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Missionaries and health problems

In an audio commentary entitled "A Missionary's Expectation," when Elisabeth Elliot is asked to advise potential missionaries, one of her main pieces of advice is, "don't worry about your health." This is, of course, biblically-based (Mt. 6:25). The whole broadcast is actually quite insightful.

However, I believe that thinking about something is not the same as worrying about it. Of course you are going to plan and problem-solve, even while you know that God is in control.

Elisabeth Elliot's advice is to wash your hands, and that's what I would do, too. Wash your hands, boil your water, and trust in the Lord. You are going to face physical discomfort living in a new country. But since many health problems are caused by stress, stressing about the stress is only going to make matters worse. Once I realized that a lot of problems like stomachaches were caused by stress, it made me want to take better care of my spiritual and emotional health. I have a cluster of white hairs from my first year in Russia, but haven't gotten any new ones since then. :)

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My Approach

Stress and other factors do lead to certain illnesses, and often you just can't ignore them. My general rule for medication is to look for solutions that can be applied both in Russia and the U.S., the two places where I live about 95% of the time (with the rest being side trips to Finland, etc.). This means that I look for remedies that I can buy and have the time for, in various modes of living.

When I'm on leave in the States, I do try to take the opportunity to get treatment and improve my health. This is logical as there are health services available and doctors who know me. But what I try to avoid is building up a dependency on products that are not available overseas (I do the same thing with cooking, by the way. Aside from the occasional spice packet or kitchen utensil, I normally stick to what is available locally).

Of course in the beginning I used to hoard things like cough syrup and contact lens solution, simply because it was easier to bring it over than find a local remedy. I don't see it as a bad thing necessarily. It was just a part of gradually getting acclimated.

Home Remedies

I'm the kind of person who likes to research remedies and try new things. Sometimes they are just fads or folk remedies with no scientific basis, but I often decide they are worth a try, especially if it's something natural that can't hurt my body.

I especially like trying out home remedies. I'm fairly skeptical about using things like garlic when you have a cold. I haven't had results from anything like that. But there are a lot of ways to make use of ordinary products such as baking soda, salt, vinegar, and honey. I would much rather do some gargling than take antibiotics unnecessarily.

As far as supplements go, a lot of the ones described in health articles are rather exotic-sounding and not something I've run across in St. Petersburg. When I'm in the States, I'm not sure that I need to take a a lot of nutritional supplements since I have an adequate diet. I sometimes take a multi-vitamin while in Russia.

My Latest Project

Lately I have been experimenting with probiotics for digestive health. They're known as "good bacteria," and thought to be useful in a variety of ways. In Russia, they can be found in kefir and other milk products containing live cultures. I'm taking pills right now because they are so convenient: no refrigeration, so they're portable; and you can take it at any time of day, before or after a meal. Of course I would have to either stock up on the pills or go back to buying yogurt back in St. Petersburg. Maybe this violates my no-dependency rule, but it is just an experiment right now. It is still a better option that getting stuck with some fancy medication with yucky side-effects.

I haven't seen huge changes in my digestive health, but I have noticed that I don't get canker sores anymore. I used to get them regularly for as long as I could remember. It made it difficult to eat, brush my teeth, and even talk at times! So that is one small victory, at least.


  1. You know, I've given it a lot of thought since I lived in Korea. For me, it was laryngitis - a problem I'd faced off and on since high school. I would say, however, that the stress of living in Korea definitely compounded my health challenges. I lost my voice for 2-3 months at a time TWICE in Korea. For an English teacher, that's a real problem.

    And now that I've lived back in the States... the stress hasn't really lightened much (just different factors), but I haven't lost my voice.... So I confess that it does make me wonder about the "unavoidable" stresses that come with living overseas.

  2. FYI--- L-lysine is excellent for canker can find it at Wal-Mart, do you want me to bring you some? I can't remember if you are in the states now or not.

  3. Ruth, I have had weird throat things in Russia too, although I thought it might be partly due to air pollution. Not that it would have been a problem in VA. In your case there was really no point in trying to "tough it out." When you can't do your job, you have to leave, or find something else to do. I definitely feel like I have physical limitations too, that affect my decisions.

    Karen, I'm still in the U.S.! So I can check out the l-lysine myself, thanks!


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