Caring for Families Overseas--Double Time
The days are full for Hans Ritschard (MA '92, PhD '94), who devotes himself to two jobs--or, as he puts it, "one full-time job and one full-time interest." For his full-time job, he is a clinical psychologist for the United States Air Force. As a full-time interest, he works to provide for the mental health needs of families on the mission field. Job and side passion overlap significantly, each one enabling him to better carry out the other.
Ritschard already felt called to a ministry of psychological care for missionaries--called "member care" by mission agencies--when he applied to Fuller in 1987. He found several like-minded students in Fuller's School of Psychology as well as at Rosemead, and together they began a student-faculty group called Enabling the Missionary, which sponsored two major conferences in Pasadena on the topic. "These were important, formative times for me personally as well as for member care globally," Ritschard says. "This is where the foundation for my work was laid."
After graduating from Fuller, Ritschard moved first to Germany for three years, where he was directly available to the missionary community. Most recently he spent five years in England, where he ran a clinic for children with disabilities at RAF Lakenheath, an Air Force base near Cambridge. All the while, he maintained his passion for missionary member care. He wrote a book chapter on the topic, presented papers at conferences throughout Europe, and provided individual counseling to missionary families whenever possible.
Living outside of the U.S. with his wife and five children, Ritschard knew firsthand about the special challenges involved. "Member care is vital to keeping families who are living overseas healthy," he says. "When difficulties arise, they need to have ways to access help. It's very expensive, both financially and emotionally, for missionary families to be brought home early--and member care can help prevent that."
With his special interest in the missionary community, why did Ritschard decide to work for the Air Force? Because he finds a much-needed ministry there as well: caring for the mental health needs of the Air Force base population overseas. And his Air Force job enables him to keep his feet planted in both the military and mission fields. "The Air Force has become a tent-making agency for our family," he says. It provided an avenue for Ritschard to become licensed and to relocate overseas, and a structure that both supports and encourages his dual interests.
In addition, Ritschard notes that the needs for missionary care are now being met much better than before. "The field has exploded globally over the last 15 years," he says, with resources and care centers in places that have historically been isolated. Ritschard sees himself ministering more strategically via his Air Force work, a job that perhaps not as many are able to do. "At first I thought I would fulfill my four-year commitment to the Air Force and then move on," he says. Then he realized he was right where God could use him best.
Currently Ritschard is finishing up a year of leadership school at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and preparing for his next assignment in Japan. On the missionary care side, he is working on a major project: developing an internet-based survey that mission agencies can use to assess the stress and cross-cultural adjustment levels of their missionaries--to better target those who need intervention.
"It’s extremely important for people who make the decision to go overseas to know they can find resources and help when they need it," Ritschard says. Whether he is reaching out to families on an Air Force base or on the mission field, Ritschard is helping meet that important need.