Shepherding Women on the Field
God took two career-oriented people in their forties to Russia, in January 1995, from central Florida. We were committed to working there for one year (but in our hearts, we knew this was a total career change for us). Our supervisors came with us to help the team get set up and acquainted with the national workers, and then they returned to the States. During the first couple of years, our supervisors visited two to three times a year. I longed for these visits and was very disappointed when only the male came and no wife. It seemed like a wasted trip to me, as I desperately needed the feminine leadership and fellowship, especially since my husband was the team leader. I really needed someone from my home culture with whom I could share heart-to-heart, who was not a part of our local team.
After about five years, my husband was appointed by our organization as Field Director for Russia and we moved to Moscow. Being the wife of the Team Leader for five years, I had learned a few things, and one was how much the women on the field needed special shepherding. Many of our global workers are located in a city as the only organization personnel, and being without other expatriates close by is very challenging. Some global workers lived as far as 36 hours away by train. With them, there may have been fewer interpersonal relationship problems, but there were more issues with isolation and loneliness. These feelings can lead to guilt because as global workers we are called by God to be here and He should be enough for us! God is the One who decided that it is not good for man to be alone, and Who created a helpmate for him. We still need others in our daily lives, especially when we are in a culture other than our home culture.
When we moved to Moscow, not only did my husband move into a new position, but I did too. Suddenly my focus of ministry changed from focusing on the nationals to focusing on the global workers. Our organization had an active ministry to the Field Leaders’ wives. I received special articles, some women’s magazines, birthday cards, a luncheon at the annual Field Director meetings in the States, as well as prayer for our personal and ministry needs. I was being ministered to and knew the other women on the field needed to be ministered to as well.
We met together as a team once a week for a fellowship meal and prayer in our home. No other ministry could be scheduled at this time. This was just one area of ministry I was able to provide to the other global worker women. There was to be no work conversation at the table. In order to help in this area, we held a fifteen-minute ‘business meeting’ prior to dinner and had the prayer meeting after. Anything that had to be discussed regarding business or ministry was brought up during these times, and dinner conversation was an opportunity for fun and lots of laughter.
This was our time of being ourselves (no nationals at this time), to have fun, food, and fellowship together as a team. It is important not to spend all your time in cross-cultural situations working and ministering and none in fun and light conversation with other expats. If you do you can quickly lose your focus, and team conflicts seem to surface more easily.
Accountability was also an important part of our team ministry. We met once a week with our accountability partner. This was the most important meeting of the week. How can anyone effectively minister to others if they are themselves not held accountable? I will never forget my first accountability session with a woman who had just arrived in country with her family. We got off to a slow start, as is usually the case before a certain level of trust is established. Finally, I decided to speak first. As I shared the areas in my own life that I was struggling with, there was a noticeable change on her face. She said, “I was dreading coming here today. I didn’t know how I could possibly share my heart issues with the ‘Field Director’s wife,’ who has everything together. The issues you are struggling with are the exact same ones I am dealing with myself at this time. Now I see that you are a real person and someone who will understand me, and together we can encourage each other.”
All of this was the foundation upon which I began the women’s ministry for our global worker women in Russia. The first event was a Ladies Luncheon, which became an annual event. It was held at my flat, and I tried to make it as special as possible. I decorated as best I could (with some help from my friends, as this is not my gifting), used my best dishes, cooked a special meal, and had a small bag of goodies for each lady in addition to the program. We had a special speaker each year, someone from outside the organization or from headquarters. One year the ‘First Lady’ of our organization was our guest speaker.
We started with lunch, then moved to the living room and had the speaker bring a devotional. This helped everyone to open up later. After the devotion, we had a time of open sharing.
In the beginning, I asked each person to bring three things from home that had a special meaning to them. At the door, these were put into a paper bag, and during the sharing time, they were taken out one by one. The person to whom the item belonged had to share what the item represented in their life. Wow! You cannot imagine how emotional people can become over post-it notes or a wooden spoon! It was a wonderful time of openness and honesty. Other times we shared what was the most significant victory or biggest challenge we had experienced during the previous year. I cannot emphasize enough how important it was during these times for me to be totally transparent. If the ladies do not open up quickly, it is up to the Field Director’s wife to lead the way with her own issues. No matter how difficult it is for you to share, this will work only if you are totally honest with them. Remember, these are not only your co-workers; they are your extended family in the country where God has led each of you to minister. Allow them to see you as vulnerable and they will be also.
In time, the women’s ministry was expanded from the annual luncheon to having a special evening session anytime we had a field retreat or meeting that lasted more than one day, as well as having a women’s retreat once a year for a couple of days. I did not plan or direct all these activities but rather let others who were gifted in these areas help out.
All events were without children. It was the husband’s responsibility to take care of the children or get a babysitter. The main thing is to make the women feel special because they are special. We all need relationships with other women. If these relationships are not nurtured, conflict may develop instead of trust. In one open sharing session, a lady shared (with difficulty and tears), “I didn’t have a victory in my life this year.” Now that is being honest without fear of rejection!
If I could emphasize any one aspect of being a Field Director’s wife, it would be transparency! This one issue will make or break your team relationships, and it does begin with you!