by Joyce Bowers
The concept of partnership in mission is the focus of discussion and debate across a wide spectrum of mission agencies. This article looks at issues of partnership as expressed in the sending and receiving of personnel in cross-cultural mission.
The concept of partnership in mission is the focus of discussion and debate across a wide spectrum of mission agencies. This article looks at issues of partnership as expressed in the sending and receiving of personnel in cross-cultural mission.
WHAT IS PARTNERSHIP?
The words “partners” and “partnership” are used here to refer to the relationship between traditional missionary sending bodies (mostly in Europe and North America) and traditional missionary receiving bodies (mostly in the “Two-Thirds World”). The use of the word “partner” by a sending church when referring to a receiving church usually designates a working relationship, often of long standing, and is a term of respect. Conversely, receiving churches often use the word “partners” to designate “sources of funding and personnel.”
In terms of material wealth, the sending churches of Europe and North America are the haves, and the traditional receivers are mostly the have-nots. To the degree that financial resources are the focus of the interaction, they are not equal partners; thus the term has a different connotation than in standard English usage, where “partner” usually implies equality. For that reason, some seriously question the use of the word “partnership” and prefer a word such as “accompaniment,” which implies walking with another in mutual respect, support, and encouragement, and does not necessarily connote equality.
However, in terms of spiritual and other resources, or in the eyes of God, the haves and have-nots are equal partners, so the term is appropriate. In this article, the words “partner” and “partnership” are used to connote equally valued partners, though not equal in every way.
SOME PRESENT LIMITATIONS
I am a part of a large, materially wealthy, relatively powerful church body in North America. Disparity of material wealth is an unalterable truth of our present global existence, and cannot be ignored or discounted. There has always been an overemphasis on funding as the means of giving and receiving, so that if a church cannot give money, it often feels it has little to give. Thus this article is written from the viewpoint of churches that have, unfortunately, not yet really learned how to receive, and discusses their relationships in mission with churches that have, unfortunately, not yet learned how much they have to give.
This discussion of partnership focuses on church-to-church relationships. If a sending agency has a project in an area where there is no church, most of the following could not be practiced. In fact, a church may be present, but if it is not recognized as a legitimate Christian church, there can be no partnership to discuss.
PARTNERSHIP AND PERSONNEL ISSUES
How is the partnership expressed in personnel issues? We will look at the following aspects of this question: (1) development of assignment; (2) recruitment, screening, and selection of missionaries; (3) terms and conditions of employment; (4) pre-service and in-service orientation and training; (5) supervision, accountability, evaluation, and planning; (6) pastoral care and emotional needs; (7) completion of service; (8) post-service benefits and support.
A central question in the whole process is the role of the missionary. What role is the missionary expected to fulfill? In other words, what is the contract, in the minds of (a) the missionary, (b) the sending agency, and (c) the receiving church or institution?
For the sake of simplicity, the term “sender” will be used to refer to the sending church, denomination, or mission agency, and the term “host” will be used to refer to the receiving body, whether church, institution or agency.
1. Development of assignment. This is a key area for negotiation between partners. For what task is a missionary to be sent? For example, will the foreign missionary do direct evangelism, preaching the gospel to those who have not heard it, or will the primary role be training local people to do evangelism? A foreigner may be successful in attracting converts, but theprocess may be very disruptive to the peace and integrity of the society.
If the host presents a “wish list” with numerous requests to the sending church, it should state the relative priority of each request. There should be discussion about whether a high-cost foreign missionary is the best way to meet a particular need. Can a local person be trained for the assignment? If so, where? Is scholarship aid available?
It may seem that the host wants a missionary because additional resources usually accompany missionaries. For example, if a missionary is sent to work on an agricultural project, funds may be provided to upgrade facilities, purchase equipment, and provide a vehicle. If funding is given for a local person to do the same work, it is less likely that related costs will be provided. In such situations, negotiations are complicated by unstated reasons for a request.
Senders may also have an unstated agenda: the tradition that they have “always” sent missionaries to a particular place, the wishes of influential people, or even a family tradition. Increasingly, local congregations or independent organizations within a denomination send missionaries on their own if the denominational sending agency does not reflect their priorities, and the sender needs to be responsive to the “stake holders” within its own constituency.
There may also be a conflict of priorities between the sender and the host, such as the relative importance of developing the leadership of women, or outreach to a particular group of people.
Another key area for negotiation is length of service. Is the identified task something that can be accomplished in two years? Can the task (such as teaching English as a second language) be accomplished by a series of two-year missionaries, who frequently are on a minimal stipend basis rather than full salary? Are language and culture learning necessary to the task so that there must be a longer commitment, perhaps at least five to 10 years? In general, longer time commitments require consideration of married missionaries and families, with all the related complications of housing needs, education for children, etc.
2. Recruitment, screening, and selection of missionaries. When the assignment or job description has been agreed upon, it is usually the sender’s task to identify potential missionary candidates and to do initial screening. Since there are almost always changes in the planned assignment, it is critical that candidates are flexible and can adapt to changing demands.
The host may well be involved prior to final selection of a candidate. A resume may be faxed to the host for input or approval. The host usually does not meet potential candidates in person, but if an individual is known because of previous short-term service, the host can voice an opinion about a new assignment.
Potential candidates may be missionaries who currently serve in another country, or persons who formerly served cross-culturally. However, the fact that a missionary has successfully made one cross-cultural adjustment does not mean that there will be a smooth or easy readjustment to the same culture years later, or to a different culture. Candidates with a history of cross-cultural experience may need just as much training and preparation for a new experience as they did for the first one.
Several senders may recruit simultaneously for one position, particularly if it involves a specialty which is difficult to find. In that case, frequent communication between all parties is very important.
There may be a cooperative agreement between two or more senders to share the costs for a missionary no matter which group does the recruiting and hiring. There may also be joint funding that includes (for example) local salary and housing provided by the host, plus additional financial support and other provisions such as travel and health insurance from the sender.
Another consideration is whether the most appropriate candidate may be from another partner church. The most effective seminary professorin West Africa may well be from another country of the Southern Hemisphere, rather than a European or North American. Sometimes the best service a sender can provide is to be a broker, assisting partner churches to exchange personnel.
3. Terms and conditions of employment. When a missionary is sent to another country, it is very important to have clarity about the employer-employee relationship. When one sender has full financial responsibility, that is generally clear. However, if there is cooperative funding, or funding comes from one source but the missionary is recruited from another, it is necessary to identify clearly who the employer is. The employer is responsible for the terms and conditions of employment, which include length of service, salary, benefits such as medical insurance and retirement pension, costs for shipment of personal effects, provisions for children’s education, vacations (holidays) and home leaves, continuing education, procedures for termination of service prior to the end of the agreement if things do not work out as planned, and normal procedures for completion of service. The employer may be an ecumenical agency that determines the terms and conditions of employment, though both funding and personnel are provided by member agencies.
The host may well have an opinion as to the level of salary and benefits the missionary receives. However, in the interests of equity between employees of the same sending agency who serve in different countries, it is usually not possible for the sender to give a lower (or in some cases higher) salary in order to have missionary salaries at levels comparable to local salaries for people in the same profession. It is possible, however, to limit the amount of salary the missionary receives overseas, and to put the rest in a savings account for the missionary to use when he or she completes his or her service.
Determining the timing and length of home leaves also calls for partnership and cooperation between the sender and host. The interests of the host may be served by the missionary spending more time “on the job,” but the interests of the sender may require time spent in the home country for fund raising and education of supporters. Also, in order for mission to be a two-way street, part of the missionaries’ responsibility is to bring back to their home churches some of the wisdom and gifts of the host, and this requires time spent in the home country. Partners need to negotiate to ensure that the needs of both are respected, giving consideration to school terms, completion of special projects, or special events.
Differing levels of salary and other support provisions can become a very difficult and divisive issue when missionaries from a number of senders serve side by side in the same location. Missionaries may also work with colleagues from the same sender who have very different support provisions. For example, fully supported long-term missionaries, minimally supported short-term missionaries, and self-supported volunteers. In some cases a coordinating committee with representation from all senders and from the host may determine what should be provided for foreign missionaries, and all senders may agree to contribute to a common fund for paying for such things as household furnishings and vehicles. The level of salary paid in the country of service may be standardized, but the various employers still have the responsibility of determining the total salary and benefits.
4. Pre-service and in-service orientation and training. The type, length, and effectiveness of pre-service and in-service training is very important to missionary personnel. This is an increasingly critical issue as the trend continues for shorter terms of service and thus a greater turnover of missionaries. When cadres of long-term missionaries existed, new missionaries were (for better or worse) usually given considerable guidance and support by veterans. Shorter terms and fewer long-term missionaries mean there is not a built-in support system from the missionary’shome country; thus the need is increased for orientation and training both prior to departure and in the country of service. General training in cross-cultural understanding as well as specific skills and information related to local language, culture, and structures are needed. As noted in an earlier section, redeployed missionaries need training as much as new ones.
This area requires the cooperation and involvement of both senders and hosts. What resources can be provided by the sender and by the host, in terms of written material, formal training programs, and informal coaching by knowledgeable individuals, needs to be agreed upon.
Particularly in longer-term service, new areas of involvement often open up for which a missionary needs additional training. This too is an area for negotiation between the sender and host, in terms of the type of training, length of time to be spent in training programs, etc.
5. Supervision, accountability, evaluation, planning. Supervision and accountability is a critical and often problematic area for cross-cultural missionaries. The employer-employee relationship is with the sending organization, and every sender has expectations of its missionaries. But the day-to-day work may be under the supervision or authority of a local bishop, principal, or medical director. When all parties share a clear and common understanding, problems are minimal so long as the missionary carries out the defined tasks. But when the situation is ambiguous, or when the sender and host have different ideas about the assignment, the missionary may have an agonizing conflict regarding actual responsibilities. It is very common for missionaries to be sent to do one thing and be asked to do something else after they arrive. This is not necessarily a problem if it is understood that the situation is somewhat fluid or undefined and the job description has to evolve along with the development of a project. Flexibility is a very basic personal prerequisite for missionary service, especially when the situation is less clearly defined.
Issues of change of assignment and accountability may be particularly problematic when the sender has clearly stated priorities among types of mission projects, and the host requests a missionary for a purpose consistent with the sender’s priorities, but later asks the missionary to fill another role for which a missionary would not have been sent. Also, missionaries are often overwhelmed by additional responsibilities when there are personnel shortages. Role conflicts can be extremely difficult when communication is not clear or people feel their authority being questioned. There may be a different cultural understanding of job definition and the degree to which that is determined “on the spot.” Also, the local supervisor may have a different opinion about the missionary’s role than the leader (often a bishop or church president) who made the agreement with the sender.
Evaluation needs to be done in such a way that the interests of the sender, the host, and the missionary are respected. One method is formal, structured, three-way evaluation conferences that involve the missionary, his or her local supervisor, and a representative of the sender. Such a conference provides a forum for discussion of the assignment, significant problems or successes, the nature of relationships, the degree to which the missionary has the needed skills and what to do if skills need to be developed. Alternatively, a representative of the sending agency may confer separately with the missionary and local supervisor. In any case, mutual respect and consideration of the priorities and needs of each party is critical. The role and skills of the representative of the sending agency are crucial. (See below.)
Evaluation of missionary contributions naturally leads to discussions of the future. What are the goals of the receiving body? How long is a missionary needed in a particular assignment? How is local leadership being developed?
Issues surrounding the roles of missionary spouses(almost always wives) are often complicated and difficult. There may be a conflict of values between the sender’s culture and the host culture regarding appropriate roles and expectations of wives. In Europe and the U.S., women often have careers separate from those of their husbands, but combining career aspirations and missionary life may be virtually impossible. Appropriate recognition and accountability, expressed in the evaluation process as well as in other ways, goes a long way toward equitable treatment of missionary wives.
The contribution of every missionary, whether long-term or short-term, paid or not, needs to be recognized in the evaluation process. There is often a sense of hierarchy among missionaries who serve for varying lengths of time and under various levels of support.
6. Pastoral care and emotional needs. Provision of pastoral care and counseling may be a very sensitive area for partnership. Who provides support for a missionary who is discouraged or depressed? The answer depends partly on the severity of the problem and the resources available. One indicator of a mature relationship between sender and host, and particularly between missionary and local colleague, is when the missionary receives care and comfort from local people. However, return to the home country may be the best course of action in cases of severe depression, severe marital problems, or family problems for which appropriate resources are not available in the place of service.
Sensitivity and careful judgment are needed. If missionaries are too quick to leave, or the sender too quick to call them home, it implies that the host is without resources to deal with human problems—and such paternalistic attitudes do not support mutual partnership. On the other hand, missionaries who are creating an undue burden on local caregivers and who are unproductive in their work might need to be sent home.
In recent decades, with higher levels of family instability, more missionaries have experienced significant psychological difficulties. At the same time, utilizing professional counselors has become more acceptable. Thus both the need and the desire for professional counseling of missionaries and their families has increased, and appropriate counseling is often unavailable in the country of service.
There may be a conflict of ethical values when the severity of a problem is seen differently by the sender and the host. For example, in the U.S. attitudes toward divorce have changed radically, and having been divorced no longer automatically disqualifies a person for pastoral ministry. But the concept of a divorced pastor may be unacceptable to the partner. On the other hand, a particular behavior of a missionary may be unacceptable to the sender but tolerated by the host.
7. Completion of service. Decision-making regarding completion of missionary service is another important area for mutuality and consultation. Most decisions for ending service are related to the completion of the contract or personal reasons such as the health issues or extended family needs. However, when missionary service needs to be terminated because of inappropriate behavior, relationship problems, or failure to carry out the assignment, partnership plays an important role both in decision making and in the process by which decisions are carried out. As the employer, the sender is responsible for the “hiring and firing’’ of its employees, and the host is responsible for its own affairs whether or not missionary staff carry out some of the tasks involved. If a local leader wants a missionary removed, the sending agency should normally comply. However, the situation may call for conflict resolution rather than action to recall a missionary.
A decision for the missionary to remain at home after home leave is usually simpler than a decision to recall the missionary during a term of service. Many mission agencies have a policy that the return of a missionary for another term of service is contingent on the desire of both partners to renew thecontract. A decision regarding renewal of the missionary’s contract is best made before the missionary departs for home leave, so appropriate closure, transfer of responsibilities, and packing or disposing of personal effects can be accomplished before the missionary leaves.
A host may be reluctant to request removal of a missionary for other reasons, such as cultural attitudes regarding hospitality or because of the side benefits of having a missionary in a particular position. In these cases, the sender may have a more difficult time determining whether or not a missionary’s employment should be terminated.
8. Post-service benefits and support. Post-service benefits include continuation of salary and benefits for a period of time, giving the missionary time to readjust to the home country and to find other employment. Sometimes transitional housing is provided. Other benefits may include vocational guidance, workshops on transition or reentry, or counseling for personal problems.
Many cross-cultural missionaries find the adjustment to “home” more difficult than the initial adjustment to “over there.” Pre-service training is usually provided for adjustment to a new culture, and most new missionaries are mentally prepared for major changes. However, when people return to their home country, they are rarely prepared for the many changes in life “back home” that have taken place in their absence. They are also unaware of how profoundly they have been changed by their cross-cultural experience. Missionary children may consider the country of service to be home, and while the parents are returning home, the children are leaving home. Education or counseling is needed for these and many other post-service issues.
This area is the responsibility of the sender, and the host has little official involvement once the missionary has left. However, there may be ongoing relationships by correspondence or visits between the missionary and his or her friends, students, or co-workers, and there may be a time later on when the missionary returns as a visitor or volunteer, or with a new assignment. Thus consideration of partnership issues can be important even after a missionary has left service.
Normally, the most pressing issue between partners following the end of a missionary’s service is whether or not another missionary will be sent in his or her place, and if so, with what changes in qualifications or assignment.
THE ROLE OF AGENCY REPRESENTATIVES
I have repeatedly stressed the need for sensitive and careful negotiation between partners. Some critical questions relate to who will carry out that negotiation, what skills are needed, and how such negotiations are conducted.
Many mission sending agencies have an area director who is based in the sending country and is responsible for the relationships with partners in particular areas. Often the area director is a former missionary and has a helpful understanding of one particular language and culture. However, usually that individual is also responsible for negotiations in countries where he or she is less familiar with cultural norms.
Negotiations regarding missionaries, their roles, and their supervision may be carried out by a field director who is locally based. In that case, there is more familiarity with the local situation but less knowledge of the broader context of the sending agency.
It would be helpful if the people responsible for the extensive negotiations required by responsible partnership had training in negotiation and conflict resolution skills. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.
Some critical issues for partnership across cultures are how negotiations take place, who is involved on both (or all) sides, what the dynamics or power issues are of such negotiations, and what the place is of such negotiations within the partners’ overall relationship. In most cultures relationships are crucial, and relationships can only be built over time. Effective negotiation depends upon the nature of the relationship that hasdeveloped between the partners, and more particularly the relationship between the people who represent the partners and actually do the negotiating.
In many cultures, conflict must be dealt with through a third party, not in face-to-face conversation between conflicting parties. The area or field director often functions as the third party between a missionary and the host, or between the sender and the host, and the process works best in the context of a long-term relationship of mutual trust.
Joyce Bowers is associate director for international peresonnel in the Division for Global Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a post she has held since 1988. Joyce and her husband Louis served as educational missionaries in Liberia for 11 years.
Partnership in Mission: A Response
By John Mariner
Congratulations to Joyce Bowers in preparing a general primer on partnership agreements and the personnel issue, which of necessity must be included and resolved in such agreements.
Partnerships, agreements, and relationships are a fact of life in the world of missions today. No organization works in isolation from other sending or receiving organizations since the church around the world is made complete as a body through the specialized gifts, talents, and support of multiple agencies. Who could exist without the Bible Society, missionary radio, sources of literature and evangelistic material, and the resources of denominational and nondenominational support organizations? The relationship between such organizations ranges from a handshake or a purchase order for supplies to formal long-term cooperative or partnership agreements. While the article deals primarily with formal partnership agreements between sending and receiving organizations, it also refers to agreements between sending organizations, which are very common in today’s world.
Within the ‘90s generation, where the emphasis is on building relationships instead of contracts, a handshake may seal a working relationship that will function for several years. Choices, articles, and criteria focus on the task and agenda of the agreement rather than the results. A results-oriented job description may liberate the partners for the infusion of creative, new ideas.
What about the dating period? Prior to many working relationships there is an initial field survey visit or a trial period to determine if the personalities represented by the differing gifts can work together. After all, it is personality, expectations, and attitudes that often kill many working relationships.
Many excellent cooperative and partnership agreements exist in missions. Those venturing into such agreements as new untested water would do well to get sample agreements from other mission agencies. You’ll be surprised at how similar many appear.
John Mariner is executive director of World Witness, Associate Reformed Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, Greenville, S.C.
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