By Laura McKillip Wood
When Troy and Roma Jean Backhuus started taking short-term mission trips in 1996, they had no idea they were beginning a ministry that would become a huge part of their lives. On that trip and subsequent ones, they witnessed how hard it can be for cross-cultural ministers to get the care they need, including mental health care.
Studies indicate the majority of missionaries experience a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, or burnout during their time of service. These servants may not have access to counseling, psychiatric services, or even friends to support them in their search for mental health care. Additionally, they often feel responsible for ministering to others and are disinclined to ask for help for themselves.
“When a missionary on the field faces depression or other mental health struggles, it doesn’t mean they are unfit for ministry,” Galina Hitching wrote at OMF International’s website (omf.org). “It does mean we need to cover them in prayer, support them, and at times give them the space from their duties as a missionary.
“Rather than being surprised when a missionary faces mental health challenges,” Hitching continued, “we should expect they will experience some level of struggle in this area and be prepared to support them when they do.”
The Backhuuses are passionate about helping people who are ministering cross-culturally.
“By coming alongside them, we can help them and guide them through the current life circumstance with the hopes of keeping them on the field, if that’s what they want,” Troy explains.
The couple sees intercultural ministry as vital to the spread of the gospel and to the kingdom of God, and this fuels their passion to support missionaries. They see providing mental health services as their contribution to the spread of the gospel worldwide.
Troy is a professor of counseling and has been a licensed professional counselor since 2002. He and Roma Jean took a group of college students on a short trip to Central America that year and saw the needs of the missionaries who hosted them.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but we were starting to do missionary care then,” he remembers. Their efforts intensified in 2007, and in 2020 they joined One Mission Society (OMS), where Troy serves as the director of missionary care and Roma Jean is a missionary care specialist. They see themselves as “missionaries to the missionary.”
“We care for them and their needs,” Troy explains.
The couple does much of their work virtually, since they are based in Nebraska, but they also enjoy visiting the missionaries they care for in their adopted countries and seeing them in person when they visit America. The Backhuuses’ work includes leading workshops, retreats, and counseling sessions, coaching, mentoring, and generally supporting the missionaries with whom they work. Right now, they work at it part-time, but it still occupies a lot of their time every week.
The Backhuuses feel blessed when they minister to others. They enjoy the time they spend with the people they work with, whether that occurs at home or abroad. They enjoy learning about other people’s lives and ministries, and they love to hear how their work has helped others.
The work includes some unique challenges, such as scheduling meetings.
“We deal with so many time zones around the world, it can be frustrating to get the meetings scheduled,” Troy says. They also long to be in the field with the people they work with when crises happen, but that is not always possible. “We pray for an opportunity to make a visit.”
One impactful experience occurred when they were called to the field to work with a family who had been in a serious car accident. The family was being treated at a missionary-run hospital, but there was little to no professional mental health support. The accident happened six days before Christmas, which added to the stress. The Backhuuses helped the family navigate a difficult challenge. It was a situation in which they truly felt God working through them.
The Backhuuses are currently helping longtime missionaries in war-torn Ukraine. The ambassadors for Christ there are bearing a huge burden as they minister to people they love amid a painful and dangerous situation. The need for the gospel in Ukraine is great, but so is the need to support Ukrainian missionaries. “We are honored to support them as they continue their work,” Troy says.
The Backhuuses hope to continue ministering to people living and working cross-culturally for many more years. Their children are grown, and the couple is hoping to continue expanding their work as God sees fit.
“We will see how the Lord provides, and with good health and support we should be able to continue this ministry,” Troy says. The need is great, and this couple is willing!
To learn more about the work of Troy and Roma Jean Backhuus, visit their website at https://onemissionsociety.org/missionaries/detail/Backhuus.