Hi, my name is Karna Steel, and my husband and I, along with our five boys, have been overseas on the mission field for twenty years now. We just celebrated our 25th year with Youth for Christ (YFC). Eleven of those years were spent working with a military youth ministry in Italy, and over the past eight years we helped establish YFC in the Czech Republic. We are looking forward to having Caity join our team of missionaries in the Czech Republic.
In the past few years my heart has been drawn more and more to the absolute need women have, especially those on the mission field, for community. Over the years I’ve made a lot of moves for ministry, and every time it’s been hard to start over again and re-establish myself in each new area.
I think “community” can mean different things to different people. For me, it means connection, the things which place us on a common ground together, whether it’s a common vision, being married with children, speaking the same language, or simply just loving chocolate.
There’s a quote by Brene Brown that really speaks to this:
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
That’s some pretty powerful truth! Studies show that women are hardwired for friendship. When life becomes challenging, women seek out friendship with other women as a means of regulating stress levels. Men don’t necessarily need that to the same degree in their lives as women do. When a woman gets stressed, her natural response is to “tend and befriend,” which means that women instinctively tend to nurture others around them and reach out to others.
Women need community. We need to tell our stories, to process our emotional experiences with others, and to receive their aid in moving forward. As one article cited, “We need to build and maintain these important bonds to protect our physical and emotional well-being.” (The Huffington Post, 2013)
After being in the military ministry for ten years, I told my husband I was done. I was done seeking out friendships with other women because people were always transitioning in and out of my life and I felt like my heart was just raw and couldn’t take another good-bye.
He asked me, as he always does, “Have you prayed about it? The Lord isn’t afraid to hear your heart’s cry.”
So I told the Lord that I just couldn’t do it anymore. If He wanted me to have a friend, He was going to have to bring her to me and plop her right in front of me because I wasn’t going looking for her — and He did! I met a family at chapel the next week and found out they’d been relocated to Aviano even though her husband was in the army. I offered to watch her children for her while she received her household shipment, even though we didn’t know each other at all.
The next week, while I was sitting in a parking lot on base, she came up to the side of my van and asked me, “Do you want to be my friend?”
I told her that I just didn’t have it in me at the time, but she responded that it was okay, and that she’d do all of the work. And she did! That was the start of our intense but very short friendship. Nine months later we felt called to move to the Czech Republic, and her husband got orders to move back to Germany to the army base there. I’ll never forget our conversation while we were packing up my house. She said, “I’ll never understand why the Army moved us down here and uprooted our family for only nine months.”
“It was for me!” I told her. “You were the answer to my heart’s cry!”
While there are always positive things wherever you live, there are also hardships as well. Living cross-culturally has its own set of difficulties. When you add separation from family and friends to that mix, I’ve seen a lot of missionaries who’ve left the field early because it was just too hard for them. If they can’t establish community where they live, they cannot sustain life there. It’s just that simple and that difficult. Brene Brown, in her book “Daring Greatly,” said it quite succinctly, “Connection is why we’re here; it is what give purpose and meaning to our lives.” Please pray that Caity will find her place of ministry here in the Czech Republic, and that she will be able to make connections and find her community.