Moral Injury

by Rachel Pieh Jones on February 15, 2019

I first learned the term “moral injury” in a Plough magazine article by Michael Yallend, Hope in the Void. He quoted authors Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini who say moral injury, “comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs…Moral injury destroys meaning and forsakes noble causes. It sinks warriors into states of silent, solitary suffering, where bonds of intimacy and care seem impossible.”

Foreign Policy magazine describes moral injury as “damage done to a ‘person’s conscience or moral compass by perpetrating, witnessing, or failing to prevent acts that transgress moral and ethical values or codes of conduct.”

Can you think of ways you have experienced this in your life abroad?

We know about female genital mutilation and cannot stop it. We turn away from the begging children. We participate in economic inequality. We are inappropriately respected or honored because of the color of our skin or our passport and we do little to stop it. We huddle behind locked doors and guarded, walled compounds when disorder breaks out in the streets. We pay the bribe to get our mail or our water turned on.

This is not how we imagined serving, helping, or changing the world. We are humanitarians, we are people motivated by faith and by a desire to serve and help. Some of us thought we could change the world, only to discover we are complicit in harm, subconsciously or not.

About his own memories of serving as a soldier in the Iraq war, Yallend wrote, “I know I am not who I thought I was. I am something different, something I never planned on being.”

Another way to think about moral injury is as a wound to the soul.

I am not heroic and I know this far better now, after 16 years abroad, than I ever would have learned had I stayed in the US. I am the opposite of heroic. Living here has stripped away all illusion of moral superiority or high character. I stand exposed.

All my high ideals and righteous ambitions lie in tatters at my feet while people around me go hungry and I can never feed them all. When injustice reigns and I don’t protest. When racism rules and I benefit.

And that’s just what I’m willing to publicly confess.

I know now, who I am. I am not who I thought I was or who I intended to be.

Oh how deeply runs the chasm between who I thought I was and who I now know myself to be.

Oh how much greater my knowledge of my need for a grace I cannot earn.

This is not about moving abroad and learning how selfish and greedy and impatient and proud you are. (I learned all that too) This is darker, deeper, and more damaging.

Moral injury is a heavy, serious topic that deserves much deeper exploration than a single blog post. I’ll provide some links below and encourage you to explore the idea on your own, to see how you may have been impacted, or not. And then I encourage you to find a place where you can be honest and courageously vulnerable so that you can find healing.

Does this resonate with you? How? And how can you move toward healing?

The Headington Institute

Hope in the Void, Plough Magazine

Foreign Policy The Warrior and Moral Injury

Psychology Today: Moral Injury


How to get into missions in just one month

by Anisha Hopkinson February 11, 2019

Didn’t do great on your New Year resolutions? That’s ok, March can be your month. This easy to follow plan will have you storing up treasures in heaven in just 31 days! March 2019 Get Into Missions Now Plan: *** Ok, ok so it took my family 10 years to acquire the needed skills and […]

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A Prayer of Repentance

by Marilyn February 9, 2019

To the women and girls of New Tribes Mission* Lord, we repent for the sins against children. We repent for having ears that were deaf and eyes that were blind. We repent for the loss of innocence and beauty – things that were stolen from children molested in the dark of night. We weep for […]

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4 Ways to Take Your Language Learning to the Next Level

by Editor February 5, 2019

by Jessica Dais There is a lot you can accomplish as a missionary in a foreign country, regardless of whether or not you know the local language. However, there’s something to be said about the special connection that’s forged when you speak in someone’s native language. There is a deeper level of empathy on your […]

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The Missionary Life Cycle (in Five Stages)

by Jonathan Trotter January 31, 2019

Like any really good assessment, these five categories are totally made up. There are no peer-reviewed studies parsing these five stages of cross-cultural work. There is no quantified, objective data set; still, please feel free to say you’re in “Stage 3 – Wing 4.” That would make me happy. And remember, if you say anything […]

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Barnga: A Card Game for Culture-Stress Show and Tell

by Craig Thompson January 30, 2019

Have you ever wanted to show, not just tell, people what culture stress is like? Have you ever wanted them to be able to experience cross-cultural confusion without having to travel overseas? Have you ever heard about Barnga? Barnga is a simulation game created by Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan in 1980, while working for USAID in Gbarnga, Liberia. During […]

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“John took Carl and I to the camel races before church on Friday” and other reasons I love my life overseas

by Jerry Jones January 23, 2019

Sometimes I get bored with my life overseas. I still enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, it just loses the sizzle every now and then. The exotic allure of the “overseas” part gets pushed out by the humdrum realities of the just plain “life” part. And then I hear myself talk and I’m like, “Who […]

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When Life Gives You a Chicken

by Editor January 21, 2019

by Emily Raan The day started out so normal. The kids even slept in! Leftover-rice porridge for breakfast and then off to town for some quick shopping. “Quick shopping” quickly turned into two hours, while we made connections with our friends around town. One man, in particular, stood out. He somehow had lost, or possibly […]

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Help build your own stool at the watering hole

by Amy Young January 18, 2019

When I was in high school Cheers was a popular television show. If you’re not familiar with Cheers, it was a comedy set in a local bar where the regulars shared their lives, grew together over time, and in many ways were family to each other. But what solidified it was the theme song. Read through […]

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Welcoming Broken Missionaries Back

by Editor January 16, 2019

John Chau’s death in November raised a complicated and important conversation about the role of Christian evangelism. I’m going to let that debate rage on Twitter and the New York Times and the Failed Missionary podcast. I want to launch a different conversation. I believe Chau’s dream, work, and death forces the church to consider […]

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Into the Battle

by Anisha Hopkinson January 14, 2019

I recently watched a video of a talk we gave on our last furlough. For an entire hour we shared with our home church all the glorious things we witnessed during our first term overseas. Bible translation projects were completed. For the first time in history believers had written songs to their Creator in their […]

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Clenched Fists and Heart’s Desires

by Marilyn January 9, 2019

It’s a New Year here at A Life Overseas and as I type I’m looking out at the barely visible mountains that surround our home here in Northern Iraq. On clear days, you can see the snow-covered mountains in Iran and they are beautiful. Today as I look, the entire area is covered in milky […]

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