Thursday, February 28, 2008

Missionary Training

As a missionary trainer I was interested in the latest journal of Missiology, which dedicated its entire issue to cross-cultural training. The author, Darrell Whitman, surveyed several mission organizations to assess their missionary training and found these results of those that train between 20 and 700 people each year. These are his findings.

Time and Money

"How much time do these mission organizations devote to training their missionaries? The range was 7 to 56 days, with an average of 25 days, or 3.5 weeks.

When asked what percent of the overall budget is given to training, the range was from 2% to 35%, with an average of 12% of their budget spent on training. It is noteworthy that the mission organization that trains the most missionaries (700), also spends the most in training (56 days), and devotes the highest percent of their budget (35%) to training. This is the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention."

Focus of Training

1. Policies and Procedures (14%)
2. Cross-cultural Communication (13%)
3. Understanding Cultural Differences (12%)
4. Mission Team Dynamics (11%)
5. Discipleship (9%)
6. Theology of Mission (8%)
7. Church Planting (7%)
8. Culture Shock (6%)
9. Understanding World Religions (6%)
10. Spiritual Warfare (5%)
11. Psychological Testing and Personality Assessment (4%)

The reality is, these figures reflect agencies that provide training, but many more organizations do not provide training of any kind. In my experience in working with national mission organizations I believe the number of days, budget and focus of training is even less than for North Americans. We certainly need more missionaries, but perhaps the greater need is missionaries who are better equipped. Those responsible to make sure people are best prepared are those who are in charge of sending them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Dear John" and Donor Attrition

A few months back I received a note from a pastor in the US. Their church has been supporting us for over 30 years and this guy was their new pastor. When he wrote, in my mind I concluded that (1) he was young (turned out it is his first church) and (2) he was looking for a way to drop our support. Last week I received a note from him saying that his board had made the decision that they would discontinue their financial support, though they would continue to pray for us!?

When you depend on the monthly contributions of churches and individuals you never enjoy receiving a “Dear John Letter” (a reference to when a girl dumps you, which happened to me when I was single guy in the Army). But, like I’ve said before, donor attrition is a way of life for faith missionary support and you have to learn not to take things personally.

When the pastor wrote and asked about our ministry I dutifully answered all his questions and even said I would be happy to visit the church on my next trip home to give a report. All the way to the church in early January I fought the internal discontent in my soul, as I was sure it was a waste of time and money to report to a church that had already made up their mind about our ministry. I’m glad I made the trip in respect to the fact that they had supported us, off and on, for $50 a month for many years. The least I could do was say thanks. It actually was a good evening and I tried to educate the congregation on missions today, not missions of 1975. The world has changed, missions has changed, my role in missions, which I believe is more strategic and important than anything I’ve done in my career, has changed, but, sadly, they have not changed. Though the people were kind, I knew in my heart our partnership was about to end. And so it is.

I’ve said it before so I will say it again -- if a missionary is not actively trying to raise additional funds he is passively going in the hole. Donor attrition is a way of life and so I, like my colleagues, must continue to seek new support to keep the ministry alive. I know it’s wearisome for churches and individuals to constantly receive requests from missionaries and, believe me, it’s tiresome for us to continue to ask for funding. Whether the ministry budget is $50K or one million dollars everyone must continue to spend a certain amount of time raising money. It’s a horrible system, but it has to be done as one thing is certain – occasionally we will receive the dreaded Dear John letter.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Getting Perspective on The Grand Trunk Express

There is not much reason to take the train these days. If time is a part of the financial equation, then taking a two and half hour flight makes more sense than a thirty-two hour journey to the same destination. But, not everything in this world has to be gauged by dollars and cents, or maybe shouldn’t. So I boarded the Grand Trunk Express from Chennai to Delhi, knowing that the two-night one day excursion would be long but certainly more interesting than sitting on a plane just looking at the back of the head of someone sitting in front of me.

As we pulled out of the station the first evening, the weather outside was hot and humid. Inside the compartment it was so cold I had to close the overhead vents. The porter came in and made my bed while as we passed a number of people sleeping on railway platforms and on the side of the busy roads. My fellow travelers were upper middle income as we journeyed through the countryside of people who live on less than $2 a day. The contrasts in this country are so prevalent that few people even notice. Imagine, on the same train there are those who paid $100 for a first class coach, while in the back of the train, which is the largest section of travelers, they paid less than $10 for the same trip, but had to sleep on flat bench, if the are lucky, on the floor or, more likely, sitting up, leaning on others in a the overcrowded bogies.

Throughout the day I gazed outside my window and thought of this interesting country. My mind, of course, thought about the people who live in the villages along the rail lines. I watched a woman drop a bucket in a well to draw water, little children flying kites near a polluted swamp and wondered what the old man was thinking as he watched the lumbering train pass not more than 20 yards from his house? The further we traveled north I saw more Moslem mosques, big and small Hindu temples but very few churches.

I’ve been in this business a long time, perhaps too long. I no longer get emotionally sappy about the poverty or spiritual needs of the masses. The years and miles have moved me from being na├»ve idealist to a critical realist. I rejoice with every mouth that is fed, every child that is educated, every sinner who becomes a saint. But the reality of this country is that, statistically, the percentage of Christians ten years from now will be less than its present. A population steeped in superstition and whose highest goal is achieve higher status, if the Indian changes his/her faith, it will be more likely to the gods of multi-national corporations, not the God of heaven. The foreign God of Christianity may be the stated offence of Hindu’s, but the foreign god of wealth and material goods is most certainly a faith they readily embrace.

The Almighty, fortunately, is not limited by my skepticism or the hyperbole of those who think they are making an impact on the society with their uncritical outreach programs. God will do what only God does -- use the good, the bad and the silly to bring honor unto Himself. Perhaps more people should take a ride on the Grand Trunk Express to get perspective on the reality of life and to reflect on how He can best use us in the grand scheme of things.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Challenge of Conversion

In training cross-cultural workers in India, I always ask a new class this question: “How many of you come from a Christian background; your mother and father were Christians?” Without exception, 95% of those I teach people grew up in the church. Occasionally there will be a student who came to Christ from a Hindu background, but it is rare. This month one young man in my class told me he came to Christ out of a Buddhist family. Very rare indeed.

Why is this important? Because most of those I teach have never struggled through the issues of changing their belief. While they are being trained and sent to take the Gospel to those who do not know Christ and to convince them that Jesus is indeed the “way, truth and the life,” they themselves have never experienced the trauma of conversion.

It is no easy thing for someone to leave a cultural/religious belief and embrace another faith. In many cultures to accept Christianity is deny your family and cultural heritage…punishable by ostracism and even death. In some societies, for a person to embrace the Gospel is seen as an act of disrespect to parents, an offence that is greater than murder. I asked my Buddhist background student what his family thought of his conversion and he confessed that he made the decision after his father and mother had passed away. For some cultures, which have a strong family consciousness, to convert may even cause the death of their ancestors who live in the spirit world.

Conversion is challenging worldview assumptions. It is the greatest challenge any witness of Christ will ever face. I contend that, while the Gospel is simple, the presentation of the Gospel cross-culturally is not. We dare not be glib as we tell others to forsake all others and follow Christ. Accepting Jesus as Lord is through faith, but many times that faith is greater than a mustard seed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reaching The Other 87%

R and S are a couple who live in Delhi. He is an educator; she is a stay-at-home mom who is also a great vocalist. S grew up in a upper middle income, high caste family and through her many contacts and network, presents musicals to the elite class of India, including political figures Though they have both lived and worked in the U.S. they made the decision to remain in India.

R often reminds me that, though he makes his living as a teacher, his ministry is doing what he can to reach out to unbelievers as well as disciple new followers of Christ. R is now working for a group of investors, none which are Christians, in establishing an English medium school. Though R is an accomplished teacher and speaker, his pulpit is not in a church, but in the board meeting with investors and his interaction with the local community where the school project will be launched.

Recently a friend of S fell seriously ill, to the point of death. A young woman in her thirties, this Hindu friend is out of ICU, but her prognosis and recovery is still tentative. It’s during this time that S has been with her friend, sometimes all night at the hospital. As S ministers to her friend, through kindness and prayer, S hopes that the crisis of life will be an opportunity for her friend to really hear and understand the Jesus she has been talking to her about all her life.

Eight-seven percent of the 3.6 billion people who live in Asia do not personally know a Christian. How will they be reached? Not by another strategic missionary plan, or having a conference on how to have a people movement. The task seems impossible. However, if every believer in their workplace and community would just get to know non-Christians and be friends with those who do not follow Christ, those who have never heard the Gospel will at least have a chance to understand our faith. R and S are neither passive nor militant in their service for Christ. They merely serve Him faithfully each day where they are and in what they do.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How to Reach the Unreached

A recent survey, published in Evangelical Mission Quarterly, reports that 87% of Muslims, Buddhist and Hindus living in Asia (3,624,484.000 people) do not personally know a Christian. By regions, in Africa 26.2% of unbelievers, people of another religion or have no religion at all, know a Christian; in Latin America 89.9%, Europe 75.3%, North America 78.8%. The study concluded what we have read before, that 90% of ministry resources, people and money, are directed to those who have already heard the message of Christ, and a great deal of those resources are dedicated to those who have already accepted the Gospel. Interesting study, what does it mean?

For me, first, it means that we, the Church, need to continue to evaluate our outreach strategy. As we look at missions within our local congregation, how much of our mission dollars and people are going to those 3.6 billion people who have never even had a contact with a believer? While Gospel literature, schools, orphanages and youth camps are important; do those activities and programs actually translate into believers coming in contact with non-believers? These statistics suggest that missions and missionaries are more inclined to be occupied in a project of outreach rather than actually being involved as a personal witness.

Secondly, it is a challenge for people, like me, who work with national missionaries and pastors, to teach them to understand the importance of building relationships with non-Christians in their communities. This problem of ecclesiastical isolationism is universal. Throughout the world the church continues to be a “holy huddle,” spending more time with people of like-faith rather than developing a personal relationship with those who have no understanding of who Jesus is. Giving a tract, showing the Jesus film to the masses are okay, but those efforts pale in comparison with the power of personal relationships, which is how most people of this world come to a real understanding of Christ and His salvation.

Question? Do you personally know a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist where you live? Are they a part of your network of friends? Indeed, for those who live in the U.S., in your network of friends, do you know non-believers? The hope of the world lies in the hands of each one of us as we live and work each day among those who have never heard.

Friday, February 01, 2008

CBMT #3 -Training for the Long Haul

Though the number of career North American missionaries will continue to decrease, due to the expansion of the national church as well as the high cost of Western missionary personnel living overseas, people still do commit themselves to long-term service. Many of these folks end up going to Bible Colleges and Seminary for ministry preparation, but there are few specific areas of training that I believe needs more focus before they sell their worldly goods and move to a foreign country.

Family Life - In the studies on attrition one of the main reasons career people quit is because of family issues – stresses within the marriage, children’s lack of adjustment, school problems and the lack of feeling at home in a country where you are always an outsider. Raising a family in your home country is tough enough. Magnify those stresses of those living overseas and it becomes even more of an issue. CBMT should invest a great deal more time with couples discussing expectations and realities on the field. Where will the family live? What will be their lifestyle? Will the kids be home schooled or attend a national school? (And if home schooled, are the parents equipped to be both teachers as well as parents?). In the past year in Asia I witnessed four families, all from the same mission agency, crash and burn. Two of the families left within six months of arriving, one couple switched fields of service and another is just returning from three months of counseling. To raise a family in a foreign country is not easy, and the turnover among expatriates, whether in business, government or ministry, usually hinges on how well families are prepared for field assignment. CBMT should screen their long-term families well before commissioning them for service.

Spiritual Formation - In every field I have lived, the one area of concern that I’ve observed, for me personally as well of others, was spiritual vitality. Living among a people who have poor education, speak a different language and who are, for the most part, not yet spiritually mature, makes it difficult maintaining personal spiritual growth. Just because someone is “in the work” everyday doesn’t make them spiritually developed. In a recent survey, conducted by a friend of mine, he received over two hundred anonymous responses as it relates to spiritual health. Forty-eight percent of the respondents confessed they had visited pornographic websites. I was surprised to learn that one in three of those who visit adult websites are women. One of the greatest challenges of every Christian is their own spiritual well-being. There seems to be little guidance or tools to help missionaries on the field to feed themselves spiritually. More people come home off the field because of spiritual problems than not being able to adjust to a foreign culture.

Finding One’s Niche - I know this point is redundancy as I have talked about it often. However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of knowing what to do before going to the field. One of the reasons people do not last on the field is because (1) they are doing nothing because they don’t know what to do or, (2) they are doing busy work just to remain on the field. Passion for missions has its place, but zeal without knowledge is a sure recipe for failure. Pre-field training can help a missionary family understand what credible role they can play in a cross-cultural context. Even if a person is not 100% sure of their role before they leave, pre-field training will guide the person in how to discover their niche.

My challenge to those churches that have decided they are going to send their own to the mission field, either through short-term projects, partnering with nationals or sending career people from their congregation, that they be passionate about equipping people properly for cross-cultural ministry. Obviously, if I can help with your CBMT, I would be delighted to do so.