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One of my favourite T-shirts is ‘The many moods of a (Star Wars) stormtrooper’. ‘Angry’, ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Sleepy’, ‘Confused’, ‘Cheerful’, ‘Frustrated’, ‘Excited’, ‘Proud’ — different captions under the very same photo of a stormtrooper’s clearly emotionless headgear. It’s true though — behind a mask, how can you tell how a person really feels?One of my favourite T-shirts is ‘The many moods of a (Star Wars) stormtrooper’. ‘Angry’, ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Sleepy’, ‘Confused’, ‘Cheerful’, ‘Frustrated’, ‘Excited’, ‘Proud’ — different captions under the very same photo of a stormtrooper’s clearly emotionless headgear. It’s true though — behind a mask, how can you tell how a person really feels?

When doing a mental state examination, I assess a person’s subjective mood by asking “How do you feel?” and meanwhile observe his objective affect. A schizophrenic may tell me he’s happy, but he has a blunted incongruent affect — he may be visibly expressionless, perhaps as a result of a medication side effect, so how he appears doesn’t gel with what he claims to be feeling. A manic patient may say she’s the happiest person in the world, life couldn’t be better, and she has an elated congruent affect — how she says she feels fits with how she appears to me. Our emotions are part of our make-up, we cannot avoid them, and we often cannot hide them, no matter how hard we try. A funny comment can cause me to laugh out loud, even in an inappropriate setting; a phrase can trigger a memory that leads to tears or inflames dormant rage. An individual who is depressed may laugh and joke to keep up appearances. This might be someone you know — or may even be you. Feelings matter. They may sometimes distract us, or obstruct our best intentions — but we can’t deny they exist.

Feelings matter to Christians. Most of us are familiar with the Facts-Faith-Feelings belief train. Some people feel strongly about how distracting emotions can be, and they would probably prefer the caboose to be derailed altogether — but it’s definitely there, and we need to learn to live with our feelings and handle the daily fluctuations and changes that can influence, challenge or even threaten us. How we feel not only affects how we respond to the gospel, it affects how we relate to one another — within a family, a marriage, a church, amongst students or work colleagues, as well as between people of different cultures and beliefs.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. – 2 Co 4:7-10

These verses reveal how powerfully external and internal pressures may be brought to bear on Christian workers, but the Holy Spirit within gives them the strength to cope, survive and prevail under such stress.

In 2018 we will examine how different emotions affect missionaries and their ministries, and vice versa. How missionaries feel matter. What happens in their ministries elicit moods and changes in moods that can have a significant impact on how they perform their tasks and interact with those around them — family members, friends, work colleagues, church and social contacts, Christians or non-Christians, the wealthy and the poor, government departments or NGOs. Happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, peace, depression — these are all real emotions whose presence or absence may challenge missionaries on the field. If difficulties and stressors arise and one feels overwhelmed, one’s ministry may suffer — as will those people who are dependent on that ministry, as well as the missionary’s family.

Pray for our missionaries and their emotions. Pray that how they feel will help and not hinder their work. Pray that how they respond to their feelings will be pleasing to God and will glorify Him.

Editorial by Andrew Chan

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