Saturday, May 28, 2011

Of Teddy Bears and Turtles (& Sharks & Foxes & Owls)

“If you are not willing to grow in your Conflict Management, please:  Don’t go to the Mission Field OR, If you are already on the field, find a way to leave the Mission ASAP.”  This was how we started our class-time on Conflict Provides Opportunities yesterday.  
This was coupled with a sobering statistic:  84% of missionaries will not stay in the same place they are first sent.  Some will change location, some will change sending agency, and some will quit the field altogether.  The overwhelming reason most will leave?  Not lack of funding, not fruitlessness, not health, not family pressures, not failure to acclimate to the new culture. 
No, the number one reason missionaries leave the field?   Other missionaries. 
I had heard this in Perspectives, and also from friends who have been on the field.  Sitting in a room with 42 others heading out, and realizing this means it is likely only seven of us will stay where we are headed… well, that suddenly made it intensely personal.  And, since what causes the trouble is unresolved conflict, it added urgency and intensity to the day.
As you know, each of us can respond to conflict in a variety of ways.  Depending on the situation, we can be assertive or take a more compromising posture.  What we began to explore, however, was our ‘go-to’ preference during times of extreme and/or prolonged stress.  Something like what happens when you leave all you know to move to a new culture! 
We used descriptions based on the Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory, which assigns animals to various ways of handling conflict:  Teddy Bears, Turtles, Foxes, Lions (we used Sharks), and Owls. 
Just by reading the names, you can probably guess some of the traits of each.  Teddy Bears are accommodating, Turtles will avoid, Foxes try to find a compromise, Sharks compete, and Owls want to collaborate.   
I am a Turtle so when things get tense, I withdraw to give myself time and space to process.  This can be helpful and keep me from saying something I’ll later regret.  It can also be difficult for those trying to resolve the conflict because I don’t want to talk about it right away.  I can be sorely tempted to just stay away, safe in my shell.  If I am pushed to respond too quickly, I can turn into a ‘snapping turtle’ which is of no help at all! 
As we learned, each style has advantages and disadvantages and no one style is appropriate in all situations.  Interestingly, each group was able to find scriptures to both support and temper the use of their style! 
That last was important, because each of us can feel our way is best (or else why would we be using it?) and can be tempted to play the ‘Holy’ card.  Well, Queen Esther didn’t immediately go to Xerxes, so went away and prayed and fasted for three days first!  Of course, we’re also not supposed to allow the sun to go down on our anger! 
We first worked with others of our style.  It was good to see that I’m not alone in my way of handling conflict.  It was also good to explore the other styles.  What about them did we appreciate?  What about them was de-motivating to us?  We then began meeting as a group with the other animals.  (We started with the Foxes.)  It was helpful to hear what about our style they appreciated - and what frustrates them! 
Since we need to be growing in our conflict management, I need to be aware of how my style impacts others.  I also need to realize that when I am pushed, my knee-jerk reaction is going to be to withdraw.  Hopefully I can recognize this early on and find more suitable ways of coping, as needed. 
The fact is, if I am not willing to do this, I truly do need to stay home.  The damage I can do is far too great.  If I am bringing dishonor to the name of Jesus because I am unwilling to stretch and grow, I should not go. 
This is not going to be easy, but I am so grateful we are being challenged NOW to start to deal with our ‘stuff’.  Please pray with me that I will allow the Holy Spirit to begin working in me in this!
On Monday we’ll meet with the Teddy Bears and Sharks.  I overheard one of the Sharks quote Finding Nemo.  “Remember, everyone, Teddy Bears are friends, not food.  Turtles are friends, not food…”  Could make for an interesting day! 
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