Sending a missionary into the mission field
In my previous post, Getting involved in God’s Mission, I mentioned the responsibility of the “sending” church to ensure that “their missionary” can do the work expected from him or her. Through the years that I have been involved in missions, I have seen many people come and go. Few have the ability to stick it out for more than a year or two. On the other hand, those who did stick it out, can witness today of the glorious blessing involved in this work. After having “stuck it out” in Swaziland for close to 23 years, I can hardly imagine how dull my life would have been in a “normal” congregation. (OK, I’m biassed, I know!)
One thing which I did not have before I went to Swaziland, is proper preparation. Even though I had a master’s degree in theology and was already working on my PhD in missiology when I received the invitation to go to Swaziland, nothing that I had done at university prepared me to work amongst a new culture group, where almost everything that we were used to were challenged: language, social life, standard of living, etc. And if that wasn’t enough, I suddenly realised that among “my own people” – I come from a white, Afrikaans speaking background who grew up in the Apartheid years in South Africa – I was not a hero. In fact, I found that many people considered missionaries as second-class ministers – people who were not good enough to pastor a group of white people.
Today the situation has changed to a certain extent. But the culture shock experienced by all missionaries – some experience it more than others – can be minimised greatly through proper training. Most people, when receiving the calling from God to go into missions, want to do this as quickly as possible. This is understandable. People serious about God’s work want to get their hands dirty as quickly as possible. But sustainability is probably the keyword in this regard. Going into the mission field is not a short-term project. Obviously there are times and opportunities for short-term outreaches. But becoming a full-time missionary is something else. The first few years will mostly consist of building trusting relationships with the community where the missionary intends to work. In some communities this trust can be built in a shorter period of time, but usually it takes long. To enter into the mission field, only to leave after six months because circumstances became too difficult, not only breaks down trust but also makes it much more difficult for future missionaries to build trust.
Any church planning to send out a missionary, will have to make proper training and preparation of the missionary together with the family, part of their commitment towards them – this in the interests of the mission family as well as the people where they are planning to work.