Wounded Healers

Wounded Healers

by Sr. Rita Kelly MMM              Ireland          05.05.2023 

Recently, I was asked what influenced me to write the thesis “Towards a Transformative Spirituality: Exploring Stress and Trauma among Missionaries in Ministry.” (See link below) The following are the threads that led me to write the thesis.

In 1998, I returned to Ireland after many years on mission. Adjusting back to Ireland was not easy. It is like adjusting back to a whole new country and culture. The Irish Missionary Union (IMU) sent out an invitation for a meeting of Returned Missionaries. From this meeting, there was a recommendation that a Returned Missionary Desk to be set up. After a few weeks I received a phone-call inviting me to set up the Desk.

I was aware of the organisation, Comhlámh, an association for returning development workers. I attended a few of their events. I did not want to reinvent the wheel and wondered where I would start? Meetings were facilitated and a survey carried out to explore the expectations for the new Desk. There were several issues raised such as transitions and reverse mission, but one issue continually surfaced was the whole area of stress and trauma.

Many spoke of their experiences such as the living in conflict areas, famines, and natural disasters; but one conversation that stayed in my mind was the stories that were shared about the Biafra War. The Biafra War, now called the Nigerian Civil War, occurred in the late 1960s. This conversation was taking place in 1999, thirty years after the war. The effects of the war were still very alive in the memories.
Over the years, with the support of IMU, many programmes were put in place such as addressing transition and reverse mission. Also, it was a resource for individual counselling and spiritual direction. Many were returning home, but gradually more members were coming who were just on home leave.

Addressing the area of stress and trauma continued to be a challenge. There was a sense that missionaries found it difficult to admit that they could not cope. A team was formed of skilled and trained members in the management of stress and trauma. IMU-REAP team was gradually formed. The aim of the team was to take a wholistic healing approach, that is mental, physical, spiritual and social. Each of us experience stress and trauma and react differently, even in a similar incident. Seminars and workshops were offered in awareness, education and training in stress and trauma.

From this experience I wrote the thesis as part of a M.A. in Spirituality (2006 – 2008).  Academic Papers – Medical Missionaries of Mary (mmmworldwide.org)

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” So, we don’t have to be embarrassed but “How can we put our roundedness in the service of others? When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers”. (Henri Nouwen: Ministry in Contemporary Society).