When I was twenty-three, I left the United States for a scary, exciting job as an international campus minister. I was all nerves with my year of seminary, husband of a year, and life packed into five large suitcases. It was an adventure into the unknown, following God’s call to places I’d only visited briefly. I’d speak a different language, learn new customs, and celebrate new government holidays—all in a bid to be a little-Christ to students at a university in Europe.
I returned at twenty-six, an older, wiser, and more broken woman. The years had not been easy or kind to me. My exterior circumstances in Europe had been easy. I was a campus minister on a cosmopolitan campus with students from 130 different countries. I had running water, plenty of delicious restaurants nearby, friends I liked, and a city I’d fallen in love with. But…
And this is a big but…
I hadn’t been emotionally or spiritually supported during our ministry years. I’d been told I was a liar, that I wasn’t trustworthy, that I was needy and demanding, and that I was trouble. The word had been given to me as an identity marker. I wasn’t making trouble; I was the trouble. And for a woman already uncertain about my welcome and position in ministry, that was devastating. It became a toxic environment that sapped me to nothing. I lost weight. I grew gray hair overnight. I withdrew from friends. I developed an unhealthy relationship with chocolate and books.
In short, I showed some of the signs of an abusive relationship.
And it wasn’t the students. No, they were wonderful. It wasn’t my husband either. He was my lifeline. Unfortunately, it was a fellow team member. We’d been friends when we left, but in the years we were on the field, I began dreading seeing them. If I saw them on the street unexpectedly, I ducked into shops or restaurants or alleyways. By the last year, each day was a battle to go to the office. It was hard to pray with them or for them.
We had problems where apologies were never spoken, accusations flew, and mistakes were attributed to anyone but them. Problems continued despite our sending organization trying to help. They sent people to mediate between the team and this person, they prayed for us, and they tried to put new systems in place. Ultimately, it failed, and we made the painful decision to leave the team.
A piece of me died that day.
Yet I learned something during those years, something that shook me harder than the lies, the accusations, and the questions around my identity. I learned that sometimes even when you try to do the right thing, when you know you’re living out God’s call in your life, the people who should support and love you, sometimes those very same people will betray you.