A Missionary Family’s Grief


GCI would like to thank Dana McCutchen for contributing the following post. Dana and her husband, Mark, have served as missionaries for the past 28 years. Three of those years were spent in New Zealand, and 25 of those years in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They have two adult children.



We were serving in São Paulo, Brazil when my husband and I noticed a change in our 15-year-old daughter’s behavior. We saw things like thumb sucking, rocking back and forth, and secluding herself from all her friends. This was not our Shaunna! Every attempt to find a reason for her unusual behavior proved futile. She had been bullied in school, so I had a suspicion maybe some boys in her class were at it again, teasing her about her weight. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed the real reason for her withdrawal from society.

In 1997, the Lord moved us back to the states to seek help for our son’s medical condition – Tourette Syndrome. Looking back, I find it ironic how God used our son’s disorder to lead us back to the states, to a place where our daughter felt safe enough to reveal her suffering – and a secret that would rock our world and change our course of ministry.

Back in our hometown of Arlington, Texas, Shaunna finally disclosed she had been raped in Brazil by a drunkard, two years prior in 1995. Wow! We were stunned and heartbroken. Who does a missionary turn to in such a crisis? What do we know about rape crisis centers? Our daughter had tried to commit suicide three times. I realized later (much later, in fact) that these attempts to end her life were cries for help. I also struggled with confusing feelings of my own. How would Shaunna’s attempts to cope with her pain reflect on us as parents? I realize I may sound self-absorbed and uncaring, but I worried we would be shamed as a family. In addition, I knew there were some pastors who would drop their mission support due to problems within a family unit. I felt gripped by fear of rejection and abandonment.

Far too often, the stigma associated with suicide prevents people from reaching out and seeking help. Afraid of what will happen if they share their stories, many suffer in silence. In a similar way, friends are often confused about how to help and they, too, remain silent. In addition, many people feel awkward or fearful about visiting someone in a lock down unit of a hospital, so they avoid the struggling family, which only exacerbates feelings of isolation.

We were fortunate to have a strong family unit who stood by us. My mom was a great source of comfort! She and our former mission director’s wife called me daily to see how I was holding up.

Still, we felt alone.

We needed guidance and counsel from our local church. We needed strong, caring men to understand Mark’s heartbreak over his daughter’s suffering … to come alongside and support him. No one came to grieve with him.

Rape. Suicide attempts. These are tragedies that lie beyond the understanding and/or experience of most people. Too often, pastors and pastoral staff feel afraid and powerless to comfort someone in a crisis because they don’t know what to say.

Reader, if you know someone who is grieving, just show up! Hold them. Cry with them. No words required! I wanted the whole world to stop and grieve with me.

Or perhaps, dear friend, you are the one who is grieving today. Do you feel alone? Believe me when I say, “You are not alone.” God understands your hurt and grieves with you! Read his word and find comfort. Two scriptures that brought me through my grieving process:

  • Isaiah 41:10 – “… fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • Isaiah 43:2-3 – “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Allow me to encourage you to seek helpful ways to cope with your grief. I found a quiet place to listen to relaxing music. I confided in my dear friend, someone with whom I could be real about all the anger I had suppressed against God. I found it helpful to keep a journal of my thoughts, the good and the bad. Writing my thoughts helped me to process my feelings and the pain began to subside a little at a time.

Let these words give you strength. You are not alone! Others have walked a similar path. Find a safe and trustworthy person with whom you can share your struggles. Isolation is not our friend.

We all endure times of weeping. But joy does come! Today, our daughter is happily married with three fur babies! Praise the Lord for His goodness and healing grace!




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