by Fred C. Renich
In an interview with a missionary candidate I asked, “Specifically, what do you expect to be doing when you get to the field, and how do you believe you will go about it?”
In an interview with a missionary candidate I asked, "Specifically, what do you expect to be doing when you get to the field, and how do you believe you will go about it?"
"Oh, I’m sure someone on the field will tell me what to do and show me how," he replied.
Later I met the head of the young man’s mission and reported the conversation: "Tell him!" exclaimed the director.
"There’ll be nobody to tell him! He’ll be given an area to work, and if he can’t get on with the job, he’d better stay home."
The attitude of the director reflected an all too common and significant weakness in mission leadership thinking: the tendency to think of today’s recruit in terms of a past image. It is imperative that today’s recruit be considered in the context of today’s world. To do this mission leaders must set aside their sacred idealism developed from a glorious past. Whoever or whatever he may be, today’s recruit is not yesterday’s missionary. He was not produced by yesterday’s church, and he is not going out into yesterday’s world. Today’s recruit is the product of the generation that brought him forth. He has been born, nurtured, educated, and called within the framework of the religion and culture of his own generation.
Consider for a moment some factors in the background of today’s recruit for Christian service at home or abroad:
1. He was born after the depression.
2. He has been reared in a highly mechanized age. This has greatly reduced the demand for hard drudgery work and the long hours of toil such work demands.
3. He comes increasingly from an urban society.
4. Because of the nature of our way of life, he has been set free to a great extent from dependence on people. This independence has allowed him to get along with only a very superficial relationship to people, even with his own family.
5. He has been reared in a security conscious and security structured society.
6. He has been surrounded with confusion, moral declension, relativism, materialism, and a maze of conflicting ideologies.
7. He has been nurtured in a church whose atmosphere all too often is lacking in aggressive spiritual vigor, deep piety, prevailing prayer, and a strong character-building faith.
8. He has been educated at a time when specialization is increasingly the order of the day.
It does not follow, however, that these and other background factors necessarily add up to a negative picture. But it is vital that mission executives recognize the facts of life that have had a part in shaping today’s new missionary.
Not only does the new recruit come from a different world compared to that of our fathers, but he is going into a world that is completely different. This latter fact is probably more clearly recognized than the former. With the passing of the old colonialism, the young missionary must win his way in a world that is not only hostile in a spiritual sense, but in a psychological sense as well. The missionary, coming from the greatest "have" nation on earth, meets hostile barriers among the people of hopelessly "have not" rations. They, too, are beset with a multitude of problems, each of which constitutes a comparatively new and additional barrier over which the missionary must climb. Extreme national sensitivity, a fever of materialistic anxiety and eagerness, and conflicting ideologies are just a few of these barriers.
In the light of these conditions it is of the utmost importance that mission leaders have a clear understanding of what they may expect from the new missionary during his first term of service. However, it is perhaps even more important that executives establish realistic first-term objectives and show how to attain these through adequate field supervision. Given such supervision, there are a number of objectives that the firstterm missionary can realize:
1. A good foundation in the language. (Possibly proficiency in the language, depending on the person and the language involved.)
2. Satisfactory adjustment to the climate, customs, culture, and people on his field.
3. A thorough working knowledge of the mission.
4. An understanding of the field, its problems, demands, and potential.
5. Some awareness of his gifts and his place in the work.
6. A deepening confirmation of his call as a result of a growing sense of belonging and a consciousness of being useful.
1. Language. According to the leaders of the two largest language schools in Latin America (San Jose, Costa Rica and Campinas, Brazil), the problem in language acquisition is not poor aptitude but lack of motivation. There appears to be a serious lack of motivation in many young missionaries who attend their schools. Could it be that evangelicals tend to take for granted that the new recruit is adequately motivated regarding language learning? In an age when the national is increasingly sensitive to his own national and cultural importance, dare we expect to win him when we fail to show him the courtesy of acquiring facility in his language?
It has been demonstrated in the armed forces that men can learn quickly and well when they are forced to concentrate in the use of modern language acquisition methods. Mission language acquisition requirements should be augmented by supervision in programming and follow-through. The new recruit needs to be expected to get the language, but he should not be left on his own to do it.
2. Adjustments. A veteran missionary in India lamented the fact that few missionaries of her acquaintance had indicated any serious desire to learn to know the Indian in terms of his history, customs, culture, economics, etc. We have tended to assume that a desire to preach the Gospel to a foreign people automatically implied an eagerness to get to know them and their culture.
Experience with missionary candidates in Missionary Internship indicates there is a disturbing lack in a basic desire to know people as people, to establish points of common interest with them, and to communicate genuine friendliness with them, whether they are interested in the missionary’s message or not.
We ought to expect satisfactory adjustments, but these can only be expected in many cases where there is practical supervision an the field.
3. Knowledge of the mission. While there is in most cases a well-planned orientation of the new missionary by the mission before the new recruit departs for the field, it is going to take time and experience for him to gain an intimate knowledge of the organization as it functions on the field. It is vital that a thorough understanding of the mission be gained during the first term. There will be many things about the mission as it functions on the field that will be quite different from the image built up in the candidate’s mind at home. This will be true in spite of the best efforts of the home office people to orient him honestly. However, if the new missionary is to gain a thorough and wholesome working knowledge of the mission on the field, the field leadership will hive to take practical steps to bring this about.
Many problems develop as a result of carelessness in this regard on the part of field leadership. The new missionary often gets a distorted or a partial view of the mission because lie was not adequately oriented on the field to the organization, vision, and the varied work programs of the mission. It is possible that in our concern for adequate orientation to the people, their customs, etc., we may overlook the necessity for the new missionary to become a happy member of the whole field family, with an understanding of relationships, problems, and ways of solving them.
4. Understanding of the field. Every mature pastor, upon accepting a call to a new church, spends some time getting to know his new "field." It is usually only after seeing the "field" in its negative and positive aspects that he is in a position to determine what the goals for his ministry should be. It is during the first term of service that the new missionary should gain a broad and fairly comprehensive view of the field in which he expects to devote a major portion of his life. This will protect him from developing a limited "one station" view of the mission’s task. It will help him become a part of the total family in its vision and work, so that his local area work will be seen more easily as a part of a larger whole. The first term should see developed in the missionary an exciting awareness of the potential of the field, as well as an appreciation of its problems and a consciousness of its demands. This will help assure a more fruitful deputation ministry on furlough, as well as give a more positive flavor to his prayer letters.
5. Ministry gifts. It has been interesting to note how many missionaries on furlough have never stopped to ask themselves: What are my God-given gifts? Just how do these gifts fit me for the vision and program of the mission to which I am called? Where do I really fit in the work?
By the end of the first term the normal, positive missionary ought to know himself and the work well enough to have some awareness of his God-given gifts. He should be conscious also that there is a place for him in the work, and that he has the gifts to fit in that place. Without this, how is it possible for him to develop long-range goals that will fit the overall vision of the mission? How will he be able to pray about steps to be taken toward reaching these goals? How will he be able to assist field leadership in determining his assignment for his second term?
Here again wise field leadership can play an important role in stimulating the missionary’s thinking along this line. It often takes considerable encouragement before many missionaries can be inwardly free and positive about their gifts. Many suffer from the common idea that it is unspiritual to think one leas ability in any direction.
In addition to the missionary having a positive attitude toward his areas of strength, he needs to know that the mission needs his gifts, and therefore he is encouraged by the mission to develop them with a view to their utilization. Leadership needs to ask itself: Are we doing all we can to help our missionaries find themselves in the work, so that they will be able to make the best possible contribution in keeping with their Godgiven capabilities?
6. Confirmation of call. The more mature a Christian worker becomes, the more comfortable he is in the awareness that he knows what God expects of him, that he belongs in his work, and that God is using him in it. If there has been satisfactory progress in the areas discussed above, the end of the first term should see the missionary inwardly at peace regarding the whole basic direction of his Christian service.
But this inner composure should not rest on happy relationships alone. It should spring in large part from the consciousness that he is being useful. I do not believe we can lay down rules defining the precise nature of this usefulness. But when God is using a person, it is usually evident, not only to others, but to the person being used.
It takes discerning leadership to provide needed guidance regarding this. We worked for several months with an excellent missionary candidate who couldn’t seem to find himself at Missionary Internship. He had the fixed idea that being used by the Lord meant securing decisions for Christ. He knew he should be useful, but he had too rigid an idea of what that meant. In the end he became aware of the fact that God was using him in many ways in the lives of people other than bringing people to a decision for Christ.
Are we as aware as we should be of the pressures under which many young Christian workers labor? They feel that usefulness in God’s sight means being like some great soulwinner, or some great pioneer missionary. These pressures can be increased by the attitudes of the senior missionary or the field leadership. The kind of questions that are asked, the nature of the reports that must be turned in, or the general emphasis in the mission itself may all add to the problem. The young missionary needs to be encouraged to see that one is useful wherever, whenever, and however God in any way blesses others through one’s life, witness, ministry, or work. It takes a pretty mature missionary to be happy with just giving a "cup of cold water" to another in the name of Jesus Christ, or to be the one who sows that another might do the reaping.
This is not to suggest that we cease being concerned about definite decisions for Christ. But mission leaders should develop an adequate understanding of what true usefulness is, and then expect tie first-term missionary to give evidence of his call and divine appointment through his being used by God in the work.
In addition to the positive attainments missions should expect from the first-term missionary, there are some inevitable negatives that should not surprise or shock the mission’s leadership.
1. The new missionary will discover the existence of weaknesses in his fellow-workers, mission leaders, and in the overall mission organization.
2. In many cases he will experience the erosion of missionary glamor.
3. There will usually be considerable self-discovery.
4. The mission will discover something of the real person in the missionary.
1. Weaknesses. Disillusionment can be a traumatic experience for anyone just entering Christian service, but when the new missionary begins to discover that "all is not gold that glitters" he may suffer irreparable harm. The very nature of missionary idealism, plus the nature of field circumstances, make this experience a dangerous one. Instances of lives being ruined through disillusionment are all too common to permit us to regard this as a light matter. A big percentage of this takes place during the first term of service. Leadership needs to be prepared to provide a positive counterbalance, so the young missionary will see the facts of missions and yet remain wholesome and positive as a result.
2. Glamor. Whether we like it or not, there is a great deal of glamor bound up in every normal, wholesome, dedicated young missionary candidate. In fact, if there is no glamor, one may wonder if the young person ought to consider the field. The lure of the unknown, the challenge of an idealistic task, these and other factors all add to the glamor and romance of the missionary enterprise. But the awakening to reality must come. And given time; the new missionary will find the glamor slipping away. It is important at this time that he be helped to see a different kind of glamor: that which is far more basic and glorious than the purely physical or emotional that has begun to fade. The danger is that the starkness of dreary reality may obscure any vision of the glory of God in the very place where desolation and human depravity abound.
3. Self-discovery. While it should be a positive factor, self-discovery is often negative in its effects. This is due in part to the nature of the new missionary’s background. Many important character building factors no longer exist in our culture to the degree they once did.
While the majority of first-team missionaries will probably weather the test of self-discovery sufficiently to avoid becoming casualties, many of them do not overcome for years the disturbing, weakening burden of wilt and condemnation that results. A great deal of discouragement and defeat can be traced to the discovery by the missionary that in the heat of battle he didn’t have what it takes to come through victorious.
It is very important, therefore, that mature, understanding, and competent help be available during the early years of service, to enable the missionary to find in Christ the adequate answers to the weaknesses he may be discovering for the first time.
4. The mission’s discovery of the missionary. Every field is crying for new workers. We decry the scarcity of applicants. In our recruitment and processing of candidates we want to make sure that we are not standing in the way of the Holy Spirit’s call to any young person. But experience is teaching us to select carefully and to screen thoroughly.
However, we need to recognize that it is exceedingly difficult to know who we have in the new recruit until he has been on the field in actual service for a time. The mission ought to recognize that the first term should reveal pretty clearly what kind of person the missionary is. It is important that lie be observed by field leadership objectively, so the mission becomes aware of his areas of strength, weakness, and to some degree, his potential. Do not many missionaries return to the field for a second term without the leaders on the field really knowing where they fit what their problems are likely to be, or what their gifts are? The mission should plan to have a fairly comprehensive image of the new missionary by the end of the first term-but it should not be an image born of observation only. It should be formed as a result of working with the new missionary with a view to his development, assisting him over the rough spots, making sure his family and personal relationships are wholesome, and that he is growing in a positive way toward maturity as a Christian worker.
This article has laid a heavy responsibility at the door of mission field leadership. What has been suggested as adequate first-term performance is not felt to be too high a standard of achievement. The danger lies in the mission’s taking good performance for granted, and in failing to recognize that many recruits are going to develop satisfactorily only if given adequate leadership on the field.
What a tragic loss to the kingdom of God, as well as to the individual, when a missionary’s potential lies dormant, or his God-given gifts are wasted because nobody was available to channel them into avenues of usefulness and blessing.
Copyright © 1967 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.