June 2017 | Volume 12 | Issue 6 |
In Person Care Part 1:
Regular, on field worker support
Providing practical assistance when your workers return on home assignment is crucial. Making regular Skype calls to stay in touch while they are on the other side of the globe is appreciated. But nothing, absolutely nothing, replaces a caring visit from their sending church while they are on the field.
True or False?
Here’s a simple true/false test about your global worker’s need for face-to-face care from you, their sending church:
- Even though their agency has an excellent member-care program, workers still need their sending church to regularly provide care for them while they are on the field.
- You should visit your worker within the first months of their arrival on the field.
- If your worker is a single woman or a couple, send a husband/wife care team or include another woman so there is woman-to-woman care.
- Ask your workers in advance of your visit what will make your time together most renewing for them.
- Before your worker leaves for the field, make sure you know their agency’s crisis plans and how they view the sending church’s role.
- Since your worker will be dealing with the aftermath of a trauma or crisis long after the precipitating event is over, your most important field care may be after the crisis has abated.
The answers to all of these questions are “true.” Let’s consider how your church, regardless of size or resources, can provide quality, consistent, on-the-field care for your workers. We will divide our discussion into two segments. Here in part 1, we address the care your church needs to provide for your workers on an ongoing basis throughout their service. Next month we will focus on care retreats and crisis care.
No one climbs on board an airplane if they know it hasn’t had consistent, routine maintenance to assure it can fly safely. Similarly, churches shouldn’t expect global workers to function well without “routine” care. It requires making sure that workers, their families, and their ministries are doing well spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially. Where deficiencies are uncovered, the church steps up to address gaps to the best of their ability.
“We have discovered that there is a ministry of presence. So much happens when you just show up.”
Janice Pope, international ministries associate at Grace Fellowship Church of Timonium, MD, sums up the purpose of missionary care: “We are committed to seeing our workers thrive wherever they are. We have discovered that there is a ministry of presence. So much happens when you just show up.” To make sure that your workers are thriving, you must enter their world. You need to be present. That requires field visits.
Sit around their kitchen table
Even if your worker’s agency provides excellent member care, your church has an important and unique contribution to on-field care for your missionary staff. Whether they are in your worship service or on the other side of the globe, you are their spiritual shepherds and spiritual community. Skype calls provide wonderful, real-time snapshots of your global worker, but they don’t give you a 24/7 picture of what their life is like. Nor do they provide a 360° viewpoint that reveals relationships with national friends, team members, etc. For any real understanding of their context, ministry, and challenges, you need to spend time in their world.
Pat Coyle, missionary care pastor at Grace Bible Church in College Station, TX, expresses it this way: “We need to sit around every worker’s kitchen table every three years. We have heard again and again from our workers how important it is that we came. It deepens our sense of connection and increases their willingness to communicate when there is a problem.”
How often is enough? Tom Dabasinskas, pastor of missions at Highlands Community Church in Renton, WA, reports that their goal is to see their workers every 1-2 years, either on the field or in their church. What-ever goal you set, make a significant effort to see workers on their home turf as often as possible.
For Allen, global ministries pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA, a visit during a worker’s first 6-12 months on the field is essential. During those first months of major adjustment, the church needs to have a presence on site to assure the worker of their support as well as to assess what they can do to further assist in their acculturation.
A visit during a workers’ first six to twelve months is essential.
After that initial period, Heritage’s care moves into a cycle that involves a very in-depth Missionary Debrief and Evaluation report every four years. The assessment includes both issues of missionary flourishing and ministry impact. The report is completed and submitted by the field worker just a couple of weeks prior to the mission pastor’s visit. Allen emphasizes that the self-assessment is designed not for scoring a grade but for generating in-depth conversation. He wants to conclude the visit with the worker feeling validated and encouraged.
Janice notes that churches should think about ministering to their worker’s whole team when making a field visit. Missionaries shared with Grace Fellowship that some of their teammates got few visits, and little or no attention from their churches. It means a lot if everyone on the team senses that they are valuable enough to deserve at least a bit of time. Connecting with teammates will also reveal a lot about how healthy relationships are among your worker and their colleagues. Be observant!
Send the right caregivers
Large churches are able to send a missions pastor or staff counselor with extensive experience in missions and/or counseling to make field visits. Even if your church doesn’t have such a person on staff, you still are responsible to (and can!) provide face-to-face field contact.
The visit of a senior pastor has multiple benefits. Who better than the pastor to bring spiritual encouragement to a field worker! Allen points out that the pastor also comes with a different level of authority. Not only does coming signal that the pastor cares about the worker personally, but it also provides the worker with a platform to gain the senior leader’s buy-in. How encouraging to know that your pastor is going home to inform the entire congregation about the work you’re doing.
Who better than the pastor to bring spiritual encouragement to a field worker!
Many churches encourage someone from the worker’s advocate team to make field visits. (Advocate teams are sometimes referred to as Barnabas teams, home teams, or sending teams. These teams represent the worker to the church and the church to the worker.) The advantage of sending an advocate-team member is that they already have a long history of relationship with the missionary. And their visit can not only provide deep encouragement but also can prepare them to better advocate for the worker when they return home.
Grace Bible’s missionary care has greatly benefitted from the services of a missionary in the congregation. When one of their field workers who provided missionary care for their agency was relocating back to the US, Grace Bible recruited them to settle in College Station and head up their member-care team. Their years of experience have proved invaluable! Many churches have former or retired workers in their congregation who may be excellent caregivers.
Don’t let the lack of funds be a show stopper for on-field care visits. Pat explains that Grace Bible challenges their elders and other key leaders to visit workers, especially when they are traveling for business. “We have heard again and again,” he reports, “how meaningful it has been to our workers that church leaders took time out of their business trip to come visit, even if it was just for a few hours.”
If the worker is a single woman or couple/family, it is helpful to include a female on the care visit. If there are children, consider sending someone with a special affinity for kids.
The best person to visit could be anyone who can prayerfully and attentively listen and carefully observe. The care provider who is non-judgmental and loving, while still willing to ask the hard questions, will always leave workers feeling cared for.
Building care into short-term
Grace Fellowship has a member who regularly visits one of their fields to help in the development of a business platform. Dan’s presence was initially desired for his business acumen, but the workers quickly came to appreciate his spiritual discernment and care as well. Andy, who served for a number of years as the team’s leader, is quick to praise Dan’s ability to ask tactful but probing questions that generate healing conversations. Dan’s consistent interest in the personal lives of the team members has had a profound impact.
Reserve the last day of a short-term trip to serve the workers themselves.
Short-term teams are generally sent to accomplish some task rather than to care for the workers. But as Grace Bible has discovered, there is no reason why they can’t do both, especially if people on the team already have an established relationship with the worker. Missionaries’ ministry pressures are usually intensified by the work of hosting a short-term team (even though they may eagerly do so for the value added). Why not reserve the last day of the trip to serve the workers themselves? Ask ahead what will be renewing for them. This could be anything from providing childcare while the couple takes a day away, augmenting children’s homeschooling with some special learning activities, to taking care of household chores or repairs they haven’t had time to do. The gift of focused listening is always appreciated. Make sure to spend time praying with your worker for them personally, their family, and their ministry.
The issue of confidentiality
One of the challenging issues is how to handle sensitive in-formation missionaries may not want to share with their agency or even with church leaders responsible for financial and administrative decisions.
David Livingston, pastor of missionary care at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, speaks to this issue: “One of the reasons I’m on staff in member care is to provide a safe outlet for honest sharing with a person who doesn’t have a direct say in support making decisions. Missionaries often ask for confidentiality. I have to be careful not to make promises that I can’t keep. I say, ‘You have to trust my judgment. If there is information that needs to go up the line of authority, I promise that I will love you through that process.’”
All of Bethlehem’s missionary care is rooted in a strong foundation of extensive candidate preparation through their nurture program. Candidates come to understand that global involvement means “taking up their cross and going outside the camp with Jesus,”
as David puts it. At the same time, Bethlehem emphasizes that they believe serving cross-culturally is a marathon not a sprint. There’s no pressure for immediate results.
“If and when issues of personal care and stability arise,” David explains, “we caution workers not to isolate themselves but to communicate openly with us. They know that we will walk alongside them if they need to come home for a while to get problems resolved. We communicate to our congregation, [advocate team] leaders, family members of missionaries, supporters, etc., that there is no stigma to needing care. We make it clear that we don’t want to lose any worker through burnout.”
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Watch for next month’s Postings which will share in-person care suggestions related to on-field retreats and crisis-care situations.