Although I love my wife, I envy those who are single during Covid who at least get some time to themselves.” Cases of domestic abuse have also been on the rise during the pandemic due to added stress and married people feeling that they are living on top of each other at times.

I have also heard married people express that single people often fail to recognize the individuality and/or unique personality of each spouse. Simply put, Sarah and Abraham, while a unit, are clearly also two different people and personalities.

Interestingly, I have heard singles and married people both complain about a particular rule married people may have, albeit from different perspectives.  Many of us know of married couples who have a rule not to ever be in a room together alone with someone of the opposite sex.  I have heard married cross-cultural workers complain about their single teammates who they feel have not respected or perhaps have interfered in this rule.  However, I have heard singles address this same rule by saying, “married teammates who have this rule need to understand how such a rule inadvertently affects single people.”

Perspective!

Finally, I personally have seen both sides of the bridge, so to speak, because both my wife and I spent half of our adult cross-cultural life as both single and married.  We both have heard teammates and other Christian workers say to us AFTER we got married, “you have finally arrived” or “your spouse really completes you.”  It makes one think, geesh, what did they really think of me when I was single?  And no, it is not correct to say “My better-half, or my husband or wife completes me.” We need to all think about what our words mean and their impact, and even more so, their theological ramifications. No, our spouses don’t complete us (though they certainly can and should complement us); we are ALL COMPLETE in Christ.

What is needed and what is the Member Care lesson? Build a bridge, cross the bridge, and look at life, experiences, and the view from the other side. Building and crossing that bridge involves trust, innovation, creativity but offers our teams stability, perspective and efficiency. Both married and single teammates suffer from loneliness, being misunderstood, and feeling frustrated. But if they are willing to build a bridge and work together, beautiful things can be done collectively for the Kingdom!

*Recommended Reading:

  1. Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life by Barry Danylak
  2. Single Mission by Debbie Hawker & Tim Herbert
  3. Married in Mission: A Handbook for Couples in Cross-Cultural Service by Alexis C. Kenny

 

Mihai Lundell is a member of the board of Member Care Europe and a mission worker providing member care in Italy with OCI.

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