I am teaching Missionary Member Care this 1st Semester. I have taught it before, and have had some formal training— in seminary, in retreat, and online. I have been in missions for 16-1/2 years so I feel like I know a bit about the topic. The week area I have is with mission agencies.
I have never been with a mission agency. Back 17 years ago, my wife and I had applied to a mission agency. We were going through the process in what I considered a positive way. They determined that my body fat was above the limit they considered appropriate. I assume it was more of a gatekeeper issue since our missions recruiter in the agency had a higher fat percentage than I. He told me that the “chubbiness issue” could delay my being finally accepted and commissioned, but it would not slow down the evaluation process. It did, however, slow it down. In fact it stopped the evaluation process. And then while I was reducing my weight, the agency put a 1-year stoppage of bringing in new commissioning (because of financial issues at the agency).
I did feel like our missionary recruiter lied to us. However, he probably thought it was true when he said it. I remember my Navy recruiter telling me that it was “a great time to join the US military because there will be no war during my first tour. In fact, two years in, Desert Storm started. He wasn’t “lying” but was saying what he thought was true with an inappropriate confidence.
Celia and I went off on missions through our church rather than a denomination and ended up establishing accountability through establishing partnerships and NGOs in-country, along with supporting churches. While we were in country, we often worked missionaries who were tied to the mission agency we had applied to. They were, pretty much without exception, great people to work with. However, they slowly disappeared as the agency decided that the country they were working in was no longer a priority and the type of work they were doing was no longer part of the agency’s mission. Additionally, some missionaries left that agency because of a change of theology in the agency that required the missionaries to ascribe to or get out.
All of this kind of left of us thinking that we dodged a bullet. Of course, years later we had some problems with partners (both on field partners, and supporters back home) that made realize that there are advantages to having a big agency.
Still, I wonder whether agencies are still valuable today. I suspect they are… especially in creative access countries. Some missionaries are pretty creative and don’t need the help, but others really do need an established platform.
From a missionary member care standpoint, agencies seem to vary wildly. Some do seem to do a pretty good job. The best ones are able to send someone for special counseling or care to specialists. Celia and I went off to specialists before. We were thankful that we found supporters who were willing to help us do that, but if they had not, we would have been responsible ourselves.
Some agencies fund their missionaries while others act as a conduit for support. The agencies that fund the missionaries are quite nice in some ways, but tend to be more controlling, and often end up disconnecting the missionaries from their supporting churches. Positively, they can (potentially) supply a better furlough experience in terms of frequency, length, services, and opportunities. On the other hand, the conduit-type agency gives their missionaries more freedom, but then offers them less. At their worse, they take a percentage of money from the missionaries for doing what the missionaries could do themselves.
Training opportunities are often better for agency missionaries. In some cases it can be too good. I have a friend who was a missions mobilizer who would talk about missionaries turning in their monthly activities and it was dominated by different trainings. Training is good, but less good if it is training to train to be more trained. I can relate to that from when I was in the Navy. We trained to be train to be more trained. Being independent missionaries we get less support for training, but we also have more freedom to do training that we think is valuable to us.
I guess in the end, I will do okay with my class. My experiences working with agency missionaries point to the fact that their are more universal problems among missionaries than distinctives. We share more in common being human and in vocation/calling than we have differences due to type of oversight.
A missionary friend of mine who was with a full-service agency talked to me a decade ago when we were considering going under an agency. He said— if you have adequate support and platform, why go with an agency? You have the freedom to do as God leads. He was speaking from a personal experience as his agency was forcing him to move.
Anyway, looking forward to teaching the course. I have taught it before, but this will be my first time online.