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.