by W. Dayton Roberts
Admittedly, it’s not easy to change jobs at age 56, but I had no choice.
Admittedly, it’s not easy to change jobs at age 56, but I had no choice.
Since 1965 I had been associate general director (ranking overseas officer) of the Latin America Mission. And in 1971, when the numerous overseas activities and institutions of the LAM became autonomous member entities— along with the Latin America Mission itself— of the new Community of Latin American Evangelical Ministries (CLAME), I was elected to serve as the community’s first general secretary. This seemed a reasonable way of assuring a greater degree of continuity during the difficult transition period, since I had been as deeply involved as anyone else in the entire restructuring process.
So I accepted the honor, and found that the two-year period spent as general secretary of CLAME was the most challenging, exciting, and satisfying of my missionary service. It also aged me by about 10 years, threatened me at times with trauma, and rocked some of my personal relationships. But I was consistently buoyed by the conviction that I was involved in God’s specific task for me at that particular, time. And, as always, his grace was sufficient.
When my term of service ended, there were pressures to stay in the job. But I was very sure that God did not want me to allow my name to be tendered for reelection. Probably I would not have been reelected anyway, but my reasons for not running were three:
1. As a member first of the planning commission, then as chairman of the constitutional committee and subsequently as general secretary of CLAME, I felt that I had already made the substance of my contribution to the new community. Most of my short-range objectives had either been realized or irrevocably discarded.
2. The community needed a general secretary who was a Latin American. Not only was this desirable for the inner harmony of CLAME, it was also a public necessity. We had to let the world know that our restructuring was truly Latin American. And no doubt there would be those skeptics who would refuse to grant success to our missiological experiment until the CLAME ship had weathered a storm or two with a Latin American at the helm.
3. I felt that for the sake Of missionary morale, as well as to try out the revolutionary new personnel procedures that the community had devised, I should be prepared to be the first guinea pig. If the procedures served to help me find God’s place for me in the new structure, they should serve as well to help other missionaries transfer or otherwise move into the particular niche of their maximum usefulness under field-based, Latin American administrative situations.
Thus it was that in January, 1973, 1 refused to stand for reelection; my highly respected colleague, the Rev. Rafael Baltodano, was elected to serve as CLAME’s general secretary; and six months later I was "out of a job."
I have put "out of a job" in quotation marks, because I never ceased being a missionary appointee or affiliate ("member, "if you prefer) of the Latin America Mission. The mission would continue to help raise my support and channel it to me as long as I was usefully occupied as a missionary under the authority of one of the autonomous ministries that together form the community. It wasn’t that my income was shut off. My affiliation with LAM was not interrupted. It was a specific place of service that I lacked, and the mission could not Simply reassign me, since it no longer administers overseas operations.
This is where the personnel procedures of the community came in. To help each person fill a recognized need in one of the CLAME entities is the Purpose of the general secretary’s personnel coordinator. So I submitted my name to him, and indicated that some recent physical problems, plus a great many marginal responsibilities (such as membership in a number of boards, etc.) would probably require that my next assignment be a little less arduous, and that I continue to be based in Costa Rica.
This information was then relayed to the member entities of CLAME and I began to receive some very interesting invitations. One of the first was from COLMINEVA (the Federation of Evangelical Ministries in Colombia) asking for help in public relations. The Biblical Seminary soon extended an invitation to join the theology department, possibly on a part-time basis that would leave time for research and writing. The Institute of In-Depth Evangelization needed a secretary for public relations and publications; Latin America Mission Publications invited me to become a general editor; and other feelers and invitations came from radio station TIFC, the Costa Rican Federation of Evangelical Ministries, etc. I felt like a Hezekiah with half a dozen letters to spread before the Lord!
The decision was not easy. I was grateful, therefore, for the prayers of friends, the counsel of the personnel coordinator, and especially for my wife’s sharing in this decision. I ultimately accepted the invitation to become general editor for LAMP (Latin America Mission Publications), because this was a "first-love" ministry of mine, it involved some urgent jobs that needed to be done and which seemed to call for my particular mix of know-how and experience, and it involved a relaxed and highly congenial administrative relationship with those in command. So I signed a two-year contract, or service agreement.
In retrospect, I can only testify that for me it was the right decision. Not only have I enjoyed my work and found it highly rewarding, but it has also enabled me to establish a somewhat modified life style that has restored me physically and done wonders for my family relationships. God has been very good to me in this regard.
What would have happened if I had received no invitations? Naturally, the personnel coordinator would have done what he could to elicit at least one viable one. But in the last analysis, if in the minds of the local administrators there is no place where a particular missionary can make a vital contribution, the Latin America Mission would be forced to recall him to the States and either use him on the home staff or release him for service elsewhere. This is not out of the question. It has happened. In general, however, the demand greatly exceeds the supply of missionaries. At last count the entities belonging to CLAME had listed 140 positions to be filled, and the number of new recruits each year – from both North America and Latin America – comes nowhere near meeting the needs. While the qualifications and orientation procedures of new missionaries are often called into question, there has never been within CLAME any "Missionary, go home" movement.
One of the major, if not the greatest, functions of the Latin America Mission (of the U.S. and of Canada) in the new community structure is thus the recruiting and commissioning of a pool of qualified missionary personnel "affiliates" of LAM – who are "released" to serve "on loan" to any one of the sister entities involved in the community. No missionary is commissioned and sent to the field without having previously received at least one bona fide invitation from an entity to which he has responded affirmatively. Service is by "’contract" for a specific and limited period of time, subject to automatic review by both parties. Each "contract" is voluntarily entered into, but must receive the okay of the mission of affiliation (LAM usually, but not always) and of the community personnel office (just to be sure all the bases have been touched). Missionary service is always on the basis of an invitation freely extended and freely accepted.
This whole process is not only healthy but also scriptural. There was a time when the Holy Spirit said to the elders at Antioch that they should separate from among themselves a couple of missionaries and send them out to evangelize the world. Without minimizing the enduring mandate of this commission, it is perhaps fair to suggest that missionary strategy has now progressed from Antioch to Troas, and that in this hour of unparalleled opportunity — when the overseas Christian church has already emerged with its own identity and leadership – we need to hear the Spirit speak to us through the man from Macedonia. Without necessarily relinquishing all the initiative, let us at least be sensitive to the Macedonian call.
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