Is Conflict with Teammates Really the Top Reason for Missionaries Leaving the Field? [—at A Life Overseas]
July 28, 2017 § Leave a comment
You’ve probably heard it many times. Simply put: The number-one reason missionaries leave the field is because of problems with coworkers. The trouble is, it’s not that simple.
First of all, the best source I can find for this, or something close to it, is the in-depth study ReMAP (the Reducing Missionary Attrition Project), conducted by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF), with its results presented in 1997 in Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition. Today, most of what we hear from ReMAP are snippets and referrals to their lists ranking causes for why missionaries return. But there is so much more to the data—and so much more behind the data—collected by the study. In light of this, and in honor of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Too Valuable to Lose, let’s take a deeper look at ReMAP, through the lens of team relationships.
ReMAP’s survey asked the leaders of mission agencies to a) look at a list of 26 causes for attrition and pick the seven that they believed were the most important for their organization, covering the five years preceding 1994, and b) rate these seven in importance in relation to each other. According to Too Valuable to Lose, the Mission Commission received back over 500 responses from mission agencies in 14 countries—categorized as old and new sending countries—and the results were compiled to come up with an overall weighted list.
So is trouble with team relationships on top of that list? No, it comes in at number six. But stopping there would oversimplify things. Rather, here are five points as to why the top causes of missionary attrition can be difficult to name.
Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .
[photo: “Exit,” by Thomas Hawk, used under a Creative Commons license]
June 30, 2017 § 2 Comments
“Are you thriving?”
It was during our first term on the field, and our pastor asked me this question in a Skype chat in front of our home congregation. My answer? As I remember, it was in the neighborhood of “Well, I’m not sure we’re thriving, but, uh, hmmm, something, something, something, not always easy, but . . . uh . . . we’re doing fine.”
Thriving is a big topic when it comes to living and working overseas, as in “Don’t just survive, thrive!” It’s a great goal, and there are many who reach it, including some whom I know well. But I’m afraid that thriving was something that eluded me during my time as a missionary. And experience tells me that I’m far from alone. A missionary who came back to the States a few years ago told me that while he had hoped to thrive, “just” surviving was a more pressing need most days. Any amens?
But let’s say you’re able to put a check mark in the survival box, but thriving still seems out of reach. Where does that leave you? Is there another alternative?
Earlier this year, Anisha Hopkinson wrote here about what success looks like overseas. Struggling, she says, is not the same thing as failing. In fact, “struggling” is another way of saying “endeavoring,” “going all out,” “making every effort,” “plugging away,” “trying your hardest,” . . . and “striving.”
Maybe it’s because it rhymes, but I think striving is a great third way.
Survive. Thrive. Strive.
You can finish reading this post at A Life Overseas. . . .
May 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
Diane Stortz knows firsthand what it’s like to have children serving overseas, to want them to follow God’s calling, but also to want them close by. In 2008, she, along with Cheryl Savageau, wrote Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected when Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally (InterVarsity Press). Since joining the ranks of parents of missionaries (POMs), she has ministered to and heard from hundreds of parents walking the same path.
Tell us a little about your personal story as a parent of a missionary.
My husband and I never expected to be parents of a missionary, and becoming POMs was hard. Our daughter and son-in-law married while still in college. She was training as a vocalist, and he planned to be a youth minister. But they spent their first anniversary as missionary interns in Bosnia. Over the next two years, they made the decision to serve as missionaries after graduation. Our heads and hearts were reeling! We really hadn’t been prepared to “lose” our daughter to marriage so soon . . . and now we felt we were losing her all over again.
Making it feel worse, our church was their sending organization, they would be joining a team already in place, and our congregation was excited and thrilled. We heard “You must be so proud” a lot. Yes, we were proud and very supportive, but we were also hurting.
Book person that I am, I went looking for something to read to help me adjust, and found nothing. About the same time, Cheryl Savageau (counseling director at our church) and Judy Johnson (missions minister) were talking about ways to help us and the other POMs in the congregation (all of us were struggling). That’s how our ministry to POMs eventually was born. Cheryl and I wrote a book and, for about ten years, we led groups and workshops for POMs and for college students and missions recruits too.
Head over to A Life Overseas for the rest of this interview.
May 20, 2017 § Leave a comment
Netflix is airing Anne with an E, a new series based on the novel Anne of Green Gables, written by Lucy Maude Montgomery in 1908. It’s getting a lot of good reviews, such as The Atlantic’s, titled “Anne with an E Is the Best Kind of Adaptation.” But not all of the press is positive. The show has a darker edge—for instance, revealing more of the harshness of Anne’s back story before her adoption. This has prompted Vanity Fair‘s critique, “Anne of Green Gables: Netflix’s Bleak Adaptation Get’s It All So Terribly Wrong.”
I haven’t seen any of the show, but I’d be willing to give it a shot (if I had Netflix). I like Anne Shirley and her way with words and, by her own admission, words and words and words and words.
I heard a clip from the opening episode, in which Anne is with the stoic Matthew Cuthbert on the way to her new home on Prince Edward Island. She sees a tree filled with white blooms and can’t help but rhapsodize on its beauty. And this segues into her opinions on missionaries as possible marriage partners. To Anne, there’s more to a missionary than just standing in the gap overseas. He can stand in the gap back home, too.
Here are Anne’s remarks from the novel:
“Isn’t that beautiful? What did that tree, leaning out from the bank, all white and lacy, make you think of?” she asked.
“Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Why, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty veil. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like. I don’t ever expect to be a bride myself. I’m so homely nobody will every want to marry me—uness it might be a foreign missionary. I suppose a foreign missionary mightn’t be very particular. But I do hope that some day I shall have a white dress. That is my highest ideal of earthly bliss.
In a later book, Anne, now in her twenties, is preparing to marry Gilbert Blythe. Her friend Diana asks if she will wear a veil for the ceremony:
Yes, indeedy. I shouldn’t feel like a bride without one. I remember telling Matthew, that evening when he brough me to Green Gables, that I never expected to be a bride because I was so homely no one would ever want to marry me—unless some foreign missionary did. I had an idea then that foreign missionaries couldn’t afford to be finicky in the matter of looks if they wanted a girl to risk her life among cannibals. You should have seen the foreign missionary Priscilla married. He was as handsome and inscrutable as those day-dreams we once planned to marry ourselves, Diana; he was the best dressed man I ever met, and he raved over Priscilla’s “ethereal golden beauty.” But of course there are no cannibals in Japan.
April 26, 2017 § 3 Comments
Our pictures are on the walls!
It’s been a year since I wrote about the long process I and my family were going through fitting back into life in the States and not yet feeling at home—still not having our pictures hung up. Since then, quite a few things have changed, and I would be remiss if I didn’t pass that on as well. I have a new job and my wife is able to stay at home, and we’ve unpacked our pictures and they’re all hanging in the house we’ve been able to buy.
We are so grateful for the ways God has helped us move forward.
But though it’s been over five years since we came back, we can’t say that the transition is completely behind us. It’s still there, just now in less obvious ways.
This post is about reverse culture stress, but it’s not about the difficulties of fitting back into a home culture or family culture or church culture. It’s about the undercurrent of feelings that flow in the opposite direction of our physical move. It’s about the difficulty of wanting to fit in. It’s about the difficulty of wanting to want to.
What are some of the things that hold returned missionaries back from pouring our whole hearts into settling in? What are the feelings—good or bad, right or wrong—that can keep us from jumping into this new chapter? Here are a few I’ve noticed. . . .
Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .
April 13, 2017 § 3 Comments
I once heard a friend (and fellow missionary at the time) say something on the order of
Missionaries are like manure. Pile them all together and they stink, but spread them out and they do good things.
He isn’t the only one who’s used fertilizer imagery to point out that missionaries tend to cause each other problems when they’re in close proximity to each other. But where did the missionary-manure comparison originally come from?
Well, one blogger cites a quotation from Luis Palau, in which the evangelist credits a Wycliffe missionary in Mexico for coming up with the phrase, after watching a cow walk by. But that doesn’t quite jibe with the testimonies of others (including Philip Yancey, in Church: Why Bother? [Zondervan, 1998]) who claim that Palau applied the simile to the church:
The church is like manure. Pile it together and it stinks up the neighborhood; spread it out and it enriches the world.
Comparisons of manure with types of people aren’t limited to only “missionaries” and “the church,” though all the ones I’ve been able to find do concern people who have an involvement with religion. Consider these examples:
The reference to “ministers” above is from a sermon by William Sloane Coffin, given in 1978, in which he says he heard the correlation to manure from a “distinguished theologian” twenty years earlier. That version is
Ministers are like manure: spread out in the field they have a certain usefulness. But when brought together in a heap, well, the odor gets pretty strong.
But a more precise earlier dating comes from the Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the State Bar of California, volume 19, published in 1950. In it, the speaker refers to his “dear friend Lord MacMillan,” who tells about a Scottish minister who couldn’t bring himself to attend synod meetings, saying,
Ministers are like manure; when they are spread out over the land, they are very beneficial to the community.
But people aren’t the only things that are like manure. Nope, not just people. There’s
This last one is significant, because it deals with money, which leads us closer to the great-great-grandfather of the “is like manure” idea. But first lets take a look at a great aunt . . . from the mouth of Dolly Gallagher Levi.
In 1953, Thornton Wilder wrote the play The Matchmaker, a revision of his earlier work The Merchant of Yonkers, from 1938. In it, Dolly quotes her late husband, Ephraim:
Money, I’ve always felt, money—pardon my expression—is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread about encouraging young things to grow.
In 1964, The Matchmaker was made into the musical Hello, Dolly! which then became a movie in 1969. (The about in the above line becomes around in the musical versions.) This is probably where “money is like manure” gained the most attention in modern times, but it certainly didn’t originate there. Over a hundred years earlier (August 20, 1836, to be exact), Horace Greeley’s The New-Yorker included this “adage”:
Money is like manure, of no use until it be spread.
And now we get back to the oldest relative of the phrase—at least the oldest one that’s been found in print. It’s from Francis Bacon’s Of Seditions and Troubles, way back in 1625:
Above all things, good policy is to be used, that the treasure and monies in a state be not gathered into few hands; for, otherwise, a state may have a great stock, and yet starve: and money is like muck, not good except it be spread. This is done chiefly by suppressing, or, at the least, keeping a strait hand upon the devouring trades of usury, engrossing, great pasturages, and the like.
Where did Bacon come up with this? Well, in the same year, he also published Apophthegmes New and Old. Collected by the Right Honourable, Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St. Alban. One of these apothegms (wow, I just looked that word up and found out I’ve been mispronouncing it) he ascribes to a Mr. Bettenham:
Mr. Bettenham used to say; That Riches were like Mucke: When it lay, upon an heape, it gave but a stench, and ill odour; but when it was spread upon the ground, then it was cause of much fruit.
In a letter written to Thomas Hobby, Bacon references the death of his friend “Mr. Bettenham” (The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon [collected by James Spedding, 1868]). Assuming this is the same person from Apophthegmes, the saying would have to predate 1606, when Bacon penned the letter.
So all told, that’s a more-than-400-year history, which means my friend didn’t come up with the idea on his own. And neither did J. Paul Getty or Will Rogers or J. I. Packer or an acquaintance of Francis Chan. No, the complete line of succession is not nearly so straightforward . . . or recent. Rather, to quote another quotable source, the venerable REO Speedwagon, it instead hews closer to (sing along with me)
Heard it from a friend
who heard it from a friend
who heard it from another. . . .”
And so it—usually—goes.
[photo: “Cow Manure,” by Ian Barbour, used under a Creative Commons license]