BOOK REVIEW – Expectations and Burnout

Women surviving the great commission

‘Everyone has a mental image of what a missionary should be.’ Are they adventurous? Are they studious? Sociable? Gifted at languages? Good at stewarding their money? We may have moved on from the explorers in the African bush with high-knee socks but, perhaps without realising, we have a picture of what the missionaries we know and support should be like, what they should be doing with their time and what they should be achieving. It’s even more likely that the missionaries themselves have an expectation of their role and purpose. When expectations and the reality don’t meet, and pressures in the new community are all around, the feeling of failure can rise. In this book, Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss explore the link between expectations and burnout, particularly for women as they engage in the Great Commission.

“…missionaries may strive to be the perfect missionary without considering that the expectation may be unrealistic.”

Written from experience

Eenigenburg and Bliss weave their personal trials and experiences of burnout over many years on the mission field, with feedback from a survey of over 300 female missionaries. The reality of the pressures of cooking, hosting, raising children, emergency surgeries, the surrounding poverty and helping fledgling churches — to name but a few — is shared honestly and authentically.

The book splits into six areas which deal with the expectations put on us (or perceived to be) from ourselves, the sending church, the mission agency, fellow missionaries, national friends/host culture and God. Between each chapter, there’s a short time of reflection and an invitation to remember God’s grace and healing. Those on the field could really draw from these for refreshment and rest.

Not just for mission workers 

“Because there is such a strong correlation between expectations and burnout, addressing and adjusting this one area – expectations – in the lives of missionary women has the potential to increase fruitful, long-term service.”

Despite how useful it may be for them, this book isn’t just for those who have gone: it is also for those of us who love, send and support. Whether we’re part of an agency or church, or are simply a friend, it helps us to understand some of the challenges of cross-cultural work and anticipate potential thoughts our missionary friends may have. Mostly this book causes us to reflect on how we can best communicate clearly, in order to care for our sisters in Christ and to spur one another on to the good works that God has called us to.

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