What is the Average Length of Service for Missionaries on the Field? The Long and the Short of It [—at A Life Overseas]

December 1, 2018 § Leave a comment

Before you read on, I want you to take a shot at answering the question in the title of this post. Don’t think on it too long. Just go with your gut.

What is the average length of service for missionaries on the field?

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Have an answer? OK, what number did you come up with? And if your number were true, would you consider it a sign of hope or a reason for concern? What would you think if I told you the real average is 4 years? What about 8? What about 12?

For insight into the actual statistics, let’s go to ReMAP II, the 2003 survey of mission agencies conducted by the World Evangelical Alliance. In an article looking at the survey’s results, Jim Van Meter, part of the ReMAP II steering committee, writes that for career missionaries from the US who left the field in 2001 or 2002, the average length of service was 12 years. (Here, “career missionaries” means those planning on spending three or more years abroad.)

So there you have it . . . 12 years.

Before moving on, I do want to address this number’s shortcomings.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

(Jim Van Meter, “US Report of Findings on Missionary Retention,” World Evangelical Alliance, December 2003)

[photo: “Behind the Clock, Musée d’Orsay,” by Erika, used under a Creative Commons license]

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A Sideways Look at Missions Stuff: Chuckle, Chuckle, Ouch

November 4, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Following up on my theme of laughable and cringeworthy cultural mistakes, I just reposted my “At the Night Market, Some Flavors Are Better Left Untried” at ALifeOverseas.com.

In that vein (the laughing and cringing part), here are some videos from John Crist on the modern church—funny with a dash of stepping on some toes.

I include mine in the toes stepped on. With that said, if the second and third clips make me wince, does that make me a millennial? (I’d like to be a millennial, too!)

And while the fourth video isn’t about missions per se, if you stick with it, you’ll hear the missionary reference near the end.

[photo: “day 13,” by kygp, used under a Creative Commons license]

Beating the Drum for Missionary Care: An Interview with Neal Pirolo [at A Life Overseas]

July 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

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In her post “Closer to the Truth about Current Missionary Attrition: An Initial Analysis of Results,” Katie Rowe looks at the findings of a recent survey of missionaries, showing that respondents rated “lack of missionary care” as one of the most common reasons for leaving the field. One of those who commented on the post was Neal Pirolo, author of Serving as Senders—Today: How to Care for Your Missionaries as They Prepare to Go, Are on the Field and Return Home, and The Reentry Team: Caring for Your Returning Missionaries. The current edition of Serving as Senders—Today is a revision of the original, first published in 1991. Since then, it has been translated into 20 languages and has nearly a half million copies in print.

In reference to missionary/member care, Neal writes, “I have been ‘beating this drum’ since 1976!” I contacted Neal to get his long-term perspective, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions (and along the way, with his wife’s help, remembered that the year was actually 1978).

Why was 1978 a starting point for you to begin your drumbeat for missionary care? 

Oftentimes, telling a story communicates better than “just the facts.” Let me tell a story:

I went to Brazil to administer the five schools Wycliffe/SIL was using at the time for missionary children. My wife was given the responsibility of overseeing the Group House in Cuiaba. We had a choice: move our family of six in with all the singles or move from house to house every three months as translators went to their villages and back. We moved in. We looked in the refrigerator. Every item had someone’s initials on it. We looked at each other. “This will not work,” our eyes said to each other. But how do you change a group of people so entrenched?

Read the rest at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Drum,” by André Prata, used under a Creative Commons license]

Eight “Ifs” I Don’t Believe So Much Anymore [at A Life Overseas]

June 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

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After my mother’s death last year, my sister and I sorted through the items in her house, and I came home with some boxes that Mom had saved for me, holding grade-school spelling books, newspaper clippings, cards and letters, and old grad-school acceptance letters. There were some posters, too, ones that I’d used to decorate my room when I was a university student.

Do you remember those Argus posters with inspiring words printed over inspiring photos? (If you don’t, ask your parents—it was that long ago.) I recently unrolled a few of them, and remembered them hanging on my wall. There’s the photo of a sailboat against the horizon, reading, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are made for.” And there’s the image of a man climbing a nearly vertical cliff face. That one says, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

That’s one of the “If” phrases that used to guide me, but I don’t believe it as much now after living overseas. I can’t say for sure it was the location that changed my thinking. Maybe it was just the time that went by, and I would have come to the same conclusions regardless of where I lived. But I can’t separate the when and the where—from the experiences that made up my life then and there.

If it is to be, it is up to me
You’ve got to admire that mountaineer on my poster. He’s straining for his next handhold, his bearded face a display of determination. He knows that he must—he will—reach the summit. He knows the printed message is true. It’s made up of 10 two-letter words. How cool is that?

I understand what the poster is getting at—that we shouldn’t wait around for others to get things done. But somewhere along the way I learned that I’m not the center of the making-things-happen-universe. And it’s a good thing for the world that I’m not. Now I’m more on board with an image that says something like “If it is to be, it is up to God using whomever he sees fit to grace with the opportunity to join him. Finding what I can do to help is the part that’s up to me.” Not too catchy. Too many words and letters for a good poster. And for the picture? How about a guy pausing as he climbs the stairs?

If you want something done right, do it yourself
This phrase is a second cousin to the one above. . . .

Finish reading at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “to climb the stairs” by Thomas8047, used under a Creative Commons license]

 

Risk and the Cross-Cultural Worker: An Interview with Anna Hampton, Author of “Facing Danger” [at A Life Overseas]

May 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Dr. Anna Hampton, along with her husband, Neal, have lived and worked for nearly 20 years in war-torn Islamic countries. This includes almost 10 years in Afghanistan, where they started raising their three children. Their experiences led Anna to write Facing Danger: A Guide through Risk (Zendagi, 2016), which is based on her doctoral dissertation at Trinity Theological Seminary. 

Many cross-cultural workers recognize the need to develop a theology of suffering, but you write that a theology of risk is also necessary for resilience on the field. You cover this in depth in Facing Danger, but could you give a short elevator speech on how the two are different?

A theology of suffering asks a different question than a theology of risk asks. When I was a young mom facing daily threats of all kinds but especially kidnapping and murder, I needed to be able to evaluate what God was calling me and my children to that day. We hadn’t suffered the reality of kidnapping, but we were facing the risk of it. So how was I to think, to process my emotions, hear God’s voice, and then make a decision on what I was to do?

While risk and suffering are closely related and really go hand in hand, they are not the same thing. A theology of suffering does not answer the challenges of how to think, feel, and make decisions in risk. Instead, a theology of suffering answers how I am to respond to God in suffering, how I am to think, feel, and view God’s heart once I am in suffering. Suffering in many ways is more of a “static” scenario, whereas risk is inherently dynamic—one is moving toward or away from risk and danger, and the situation is often unstable and confusing. A theology of risk answers how I am to act on the opportunities presenting themselves in risk: Risk equals opportunity for both great loss and great gain.

For the rest of the interview, go to A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Warning!” by Ray Sadler, used under a Creative Commons license]

Debriefing: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? [—at A Life Overseas]

March 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

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After I wrote about debriefing last month, some people responded with versions of . . . Sounds like a good idea, but where should I go?

That’s a great question, and I’d like to point you to a place where you can find some options. Here at A Life Overseas, click on the Resources link at the top of the page, and you’ll see a list of debriefing opportunities under the heading “Re-entry and Debriefing Resources.” It’s not an exhaustive list, but with the continued help of this community, we can make it more so. Can you give us the names, URLs, and locations of other places you’d recommend? Just comment below or leave your contributions in the comments section at the end of the Resources list.

Of course, Where? isn’t the only question worth asking. So as you think about what might be a good fit for you, here are some more questions to get you started. . . .

. . . finish reading at A Life Overseas

[photo: “Welcome home,” by Stefani Woods, used under a Creative Commons license]

When Debriefing, Leave Your Shoes—and Socks—at the Door [—at A Life Overseas]

March 2, 2018 § Leave a comment

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When we first moved to Asia, one of the customs we needed to learn was not wearing shoes in someone’s home. It’s one of those cultural things. But starting out, we had our reasons for wanting to leave our shoes on. It’s convenient. What about the holes in my socks? I don’t want you to smell my feet—and I don’t want to smell yours! It just doesn’t feel right.

But It didn’t take long for going shoeless inside to become our habit, and even our preference. Then we’d fly back to the West and upon landing we’d again be in the land of most-people-wear-shoes-in-the-house. Of course, we still could take ours off, and we often did. But sometimes it was easier just to leave them on. Then it was back on the plane (where, a recent headline proclaims, you should never take your shoes off), and we’d start to reset our minds about a whole range of things.

Back and forth. Back and forth. It can all get pretty confusing. Sometimes we need help sorting things out—things much bigger and deeper than clothing choices. A great opportunity for processing on those issues, whether you’re finishing a term, or a lifetime, overseas, is a set-aside time for in-depth, personal debriefing. And for that kind of debriefing, regardless of the location, shoes, and socks, don’t belong.

OK. Now I’ve moved to speaking figuratively, so let me continue in that vein and talk a little about feet. Most of us aren’t that crazy about how ours look. There are crooked toes, calluses, bunions, blisters, unclipped or ingrown toenails, and pasty-white skin. And then there’s that smell. Yes, missionaries may have the beautiful feet of Romans 10:15, but they don’t always seem that way to the ones who own them—thus the socks and shoes. Debriefing, though, should be about openness and trust, showing your feet, so to speak, as they truly are. But that’s not always easy.

To read the rest of this post, head over to A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Shoes,” by Long Road Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]

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