Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book Review: Expectations and Burnout

A few weeks ago I was sick with a cold and my laptop wasn't working, so it was the perfect time to read a book my mom had given me that had been on my "to read" list. "Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission," by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss, discusses expectations missionary women have of missionary work and life, which they are often unaware of, and how this relates to burnout. This compilation of Eenigenburg's graduate dissertation, based on a survey she conducted with missionary women, is interwoven with Bliss's personal experience of burnout and recovery.

Six sources of expectations, both real and perceived, are examined (p. 19):
  1. Self: what women expect of themselves compared to "ideal missionaries."
  2. Sending church: expectations supporting individuals and churches have of women missionaries.
  3. Mission agency: expectations women have of their agency and vice-versa.
  4. Fellow missionaries: relationships between teammates.
  5. National friends and host culture: what women expect of individuals in the host culture and what she perceives they expect of her.
  6. God: what happens when God does not act the way missionary women expect He will.
Iin addition to the statistics and anonymous responses to Eenigenburg's survey, readers also find practical survival tips and Bliss's story as it relates to the given topic. The authors also include numerous references of research related to expectations and burnout; however, they note that more research is needed specifically about women and their unique needs in missions. Readers are challenged to honestly examine their own expectations, to take action where possible, and, above all, to trust in the Lord and allow Him to work in our hearts through our weaknesses and difficult circumstances.

Overall, this is a helpful and solid resource for missionary women. I found the statistics a bit tedious and the references to other material somewhat distracting, and chapter subheadings would greatly aid retaining the information returning to specific subpoints later. However, I appreciated the honest yet compassionate tone; it felt as though the authors were sitting in a circle of women sharing from their own struggles, victories, and contagious love for the Lord and the Great Commission. In addition, the anonymous voices from the survey communicated multiple perspectives that fleshed out each point.

I would recommend this book to women preparing to go the mission field as well as those with years of experience; to team leaders; to sending churches, missions pastors, and mobilizers; and to family and friends who want to pray and encourage women they love with greater understanding.

Here are my personal take-aways:
  • I now can see how expectations, based on my experiences learning Spanish and being immersed in Latino culture, have been a disadvantage in how I approach learning Garífuna and have distorted my perspective as a newcomer. I became aware of more of these expectations and how dealing with them can help me avoid pitfalls that lead to burnout and allow me to be much more open to how the Lord is working right here, right now.

  • My situation is different from many of those the book represents because I am not on an actual team with other expats and because my husband and his family are from here (and I love that part!).

  • Moving to Latin America as a single woman and developing close relationships in a Latino context allowed me to work through culture shock and lifestyle adjustments before getting married and having a baby. At least for me, I think it would have been more difficult to come of the field married with kids and accustomed to running a home in the U.S.

  • While we all need margin with time, resources, and energy, this is particularly crucial in order to thrive cross-culturally. In addition, my relationship with the Lord must always be a high priority, in spite of busyness and distractions.
In conclusion, this book could help many women evaluate their expectations and take steps to avoid burning out on the mission field.

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