Questions for Jesus about Re-entry

by Anna Brotherson

Jesus,

Did you ever wake up in the morning and forget, for a second, where you were?

Did you ever get a thrill down the back of your spine when you realised you’d actually done it — actually come to earth and lived among us?

Does it all feel like a dream to you now?

Do you ever imagine the life you didn’t choose — the one where you didn’t come to us?

And if you do imagine it, how do you feel? Are you glad you chose Earth?

And now, Lord — do you miss it?

Do you remember the first time you ate warm bread dipped in olive oil?

Do you miss the feeling of sand between your toes?
(Have you made plans for sand in the place you’re preparing?)

Do hot tears run down your cheeks when you remember the ones you loved, who are no longer with you?

Is there anything there that reminds you of here?

Does anyone there talk about here?

Is there anyone there who has felt anything like what you have, who has experienced here like you have?

Does anyone there feel like you feel when the topic of first-century Judea comes up?

Did you know it would feel like this, after all had been done?

Do you miss it?

Despite the pain, despite the cost and the loss, the dirt and the sin — do you miss it in any way?

Do you have a few bits & pieces up there to remind you of it?

Do you wish you had more?

Or, are you able to just look ahead — look to the day when all the best of it is back — the bread, the sand, the warm hand of a friend on your shoulder, the affectionate hospitality of women, the laughter of children, the breeze, the birds, the splash of water on your face?

Are you busy rebuilding all that now? Does it take your mind off the loss?
(Is that what I’m supposed to do now?)

Were you, like me, relieved and yet desperately sad to leave, that day when you went “home”?

Does home feel like home to you now?
(It doesn’t, for me.)

Now that you’ve been here with us, eaten with us, touched us, loved us — can you bear the wait until we’re together again?
(I’m not sure I can.)

Would you do it all again?
(I would, in an instant.)

Was it worth it?

~~~~~~~~~~

Originally from Tasmania, Australia, Anna spent nine years living and working in a big city in Southeast Asia, along with her husband Derek and their three children. In early 2020 they moved to Sydney, Australia, where Anna spends her days taking care of her family, teaching Biblical Greek at Sydney Missionary & Bible College, and helping women as a childbirth doula. Anna is the author of Lewis’s Interesting Life, a picture book for TCKs.

How Do Financial Factors Impact Missionary Attrition?

by Andrea Sears

Life on the mission field includes unique financial stressors. Many cross-cultural workers raise their own salary and expenses. Inviting others to join in the work of the Great Commission through financial contributions is a blessing, and helps to grow us in humility and trust in God’s provision. But it can also be uncomfortable and stressful when we don’t know when or if our next paycheck will arrive.

In addition to the pressures of fundraising, life overseas is subject to other financial wild cards such as fluctuating exchange rates, inflation, immigration fees, unexpected expenses, and even increased risk of financial loss due to robberies. Workers may find that what they raised is suddenly not sufficient for a variety of unpredictable reasons.

No one becomes a missionary thinking that they will get materially rich. In fact, many of us leave more lucrative positions in our home country to become missionaries despite the cut in pay. The missionary life is definitely not about making money, nor should it be.

But even with the right motivations for mission work, ongoing stress about finances can take its toll. In our survey, we measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be financial factors:

  • I felt uncomfortable raising money.
  • My financial support was low.
  • I struggled to adjust to my missions salary.
  • I struggled with financial discipline and budgeting.
  • The cost of living (or inflation) in my host country was higher than expected.
  • I was unable to pay immigration fees and costs for residency in my host country.
  • Local currency exchange rates made my support level insufficient.
  • I was unable to meet debt obligations.
  • I was unable to save money.
  • I was unable to pay for children’s schooling.
  • I was unable to plan for retirement.

Quantitative Results

The following table summarizes the results for each question by providing:

  1. The percentage of respondents who said that they experienced this factor on the mission field,
  2. The percentage of respondents who experienced the factor that said that this factor did (to some degree) affect their return decision, be it a slight, moderate, or strong effect, and
  3. The “strength index” of each factor, weighted for the size of the effect on their return decision.

Discussion of Quantitative Results

The majority of returning missionaries felt some degree of discomfort with raising money (67%) and experienced low financial support (53%). Both affected their return decision to some degree at least half of the time. The strength factors (0.93 and 0.95, respectively) were the largest for this section, but they were moderate when compared to other factors in the survey.

The next tier of financial concerns included cost-of-living or inflation surprises (strength factor 0.73) and being unable to save money (0.75) or plan for retirement (0.80). While many missionaries are able to raise support for their normal monthly expenses, it is less common to raise enough for future financial planning through savings and investment. While this may not be a problem for short-term assignments, long-term missionaries may find themselves financially vulnerable later in life because they have sacrificed their highest earning years in the work force to missions.

38% of missionaries struggled to adjust to their missions salary, but it affected the return decision of only 1/3 of those and not to a large degree (0.53). It seems that most missionaries are prepared to buckle down and manage their budget very carefully. As a result, the remaining items surveyed were either experienced by few or were of low concern to those experiencing them.

Funding Status at Departure to Mission Field

In addition to the quantitative scaled data, we asked each participant if they went to the mission field fully funded. If they did not, we asked them to supply a percent of support raised relative to their goal.

75% of participants in this study went fully funded to the field. The remaining 25% went with varying degrees of funds raised relative to their goal, as indicated in the chart above. Individuals who went to the field before reaching full funding went at an average of 63% of their goal and a median of 70%.

When we divide the sample into subgroups of fully-funded and not-fully-funded, we see that the not-fully-funded experienced significantly higher levels of financial distress on all factors. First, we can see that the percent that experienced each stressor was higher for all measured statements.

Next, we can see that in nearly all cases, the percent of not-fully-funded respondents who felt that the factor affected their return decision was also higher.

Finally, when comparing strength factors, we can see that nearly all of the financial factors were more heavily weighted in the return decision for the not-fully-funded group.

This analysis shows that there is a demonstrable correlation between going to the field without full funding and experiencing higher levels of financial distress.

Matthew 6:19-20 exhorts us to pursue that which is eternal, rather than that which is temporal. But the Bible also teaches us to plan ahead (Proverbs 13:16), save diligently (Proverbs 21:20, I Corinthians 16:2), and be prepared for emergencies (Genesis 41:34-36, Ecclesiastes 11:2). Missionaries are not exempt from these teachings – all Christians are responsible to be wise administrators in caring for our families and others.

Given that so many missionaries experience discomfort with raising money, we have some options before us to help manage the financial stress that comes with the missionary life:

  • comprehensive training and preparation on the theology of fundraising
  • consulting on strategy and event planning
  • accountability for meeting planned goals
  • investigation of other models for missionary support (for example, tentmaking, business as mission, or church/denomination salaries for missionaries)
  • mission policy balancing “stepping out in faith” with required thresholds for funding before departure
  • provision of “safety nets” for temporary low support while on the field
  • flexibility in furlough policy that allows balancing of family and fundraising needs
  • insurance coverage that helps missionaries avoid high unexpected medical or mental health care costs
  • required savings and retirement contributions

Does your agency offer these types of support? Are there other innovative ways of helping missionaries with finances that you have seen?

There is sometimes a sense in missions that “people are donating money for the direct impact that I will have on the mission field, not for me to have insurance or savings or be able to plan for my future.” We rightly feel a tremendous burden to be good stewards of the money that we have raised. But that does not mean we must neglect our own needs.

Expecting missionaries to be paupers can actually cause them to stumble and become proud and competitive about how frugal and unworldly they are. This sin of pride in frugality is no less sinful than the blatant idolatry of riches.

Financial safeguards are an important part of giving the missionary a sense of some minimum level of security at a vulnerable time when most of the security they have known is stripped away. The missionary should not put their faith in that security instead of in God, but this does not mean that they should not have it at all.

Providing for missionaries’ financial needs within reason will free them to be the healthy workers that we need to keep on the mission field. Surely we can do this in balance, providing for the emotional and physical well-being of our workers while still being careful stewards of God’s resources (which include not just the money, but the missionaries themselves). It is well worth the investment of donors’ money and should be seen as a necessary part of ensuring a missionary’s health and resilience, thereby extending their longevity.

~~~~~~~~~~

Andrea Sears and her husband, Seth, spent 13 years working in the largest immigrant squatter settlement in Central America (in Costa Rica) and founded the Christian community development ministry giveDIGNITY. She holds a master’s degree in intercultural studies from Johnson University. She currently lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, directs the ministry’s local team from afar, and enjoys living near family and being a new grandmother.

6 Ways Language Learning Communicates the Gospel

by Mary Lynn Kindberg

A popular missionary mentality suggests that missionaries should learn a language in order to sometime later have a ministry. The language learning period can then be viewed as nothing but a bothersome speed bump impeding the road to a fruitful ministry.

Well-known missionary anthropologist Charles Kraft offers a different perspective:

“If we do no more than engage in the process of language learning, we will have communicated more of the essentials of the gospel than if we devote ourselves to any other task.”1

I was startled by these words, and in particular these three phrases grabbed my attention: do no more, more of, and any other.

Notice that Kraft is not saying what we would expect him to say, to just learn the language well enough to be able to communicate the gospel so you can then get on with your real ministry calling. Instead, he’s bolding and underlining the language learning process itself.

So let’s dive into how that process can communicate the gospel.

1. By prioritizing relationships during language learning, you communicate the gospel.

During the language learning phase it’s way too easy (at least for some of us) to sit at our desk and study. Homework calls, the intricacies of grammar engulf us, flashcards monopolize us. But through seeking relationships with real live people, we honor them with the simple gift of presence.

Yes, with limited language under your belt it’s hard sometimes to just hang out. I started language school in Costa Rica with just a smattering of Spanish.

With fear and trembling I joined a ladies’ ceramics class that was offered by the church we attended. I felt like one of the blobs of clay since I couldn’t contribute to the conversation or join in their small talk.

But at one point our host mother, who was also in the class, told me how the ladies were unbelievably amazed that a gringa would actually come to their class. I hang onto that tacky flower thing I made in order to remind myself to intentionally reach out despite our inadequacy.

Maybe you’re hesitant to reach out because you’ll be moving to a different location for your ministry. You may have a mentality that says: “Why bother making friends? I won’t ever see these people again.”

But Amy didn’t think so.

I coached Amy during her language school. After she moved to a different island to begin her ministry assignment, I interviewed her on my language learning podcast. I asked her this question: “During language school were you tempted to have a transient mindset and just not invest in relationships?”

She answered: “Yes, I was tempted since I knew that it was going to be temporary. But even if I did want to kind of check out, the Father definitely directed me to certain relationships that I was then able to invest in. I’m really, really glad I did since I saw how life-giving and sustaining they were. Having that support has been huge–to know people that truly care about me and want to help.”

Even though she couldn’t keep up with everybody after moving, Amy found herself needing to rely on some of those long-distance friendships for help and support while she navigated her new surroundings.

“They still care about me, and I still care about them. It’s definitely mutual. They know me, and I know them. We continue to learn from each other. I think it’s one of the most beautiful things about integrating into a different culture.”

2. By practicing active ‘noticing’ in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

When you peck your way out of your selfish shell of me-myself-and-I, you begin to notice who and what is around you. Not only do you look intently through your windshield, but you also constantly check your rearview and side view mirrors. Do you see the guy on the corner selling roses? How about the well-dressed couple in their nice car? The older gentlemen in the street procession? An over-eager child? Bus sleepers, slumped teenagers, vigilant police, over-zealous venders?

In a blog post Hannah Mae Foust calls Jesus ‘The Ultimate Noticer.’ Don’t you love that title?

Make a list of the people Jesus noticed. Think about how he changed the stories of sick and sinner, proud and priest, friend and enemy, old and young, hidden and public.

Foust says Jesus didn’t merely notice. “Noticers respond to what they see, with compassion and care, by doing whatever it takes to help meet needs and create more beauty, joy, and peace in the world. [And by doing so] noticers inspire.”

3. By having a learner posture in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

A humble learner surrenders schooling, experience, and status, leaving their know-it-all superiority at the altar. I had to shred my graduate degree in linguistics to learn from the man hawking tamales how to simply count out coins. And then there was the ouch of not-so-gentle correction when I horribly mispronounced a word or botched a simple conjugation.

Yep, learning instead of knowing can be a hard pill to swallow, but in the end it can prove effective in breaking down the pride that masks the gospel message.

4. By slowing down and being patient in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

Your language assistant doesn’t get your instructions. The language school dismisses classes unexpectedly. Again. You still can’t trill your r’s or hear tone differences. Aargh.

Western notions of efficiency can hamstring language learning. But frustration and finger-drumming impatience feed on that kind of fast-tracking mindset. You buy into the billboard message of an accident law firm that promises ‘as much as possible and as fast as possible.’ You see uncooperative people and unforeseen circumstances as obstacles impeding your success. You start to think the language is stupid and so are some of its speakers, as well.

All of this bleeds onto the people around you and communicates the arrogance that my time and my goals are what is most important. Although he was certainly determined and had the end goal clearly in sight, Jesus was great at flexing, at taking deep breaths.

I recently saw a little plaque that says: “Sometimes your journey will take you off your path. It’s all part of the same trip. Life is full of exquisite diversions.”

Do you agree?

And let me say that if you’re looking for short cuts, alas, there are no short cuts in language learning. Short cuts actually lead to dead ends like ‘I can rely on interpreters if I need to’ or ‘they’ll understand I’m a foreigner so a few mistakes won’t matter’ or ‘my vocab needs improving but I can get by.’

Progress in language learning can definitely be slow, but I’ve come to believe that slow and steady with patience will certainly win the race.

5. By showing deference and respect in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

Okay, time for true confessions here.

In language school, I had a super bad attitude about my grammar teacher in particular. What made it worse was that everybody else loved the man. They declared that Don Marcos (name changed) was hands-down their favorite teacher.

I mean, really? The lessons were super tedious. He would painstakingly write out on the blackboard these horribly long verb conjugations that were already in the book.

But this was the all-time worst: after an exam, he would weave up and down the rows of desks and assign all twenty-five of us, one by one, a test question to answer aloud.

So boring and so bad, this ridiculous style of teaching was such a cheesy way to get grading done, in my not-so-humble opinion.

And I’m red-faced embarrassed to admit that I would plop my head down on the desk and check out until my turn came around. This very childish response was undoubtedly a blatant show of disrespect not only for him but for the language school itself.

At the end of the semester, he told me to my face that I had the worst attitude of any global worker he had ever taught. And I deserved it. Please, God, forgive me.

Even when facing what we would label as incompetency, prideful attitudes during language learning proclaim a loud-and-clear negative message that can easily carry over into your ministry assignment.

Another powerful way to show deference is by choosing someone who’s been marginalized by social status, lack of education, disability, or age as your friend or even language helper. You, with the power of a foreigner, acknowledge those without power and so increase their sense of self-respect and self-worth. Awesome.

6. And finally, by seeking to understand the culture instead of being yourself understood, you communicate the gospel.

Let’s go back to Amy for a good example. Now in her ministry assignment in a new location, she suddenly faced a conflict with a national co-worker. I paraphrase here what she told me:

“When she gave me the silent treatment for going on two weeks, I knew I had offended her but was clueless as to when and why.

“We finally had a chance to talk, and I assumed/hoped that she would try to understand my viewpoint just like I would try to understand hers.

“Not so.

“Her solution was not to try to get to the bottom of things and see where communication had gone awry, but instead she believed that we should just go on as normal as if nothing had happened.

“This was hard.

“I had to accept that this was the modus operandi for handling conflict in her culture even though it felt to me like we were just sweeping everything under the rug.

“Eventually I came to realize that this was her way of showing respect for our relationship.”

If we practice language learning in these ways, I believe we will become the salt and light of the gospel.  After all, isn’t the real challenge for all of us to follow Christ’s example in Philippians 2?

 

1As quoted by E. Thomas Brewster and Elizabeth S. Brewster in International Bulletin of Mission Research

~~~~~~~

After 20+ years of living in Latin America and working in three indigenous languages plus Spanish with SIL International, Mary Lynn Kindberg is currently a language acquisition consultant, instructor, and coach. She is also the host of the LanguageOnPurpose podcast. Her two adult children are gratefully bilingual. Contact Mary Lynn at kindbergmarylynn@gmail.com.

When the Spirit Doesn’t Move

by Jeremy Taliaferro

In the book of Numbers, we learn about the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud that accompanied the Israelites. It was an outward expression of the presence and Spirit of God. The pillar protected them (from the pharaoh’s army) and guided them, much like the Holy Spirit does for us in the New Covenant.

When the pillar stopped, the Israelites would set up camp. They would stay there until God’s Spirit (shown through the pillar) would again begin to move.

When it moved, the priests blew trumpets, and the people would pack their belongings and follow God. They would sometimes stay in one place for a day, a week, or even longer. But the key takeaway here is that they moved when God said. And God had a plan. He was in control. They were supposed to trust and follow Him and Him alone.

Fast forward to today. I have always struggled with getting ahead of God and His plans for me. Perhaps it is because of pride, or perhaps I lack the patience to wait. Whatever the reason, I know I’m regularly tempted to tread a dangerous path apart from the Lord. That is why the story from Numbers hits home for me.

Imagine if a couple of “brave” Israelites decided to pre-empt God’s movement. They thought they knew where God was taking them next, so they decided to get a head start and wait for God when He arrived with the rest of the Israelites.

That doesn’t seem like a good plan, but that is what I often do. So in this season of my life, I am trying to make some changes. I’m asking God to give me the strength to be where I’m supposed to be. I’m learning to wait on the Lord.

Setting out on my own will only result in me being lost and confused in the wilderness. The Father is always available to rescue me and bring me back into the fold, but I’d like to avoid the trouble this time. I am going to try patience.

While the Israelites were in the camp, they weren’t just sitting around waiting. They were worshiping and making sacrifices. Their focus was on the goodness of God, or at least it should have been. They, like me, often fell short of this.

So I’m going to focus on worship and sacrifice. I’m looking deep into my heart for anything that displeases Him. I want to surrender my life to the Lord and hold nothing back in reserve. That way, when the time comes to move into the next season, my heart will be right, and I will walk in the right direction.

I’m in a weird stage of life right now. For the last 21 years on the mission field, I always had a specific people group to reach. The work was difficult, but the task was clear. The future is less clear now. So as I pray for guidance and wisdom, I’m also making some commitments.

I will not move from the camp until the Spirit says it is time to go.
I will not anticipate God’s next move or get ahead of Him.
I will not commit myself to a direction or plan for our family until the pillar of cloud moves and the trumpets blast.
I will worship and make sacrifices, no matter how anxious I get or how much I feel the world is closing in on me.
I will trust the Lord.

If you find yourself in a difficult season or if you’re struggling with life-altering decisions, I hope you will join me in these commitments.

Maybe when the Spirit isn’t moving, it’s because he wants us to worship and trust before we enter our next season of activity.

~~~~~~

Jeremy has 20+ years of cross-cultural experience. From church planting with remote tribes in the Amazon and Andes to serving war-torn lands and refugee populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, Jeremy has followed God’s calling to make disciples and proclaim the hope of the Gospel to those who desperately need hope. The numerous missionaries trained by Jeremy are currently serving all around the globe. You can find him online at jtaliaferro.com.

When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect — Overcoming Perfectionism in Language Learning

by Mary Lynn Kindberg

So I decided to memorize this little joke my language helper had told me. It wasn’t too long and had a lot of repetition, so I figured it was in my wheelhouse as a beginner learning Spanish in Costa Rica. I thought it was a great idea to have something up my sleeve to say at those interminable family-and-friends’ fiestas when my conversations pretty much fizzled soon after that first ‘hola.

Armed with both text and recording from my language helper, I was on it, doggedly determined to flawlessly recite the funny tale of the dim-witted Pedro who unknowingly pronounced silent p’s. So both silently and aloud I practiced and practiced (and practiced!) with build-up drills and backwards drills, honing pronunciation and intonation—and, well, yes, driving my husband to distraction.

Show time was so-and-so’s birthday party coming up in two weeks. I dreaded what was likely to last for hours.

I must have rehearsed that dang joke at least 100 times, but still I was scared. Spitless. Now at the party I kept going over and over it in my head, nervous and afraid to launch the opening line, afraid to screw up, afraid to get laughed at. I would be the joke, not Pedro.

But thanks be to God, I did manage to spit it out and even tell it to multiple people at the party. With mistakes? Of course. Mixed reactions? For sure. But I felt proud, and the joke served me well on many, many occasions.

Did my sweaty fear of making a mistake mean I was a perfectionist?

Not necessarily. Fear in language learning is a given. If we’re honest, none of us really likes to make mistakes, period, not just in language learning. And yes, perfectionism certainly does have to do with how high you set your standard of performance. But even more importantly, perfectionism is how you react to mistakes.

My new son-in-law loves (and I do mean loves) the English professional football (i.e. soccer) club Manchester City. For good bonding and a mother-in-law gold star, I, your resident non-sports lover, have started watching City games and actually enjoying them.

This year the club contracted a hot-shot striker who just hit a Premier League record. In one game, however, he missed several goal attempts and just couldn’t score. But to my surprise he seemed totally nonplussed out there on the pitch! In post-game chit chat with Stephen I commented on the player’s nonchalance. His reply? “Hey, what distinguishes a good striker is his ability to shrug off an error.” Hmm.

In contrast to Mr. Striker’s response, negative post-mistake reactions might well be telltale signs of perfectionism.

After landing in Chile for our second assignment in Latin America, I needed to adjust my pronunciation to that dialectal pattern infamously called ‘eating your s’s.’ Soon after arriving I was out riding in a car with both American and Chilean colleagues. Joining the conversation, I attempted to expertly eat, i.e drop, the –s before consonants and at the end of words.

But the more I tried, the more I became increasingly and visibly frustrated. Argh! Joan, my new co-worker, looked me squarely in the eye and said: “Good grief, Mary Lynn, you’ve only been here two whole days!”

That kind of post-production frustration over unrealistic performance standards could indicate perfectionism. That constant self-criticism can grind you down into depression, anxiety, and anger. Let’s be honest. Have you ever said aloud or to yourself ‘stupid language helper,’ ‘stupid shop owner,’ ‘stupid language,’ or even worse, ‘stupid me’?

Consider other possible post-mistake reactions:

  • procrastinating
  • avoiding people and events
  • difficulty completing tasks
  • giving up easily with a why-bother attitude
  • blaming others for your mistakes

You can see from this list that perfectionism certainly is the great enemy of progress. (That’s from Winston Churchill, by the way.)

But hear the good news! The Holy Spirit can certainly help us expose and confront our perfectionism. Like Isaiah, we may cry, ‘woe is me’ and then longingly hope for a burning coal to touch our language-learning lips.

But then what?

Bottom line, in the aftermath of our mistakes, in that mire of perfectionism, we beseech God for holy humility, to plant our feet on solid ground. It is indeed the most righteous response. In his book Humility, Andrew Murray says, “Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others, it is the root of all [virtues], the chief mark of righteousness.”

On my Language on Purpose podcast for global workers learning languages, I interview my friend Karen in Episode 23, Attitude Check. She has trained beaucoup ministry workers in language acquisition. I love how she wisely connects humility in language learning with a much-needed learner posture. Here’s what she says:

“A learner posture requires the humility of actively seeking and inviting correction instead of reacting negatively when you are corrected after a mistake. If you come across as wanting to learn and not as a know-it-all, you show respect and appreciation for the people as well as for their language. You must come in as a child—a child who is willing to explore, ready to discover and notice new things.”

So then, if you’ve identified some perfectionism in your own language learning (maybe with some embarrassment and chagrin), I beseech ye, brethren, to consider it a golden opportunity for God to grow you in incarnation-like humility. After all, humility is one of the fruits of the Spirit.

~~~~~~~~~~

Mary Lynn Kindberg has worked in three indigenous languages plus Spanish while living in Latin America for 20+ years. In addition to hosting the podcast Language On Purpose, she currently helps train and coach global workers in language acquisition. Her two adult children are gratefully bilingual.

People Over Policy: A Call For Better Member Care

by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

Member Care is being done well in many places. I know many wonderful member care providers in supportive agencies. I also know many wonderful independent member care providers.

But sometimes member care goes badly, and member care policies are partly to blame. Member care policies are an organization’s plan for the best way to handle a given situation. They’re created with good intentions, and they’re important to have in place. They don’t, however, always support a family’s unique needs. 

For example, a policy might say something like: “If Member Care personnel hear about these kinds of situations, they’ll report back to leadership.” But a worker may view the experience like this:

“I had no idea there was a list of things that wouldn’t be confidential.”
“I wouldn’t have told them if I knew it would get back to senior leadership.”
“I thought I was sharing with my friend. Not Member Care.”

A policy might say, “The Key Leader will determine if that person can receive adequate care on the field or if they need to return home for care,” while a worker might say:

“We’d had run-ins before. He didn’t like me and wasn’t interested in understanding.”
“They didn’t take the time to investigate in-country options.”
“They didn’t understand that our support system was in-country, not ‘back at home.’”

Another policy might say, “In the event that one spouse needs to return from the field, the whole family will accompany him.” Unfortunately, these can become a family’s experience:

“He was abusive and then my kids were ripped out of their home to live in limbo in their passport country.”
“The kids were finally doing well here.”
“They didn’t consider that we didn’t have the funds for life stateside.”

How Organizations Run

Missionary organizations were designed to complete a mission. They have a goal – church planting, bible translation, community development – and they bring together people, finances, and resources to make that happen.

In the past 40 years or so, some orgs realized that people kept quitting, which was counterproductive to their mission. The financial and time investment to get them trained and sent, the knowledge they acquired while there (which resides in the workers’ heads only), the networks they were building – all of that is lost.

So missionary organizations did some investigating and discovered that one of the reasons people were quitting was because they weren’t feeling adequately cared for. Thus Member Care was created.

Member Care is largely modeled after Human Resources. We had to start from somewhere, so we started from the corporate world and set out to improve the system. Unfortunately, HR had made the mistake of treating humans like a high-maintenance commodity that the company needs to keep in stock, which doesn’t necessarily translate well to missions.

So while missionary organizations aspired to care for people holistically, they often kept HR’s reporting structure. When member care is done this way, it tends to prioritize the needs of the mission over the needs of the individual.

This means that member care isn’t just checking into your work performance and your workplace conflicts; it’s also checking into your home life, your personal life, and your spiritual life. And sometimes information that seems like it could be a threat to the mission of the organization gets whisked back to senior leadership, which can have devastating effects downstream. 

Originally mission organizations filled member care roles with people they already had on staff. This made sense; member care was a new sector, and sending agencies simply had to find people who could take on more responsibilities. 

So in the beginning Member Care positions sometimes got filled by people who had a heart to care for others but who didn’t always receive adequate training. They wanted to help but may not have known how to be emotionally safe for others. They wanted everyone to thrive but sometimes seemed judgmental when someone wasn’t thriving. They were ready to help, but they needed better training.

Doing Better Member Care

Organizations want their workers to feel well cared-for, and field workers should feel like they and their member care providers are on the same team. Here are four ideas for making that happen.

1. Raise the standard for member care personnel. 

Member Care needs to be valued enough that organizations recruit to fill those roles specifically and directly. Reference checks need to include not just the candidate’s managers but also those who have worked under the candidate or who have been cared for by the candidate. Even internal hiring needs to require some sort of referral from people who can say, “I was vulnerable, and they were safe.” That is the hallmark of quality member care.

2. Welcome member care to the table.  

The questions of what to report, when to report, and to whom, are much more easily addressed when the member care team is led by someone experienced in excellent member care. This means that if your highly trained member care personnel feel they need additional support to address a situation, they can bring it to their Member Care Director who has the authority to address that situation in a trauma-informed way.

3. Become trauma informed. 

Sometimes the people who are handling difficult situations don’t understand how to be emotionally safe spaces for people in crisis — which means that organizational responses can sometimes be more traumatic than the initial event. Ideally all member care personnel need to be trauma-informed. This may include directors, logistics personnel, and especially senior leadership. Invest in quality training.

4. Be mindful of policies. 

No policy is perfect, so there needs to be an appeal system: a way people can present extenuating circumstances to ask for adjustments in the policy. Everyone in the org needs to know the ins and outs of all the policies, as well as how to make an appeal.

Importantly, if certain topics are not going to be kept confidential by member care providers, missionaries need to be informed of those. Otherwise, following policy will feel like a breach of confidence.

Member Care is still young in comparison to missions work at large. There is so much learning and refining that we can do to raise the bar on how we care for missionaries and their families. These small pivots are well worth the effort. Member Care should not contribute to trauma, but instead contribute to teams who truly feel uplifted by the support of their organization so that they can advance the mission of God in the world.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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Elizabeth Vahey Smith is a TCK mom who spent 5 years in Papua New Guinea as a missionary. Now her family explores the globe full-time as worldschoolers. Elizabeth works remotely as the COO for TCK Training, traveling often for work and always for pleasure. She is the author of The Practice of Processing: Exploring Your Emotions to Chart an Intentional Course. Follow her travels on Instagram @elizabeth.vaheysmith and @neverendingfieldtrip. Learn more about research-based preventive care for TCKs @tcktraining.

Language Learning is Like Climbing Stairs

by Angela Cheng

I was climbing up the long flights of stairs of our mission center in the crazy tropical heat of Bangkok when the Lord gave me an unexpected revelation. I was headed to our staff meeting after a morning of sitting in language class, barely uttering baby sounds of the tonal Thai language. How in the world was I ever going to speak this language?

In my first year, I had committed to full-time language learning with the dream of being able to communicate God’s love to the people to whom He had called me. My days consisted of riding the city bus an hour to language class, with windows wide-open, taking in the pollution, smells, heat, and noise of the bustling city. This lover of quiet, wide-open spaces was being tested in more ways than I desired.

Then I would sit in a three-hour language class trying to learn a complicated foreign language before another hour-long bus ride back to the center where I finished the day with two hours of language homework. I was frustrated with the process of trying to learn the characters and remember each sound.

I was approaching the middle of my first year in Thailand, and my language-learning classroom was becoming a jail cell. Was I ever going to speak, read, and write this language? Thai language has 72 characters, split into 44 consonants, 28 vowels, and five tones. Say a tone wrong and you could end up offending someone—which I did many times! On top of that, Thai has no spacing in between words like English does, so I had become like a child, learning sounds and memorizing word combinations with a lot of time, sweat, and tears.

But that day as I ascended those stairs, the Lord impressed upon me that I wanted to be at the top of the staircase as quickly as possible, just like I wanted to learn Thai. However, just like with the staircase, I needed to take language learning step by step. He reminded me that language learning is a process of taking small steps and that if I kept taking the next one and then the next one, I would eventually get there. My job was to trust the process.

I had so fixed my eyes on the end goal that I had ignored the process and become frustrated, thinking I would never get there. The Lord was saying, “Just be in the day, in the now, and I will get you to your destination.” And that is exactly what happened.

Years later I found myself translating speech from Thai to English at meetings and big events, leading a ministry completely in Thai language, while also reading and leading Bible studies in my new language. My favorite activity was (and still is) worshiping God with Thai people in their native tongue. It took time, energy, and grit, but by the grace of God and for His glory, it happened.

 

(Excerpted from Angela’s recently published book, Finding God’s Goodness in Unexpected Places. All profits go towards overseas missions projects.)

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Angela Cheng and her family served as YWAM missionaries in Southeast Asia for fifteen years. They currently live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they serve with YWAM in various ministries. Angela can be contacted at happybcuz@yahoo.com.

I Hate Moving

by Katherine Seat

A string of fairy lights ties memories of my first baby to a night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We decorated our house with the lights, along with postcards and photos. Giving birth in a country we had never lived in was surreal. 

I tried to make our room feel like home right away. I couldn’t invest too much though; we would only be there for three months.

//

I tacked up, taped up, and tied up satiny scarves from the local market to begin my first year in Cambodia. Brown marks littered my bedroom walls from the last person’s posters. The ceiling was too low. Natural light and airflow did not exist. 

I needed to make my room feel like home right away. I couldn’t invest too much though; I would only be there for ten months.

//

To combat the dark months of a northeast Chinese winter, I populated my apartment with pot plants. I arranged photos and pictures above the radiator. The colourful doona cover I received from college friends brightened up my sofa. It was a challenge finding a place for the washing machine that still allowed me to use the kitchen. 

I needed to make my room feel like home right away. I couldn’t invest too much though; I would only be there for eighteen months.

//

As a group, we cross cultural-workers frequently pack and unpack. We’re not the only ones, but it is a characteristic of ours – and I’m not talking about vacations. Sometimes we live in temporary housing for training. Sometimes we go to a different country for medical care. Sometimes we spend months visiting supporters in multiple locations. We are often living out of bags and often without a home base.  

What do you do if you only have a short time left in a cold climate and your shoes break? It feels like a waste of money to buy brand new shoes that you will only wear for a limited time. But you also cannot walk around with bare feet. And what if it’s not the first time you’ve had to make that decision? And what if you have a hundred other similar dilemmas?   

How do you cope if you constantly have to be settled enough to function but are never able to fully settle? Always feeling like you want to go home but knowing that nowhere feels like home.

“I hate having to pack up again; I never get to unpack properly. But I know I have an eternal home waiting for me, and Jesus didn’t have anywhere to rest. And anyway, at least I have somewhere to live; some people don’t even have that. What’s more, I have electricity and indoor plumbing, so my life is easier than most. I have so much to be thankful for, stop complaining.”

Have you ever talked to yourself (or a friend) like that? I know I have. As if knowing I have a better home waiting for me will cancel out the feeling of wanting to rest. Maybe we think if we really believe in our eternal home, we shouldn’t feel difficult emotions around moving house. 

I’m reminded of Peter Scazzero’s words in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:

We inflate ourselves with a false confidence to make those feelings go away. We quote Scripture, pray Scripture, and memorize Scripture—anything to keep ourselves from being overwhelmed by those feelings! 

“Like most Christians, I was taught that almost all feelings are unreliable and not to be trusted. They go up and down and are the last thing we should be attending to in our spiritual lives. It is true that some Christians live in the extreme of following their feelings in an unhealthy, unbiblical way. It is more common, however, to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly. This applies especially to ‘difficult’ feelings as fear, sadness, shame, anger, hurt, and pain.”

Am I suggesting we stop reminding ourselves and each other of God’s truth? No, but let’s notice how we do it. What is happening when we tell ourselves, “I have an eternal home waiting for me”? Are we trying to make the feeling go away, or are we leaving room for feelings alongside the truth?

Perhaps we need to acknowledge the problem in order to receive God’s comfort.  It’s not until I took notice of the unsettledness and how much I hated it that I was reminded that God was with me. If we are trying to deny unpleasant feelings, perhaps we will also miss the comfort.

Yes, we can be glad we have our eternal home waiting for us and that we have a roof over our heads. That acknowledgement doesn’t cancel out the difficulties. We still feel homeless and unsettled.

In some cases it may be wise to take a break from pain for a while, or maybe we need help to face it safely. But in many cases of moving-house-pain, we may just need to acknowledge that it is really hard and that we hate it.

I suspect that to help others with their pain, we need to deal with our own pain first. If we are trying to reach people for Christ or bringing up children, this is all the more important. Are we sharing a faith that makes uncomfortable feelings go away as soon as they arise? Is it our goal to make people happy as soon as possible? Or are we living a faith that brings real long-term comfort?

I live among people whose daily life is hard. Complex and severe issues seem to impact them every step of the way. What if I were to treat my neighbors’ problems by glossing over them with, “At least it’s not as bad as it could be”? Or by telling them I will fix their problem? Or by quoting out-of-context Bible verses about hope? I don’t think any of those would be useful. 

How can I point them to the source of Hope while they are living with so many difficulties? I don’t write as one who is an expert at this; rather I’m reflecting on being on the receiving end. The most useful pastoral care I’ve received is from people who listen and help me notice that my pain exists. It helps me see what is really happening, and it feels like they are with me, which reminds me that God is with me.  

Other people I’ve gone to for help either haven’t realised the depth of my pain or have been in a hurry to apply the correct solution so we can all continue on, happy as usual. It can make me feel like I shouldn’t be in pain. Am I doing something wrong? Am I beyond help?

If our reaction to pain is to solve the problem or explain why it is not painful, it may be that we never sit with the pain long enough to receive comfort.

Perhaps we can learn to notice our own feelings while remembering God is with us in the packing, the unpacking, and everything in between. Then perhaps our awareness of pain and our experience of God’s comfort will help us to bring God’s comfort to others.

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Katherine’s childhood church in Australia launched her on a trajectory to Asia. After a decade of preparation she landed in Cambodia and married a local Bible teacher. Read Katherine’s other posts at Linktree and connect with her on Instagram.

A Letter to My Missionary Grandsons

by Oma Joy

Twelve and a half years ago, when our eldest child and only daughter left home for a mission assignment in Asia, my husband and I both shed tears. But we were undergirded by a sense of being part of a purpose greater than ourselves.

I remember my co-workers frequently saying things like, “How can you let her move so far away?” or “I could never do what you are doing.” And my response was that I loved and supported my daughter and wanted to bless her to pursue the calling she was made for. I would say, “I didn’t have children so that they could live down the street just to make me happy.”

But 12 years ago, I had no idea how long a life-time calling would be: how many birthdays and Christmases, Easter dinners and graduations, funerals and weddings we would miss sharing together. And I could not have anticipated what it would be like to miss watching my grandchildren grow up.

Yesterday we said goodbye once again. We know the routine well. The flurry in the days prior to leaving, the “last” trip to the library, the “last” walk to the park, the “last” hug with a grandparent who likely won’t be living when you return, the steady stream of family and friends who come for final goodbyes the day before departure, the banter and photos at the airport, the anxiety over the mountain of luggage and wondering if it will clear the final weight check, the tearful hugs that avoid any total breakdown, the final waves as you slowly disappear down the escalator, and then some real sobs when you are out of sight, and finally the several-hour drive home where we talk about anything other than the departure.

But then we return to the house. The home that we have shared for six months: three generations, two cultures speaking two languages, with very little privacy or sound barrier. A home that has been filled with so much life and laughter and noise. And the silence is deafening. What can I do but put some of your things away and count the ways that I find you?

So I wrote an ode to my grandsons, ages 7 and 9.

How do I miss you? Let me count the ways.

I miss you in the 23 paper airplanes, paper boats and paper rockets that I find upstairs and downstairs. I pick ten to keep on my dining room table for a while.

I miss you in the color yellow (Samuel’s favorite) which seems to be everywhere: yellow dishes, yellow towels, yellow Legos, yellow pillows, a favorite yellow cup. For the rest of my  life I will always think of you when I see yellow.

I miss you in the leftover bottles of shampoo in your shower, whose smell is exactly how you smelled in the mornings when you were freshly dressed for school and gave me wonderful hugs.

I miss you in the children’s health insurance card that I no longer need to carry in my wallet.

I miss you in the bags of library books waiting to be returned. I miss you when I find the note, on yellow paper, which showed the authors or titles we were supposed to look for at the library. Bill Peet, Robert Munsch, Shel Silverstein, and Hopper the Rabbit.

I miss you as I pack away the winter hats and gloves (reminders of a freezing day in our town), which I store for perhaps another winter furlough. But who knows what size you might be then?

I miss you in the kites that were left in our junk room, the ones from a birthday party that have your names on them.

I miss you in the box taped shut, guarding your tin-can telephones and string. I wonder if they will reach all the way to Asia.

I miss you in the tiny silver chain that you found on our trip to Silver Lake, a chain that became Samuel’s focus of the outing and which now hangs by my window.

I miss you at the breakfast table when I watch the momma bird sit on her nest and think about how excited you would have been to see these eggs hatch.

I miss you when I find the special Asia ketchup sauce that you needed for every meal, and I miss you when I overeat your curly cheese snacks, trying to bring you back to my table.

I miss you when I find the car booster seat and think of all the places we went together, and I am happy when I share it with your mother’s friend to use for transporting children to church.

I miss you when I find the white container in the shower that served as your adapted Asian water bathing barrel.

I miss you when I find the box from Jeffery’s friend, delivered the night before you left with a note saying, “I wish I could go with you.” You took the toy, but I’m saving the note from the box. I agree with your friend.

I miss you when I smell microwave popcorn, which you ate every day after school, and when I wash your favorite bowls and cups, and when I look at all your art on my refrigerator.

I miss you every time I sign on to my computer or use numerous apps that need passwords, because clearly that is what grandsons’ birthdays are made for: passwords. (Shh, don’t tell.)

I miss you when your “go to sleep” song is stuck in my head on an endless loop, reminding me of the times that I got to do bedtime with you.

I miss you as I wash your sheets and towels and pillowcases and store your blankets. It is a sacred task. It was not long ago that I had so much fun picking out fuzzy flannel sheets for your winter furlough, a furlough which included the first Christmas here at home together in 12 years. A furlough which included celebrating three of the four birthdays in your family, and a wonderful wedding for your beloved uncle and new aunt. A furlough which included a friend-filled semester at the local elementary school, as well as Sunday school, kid’s club, and children’s choir at our church, a special time at the cabin in the woods, and so much more.

I miss you, and so I promise to keep doing the things I know how to do: reading online children’s books, sending you books through Book Depository, communicating through What’s App and Messenger, playing online Rummikub, sending Christmas care packages in early November, praying day and night, and renting our basement apartment to make money for tickets to come to see you.

As your adaptable minds and hearts have shown us, it is possible to love people on both sides of the world. So we will all keep growing and loving wherever we are planted, until the next time we are planted in the same place for a season. But I will never stop seeing you and hearing you here with me, because you lived in my house, and you always live in my heart. I love you.

Oma

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Oma Joy is a pastor living in the Southern United States. She and her husband worked with a church development agency in Honduras from 1986-1989 and in the Philippines from 2002-2005. They are the proud parents of three adult TCKs and the grandparents of two TCK grandsons.

7 Principles for Ethical Photography as a Global Citizen

by Anna Danforth

Photography is a powerful tool to share about life in your host country. Too often, especially in non-profit work, photography has been used in an exploitative and invasive manner. This is usually done to amplify and support the expat’s reason for being overseas. For example, in an effort to establish the need for funding, a non-profit worker may photograph a disadvantaged, dirty child to communicate the level of poverty. Photos elicit an emotional response. They are often used as an emotional appeal to donors.

Sharing photos of your work and life is important. As a world traveler, your responsibility is to share photos ethically by respecting the people and culture of your host country. It can be tempting, especially if your project or salary is underfunded, to share compromising photos of the people in your host country in an effort to validate your need for being there. If you provide education, it may be tempting to share photos of children in extreme poverty. If you provide medical services, you may want to share photos of people in their moment of physical suffering. In your eagerness to share your life, though, don’t forget the people you are there to serve. 

In a Global Health University article entitled “Ethics and Photography in Developing Countries,” Selena Randhawa states:

“Many charities have found that their most effective tactic for eliciting donations has involved the use of dehumanizing images to evoke feelings of pity and charity. These photos are dangerous, however, because they completely fail to capture the intelligence, resilience, and capabilities of the communities that the nonprofit is looking to help.”

Images of Hollywood icons holding starving children flood my mind. But Hollywood actors aren’t the only culprits seeking validation. After a lifetime in developing nations and working with hundreds of expats, I have firsthand experience of friends and colleagues being exploited to gain non-profit donations and personal validation. In several cases, the aftermath has had devastating consequences for the person or family being photographed. 

Before taking a photo of someone other than a good friend, ask yourself, “What emotional response am I hoping to trigger?” Hoping for responses of pity and personal validation probably mean that the photo is exploiting the subject. This has been termed “poverty porn.” Selena Randhawa’s article in The Guardian, “Poverty porn vs empowerment: The best and worst aid videos of 2016” examines the most “compelling and cringeworthy” fundraising aid videos of 2016. 

Poverty porn, also known as development porn, famine porn, or stereotype porn, has been defined as “any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause.” It also suggests that the viewer of the exploited protagonists is motivated by gratification of base instincts. It is also a term of criticism applied to films which objectify people in poverty for the sake of entertaining a privileged audience.

Conversely, global travelers have the opportunity to affirm the dignity, strength, and potential of the people and culture in their host country. In my research of ethical photography, I praise the work of Esther Havens Mann’s photography in developing countries. One person commented on Mann’s work, “Esther captures photos that transcend a person’s circumstances and reveals their true strength.” Esther provides a model of how to communicate the nature of mission work while revealing the beauty and dignity of her subjects. 

Here are a few questions to consider as you build a healthy and responsible approach to sharing images.

1. Did I ask permission?
2. Does it represent the extreme, or does it represent the norm?
3. Will this bring dignity or shame to the subject? (Does it empower or dehumanize the subject?)
4. If this was the only photo of this person ever on social media, would it make them proud?
5. Would I take this same picture of a stranger in my hometown?
6. Will this photo reinforce a negative stereotype or invite people to consider new beauty?
7. Could I photograph the subjects from behind to focus on the action?

My hope is that this brief overview will empower you to share better images, elicit fair and appropriate responses, and protect your international and family relationships as you share your beautiful life. 

Excerpted from Anna’s new book, Raising a Family Overseas: Building Connection With Your Family and Host Culture.

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Anna Danforth grew up in Cameroon and now serves in South Africa. She is co-founder of Titus Auto Centre, a job skills training facility on the south coast. She drew on her experiences as a TCK, missionary, and teacher at the Africa Orientation Course to write Raising a Family Overseas and to provide training on Ethical Image Sharing as a Global Citizen. Anna lives on a fruit tree and macadamia farm with her husband, two kids, some dogs, cats, a horse, and best friends. You can find her online at Facebook, Instagram, and AnnaDanforth.com.

Churches, We Need You! (Why the Church is a Critical Piece of Missionary Care)

By Jessi Bullis

John Piper has famously mobilized Christians for international missions by saying, “Go, send, or disobey.”

In this well-known statement, Piper acknowledges the truth that not everyone was created to be an overseas missionary. God has blessed millions of people with giftings that would be under-utilized if they were to move internationally and try to fit into a role that God didn’t call them to. This is not a downfall. It is an incredibly beautiful part of the tapestry of the great commission (Ephesians 4:11-13). We need goers, and we also need faithful senders – those who make it possible for those being sent to serve with health and longevity.

God designed the Church to be positioned on both sides: the going and the sending. Throughout Paul’s letters we read many accounts of his gratitude for the believers’ communication, faithfulness, and prayer, along with his requests for both tangible and spiritual support (Phil 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:10-15; 2 Tim 4:9). 

God gave people in the Church different giftings to carry out the great commission. There is so much beauty in this diversity of calling, because it glorifies God: His creativity, His knowledge, His grace, His faithfulness, and more (1 Cor. 12:4-6). 

Both accepting the gifts of others while simultaneously offering our gifts to the Church is a necessary key to the coming of God’s Kingdom, because it is how we glorify God daily, and it is how we present God’s beauty to the rest of the world (John 13:35). 

So today I’d like to speak to those of you who are not going or who perhaps did go and are now back on the sending side. How can you do the sending with as much zeal and excellence as the ones going?

Yes, this often means financial support. We see this all throughout Paul’s letters. He used his trade of tentmaking to provide income for his missionary journeys, but he also heavily depended on the financial support of those in the Churches he was ministering to. 

However, the Church’s role in sending missionaries does not end with financial support. 

Time and again we hear Paul asking for support in other ways — fellowship, communication, and constant prayer. 

Often, a family spends six months to a year raising their financial support, having countless dinners and church events, are “sent off” with fanfare, and then that’s it. They are suddenly cut off from tea times and dinners with friends. From mentoring chats with older believers. From a village of believers pouring into their kids. Sometimes they are even cut off from access to worship in their own language.

And those are just the church-specific things. 

Suddenly they’re learning to cook things from scratch, trying to do life in a new language, navigating new schooling situations for their children, and raising their children with a brand new set of cultural and environmental challenges. 

All without their church and the people who were preparing them to go. 

The family did not change overnight to suddenly not need regular congregational support. If anything, the opposite is true. They’re thrown into one of the hardest transitions of their life, all without their support systems. They haven’t become “holier than thou.” They’re still human. They still have needs. And they still fall into the Lord’s plan for the interdependence of the Church. 

A missionary friend of mine recently told me that once she moved overseas, she rarely heard from her friends back in the United States. In the midst of her biggest life transition, she felt forgotten.

When they would return to the U.S. and they would visit their sending church, throngs of people wanted to speak to them. And many of these same people would tell them how much they loved seeing her Facebook photos of her children in the jungle or their bamboo house. Yet these friends had never even hit the “like” button. She had no idea they’d even cared that she posted photos.

Instead of feeling encouraged by their exclamations, my friend was frustrated, confused, and hurt. For the last few years on the field she’d felt abandoned and alone. Something as easy as pressing the “like” button had not occurred to these friends. Something so small, yet so impactful. 

Most of the time I find that believers want to know how to support their missionary friends, but they simply don’t know how. I’ve spoken with believers around the world who’ve said they didn’t want to write too often and make their missionary friends homesick. They loved them dearly, but they just didn’t know how to transition to long distance support. 

Churches need to know how to support missionaries beyond finances, and they also need to educate their congregations how to do it well. 

As a missionary kid who grew up my entire life away from my parent’s home town and sending church; as someone who now works with hundreds of missionary families; as someone who has dear friends all around the world, I want to leave you with some practical ways you can “send” and continue supporting the missionaries in your life:

  • Schedule regular time to check in with the missionaries you have a connection with. Put a recurring date on your calendar and send a message of encouragement or reach out to plan a phone call. Ask about their children or even say “hi” to their kids. Give them permission to talk about the hard things. Be present and listen even when it doesn’t match up to your expectations of a missionary. 
  • Send a letter or care package. Fair warning: it may get lost in transit or be opened by national authorities to check its contents. But I can guarantee the missionary will know they are loved if you are willing to send them snail mail. (Check with them on what’s best to mail and whether they’ll have to pay import tax so you can cover that cost.)
  • Be trained in debriefing so you can effectively help missionaries and their children to process the good and hard parts of their time on the field. 
  • Instead of waiting for a newsletter, reach out to them to ask them what you can be praying for. And then be diligent in praying. Oftentimes missionaries do not know if anyone is even reading their newsletters, much less interceding on their behalf. 
  • Develop a formal team that checks in with each missionary on a monthly basis and train the team in knowing what to ask, what to look for, and how/when to recommend additional care resources. 
  • Plan a trip to go see them. Not for a short-term mission trip that they need to plan and lead, but rather a trip just to support, encourage, and love them. 
  • Consider putting on an MK camp abroad for the Missionary Kids in the area. We’ve found that these camps are often deeply impactful on MKs, who are rarely on the receiving end of care. (Check out TCK Training’s retreat curriculum created expressly for this purpose.) 
  • Learn about what resources are available to them, and consider gifting those to them. You can find a list at the end of this post. 
  • Encourage your church to receive training on best practices in missionary and MK care. This Churches Supporting Missionary Families Training would be a great start. We also have a page dedicated to equipping churches to send and care for missionaries well.
  • “Like” their pictures on social media. It means more than you know. 

There are many ways that churches can come alongside missionaries; when they do, they contribute to the health of the missionary and their ministry. This is an important role for the church. Let’s learn to do it well. 

 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Jessi is an Adult MK who grew up in Singapore, England, Turkey, and Germany. She has a heart for TCKs and the unique struggles they face. She received her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling for the purpose of caring for TCKs well. Jessi loves getting to walk through the repatriation journey with Adult TCKs, as this season can be especially difficult to navigate. Her deepest passion is for TCKs to know and feel the love and goodness of God.

12 Axioms for Young Missionaries

by Warren Allan Johnson

Before God called my wife and me to the mission field, I spent more than 30 years in corporate business. During that time, I learned quite a few lessons the hard way. Many of these are now firmly planted in my mind as axioms – memorable sayings that express good advice.

It’s not surprising that we learn lessons the hard way. Dr. Kerr White observed that “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” One way to potentially circumvent the pain of this cycle is to seek wisdom, as the author of Proverbs counsels us. I’ve found that many of these axioms, or “business proverbs,” are surprisingly applicable to the mission field.

In addition, although these guidelines would be good for any missionary to follow, younger missionaries often do not have the same degree of life experience that older missionaries have, and they may not have received the same depth of cultural or team training that career missionaries have received. Therefore, here are a dozen principles to consider if you are young, called to mission service, and want to help, not hinder, what God is doing on the field:

1. Rinse, Lather, Repeat (saying Thank You). “Thank You” is one of the first phrases you should try to learn in the local language. Then you should use it frequently with the people you are called to serve, with your missionary colleagues, and especially with people who are serving you, such as household help, street vendors, and tradesmen doing repairs.

2. It’s not all about you. We have all heard this axiom, but do we live it out? For example, you likely have skills and enthusiasm that you want to use on the field. But those skills that you trained for might not be the ones God intends to use in your location. Hold your plans with a loose hand. A corollary here is, “Christ is the Savior, not you.”

3. Make your bed. Clean your room. This likely isn’t required by your mission agency, yet it will help order your life and priorities if you require it of yourself. A messy room or messy car is a sign of an unorganized, undisciplined life. A great book about this truth is Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven.

4.Don’t choose personal preferences over organizational effectiveness. Management consultant Mark Horstman shares this principle. Unfortunately, we see it all too frequently on the field. People make choices based on what’s easy or “best” for them, rather than on what is the right thing for ministry to be effective.

There are many corollaries to this principle, such as “don’t choose your convenience over the security of others.” For example, don’t be lackadaisical about closing the compound gate because you’ll be right back. Servanthood is inconvenient. You are called to be a servant.

5. Go talk to the other person. A common, “preventable” reason cited for missionaries leaving the field is conflict with other missionaries. There’s a reason for this. They’re all sinners, just like you. You can expect friction and disagreement on the field. So, while you likely cannot “prevent” conflict, you have a Christian responsibility to work to resolve it. Conflict will be a great opportunity for you to apply Matthew chapters 5 and 18 to your life. It will also take courage.

6. The negative screams at you, but the positive only whispers. This truth is from author Barbara L. Fredrickson. The application is that you must intentionally “turn up the volume” on the positive to overcome the negatives that you will inevitably encounter on the mission field. The Bible repeatedly speaks to the importance of thankfulness, especially in prayer. Consider a gratitude journal next to your bed in which you record at least three good things that happened each day.

7. Everything is an interview. When you apply for a job, your future employer is watching you, and not just when you’re sitting down across from them at their desk. They notice if you don’t send a hand-written thank you note. They notice how you treat the waitress when they take you out to lunch. They notice if your sentences are filled with lots of “I” statements. Likewise, what you do on the field impacts your reputation, the reputation of your agency, and potentially your ministry. Pray for wisdom and pursue humility.

8. Work is not done until it is reported done. If you’re working on a team, or supervising others, this can be a great principle to follow and teach others. Provide status updates and let people know when you’ve fulfilled your commitments. They may be waiting on you before they can take their next step, or they may be in a state of worry about the overall project. Your update can bring comfort. Your communication is an essential part of the job that you have agreed to handle.

9. Don’t forget the little guy. It is very possible that people you interact with on the field live on less than a few dollars a day. You can never fix this or bring it into “balance.” It is a tension you need to prayerfully navigate. Therefore, consider developing some personal guidelines about benevolence for things like school fees, holidays, beggars, and medical expenses.

For example, a medical crisis in the developing world often cascades into an economic crisis for the extended family. However, it can be wise to not give the whole amount needed, and to pay the hospital rather than the individual, if feasible. Two great books to read in this regard are African Friends and Money Matters by David E. Maranz and When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

10. You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit. This is known as the preschool snack time rule. Don’t be the short-term missionary who complains about the color of the bed sheets provided to them. Even if you’re a male and the sheets are pink, you likely don’t fully appreciate the sacrifice behind what you’ve been provided. Smile and say thank you from your heart.

11. Nothing simple is ever easy. The “fix” in any particular situation may look simple, yet inevitably there are hidden complexities which may not be immediately evident to your untrained eye. It may be as simple as needing an (unavailable) imperial bolt rather than a metric one to fix the toilet seat. More often, there are cultural issues of honor, shame, hierarchy, or patronage in situations that otherwise seem like they would be “simple” to resolve. Find a trusted individual that can serve as your cultural helper. Then ask lots of questions.

12. Others are not your mother. Jesus put it this way, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” You are called to be a servant. Likewise, don’t ask others to do tasks that you’re unwilling to – or should – do yourself. It’s okay to ask for help, but remember axiom #1. Cat and Dog Theology by Bob Sjogren is a book that can help you reframe your attitudes and actions in this regard, so they best glorify God.

Finally, if you haven’t already, learn how to pray. Spiritual disciplines are essential for young missionaries, especially staying in the Word. Yet you need to talk to the Father as often as possible to see God glorified on the mission field. Prayer puts us in the proper posture before God, which is helpless and hopeless without his grace. That’s something we all need, regardless of age or experience.

More than 250 times in the Bible we are called to “remember.” These 12 axioms, as well as ones you learn through your own experiences, can be memory tools that God uses to guide your path on the mission field.

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Warren and Tami Johnson serve in West Africa with SIM. God opened the doors for them to begin second careers overseas after three decades in public relations and teaching respectively. They blame John Piper and his well-known story of wasting one’s life collecting seashells on the seashore for ruining their retirement plans.