This is not what I signed up for



Here are some sad but true stories.

Exhibit A:

A young couple feels God’s call to the mission field. The husband was an avionics technician and skilled in all things related to radios. (This was back in the early 70s.) They joined a large mission organization and were recruited to go to Africa. They were told there was a GREAT NEED for someone like him to go and set up a radio network so that the missionaries out in the bush would have a way to communicate with each other and with administration.

Fast forward past the agony and ecstasy of partnership building, and the couple finally arrives in Africa with their three young children.  Their arrival coincided with the organization’s annual conference. One of the purposes for this conference was to vote on various issues related to the group’s work in Africa.

Agenda Item: Do we really need a radio technician?

The vote: No. 

Exhibit B:

Jack and Jill (names changed) are recruited to teach at a missionary school. Jack, a music/band instructor, is told of an impending crisis in the music department. A couple teachers would be leaving on furlough at the same time which would leave a big hole in the department.

The mission organization tried to fast track Jack and Jill so that their arrival would coincide with the departure of the teachers. Alas, this didn’t happen. By the time they arrived the “hole” in the department only lasted one semester, and then the other teachers returned. Not only did the two furloughing teachers come back, but another new music teacher who had been in the pipeline arrived. At this point the school had five music instructors!

Not to forget Jill. Jill was an English teacher. This school had a perpetual shortage of English teachers so she had more than enough to do. As the situation turned from bad to worse for Jack, he couldn’t help but feel like the organization’s real goal was to get Jill there to teach English and he was just a “bonus.”

Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents.  In our 20 years of missions work we’ve been aware of many similar situations.  Sometimes things work out okay and you find other meaningful work to do (like it did for the couple in Africa) but other times it can lead to burnout and an early departure from the field (like it did for Jack and Jill).

Why does it happen?

  • Life happens. There may be a genuine need but by the time someone is recruited for the position sometimes several years have passed. During those years the group’s priorities may change or the position may have been filled by someone else.
  • It’s possible that the organization recruiting you doesn’t have your best interests at heart. The organization’s priorities may trump what is best for you.
  • Recruiters sometimes don’t have a good understanding of the actual field situation. They may genuinely believe that the position is vital but that belief may be based on old information or a position description written by someone with the gift of embellishment.

What can administrators do?

  • Be honest!! If the situation has changed, then let the person know. Immediately! Yes, it might be the 11th hour and maybe they have spent 2 years raising support, but they still need to know.
  • If there are alternative positions that are available that might suit this person’s skill set, then present those options. But don’t try to “create” a position just so that you can get a warm body into the group knowing that once they are there it will be harder for them to leave.
  • Do a better job of matching the couple, not just the individual, with assignments. If one person isn’t happy, then neither will be happy.

What can new recruits do?

  • Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to ask for a detailed description of what your job will be. If it sounds nebulous, be cautious.
  • If possible try to get in touch with people working in the same organization and same country you want to work in. This will give you opportunities to hear from “regular” members and not just from the administration.
  • Think about how the new job(s) you are being asked to do will affect you and your family.  Will it mean spending a lot of time away from your family? Will it mean doing a job that will stress you beyond levels you are comfortable with?
  • Remember that just because you are asked to do a job doesn’t mean that job is God’s will for you. In other words, don’t over spiritualize.

The reality.

Even in the best possible world made up of caring administrators and fully informed recruits, it’s still highly possible that the job you signed up for disappears into thin air or turns out to be completely different than what you expected.  Whatever the case may be, you will have to make a decision at that point about your next steps.  Here are some possible options:

  • Accept the situation as it is and stay for the duration of your term. If you decide to stay, then own that choice and be content in it.
  • Say “This is not what I signed up for” and leave as soon as possible.
  • Stay but set some boundaries.  (e.g. Say that you will stay for a certain period of time and then make a decision at that point.)

Remember this.  If you decide to leave, leaving earlier than you planned does not mean you are a failure!  It takes great courage to make that decision.  In fact, sometimes it may take more courage to leave than it does to stay.

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Andy Bruner

Andy is a TCK who spent varying lengths of time growing up in Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Waxhaw, NC. He met his wife Kay at Bryan College and off they went in 1993 to the Solomon Islands to help the Arosi people translate the New Testament. The NT was dedicated in 2005 despite his best efforts to derail his marriage and career. Since 2007 he has been working as the finance systems manager for a non-profit in Dallas, TX. Andy doesn't consider himself a writer, in fact it's a painful ordeal. He does however believe that telling his story is worth the pain.

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