A Distant Look Back at Missionaries and Attrition, Part II [—at A Life Overseas]

April 28, 2019 § Leave a comment

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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)

[Photo by Made By Morro on Unsplash]

 

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A Distant Look Back at Missionaries and Attrition—Part I [—at A Life Overseas]

March 30, 2019 § Leave a comment

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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)

[Photo by Made By Morro on Unsplash]

 

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