by Nick and Dora Pauls
This article is a response to the EMQ article, “About Research with MKs,” by David Wickstrom,” October 1994.
This article is a response to the EMQ article, "About Research with MKs," by David Wickstrom," October 1994.
The wife of the high school science teacher was in tears as we talked. She and her husband were literacy specialists, but he had been assigned to teach at the high school for a second semester because there was still no other qualified person available to meet the critical staff shortage. We had been involved in this administrative decision and realized it was a very costly one. The enthusiasm for literacy in the village would probably wane without their supervision. Perhaps the window of opportunity to teach the people to read would close. Could the momentum they had worked so hard to develop ever be rebuilt? As these thoughts churned in our minds, we wondered if our organizational priorities were appropriate? On the other hand, how would missing a semester of science affect the students in that class and the ministry of their parents?
In making a decision of this nature, we chose to believe that MK nurture is just as much a part of the ministry as are literacy classes or church planting. Fortunately, this does not always have to be an either/or choice. The literacy program can be continued after the school semester ends, even though the momentum may be lost and extra energy will be necessary to build it gain. Children can recover from limited services at school, though it may require extra work or additional time.
Personnel decisions such as this require a balanced perspective. On the one hand, there is the possible life-long impact on the MK, and on the other the possible life-changing impact of ministry to host country citizens. Both must be equally considered when making plans and allocating limited resources. The somber, anxious mood to which Dave Wickstrom refers in his article "The right stuff in boarding school staff" is repeatedly experienced in some way throughout today’s missionary endeavor.
The research currently being done by MK CART/CORE deals with genuine issues that deserve our attention. The first of four concerns listed by Wickstrom relates to teachers and boarding home parents often not being considered as "true missionaries." This easily happens in both the supporting constituency and the mission organization.
With stewardship of resources as a high value, organizations seek to establish strategic plans that focus on efficiently moving ahead to meet ministry goals. When children are viewed as noncontrib-utors, or even detractors from these goals, it is easy to see why they and those who work with them are not recognized as "real missionaries." This is reiterated further when organizational policies and practices consistently identify "core" activities as higher priority in the allocation of finances, personnel, and facilities.
To "train up a child in the way he should go" is not merely an addendum, but a legitimate part of the Christian family’s as well as the mission organization’s ministry. The responsibilities of teachers and boarding home parents must be viewed as much more than merely freeing parents to do their ministry tasks more efficiently. MKs and their families have needs that are just as legitimate and worthy of attention as those of host country citizens. If these needs go unmet, it often results in an aborted missionary career-a very costly experience for the family, the mission, the host country citizens, and the supporting constituency The MK school staff has opportunity to help meet those needs as they nurture children and promote resilience in families. Consistent modeling of wholesome, Christian family relationships has the potential of being a living translation of biblical truths. Surely this is a ministry worthy of support and encouragement.
The second problem highlighted by Wickstrom indicates that the demands on boarding school staff are frequently such that burnout and early departure from the field happen all too often. Expecting three boarding home parents to meet the needs of 100 children, as in theexamplementioned, can hardly be considered reasonable. Establishing a ratio that makes it possible to nurture children rather than merely nourish them would benefit the boarding home parent, the children in their care, and ultimately the entire mission.
Some further suggestions to reduce the burnout potential might be for mission administrators to become appropriately involved in establishing the school calendar and then recognizing it in future planning; communicating openly with the staff on issues that affect the school or the students so as to prevent unnecessary surprises and/or disappointments; encouraging/allowing staff who regularly work with children to have adequate time (occasional weekends, school breaks, etc.) to re-energize without added responsibilities; insuring that school and boarding home facilities are as attractive and convenient as possible, given the local circumstances; and most importantly, trusting and supporting the staff unless there is clear evidence to do otherwise.
Evaluate the pros and cons
The third problem cited in Wickstrom’s article deals with the current trend among Christian parents to view boarding as a violation of their God-given parenting responsibility. If mission agencies wish to involve today’s young people in their endeavor, I believe it will be necessary to realistically evaluate the negatives and positives of boarding schools, and be willing to explore and consider alternatives. No education option is perfect. Each has pros and cons which are influenced by many factors, including the child’s maturity and developmental stages. All of these factors need to be understood and considered by parents and mission administrators so wise decisions can be made regarding the family component of the missionary career.
I believe that careful attention to selection, orientation, and in-service training-the fourth problem area identified-would go a long way in alleviating the anxiety parents feel when facing the possibility of leaving their children in a boarding home. With the keen awareness of the potential for abuse by caregivers, parents would find comfort in the assurance that boarding home parents have been carefully and prayerfully selected for their professional, spiritual, and emotional qualifications. Too often, however, in times of staff shortage selection is based on whoever can most easily be spared from another responsibility.
The effectiveness of carefully selected personnel is greatly enhanced by providing appropriate training and orientation before they take on their responsibilities. Regular professional development seminars and opportunity to honestly evaluate effectiveness in a supportive environment during their assignment could also help prevent burnout.
A further aspect of vital importance is for boarding home parents to view themselves as partners with the biological parents in nurturing their children. Willingness to listen, to learn, to understand, to adapt, and to cooperate creates unity with parents that can give security to children in their developmental stages and frequent transitions. This can result in a smoother adjustment to boarding for both parents and children, making the boarding home parent’s task easier as well. The additional effort this requires is well worth it.
Research findings as well as personal experience support the inescapable reality that the "missionary task" impacts our children and that our children impact our "missionary task." But family responsibilities need not be in competition with fulfilling the Great Commission. Ministry in one area should not be considered more valuable or more noble than ministry in the other. As we view both our children and our "missionary task" as equally important, God will provide a balanced perspective to parents and mission leaders, enabling them to make wise decisions regarding effective ministry in both areas. Isn’t ministry what missionary work is all about-no matter in which arena it takes place?
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