by Harold W. Fife
The pastoral care of missionaries is not something for which I can produce proof texts from Scripture, although we might reasonably assume that Paul and Barnabas gave loving care to John Mark and other fellow-workers as they traveled and toiled with them.
The pastoral care of missionaries is not something for which I can produce proof texts from Scripture, although we might reasonably assume that Paul and Barnabas gave loving care to John Mark and other fellow-workers as they traveled and toiled with them. But really the whole spirit of the New Testament with its emphasis on love for the brethren and nurture of the fellow-workers of the church gives us ample Bible justification for our subject.
Careful reading of even the most eulogistic missionary biographies of the past will reveal the need for; and sometimes acute absence of, pastoral care of the missionary-and this in a more authoritarian and much less complex situation than that which pertains today. Also, it should be noted that the lower spiritual tone of the churches today, and the general lack of a real home church relationship on the part of many missionaries which occurs when the high school is attended away from home, and is followed by absences from the local church while at college and Bible school or seminary (with summers spent in camps or at work). This sequence, or any similar one, keeps the prospective missionary away from close fellowship with his church and pastor. Add to this the relatively short terms of most modern pastors and you have the circumstances which make the missionary less deeply rooted in the local church and its spiritual experiences, and less closely related to its pastor. What we are saying is that the missionary’s training is not an adequate substitute for a strong church connection with its pastoral counsel. He is in fact, therefore, often poorly prepared for the essential spiritual conflicts of on-the-field missionary work, and church-building and church-related ministries. These factors, in addition to the increasing pressures of an intensely nationalistic and growingly-educated world, all tend to make pastoral care of the missionary more essential than ever. My observation is that there is a serious lack in this area of missions.
Perhaps a quote from a Southern Presbyterian study group on this subject will be helpful. I cannot find any other group that has done comparable work in this area. "Does the missionary overseas need help, pastoral help, to do his job more effectively? Yes was the strong response of most of the 230 Presbyterian U.S. missionaries who answered a recent questionnaire submitted to them by their church’s Board of World Missions. The replies came from missionaries in the Congo, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Iraq, and Portugal. There has been a widespread concern in some missionary circles for what has appeared to be a rising drop-out rate among missionaries of many denominations. The study was an attempt to find out what problems of adjustment face those who serve overseas, what help can be given, and why missionaries leave the mission field . . . . though no rise in drop-out rate was indicated because of nervous tension alone, the study did reveal that missionaries overseas must work under tension-producing conditions. The basic needs of missionaries are no different from the needs of Christians everywhere, the study pointed out, but the situations they face do hold unique and built-in difficulties."
The point is not so much that missionaries are different, but they are often outside the reach of the fellowship and pastoral care which are normally available to all other Christians. Is it necessary for us to face this need today? The answer must be yes if we agree that "a mission’s greatest asset is the ideals and aspirations of its missionaries." If we agree that something should be done in this matter, then a few simple direct questions emerge: (1) When should this pastoral care be given? (2) Who can do it? (3) How is it best done? (4) What plans must be made if we are to do it?
WHEN SHOULD WE DO THIS?
There is constant need for pastoral care of missionaries, but there are some particularly crucial periods in his career. The first of these is much sooner after his arrival on the field than we usually suppose and at the time, therefore, when the missionary is more likely to be role-playing and least willing to reveal his real feelings. Experiences here will most likely color his whole career. Perhaps a further quote from the Presbyterian study will be of help to us at this point. "Missionaries… singled out some of the times and experiences in overseas service when a pastor’s help might be most needed and valuable. At the top of the list was `early in the missionary experience-during the first months, the first year, or first term, when a missionary must adjust and after the novelty has worn off and the reality of his commitment becomes frighteningly plain.’ A case-by-case study revealed that possibly as many as 132 drop-outs might have been helped or even saved for the work by pastoral care at this time." (Incidentally, I believe this to be true in pastoral work at home.)
The second crucial period is about the third or fourth term, say between the ages of 35 and 45. This is when pressures tend to converge, much as in the pastorate and, indeed, in many marriages. The children are around high school age, personality conflicts may have developed in the mission, disappointment and disillusionment with oneself and others may have become evident though kept hidden. There is often the dulling of the earlier spiritual enthusiasm, together with the naggingly persistent, though usually unspoken, question which attacks in the early part of our prime years, "Am I really making the best use of my life, or did I make a commitment in my immaturity which has led me into a dead-end street?" This combination constitutes "the destruction that wasteth at noonday" which produces the cry, "Revive thy work in the midst of the years." It is obvious from these and many other possible Bible quotations that this is no new experience, nor is it confined to missionaries.
A further time when the missionary needs particular care is on arrival home for furlough. The problem of "blast-off" to the field has been recognized in orientation and other lectures, but the problem of "re-entry" is overlooked. It is too easily assumed that he returns fully ready to engage in spiritual ministry of all types, often after a very brief time of rest, and ready to face the stresses of being a missionary on furlough. Often he is in need of deep and understanding fellowship and help.
While it may be conceded that there are these special periods of spiritual danger, pastoral help will be needed so long as there are human weaknesses on the one hand and Satanic attack on the other. I do not anticipate an end to either before the Lord comes! The answer to our first question, "When shall this be done?" is, therefore, all the time, but especially at the three crucial periods mentioned above.
WHO CAN DO IT?
This question will produce a variety of suggestions, including: mission leaders, fellow missionaries, visits from home pastors, and a number of others. I would suggest the following considerations:
1. The deepest confidences will not ordinarily be given to fellow workers or to anyone in executive relationship to the missionary. The deeper the confidence the less we ordinarily want to share it with people with whom we expect to be living and working.
2. Real confidences are rarely shared during busy field conferences which preoccupy the mind and make spiritual ministry a secondary matter – sort of a spiritual icing on the cake.
3. Confidences are usually only given in response to spiritual ministry which suggests that there are solutions to the problems. But this takes time, as confidence has to be won, and this cannot be done in a day or two on a visitor’s ministry.
4. A visiting pastor of experience can be helpful, but he is usually (a) unfamiliar with missionary problems, (b) himself reacting to cultural adjustment, and (c) often involved in the home support or board relationships of the missionary.
Perhaps the sort of portrait emerging is that of a man who is (a) An experienced pastor or counsellor; (b) A down-to-earth missions-related spiritual life speaker; (c) One outside the authority structure of the mission. The weakness here is the powerlessness of the counsellor to alter a poor mission situation, but I believe this is to be a limitation which has to be accepted.
HOW IS IT BEST DONE?
Quoting again from the Presbyterian research on this matter, "The missionaries queried gave greatest emphasis to the need for periodic retreats for spiritual enrichment. Also mentioned often were special devotional aids for individuals or groups, personal pastoral visitation in the missionary’s home, counseling and other pastoral services." It is my conviction that this pastoral ministry is best exercised as an outgrowth of spiritual ministry in large or small groups, which can be followed by a relaxed interaction situation, preferably in a missionary’s home and with only two or three people present, and where time is not a controlling factor. I prefer a Bible teaching situation where spiritual issues are paramount, but where the spiritual climate is not artificial.
WHAT PLANS MUST BE MADE?
Now this means that if this ministry is to be exercised, we must believe in it enough to make time for it. We must make men available for this ministry, have missionaries free to enjoy it and profit from it, and budget for the expense involved. This latter need not be high where there is intermission cooperation and where the person ministering is willing to accept normal missionary conditions of living. Living in luxurious hotels and then visiting missionaries for a day or two is not likely to produce the relationship of identification which seems to me to be an underlying necessity for this ministry.
If we believe with Robert McCheyne that the greatest need of the people to whom we minister is our personal holiness, then we shall surely accept that the pastoral care and spiritual health of our missionaries is of the greatest possible consequence to the missionary program.
Copyright © 1970 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.