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Further thoughts on why we need Member Care

Following on from Tim Herbert’s helpful December 2014 article “What is Member Care?”, in which he underlines not only the biblical basis for Member Care, but also the fact that people need more psycho-social support the further they move away from their home environment, let’s consider another factor that demonstrates the importance of providing adequate Member Care for those involved in cross-cultural ministry. Back in 1997, the ground-breaking research in Too Valuable to Lose suggested that on a world scale, 5% of missionary personnel leave the field every year, and that 3% (representing 12,000 per year) of the attrition was deemed to be permanent, premature and preventable. That was before the turmoil we have experienced since 9/11, plus the economic crisis in recent years. My guess is that attrition rates have significantly increased since then.

Things have definitely changed since my parents went to the mission field in the 1960s. It has been my observation that there is today an increasing number of missionaries coming from fragmented backgrounds, broken relationships and painful experiences, resulting in poor interpersonal skills, insufficient conflict resolution skills, problems with trust and authority, a distorted view of God, an inadequate theology of suffering, and difficulty with forgiveness. What does this imply? A greater need for careful assessment and ongoing care.

One of the many issues that I see is the failure of missionaries to mature, impacting their relationships and their resilience. Here is a sample of the symptoms: anger boiling below the surface; feeling easily offended; over-reacting to trivial things; insisting on one’s own way; harbouring grudges. On the other extreme, they let people walk over them, give in too quickly and let difficulties fester inside, leading to depression or simply giving up.

The issue is character development and spiritual maturity. I believe these are inseparable, in the sense that one cannot be spiritually mature without being emotionally mature. For instance, one must be both spiritually mature and emotionally mature to come through the storms of life with one’s faith strengthened rather weakened and one’s view of God enhanced rather than diminished. One also needs to be both spiritually mature and emotionally mature to manage and overcome the hurts and disappointments that inevitably come from working closely with others.

Obviously, mature people are more effective as missionaries and stay longer on the field. Member Care can contribute helpfully and significantly through counselling, training (such as the Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills workshop, and spiritual direction, coupled with on-going mentoring, accountability and follow-up.

Are you interested in becoming involved in Member Care? Sign up for the Member Care Europe newsletter, and take a look at the events and resources on this website, including the MA in Member Care offered by Redcliffe College. In particular, be sure to attend the European Member Care Consultations that happen every two years. The next one will be from March 14 to 18, 2016.

Jonathan Ward, Director, Entrepierres Centre for the Care of Francophone Christian Workers

www.pierresvivantes.org

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