Often the default emphasis for mission teams is raising money and promoting the cause of overseas mission. Some years ago this was subtly challenged by Neal Pirolo, whose book Serving as Senders was published by Operation Mobilization.
In his book, Pirolo gives information to churches and church missions teams to enable them to act proactively as “senders” of missionaries. As part of his reasoning he presents a cross-cultural worker’s life time-line. It gives a new perspective on what our mission workers go through and how we can help them. (Quotes are taken directly from Pirolo’s book).
A. “Normal” living
The flat, horizontal line represents the base line for missionaries’ lives before they even thought about missions. It’s not to say that their life was flat – everyone has ups and downs – but this represents their “normal” pre-mission life.
The vertical lines indicate segments of time, mileposts along the missionary adventure. The distances between the lines will vary greatly from one person to the next. The challenge for an overseas mission team is to anticipate your worker’s next milepost and prepare to help them through it.
B. Anticipation of approval
At some point in time your mission worker heard the call of God and grappled with all those “why me?” questions just like Moses did in Exodus 3 and 4. If we’re involved with their sense of call at this early stage we can remind them of how God answered Moses in this time of doubt with a constant proclamation of God’s enabling.
C. Anticipation of departure
A lot has happened between B and C. The church, the missions team and others have affirmed the call on this person’s life. Months, maybe years, of planning are drawing to an end as the day of departure draws closer.
D. Honeymoon period
“Your missionary is catapulted into space in a jetliner, but his emotions are flying ten feet above the plane.” Initially, as the new country and its customs are encountered, everything is new and different and interesting. Pirolo calls this period of time a “protective bubble.”
E. Culture stress
This stage is inevitable. For some it comes quicker than for others, but it will come – she will wake up one morning and it will dawn on her, things that seemed quaint just a little while ago are reality. Illness, language learning, persecution, an awareness that leading people to Christ is not easy – cultural stress has set in.
It’s difficult for a missionary to talk about this stage of the process. They don’t want supporters back home to think of them as anything less than triumphantly spiritual but this is a time your mission team needs to prepare for and provide all the support you can.
F. Ministry of love
Some missionaries crash at E. Most don’t. Most go on to have a wonderful time of ministry motivated by the love of Christ. “Because of your support he will emerge with a strengthened vision of God’s purposes in his life and is reasons for being a missionary.”
For some, this period lasts for one or two terms of three years or so; for others it is a lifetime of overseas mission service. Support though this time is essential and we’ve talked a lot about ways of doing that in Resource Corner.
G. Anticipation of return
Every mission journey has a starting point and every mission journey has an ending point. At the time of final return, a mission worker’s feelings are mixed. She wants to see her homeland and home church again but she has also made new friends and has new ideas and ideals. She knows it will be difficult to integrate into a new home environment. And, she knows, when she gets home, you will all have changed too. It’s a difficult time.
H. Culture stress in reverse
At some point in Resource Corner we’ll look more directly at how to support your mission workers when they return home. Right now, it’s enough to say, every mission team should give serious and prayerful thought to this part of the journey. For some workers, returning home is easy, particularly if they have been back and forth a number of times. For other workers, it can border on traumatic.
I. Full integration
“A missionary who has been trained to anticipate the stress of coming home and has a strong re-entry support team will, in time, fully integrate his changed self into the changed home environment.” But it doesn’t happen without the support of a missions team who, although not fully understanding what their worker is going through, is there to support and encourage anyway.
Let me close with the words of Neal Pirolo, “Today no cross-cultural worker should leave home without a strong, integrated, educated, knowledgeable, excited-as-he-is, active team of people who have committed themselves to the work of serving as senders.”