June 28, 2019 § Leave a comment
It’s a question I’m reluctant to ask, because I’m a strong proponent of more effort and resources devoted to caring for cross-cultural workers. But here it is: Can there be too much member care?
To help with the answer, I’ll dip once more into the deep well of data from ReMAP and ReMAP II, studies conducted by the World Evangelical Fellowship/World Evangelical Alliance. And more specifically, I’ll consult the analysis of those results by Detlef Blöcher and Jonathan Lewis, who first asked the question more than twenty years ago. The pair examine the effects of member care on attrition in Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition, and Blöcher addresses the issue in Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention.
Cutting to the chase, here is what they found: An increase in time and money devoted to missionary care, as a proportion of a sending organization’s total resources, tracks with a decrease in “preventable” attrition. That’s true, though, only until a tipping point is reached. Above that percentage, more care actually correlates with more workers leaving the field. While the first finding seems obvious to me, I have to say that the second one doesn’t align with my general assumptions and seems to fly in the face of my advocacy for more and more member care. But I can’t ignore information just because it doesn’t easily fit my personal views.
Read more at A Life Overseas. . . .
April 28, 2019 § Leave a comment
In part one of this “distant look back,” I discussed the length of time missionaries of the past spent on the field, using data from William Gordon Lennox’s 1933 book, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries. In this segment, I’ll move on to the reasons why their time overseas came to an end.
When determining the causes of missionary attrition, Lennox understands the challenge of drilling down to the truth, writing,
The elder Morgan is credited with this statement, “There are two reasons for a man’s decisions: first, a good reason; second, the real reason.” How many missionaries leave their work is not nearly so interesting and pertinent a question as, why do they leave? Obtaining this information for all missionaries who have left service is a real task. Precipitating or contributing factors must be separated from those of fundamental importance; the reasons which lie behind the merely good reasons must, if possible, be unearthed.
For the missionary employer a lack of funds may be an excellent reason with which to cover his real dissatisfaction with the work of an employee. For the missionary himself, ill health may subconsciously act as substitute for a more fundamental but unexpressed dislike for his missionary task.
To track reasons for withdrawal, Lennox received data from the following missionary boards in the US, for the noted time periods: the general boards of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Northern Baptist Convention (1900-1928), the Northern Baptist women’s board, the board of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, and the American Board (1918-1928), and the Young Women’s Christian Association (1918-1927). These groups reported reasons for withdrawal for 3,712 of the 3,733 missionaries who ended their service during these years.
Go to A Life Overseas for the rest of this post. . . .
(William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933)
March 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
The opinion is often expressed that the present-generation missionary does not view his work as a work for life. —William Lennox
Not every former missionary gets an obituary printed in The New York Times, but in 1960, William Gordon Lennox did. Born in Colorado Springs in 1884, Lennox attended Colorado College, but when he applied to the Boston University Divinity School, he was rejected because of his deficiencies in Latin and Greek. For his fall-back plan, he earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, followed by spending four years as a medical missionary in China. It was during his time there that he saw epilepsy firsthand, and upon his return to the States, he devoted himself to the study of the disease, as a teacher and researcher at Harvard. In time, he became known as the “father” of the modern epilepsy movement in the US.*
Also, along the way, he wrote The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, in 1933. I referred to this book in my post “What Is the Average Length of Service for Missionaries on the Field? The Long and the Short of It, ” and having found a copy since then, I’d like to share more from this extensive study.
Before diving into the more recent findings, Lennox begins by taking a broad look back at “the entire journeyings of the missionary host.”
- In the more than 100 years of Protestant missionary work preceding the book’s publication, approximately 75,000 missionaries had gone out, providing around 1 million years of service.
- Their efforts resulted in 110 national Christians per missionary, or 8.3 for each year of work.
- These missionaries served an average of 12.5 years, with those married averaging 13.7 years, and singles, 8.5 years.
- By 1923, there were over 29,000 missionaries—representing 826 societies and committees in Europe, the United States, and Canada—serving abroad.
Continue reading Part I at A Life Overseas. . . .
(William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933; “William Lennox Obituary,” The New York Times, July 23, 1960 (at Lasker Foundation, retrieved from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine)
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?
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)
July 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
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. . . .
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]
March 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Remember the good old days when you could pack 70 pounds into each of your two checked bags on international flights? That meant that when our family of six moved overseas as missionaries, we could take 840 pounds of clothes, books, sheets, cake mixes, and the like. And we used just about every ounce of it.
It could be argued that we didn’t need to take that much with us, but we’re Americans, after all, and we Americans don’t often pack light. I’ve traveled with people from other countries, and even on short trips, I invariably seem to end up lugging the largest pieces of luggage. What if there’s a pool nearby? Better bring swimming trunks, and a towel. What if it snows? What if I spill something on my Friday jeans? What if I need work shoes? What if somebody throws a formal party?
There’s also another set of luggage that missionaries tend to overpack. It’s the bags that hold our our assumptions, our plans . . . our expectations.
Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission. What they found is that our pre-field predictions often don’t measure up to our on-field experiences. (I say “our” because though the book is written for and about women, most of its insights and lessons easily apply to both sexes.)
The authors gave the women a list of 34 expectations, and asked them to rate each one on the degree to which it applied to them. Then the respondents went back and evaluated the list against what actually came to be in their lives as missionaries.
In 14 of the areas, the women reported that their expectations exceeded what they found in real life. The 10 with the highest percentage of expectations greater than reality include some very deep, personal issues:
75.4% Am fruitful
70.4% Am a prayer warrior
67.6% Am growing spiritually continually
62.7% Am spiritually dynamic
65.8% Continually trust God for everything
57.5% Have a daily quiet time
56.5% Have a successful quiet time
56% Am well balanced in areas of ministry in and out of home
55.1% Have miraculous stories to tell of how God is using me
50.9% Embrace my new host culture
The disconnect between expectations and reality often leads to disappointment and guilt. And as the authors point out, this can lead to burnout. It is difficult to move steadily forward when we are dragged down by the weight of our overpacked luggage.
So how can we pack less? How can we lighten our load? Here are some suggestions.
- Read fewer biographies, read more people.
Stories about missionaries can be very inspirational, but when inspiration is the main goal, they can often leave out the flaws and shortcomings. When we assume that real missionaries are super human, then we are discouraged when we don’t measure up. That’s why we need to have honest conversations to find out the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. But not everyone will give you the unvarnished truth. It usually takes time to earn someone’s trust. And you’ll need to ask questions that get people rethinking their responses, to speak beyond the safe and familiar answers. Try asking a missionary, “What do you wish you’d known before you moved overseas?” “What have you learned?” “What would you tell yourself as a younger missionary candidate if you could?” “What are some of your unmet expectations?” (For other examples, see the questions asked of missionaries in Eenigenburg and Bliss’s survey, printed in the appendix of their book.)
- And when you read, read between and outside the lines.
As But just as some books—and missionaries—are only completely positive, some are entirely negative. Be cautious in drawing conclusions based on either side. When you hear what sounds like cynicism and despair, be slow to judge. Context is important here, too. Find out the whole story. And don’t say, “That will never happen to me . . . not with my faith, my preparation, and my plans.”
- Remember that short stories can be good literature, too.
Before packing your bags, talk to those missionaries who have failed and come home early. I say “failed” only to grab your attention. I don’t really count those missionaries as failures. Instead, I understand that most are people who have struggled with some great disappointments and have made the extremely difficult decision to return. What can they teach you about packing? Know that “ex missionaries” who left under less-than-ideal situations often fade into the woodwork and aren’t often sought out for their expertise. But they just may be the ones with the most to offer.
- Don’t book a ride on the magic plane.
A ride on the magic plane is the one in which you fall asleep half way across the ocean and wake up “A Missionary,” with all the super powers that that entails. You may arrive at your destination with increased confidence, but you’ll still be the same person who stepped onto the plane. You’ll still need to deal with the same issues and weaknesses that vexed you back home. In fact, you’ll probably see your struggles increase in the crucible of cross-cultural service. Simply taking on the title missionary doesn’t change who you are the inside, in the same way it didn’t change those missionaries you’ve idolized in the past, or those teammates you’re traveling to join.
- Pack your own bags
Here’s another throwback to days gone by. Before 9/11 and TSA protocols, ticket agents would ask, “Did you pack your bags yourself?” That question isn’t asked much anymore, but it’s an important one for missionaries. Yes, getting input from those who have gone before is important, but the luggage holding your expectations needs to be filled by you, not by your sending agency, supporting churches, supervisors, teammates, or even other members of your missionary family. Get clarity on other’s expectations and work out disagreements before disillusionment is allowed to set in. And don’t set yourself up for failure in their eyes by over predicting the positives in order to gain support—or to convince yourself. Sometimes you’ll find that other’s assumptions are unreasonable and need to be corrected. Sometimes you’ll find that you’re trying to please voices that exist nowhere except in your own head.
Before you head to the mission field, prepare thoroughly, and pack carefully. When it comes to packing your expectations, it isn’t just about seeing how much you can get into a suitcase and still get the zipper closed. It’s also about being discerning and knowing what to leave behind.
But you don’t want to go empty-handed, either. Hopes, dreams, and plans are important. Don’t forget your underwear and socks. And if you’ve got room, you might want to take that swimsuit, too. Just in case.