Parable of the USS Truett (and Missionary Member Care)


Strange title. Anyway, and I may have put this story in a blogpost before, many years ago, I was on an inspection team of the USS Truett. The USS Truett was a Knox-class Frigate in the United States Navy. While on board, only for a couple of days, I was talking to a petty officer aboard. He was surprisingly forthright with me.  <I can’t verify the story… but I don’t need to. It’s a story.>

He was talking about an incident that happened the previous December. On Christmas day, everyone on the crew of the Truett was called in from liberty by the captain, to clean the ship. Of course, being in homeport, it would have been expected to have a minimum watchcrew aboard while the rest were on leave or liberty to be with family and friends.

But that was not what bothered this crewmember. What bothered him was that a few days later the captain apologized. Now, you might think that sounds backwards. One might expect the petty officer (and others aboard) to be unhappy about coming in on Christmas day and somewhat comforted by a later apology. But no… and there is a fairly simple reason if you think about it.

In the Navy, it is understood that the ship’s mission takes priority over personal life. One year, I was away from homeport approximately 300 days, and only could go home at night 2/3s of the remaining days. So being asked to work on Christmas was disappointing but part of Navy life. However, when the captain apologized a few days later, the truth was revealed. There was no operational necessity in bringing the crew to work on Christmas day… the captain was just in a bad mood.

Let’s bring this over to missionary member care. The question is often argued about how much a missionary should suffer in the mission field, or how easy it should be for them. Some missionaries are very well cared for while others are dumped in the field in a nearly destitute condition. What level of care should a missionary have?

I look at the USS Truett story and it helps me gain perspective. Missionaries are constrained by operational/ministerial requirements that will commonly bring some level of suffering or deprivation. It is part of the job, and just like the crewmembers on the Truett, it should be understood that some sacrifices are normal to do the job right.

On the other hand, however, sacrifices and suffering should not be dumped unnecessarily on missionaries any more than on Navy sailors. Suffering may be necessarily in the ministry but should not be artificially created by those whose job is to lead and care for missionaries.

Let’s take another example from the Navy. While I was in the Navy, I kept hearing from commanding officers “Safety First” or “Safety is our First Priority.” What nonsense! If that was true we would never go out to sea and never sail into harm’s way. However, my last CO said things better. He said something to the effect that “Our Priority is to Carry Out our Mission Safely.” I could understand that. We have to do what we have to do… we just need to find out how to do it safely.

Carrying that over to member care, instead of finding duality between mission and care, we bring them together. Mission Agencies need to find ways to care for missionaries so that they are empowered to do their mission.  Good member care helps missionaries be more effective in carrying out their mission. Lack of good member care tends to make a missionary less effective. Too much member care (care that blocks the negative challenges of normal ministry) is likely to make the missionary less effective as well. We don’t need recurrence of stories of “compound missionaries” living in great comfort disconnected from the mission field just outside of the compound walls.

The balance will always be a challenge, but for me the healthy balance is glimpsed at least in these two stories from my military past.

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