In a few weeks, I will be teaching a two-week module (at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary) on Missionary Member Care. It will be from April 29 to May 10 (2013). It is a topic I enjoy. The focus of the Member Care will be on the psychological, emotional, spiritual, and relational stresses associated with the professional missionary. Of course, many of the students/trainees (assuming of course that anyone shows up) will likely be pastors or seminarieans or others that don’t fit the classic definition of missionary.
A friend of mine from many years ago died. I lost touch with him around 20 years ago and hadn’t heard anything of him until a few months ago. I knew him as a college student and later as a youth pastor. Somewhere along the line things went wrong. His marriage failed and he lost his ministry. He drifted into various jobs and alcoholism. Eventually he died of complications from his addiction.
It seems an unnecessary waste. I don’t really know the demons (I am using the term metaphorically) that were in his life. But his story is not unique. And in missions it is all too common. Things are often especially hard for Filipino missionaries serving overseas. In some ways, their situation is easier than for American missionaries. Filipinos do not come from an imperialistic country, so they are often accepted more readily. Fiipinos also have an appearance the allows them to blend in in many parts of the world. Fiipinos also are part of a globalistic culture… having workers scattered around the whole world… especially in areas that would commonly be thought of as primary mission countries. But there are some strong stressors:
- Filipino churches don’t really support missionaries. They might “love gift” but few provide regular support.
- Filipino churches don’t train missionaries. They may have a “commissioning” but otherwise don’t prepare the missionaries.
- Filipino churches don’t empower missionaries. They may “release” missionaries, but they don’t truly “send” them.
- Filipino churches don’t encourage missionaries. They would prefer their people to stay and work with the church, or work overseas and send back money. Missionaries are not encouraged to go and not encouraged while there.
I could go on. Is this a stereotype? Yes… but so many are left on the field alone and lonely, undersupported, and disempowered. It is a tough situation. It puts a huge stress on themselves and their family.
So why am I talking about all of this? My wife, a clinical chaplain, asked me (since I will be teaching Missionary Member Care) what is the solution? What program would I set up to fix things? Since many of the trainees will be pastors, not missionaries, what will I have to say to them that will help them as well?
The best answer I can give is “I Don’t Know.” One problem I find is that most Christian professionals don’t want help. Oh… maybe they crave help… but they don’t trust that help really exists. There can be a few reasons for that:
- Some have theological reasons. Some do not trust counseling, considering it to be “secular” (a code word meaning that it is not blessed by God).
- Some feel they have to exude strength. Will their church love (or at least respect) them if they demonstrate normal human frailty and struggles.
- Some don’t trust. Heartfelt admissions of problems to close friends and colleagues become next week’s juicy gossip.
- Some deny problems. They may externalize, rationalize or deny… but in the end they decide it is nothing for them to get help about.
Commonly, missionaries seek help only when forced to… either by “hitting bottom” or by being gently but firmly threatened by their mission agency or supporters. For pastors, it can even be more difficult… especially if they are from an autonomous church tradition. They have none to firmly push them to get help. The only one they are responsible to is the church body… it is more likely that the church body will push him to leave rather than get help.
I don’t have a good answer. I don’t believe helping someone who wants no help is of much value… especially if there is no tangible direct consequences for not getting help.
For me, I guess I could cautiously suggest a two prong approach:
A. Have programs: counseling and support groups available for those who truly hit bottom and all who voluntarily or involuntarily seek help. This may be a small percentage of those who need help… but at least it is there.
B. Set up Wholistic Mentoring in seminaries and bible schools. Mentoring is one-on-one discipleship of an open supportive (more) mature minister. Wholistic means that the mentorship is
-Not simply Bible Study
-Not simply professional/miniserial
-Not simply academic
Wholistic means that there is concern for all aspects (emotional, psychological, mental, academic, professional, spiritual, relational, etc.) of growth, with special focus on integration of these aspects of one’s life to create a WHOLE PERSON. One advantage of doing this at seminary or bible school is that it sets up individuals to cope with the stresses of ministry. A second advantage is that if the habit of wholistic mentoring begins in school, maybe it will continue for a lifetime. Of course, not all potential mentors are able to deal with the whole person. In some cases a student may have to have multipl
e mentors and must do the integration himself (or herself).
We want Christian ministers to be HOLY. But those who are HOLY but are not WHOLE… are still broken, and broken in a way that can lead to disaster.
- Pastoral Care and the Missionary (munsonmissions.org)
- Is “Reproducibility” a Necessity of Insufficient Training? (jacksonwu.org)
- How to Support Your Missionary – The Ultimate Guide (journalmissionalliving.wordpress.com)
- 6 Ways You Can Support Missionaries (outsidecampers.com)