by J. Richard Arndt
J. Richard Arndt interview with Stanley E. Lindquist.
JRA: First, Dr. Lindquist, since you are a practicing psychologist and university professor, please describe your particular involvement in missions, and how it came about.
SEL: My involvement in missions is somewhat indirect in that I work with missionaries, but I am not on the field as such. In fact, someone once described this part of our foundation program as "being missionaries to missionaries. " More specifically, my interest grew out of my clinical practice in which I saw numerous missionaries experiencing emotional, psychological and behavioral problems. My interest increased when I was in Paris a few years ago, a city where many missionary candidates go to learn French prior to going to their assignment. While there, I was repeatedly asked, "Is there a place in the U.S. where I can get some help to clear up some –of the things that seem to block my effectiveness and ministry with others? I’m not mentally disturbed, but I am hindered." Commonly, I learned that they previously had sought out the counsel of private therapists in a mental health center, or had taken courses in the university, but without success in meeting the kind of needs they had. Often the kind of help received did not include the spiritual, which must be integrated into the intervention process in the life of a missionary.
JRA: Then what did you do?
SEL: At that point, I believe the Spirit of God stimulated me to think about establishing a center to fill that need. Hence, the Link-Care Foundation was founded with a primary purpose of applying psychological principles linked with spiritual truths to emotional- psychological needs faced by missionaries, ministers, and other Christian workers. The primary goal is to enable these men and women to improve or regain their effectiveness in the ministry of the church.
JRA: In general, how many Protestant missionaries are severely debilitated due to psychological and emotional problems?
SEL: Although there is no clear answer, some authorities have stated that 50 percent of all first-term missionaries have to return to the States, or are limited in their effectiveness while remaining in the field. I think this figure is misleading because it includes short-termers. I think the figure of about 20 percent suggested by many mission boards may be more realistic. When you consider that most mission boards figure it costs them $20,000 to $40,000 out-of-pocket, depending upon the field, to send and language-train a missionary, each loss is a significant financial drain to a board. Multiply this times the number of drop-outs and the figure is frightening. This figure does not include the personal costs of the missionary in getting ready to go. Whatever the figure, the essential point is that if only one person develops psychologically debilitating problems, we need to help in the best way we can.
Further, many physical problems which missionaries experience are often related to emotional problems. As one missionary recently told me (who had to return home because of various physical diseases), "My main problem was emotional. Emotional upset led to my being physically run-down, and so I fell prey to the other physical problems I now have. If I had been stronger emotionally, I believe this would not have happened."
JRA: Certainly 20 percent loss of human as well as financial resources is alarming. What are the main factors causing this loss?
SEL: Usually no single factor stands out above the rest, but if I had to choose one, from my experience, I would say it is the stress and strain of going to a strange place with different customs and demands, without the support of family and friends. Often called "culture shock." This frequently is associated with loneliness and depression.
Other causes exist, as well. Many missionaries naively assume that somehow God is going to remove all of their personality problems because they have sacrificed personal goals to go to the mission field. Since God usually does not provide this type of service (although dedication often helps), the individual still has to confront his or her problems; however, this confrontation is much harder to do alone and in a strange, even hostile environment. This estrangement heightens the normal and expected stress of being a missionary.
Doubt as to "call" during times of difficulty and discouragement is the major factor for others. Doubt, regardless of the reason, leads to confusion and disillusionment, which may eventually lead to the decision to go home.
Another factor is the inappropriate conception of the role of a missionary in relation to the expectation and needs of the national church. Too many missionaries still think they will be saviors, leaders and problem-solvers rather than servants and co-workers. Often they have to work under nationals who know little, but still assume the responsibility and resent interference by the missionary. When conflict occurs, the seemingly insurmountable tension engendered may prompt the missionary to return home.
Ordinary everyday adjustments to personality differences among new and veteran missionaries cause the young missionary to feel inadequate and hopeless. He wonders how he can help the nationals when he cannot even get along with his own dedicated and consecrated colleagues. Some mission secretaries have told me that this is the greatest problem of their board. Our program of having missionaries live together in our apartments is thought to be excellent preparation for this stress.
JRA: What have you found to be helpful in restoring such missionaries to effective performance?
SEL: The first thing one must do with the returned missionary is to discover the problem, assess its relevant dimensions and then design a specific behavioral change program for solving it. Such psychotherapeutic intervention may take the form of practicing new ways of responding to stress, disappointment or conflict. It may include marriage and family counseling, or learning to develop self-control of moods, such as anxiety or depression.
JRA: We have limited our discussion to missionaries who have returned prematurely. What about missionary candidates?
SEL: I believe the more significant contribution of the Link-Care Foundation is prevention. We can help a person prepare for stress before he or she goes to the field. Of course, most missionaries that we have seen do successfully return after they have confronted and overcome their problems. And we have been pleased to have received reports that some of these renewed missionaries have become more effective than ever before, which has reinforced my belief that God often utilizes our failures in making us more productive. But many could have avoided the problem and been more effective during the first term had they been helped to learn how to deal with stresses and other problems before they went out.
JRA: Do you believe that some missionaries never should have gone to the field in the first place?
SEL: Perhaps. This really implies that the screening and preparing processes were inadequate.
JRA: Then how could these processes be improved?
SEL: I am a strong believer in an internship program in which missionary candidates are systematically subjected to various kinds of stressful situations for the purpose of learning effective coping responses. It is important to teach how general types of problems can be solved. This is especially true about learning to cope with stress.
One of my emphases in therapy is aimed at helping the individual cope with or solve a present problem, and, more important, to teach approaches which will be effective in analyzing and solving similar perplexing problems in the future. Then, that person becomes less dependent upon the therapist and more inner-directed, guided by the Holy Spirit. This is the main thrust of the internship program we have developed and offer at the foundation. We assign the missionary or other candidate to an ethnic church. This is stressful. He comes back to us regularly to learn how to cope with each stress-producing problem. He returns and practices the behavioral changes suggested. He lives and interacts with senior citizens and veteran missionaries as well as other interns. In short, each demand on the intern requires the development of skills that will be helpful and necessary on the field.
JRA: Do you believe that psychological tests can be useful in pinpointing problems, especially during the candidate’s application process?
SEL: Yes, I do. Psychological assessment can quickly bring to the fore problems that eventually may result in difficulties on the field. For example, a recently returned missionary whom I have counseled had been tested prior to his departure. The results indicated the potential problems which actually did interfere with his adjustment on the field. He was sent without being given an opportunity to learn how to cope with those problems and eventually these difficulties led to his return to the States. This person should have screened himself out or he should have been helped to learn how to deal with his problems before he went.
I firmly believe that if a potential problem is identified, the individual usually can be helped to learn how to cope with it ahead of time. The object is not merely to save money, but also to save a person from the trauma of unnecessary failure. This is essentially being a good steward of God’s human and financial resources.
JRA: It sounds like it might be possible for you to function as a screening agent for mission boards.
SEL: The Link-Care Foundation was not established nor does it serve to screen people out of missionary assignments or to tell the mission board which persons should or should not be allowed to go to the field. Rather, we confront the individual with his strengths and weaknesses. We are also able to give him an opportunity to understand what kinds of difficulties he might encounter on the field and the ways such problems can be resolved. Then the candidate and the board can decide if he or she is an acceptable candidate for service. In other words, the staff of the foundation believes that God uses us and our professional expertise in a meaningful way to assist an individual to better understand his true calling and how he can most effectively operate in following that calling on the foreign or home mission field.
JRA: One last question. Who does the foundation serve?
SEL: The Link-Care Foundation is interdenominational, serving anyone in need. We tailor our program according to the individual’s personal and, as possible, financial needs. We have financial limitations just as other mission enterprises; however, we will consider the request of any individual or group who desires to use our services.
Copyright © 1976 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.