Member Care and the Mission Agency

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.





Missionary Member Care, and the Didache

Been teaching a class on Missionary Member Care. I have enjoyed it— I make no promise that my 12 students share that opinion. After the student group presentation of Missionary Member Care in the light of the Carey Mission (especially as it relates to William Carey, John Thomas, Dorothy Carey, and Felix Carey), we had a bit of time left, so I handed out a reading from the Didache that relates to Missionary Member Care.  Here it is:didache_md2

CHAPTER 11 Travelling teachers — Apostles — Prophets

3 And concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the Gospel.  4 Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, 5 but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet. 6 And when an Apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night’s lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.

7 Do not test or examine any prophet who is speaking in a spirit, “for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.” 8 But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behaviour of the Lord. From his behaviour, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known.

9 And no prophet who orders a meal in a spirit shall eat of it: otherwise he is a false prophet. 10 And every prophet who teaches the truth, if he do not what he teaches, is a false prophet.

11 But no prophet who has been tried and is genuine, though he enact a worldly mystery of the Church, if he teach not others to do what he does himself, shall be judged by you: for he has his judgment with God, for so also did the prophets of old. 12 But whosoever shall say in a spirit `Give me money, or something else,’ you shall not listen to him; but if he tell you to give on behalf of others in want, let none judge him.

CHAPTER 12 Travelling Christians

1 Let everyone who “comes in the Name of the Lord” be received; but when you have tested him you shall know him, for you shall have understanding of true and false.  2 If he who comes is a traveller, help him as much as you can, but he shall not remain with you more than two days, or, if need be, three.

3 And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread. 4 But if he has no craft provide for him according to your understanding, so that no man shall live among you in idleness because he is a Christian. 5 But if he will not do so, he is making traffic of Christ; beware of such.

CHAPTER 13 Prophets who desire to remain — Their payment by firstfruits

1 But every true prophet who wishes to settle among you is “worthy of his food.” 2 Likewise a true teacher is himself worthy, like the workman, of his food. 3 Therefore thou shalt take the firstfruit of the produce of the winepress and of the threshing-floor and of oxen and sheep, and shalt give them as the firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests.

4 But if you have not a prophet, give to the poor.

5 If thou makest bread, take the firstfruits, and give it according to the commandment. 6 Likewise when thou openest a jar of wine or oil, give the firstfruits to the prophets. 7 Of money also and clothes, and of all your possessions, take the firstfruits, as it seem best to you, and give according to the commandment.

As I have said numerous times before, the term “apostle” appears to match up best with the modern term “missionary,” both in role and etymology. And that appears to be how it is used here– especially as a missionary who plants churches. The prophets appear to be traveling preachers who go from church to church, encouraging the brethren. I might still call them missionaries…. at least to the extent that they seek to empower the pre-existent local church to know and do what it did not know and do before. Regardless, however, of how you want to define them… they were Christians who traveled as part of their ministry.

Consider how an “apostle” is to be cared for:

  • Receive him (or her since we know there were female apostles)
  • Let him stay one day only… or maybe two
  • Feed him during his stay
  • Give him food for his journey, but no money

For the “prophet”:

  • Don’t test the message of a prophet if it is “in the spirit”
  • But verify if he is a REAL prophet
  • Do not give him money for himself
  • But give money if it is for his ministry

For those traveling “in the Name of the Lord”

  • They are to be welcomed and can stay two days… or maybe thre
  • If they want to stay longer, they need to work. Help him do so if need be.

The Didache is a very old book. Some parts of it appear to predate parts of the New Testament. Some of my students were wondering if I was saying that the member care of apostles and prophets in the 1st (or maybe 2nd) century describes what we should be doing today. No… for at least two reasons. First, this was probably one church’s way of dealing with this particular challenge… or maybe a regional group of churches. There is no reason to think that it expresses any sort of universal guidance. Second, although many restorationist and revivalist denominations think of themselves as seeking to restore the 1st century church; actually, we are supposed to create the 21st century church. The 1st century (as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, century churches) provides us with insight as a flashlight may give guidance, not constraint like shackles might give constraint.

But in the Didache we see a church that is struggling with problems that we still see today. They want to help, but they don’t want to be taken advantage of. They want to be trained and informed by people of Godly wisdom, but not fooled by charlatans.

So there is a time of PRE-EVALUATION.

It is a bit humorous here. If the person speaks in the Spirit, the message is not supposed to be questioned, but then the rest of the section appears to be, in fact, questioning and doubting. Perhaps it is a bit like today. If a preacher preaches the word of God, we in the congregation are not to question the word of God, but we can question the preacher, and his interpretation.

There is CONTINUED MONITORING:  The individual is cared for for awhile, but there is caution that they are not demonstrating the greed of a charlatan. As such, they are fed and lodged, but not too long. If they ask for money, it should be to help another, not themselves.

There is CARE GIVEN:  They are received as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They are fed and housed… but only for awhile. 1 day for an apostle… or maybe 2 perhaps. 2 days for a traveling Christian, or maybe 3.  When they leave, give them food to travel with, but not money.

There is the issue of SETTLING DOWN:  If a traveler wants to remain. that is okay as long as he has a craft that he can use to earn money. If he doesn’t have a craft, the church appears to be willing to help him be able to get a job… but not be a long-term burden on the church.

If a prophet wants to settle down, there is a time to verify that he is a “true” prophet. If so evaluated, he can be supported long-term by the church.

Perhaps the rules about a prophet apply to an apostle as well. (I like to think that John the Elder in Ephesus was John the Apostle after he settled down in later years.) Or perhaps the assumption is that an apostle would settle down in a church that he himself founds.

What we see is a church struggling to help without being hurt. To avoid the two failures (described by Kelly O’Donnell) of Coddling/Placating at one extreme, and Condemning/Punishing at the other. The wording of the Didache bounces back and forth between sounding a big rigid, and being a bit… wishy-washy. Perhaps, that is a good bit of guidance for us today– struggling in the tension between two unhealthy extremes.





The Joy of Being Understood

I have been teaching a two-week course on Missionary Member Care. That is a broad topic and can focus on logistics, or life cycle, or

English: * This image is a png copy of Image:M...
English: * This image is a png copy of Image:Missionary_ship_Duff.jpg with reduced size and recoloured (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

fund-raising, or whatever. However, in part since I am an administrator of a Counseling Center, I have focused on the psycho-emotio-spiritual aspects or struggles in missions.

One assignment I gave was to ask the students to interview a missionary. The questions are the one’s Dr. Dan Russell used when I took his class in Missions years ago.


                                                   Student:                                                                                                 Missionary:

                                                   Place:                                                                                                     Date/Time:

Description of the Missionary:

How were you called to missions?

How do you have devotions? Include habits about both bible reading and prayer!

What problems do you face as a spouse on the mission field? (Optional)

How do you relate to your family back home?

What medical problems have you had in the country?

Do you exercise or have hobbies?

What are some security issues you have faced?

Tell me about your best local friend.

Why did you decide to go to the city or people you are serving now?

How did you raise support?

How do you keep in contact with your home or sending church?

How do you communicate prayer requests and other needs to supporters?

What mentoring have you received and given as a missionary?

Why did you choose your organization?

What is the size and ethnic background of your team?

How have you experienced spiritual warfare?

Can you share about a time when you wanted to give up?

What type of work have you done? and What is your current ministry?

How do the churches at home look at missionary work outside of the country?

These are good questions, and they are all good to ask missionary friends when you get a chance. But to get real answers there needs to be a foundation of TRUST between you and them. Missionaries are often ready to give the “Praise God for His Victory!” answers. But missions is full of at least as many struggles and hurts as there are joys and victories. Sometimes the joys and meaning flow from the struggles and hurts as much as anything.

Most of those interviewed were from NSC (new sending countries) and are serving in what is sometimes called the 10/40 window. Many serve with little financial support. Some/most are bivocational. If the rope is a symbol of missionary member care and support, for many of them, their rope is more like a shoe string. It is inspiring to read in their interviews NOT the victories, NOT the mountain top experiences, but the quiet commitment and perseverance. I feel a certain connection with them and thank God that they felt the confidence to share their experiences with my students. In reading their stories and trying to understand what they are going through, I feel understood as well. It sounds strange, but true. In some small (and not so small) ways, there is resonance between my experiences and theirs. As I have said before (as I was told by another) one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is to give them your full attention for a few minutes and TRY your best to truly understand what they are going through.

I almost wonder if I would like to teach a class in which the only tasks would be:

                      1.  Interview 10 or 20 (or so) NSC missionaries here in Southeast Asia

                      2.  Analyze the responses for common problems and concerns (ethnographic or GTA perhaps)

                      3.  Develop a prayer and support network for the missionaries.

Maybe that is not a good class project. Maybe it is a better Counseling Center project, or church project.

If you decide to ask a missionary the questions listed above: ensure that there is a trust between the two of you, encourage honest answers (not “churchy” answers), try your best to understand what they are really going through, and LISTEN.

Missionary Member Care and William Carey

I will be teaching a two-week module on “Missionary Member Care” starting next week. So I decided to provide an excerpt from “William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman” by F. Deaville Walker pg. 125-129.

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marat...
William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali in Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a fairly old book, published in 1925. This passage describes some of the many challenges, externally and internally, that William Carey was going through. Issues include problem with financial support, colleagues, physical health, family, culture shock, doubts and depression. Problems with local government here was only briefly alluded to. It is hard to decide what opinion to have after reading this. Does one emphasize the resolute faith and determination of William Carey? Does one emphasize the faithfulness of God who brought him through the fire and to ultimate success? Does one emphasize the failure of the system (mission support system) to make the path straight for him (and family and partners)?

To a man of less resolute mold and of less faith in God than Carey, the whole position must have seemed almost hopeless. Separated thus from the colleague he sincerely loved, he was left to his own devices. Trials began to thicken around him. It was evident that he would not be allowed to live in Calcutta as a missionary– even if he could afford it, which he could not. Yet he could not find another place to go to, and money was dwindling rapidly: “For two months I have seen nothing but a continual moving to and fro,” he wrote in his journal. The climate, the unaccustomed food, and the conditions of life in the tropics were evidently affecting his wife’s health. The long strain of the voyage, followed by their unsettled life in Bengal, had told upon her nerves, and both she and her sister were, not unnaturally, inclined to complain. It is not surprising that curry and rice did not agree with them, and they found Indian chapatis a poor substitute for bread; they complained that they had “to live without many of the necessaries of life.” There can be no doubt that their privations were real, for, left to himself, Carey naturally sought to reduce his family expenditure to the narrowest limits and live within his income. Doubtless the old experiences of Moulton were repeated, which would be all the harder for Dorothy and Katherine after the– to them– comparative luxury of the ship’s table. Dorothy and the two older boys were ill for a month with dysentery. Felix, indeed, so seriously that his life was in danger. Probably, too, they all suffered from homesickness and yearned for their simple cottage in the dear homeland. Enfeebled in body and spirits, they were not inclined to give William the sympathy he sorely needed. “My wife, and sister too, who do not see the importance of the mission as I do, are continually exclaiming against me,” he wrote in his journal; and again, “If my family were but hearty in the work, I should find a great burden removed.”

Nor had Carey real friendship of spirit with his colleague. To Sutcliff he wote:

“Mr. ‘T.’ is a very good man, but only fit to live at sea, where his daily business is before him, and daily provision made for him. I own I fear his present undertaking will be hurtful rather than useful to him; the fickleness of his mind makes him very unfit for such an undertaking. I love him, and we live in greatest harmony; but I confess that Ram Ram Boshu is more a man after my heart.”

Poor Carey had enough trouble in his own little family, in addition to the burden of the work he longed to do; and the financial entanglements in which Thomas was constantly involved must have been almost the last straw. Early in January (1794), within two months of their landing in Bengal, it was discovered that one of the doctor’s creditors in England had sent his bond out to India, and they were not sure that other creditors had not done the same. Carey knew that his colleague was hourly in danger of arrest. “In his state of perplexity, we know not what to do,” he wrote.

Twelve days later, Carey got an offer of a piece of land at a place called Deharta, some three days’ journey from Calcutta. It was to be rent-free for three years. So he went at once to consult Thomas and get from him the money necessary for the journey. Tho his dismay Thomas told him that the money was entirely exhausted– the whole year’s allowance gone in less than ten weeks! Indeed it was even worse that that, they had actually overspent, and Thomas had incurred a new debt to a moneylender.

This may have been a staggering blow, and on reaching his temporary home Carey wrote in his journal:

“Jan. 15, 16 (1794). I am much dejected…. I am in a strange land, alone, no Christian friends, a large family, and nothing to supply their wants. I blame Mr. T. For leading me into such expense at first, and I blame myself for being led … I am dejected, not for my own sake, but for my family’s and his, for whom I tremble.”

Subsequent entries in the journal bear witness to the almost crushing burden Carey bore that dark week:

“Jan. 17 …..Very much dejected all day. Have no relish for anything of the world, yet am swallowed up in its cares. Towards evening had a pleasant view of the all-sufficiency of God, and the stability of His promises, which much relieved my mind; and as I walked home in the night, was enabled to roll my soul and all my cares in some measure on God. … What a mercy is to have a God!”

January 19 was Sunday; to our lonely harassed missionary it was indeed a “day of rest and gladness.” Triumphing over worry and uncertainty, he went out into the country to get among the village people. Aided by his faithful munshi, who acted as his interpreter, he visited the Manicktulla bazaar, and, while the usual business was carried on as on other days, preached to a large congregation consisting principally of Mohammedans.

That Sunday brought a measure of peace and comfort to his soul. On Monday he had once more to take up his heavy burden of finance. He writes:

“Jan. 20. This has been a day of seeking money.” He evidently felt that he had no alternative but to try to borrow five hundred rupees with which to carry on– a thing he hated, but in his extremity was driven to. The journal continues:

“Jan 22. Full of perplexity about temporal things. … My wife has, within this day or two, relapsed into her affliction and is much worse than she was before, but in the mount the Lord is seen. I wish I had but more of God in my soul.

Jan. 23. … My temporal troubles remain just where they were. I have a place, but cannot remove my family to it for want of money.”

Imagine poor Carey’s grief and dismay on visiting his colleague that day, to find him

“… living at the rate of I know not how much, I suppose two hundred and fifty to three hundred rupees per month, has twelve servants, and this day is talking of keeping his coach. I remonstrated with him in vain, and I am almost afraid that he intends to throw up the mission. …My heart bleeds for him, for my family, for the Society, whose steadfastness must be shaken by this report, and for the success of the mission, which must receive a sad bow from this.”

Every word seems to have been written in blood. What unutterable loneliness Carey must have passed through this day, with no earthly firend in whom he could confide! But ere he slept he wrote:

“Bless God, I feel peace within and rejoice in having undertaken the work, and shall, I feel, if I not only labour alone, but even if I lose my life in the undertaking. I anxiously desire the time when I shall so far know the language as to preach in earnest to these poor people.”

There can be little doubt that beside his heavy cares, Carey was suffering from the depression that so often attacks newcomers in India. His own health was probably undermined, and in his condition troubles would appear blacker than they really are.

But even in his darkest moments Carey never lost sight of his greater purpose. He had burned his boats behind him and never thought of turning back. He had come to this land to do missionary work, and nothing could shake his conviction that God had called him.

With the shadows lying heavy around he threw himself with renewed earnestness into his language studies. With his munshi he worked hard to correct the Book of Genesis that Thomas had translated into Bengali; and on the following Sunday we find him and his interpreter in the villages making known the gospel of the grace of God.

On January 28 he went again to Calcutta in a fruitless effort to find a way out of his difficulties. He wrote:

“Again disappointed about money. Was much dejected and grieved. …In the evening had much relief in reading over Mr. Fuller’s charge to us at Leicester. The affection there manifested almost overcame my spirits, for I have not been accustomed to sympathy of late”

Every door seemed closed, and to him, in his spirit of depression, everyone seemed against him. He called on one of the most honest and pious of the chaplains in Calcutta and was coldly received because the good man had “got across” Dr. Thomas. Instead of getting some friendly counsel or help, poor Carey was allowed to depart without even the common courtesy of a meal, though he had “walked five miles in the heat of the sun.”

What days of depression Carey must have experienced! If faith in God means anything at all, it is at a time like that.

Wholistic Mentoring. Not Just Holy, But Whole.

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.

Annie Walker Armstrong, American Baptist missi...
Annie Walker Armstrong, American Baptist missionary organizer and leader (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

English: Reverend James Chalmers, missionary.
English: Reverend James Chalmers, missionary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am scheduled to teach a two-week course at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary ( this April as part of its Summer Institute. Basically, it is an 8-week course shoved into two weeks. I am not sure that “Pastoral Care and the Missionary” is the name the course will finally settle on, but I like it. There is a course at PBTS that deals with “Missionary Member Care” but traditionally it has focused more on logistical issues and relational issues (relationships with supporters, mission board, hosts, etc.).  This is all good, but as someone involved in missions, and one who serves as the administrator of Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center (, I wanted to focus more on the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of missions.

But let’s ask an obvious question. Why have a question that focuses on pastoral care for one profession? I used to be a mechanical engineer… would it make sense to have a class entitled “Pastoral Care and the Engineer?” <Hmmm…. that’s got me thinking…>

This is not a hugely well thought out post… hopefully by the time I finish prepping for the class I will have a clearer view. But here are some reasons to consider:

1.  Cross-cultural Immersion. Most (classic) missionaries are raised in one culture, yet are expected to live and thrive in a new culture. Yet missionaries aren’t typically meant to “go native”… to become become completely enculturated in their new culture. There are a couple of reasons. Missionaries are supported by people from their home culture, and they still be able to relate to them. Additionally, missionaries aren’t supposed to simply become part of a new culture, but to connect counter-culturally, adapting to the culture while also challenging it.

Missionaries often feel “culture shock” as they enter a new culture. Yet, they never truly fit in. This feeling (conscious or unconscious) of being a “stranger in a strange land” provides considerable stress that must be recognized, understood, and dealt with.

2.  Bomb in the Suitcase. I did not create this term… IMB has used it before, but I am not sure if they developed the term either. The idea is that when a missionary goes overseas, he (or she or they of course) carries baggage with him. Yet some of the baggage he carries he is not fully aware of. And that baggage has the potential of “blowing up” overseas.  Here are a few items:

a.  Anger. If a missionary has a bit of an anger problem in his home culture… he can probably deal with it because he has had decades to make his behavior culturally acceptable. But in a new culture, there will be things done differently that are very irritating (driving, food, the lack of privacy, whatever). Also, that which is culturally acceptable is different. Anger that could be dealt with at home may blow up on the field.

b.  Sex.  Family, friends, church, accountability partners at home may keep sexual problems under control. But in the field, much of that support network is gone. Additionally, the cultural landscape may be more relaxed sexually than home, and even where the culture is more conservative there are often things permitted that the missionary has not had to deal with before. It is easy to develop an attitude that “whatever happens in the field, stays in the field.” On the other hand, home supporter expectations may also cause problems. A single missionary at home may be encouraged to marry, but a single missionary in the field may be discouraged from this due to ethnic prejudices or mission board policies.

c.  Financial Mismanagement or Laziness. Problems with money or time or work may not be too much of a problem in a company or organization with a great deal of oversight… where one’s boss’s office is just a few feet away from one’s cubicle. But when management is distant, work problems can flare up.

There are many more potential bombs but you get the idea.

3.  Unreliability and Unrealistic Expectations of Partners. Missionaries are expected to be reliable, but sponsors and agencies are often less reliable. Missionaries often don’t know from month to month (certainly year to year) whether their support will continue to come in. Local hosts on the other hand may see missionaries as a cash cow. Supporters want to hear about victories more than struggles, big numbers over gradual transformation. Some supporters expect missionaries to suffer, Missionaries often are asked to host short-term missionaries… many of whom are great, but some are more like demanding and judgmental religious tourists. Many a missionary has gone home to be cut off financially, or to retire without a support system. Missionaries aren’t expected to have emotional or (especially) spiritual problems. And if they do… who can they go to? In some cases, there is no one to go to.

4.  Failure.  Missionaries are supposed to succeed. But success is often hard to recognize. Partnership failure, organizational or ministry failure, physical or emotional breakdown happens. These can happen with anyone… but the situation of many missionaries makes it difficult to handle these… especially if they have not been prepared for the vicissitudes of mission work.

5.  Special Family Issues.  Missionaries don’t just do their work and then join their family at home. Their family is also intimately involved with the mission work in the mission field culture. Children must be bicultural typically and educated to be able to function effectively in two different cultures. Many do no not have the flexibility and resilience for this. Additionally, missionaries cannot care for aged parents well from a distance. Yet, missionaries can’t (or at least should not) dump their family concerns on God… they are responsible for their family.

6.  Adaptation.  I have said that the two major characteristics of missionaries is Willingness and Flexibility. Spirituality is important, but often not the sort of spirituality that is appreciated by supporters. Spirituality is often shown in flexibility… adjusting to different ministry work, schedules, partnerships, locations, and so forth. Most people don’t deal well with changing schedules… most like a certain amount of routine. Even for those who like variety and change… it is still a source of stress. Burnout is easy… especially when willingness is not tempered by one’s own limitation.

7.  Spiritual Warfare.  Okay, I have to admit that I often don’t take spiritual warfare as seriously as I should (covering this more on a future post) but I do recognize that missionaries are in the front-lines of a battlefield that few people understand or are prepared for.

I will stop here. Anyway, I am looking forward to this class. The Philippines is an up-and-coming mission-sending country. But missionary care here is almost non-existent. Worse, it seems as if (sometimes) the senders seek to make the missionaries suffer more. That could be a mistaken impression on my part… but I do believe there is GREAT room for improvement.

Classic Quote on Missionary Member Care

Quote from John Ryland in his book, “The Work of Faith: the Labour of Love, and the Patience of Hope, Illustrated in the Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Late Pastor of the Baptist Church of Kettering, and the Secretary to the Baptist Missionary Society from its Commencement, in 1792″. The book was written in 1818 (they liked long titles back then). Page 145.

“Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored, we had no one to guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” But before he went down . . . he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect—that “while we lived, we should never let go of the rope.” 

This gives the rope as a model for missionary member care. The missionary needs reliable support back home for them to be able to serve in the mission field. However, acting as the link between the home support and the missionary is not the only way for looking at a rope as symbolic of missionary member care.

The Goer's Rope

Dr. Dan Russell, a missiologist and former professor of missions here in the Philippines also used the rope as showing the interdependency of various parties in the missions endeavor. One can see the rope as made up of three entwined strands of those who support missionaries (goers). These are Welcomers (local hosts/supporters), Senders (home supporters), and Mobilizers (technical and strategic supporters). All three are needed and reminds one of Ecclesiastes 4:12.  “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”