Is Conflict with Teammates Really the Top Reason for Missionaries Leaving the Field? [—at A Life Overseas]

July 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

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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.

Looking Back

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]

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Surviving? Thriving? How about Striving? [—at a Life Overseas]

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. . . .

[photo: “Cross Country,” by stephrox, used under a Creative Commons license]

When Your Parents Wish You Weren’t Far Away: An Interview with Diane Stortz [at A Life Overseas]

May 29, 2017 § Leave a comment

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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.


[photo: “Atardecer en el Palmar” by Carlos Calamar, used under a Creative Commons license]

Marriage with an E: Anne of Green Gables’ Plans for a Missionary Husband

May 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

1428639669_a1709477b8_oNetflix 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.

(Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, L. C. Page, 1908; Anne’s House of Dreams, McClelland, 1917)

[photo: “Victorian Bride ~ Postcard,” by chicks57, used under a Creative Commons license]

When It’s Hard to Want to Want to Be Back [at A Life Overseas]

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.

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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. . . .

He Said, She Said: Believe in the Darkness What You Have Seen in the Light

November 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Zermatt, Switzerland

I began my post “In the Light, in the Dark, Remember,” with a quote from Joseph Bayly (1920-1986):

Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light.

I trust Phillip Yancey, who writes that Bayly said it, but I couldn’t find a specific citation and I was curious if it was original to him. Then I got a copy of Miriam Rockness’s A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, a collection of the missionary artist’s thoughts, paired with her watercolor paintings. This is the same Lilias Trotter that I wrote about back in July. In the book, I found these words:

Believe in the darkness what you have seen in the light.

When I saw this, I contacted Rockness, through the blog she writes about Trotter. When I asked her about the source of the quotation, she replied,

This is one of my favorite Lilias quotes. It was taken from her diary, 10 August 1901. She was taking a “break” from the heavy load in N.A. and, after having a reunion with her brother in Zermott (Switzerland) she sought a place even higher in the mountains to “be alone with God.” And, here, as always seemed to be the case for Lilias, God “spoke to her” through His Handiwork. She writes, “‘Believe in the darkness what you have seen in the light’ – That was this mornings ‘first lesson’ – For when I opened my shutters about 5.30, there was a lovely clear happy morning sky above the grey gold rocks a[nd] glistening snow of the Weirshorn & Roth-horn. While a thick bank of white cloud lay below in the valley – Half an hour more & it had risen around us till there was nothing to be seen but a few dim ghosts of trees. Yet one knew having once seen that sky, that a radiant day was coming, & that the clouds could do nothing but melt. And me[lt] they did, the peaks glimmering like far off angels at first, & clearing till they stood out radiant & strong, with the fogs dropped down to their feet like a cast off mantle. All depended on what one had seen first.”

Elsewhere in her blog, Rockness puts the quotation in more context, describing the “heavy load” that Trotter had experienced in North Africa:

It is interesting to note that when Lilias recorded the above statement of faith in her diary, she was in the midst of an unprecedented and sustained period of challenge in ministry. After more than 3 years of political opposition  and spiritual oppression, their work had come almost to a halt. Activities in Algiers and itineration in Algeria were severely curtailed as they were dogged by the shadow of suspicion.  Even their most beloved Arab friends pulled away in fear of being identified with them.

(In this post, Rockness shows the date for Trotter’s journal entry containing the darkness/light phrase as August 16, 1901.)

In A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, Rockness writes that the difficulties faced by Trotter included the investigation of English missionaries by the ruling French government and the targeting of young Algerian converts by sorcerers using poison and “black magic.” Also, a missionary family that had come to help in the ministry left after six months, unable to meet the demands of caring for their three children in Algeria.

Trotter writes in a journal entry from 1897,

One literally could do nothing but pray at every available bit. One might take up letters or accounts that seemed as if they were a “must be”—but one had to drop them within five minutes, almost invariably, and get to prayer—hardly prayer either, but a dumb crying up to the skies of brass.

For Trotter, during difficult times, the skies could turn to brass and clouds could obscure the sun and envelop the world around her. But she had seen the “clear happy morning sky,” and she knew that a “radiant day was coming.” It “all depended,” she writes, “on what one had seen first.”


John Ruskin, Trotter’s good friend, and artistic mentor earlier in her life, had had his own encounter with the Swiss town of Zermatt (Zermott) years before. As a young man in 1844, he captured the scene there in the watercolor below.

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(Miriam Rockness, ed., A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, Discovery House, 2016; Rockness, in response section of “Lilias Trotter Symposium,” Lilias Trotter, August 17, 2016; Rockness, “Believe!” Lilias Trotter, July 28, 2012; Rockness, Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, Discovery House, 2003)

[photo: “Switzerland-55,” by Strychnine, used under a Creative Commons license; John Ruskin, Zermatt, public domain, from artinthepicture.com]

Looking for Mic-Drop Methods in Missions

October 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I don’t much trust stories that end with “And they all lived happily ever after.” That’s because experience has taught me that princes often turn out to be less than charming and fairy-tale princesses turn out to be, well, only in fairy tales. Of course, we don’t hear “happily ever after” a lot any more, not because we no longer hope for happy endings, but because our vocabulary has changed. Now, we’re more apt to end our stories with something more modern, more definitive, more in your face . . . something more like a mic drop. You know, that’s where you extend your arm and let your live microphone fall to the floor. It’s an exclamation mark with attitude. It’s the walk-off home run of speech making and story telling. It’s “Game over.” It’s “‘Nuf said.” It’s . . . “Boom!”

When it comes to mission work, are you looking for a method that will produce a mic-drop moment? Are you in search of a fool-proof plan that is the perfect answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” Are you hoping for a newsletter story that emphatically tells how you’ve unlocked the secret to soul-winning?

I don’t much trust those stories either.

And that’s because when it comes to mission strategies, after the boom of the microphone hitting the floor, you can expect some kind of a bounce and a clatter and a roll. Those are simply the sounds of real life.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Mic,” by Robert Bejil, used under a Creative Commons license]

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