Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Here we are at episode 21 of Missions on Point. This is part three of three on missionary care. We're talking about field visits. I think earlier I said that we would talk about field visits and short-term missions projects. However, adding the short-term missions bit is a little bit too much because I've got more material than I can cover in one episode just on field visits. First, I want to go back to clarify a term I've used several times in this series, and I'll use it in other places as well. It's preventable attrition. I've defined that in different ways, but the part that's missing that I've failed to convey well enough is preventable attrition in the context of the sovereignty of God. Preventable attrition looks at the human viewpoint. What could we have done through our responsibility to prevent the attrition of a missionary going to the field and returning permanently home?

However, we understand that man plans his ways, but God directs his steps. God is sovereign in all things, and God doesn't make mistakes. Even people who perhaps were ill prepared for the field or encountered preventable problems that caused their return home doesn't mean that God doesn't use that in their lives and their lives in the church for his glory in a continuing way. While preventable attrition is regrettable and we ought to do everything we can to responsibly avoid preventable attrition, sometimes it's just going to happen. And then we have to deal with it knowing that God is gracious, kind, wise, sovereign in all things, and that he's going to take this particular painful problem and still use it in the lives of those that are affected for his glory and for his own purposes. It's got a tinge of humor in it to look at it from that perspective that no matter what our failings are, no matter how the Lord has brought about the attrition of people on the field coming home, it doesn't take him by surprise.

It's completely within his plan, and we need to embrace that and work with that for the good. It doesn't mean that the missionaries who have returned home from the field are losers. It just means that God has used that in their lives in ways that we may not understand at the moment, but they are planned by him for his glory. It's our task to figure out how to leverage that in a way that will continue to build the kingdom both here and across the sea as it were, and in the lives of all those affected. Preventable attrition in no way lessens the sovereignty of God. Conversely, God's sovereignty does not in any way lessen our responsibility and diligence to try to avoid preventable attrition from a human standpoint. I hope this is helpful to give the balance in your mind regarding preventable attrition in the sovereignty of God.

So the first question with regard to field visits is who gets to make the field visit? This is a pretty big deal. No doubt it's expensive, it's time-consuming. It takes somebody out of their regular role at home to go and make a field visit. So who gets to go? I would suggest three Ls and three Cs here. First of all, it should be someone that expresses the viewpoint of the leadership of the church. They may not be the leader, the senior pastor, even the missions pastor, but they sort of speak for the local church or the sending church to the missionary, so they need to have some appointed leadership role. Second, they need to be a really good listener. They're there to hear the missionary, to see them, to shadow them, to find out about them. They need to be someone who's a good listener.

Thirdly, they need to be a good learner. They need to actually want to learn about the situation of the missionary, the culture, the language, the challenges they face. Fourthly, they need to be a good confronter. If the person going to make the field visit is not willing to ask hard questions and to challenge some of the missionary's thinking, particularly if it's heading in the wrong direction or leaning in the wrong theology, then they're not qualified to go. Another aspect of that is they need to be a good counselor, someone who does listen, but is able to give good sound, biblical counsel regarding their situation, even though it's in a completely different cultural context. And lastly, they need to be a good communicator back home, someone that is going to take the time and responsibility to communicate what they have learned and seen and heard and smelled overseas back to the body of the local church.

So the church appoints someone to be the one to make the field visit, or perhaps deputizes, someone who volunteers to go on their own, and here are the things they need to keep in mind. Number one, you are there to minister to your missionaries. Don't pressure them too much to make your visit comfortable. Learning the challenges and even discomforts of their life is part of the lessons you need to learn there. Secondly, it's better to hang out with them and observe their life, shadow them, their ministry, their relationships. If you get to lead a Bible study or make a presentation in some part of a ministry to encourage other missionaries or nationals in some setting, that's great, but don't make that the reason or the center of why you're there. It's not about you. Thirdly, assuming that it's a long trip, be prepared for jet lag.

It's real. It can hammer you. Some people handle it better than others. Be one of those handle it better people. Sleep or at least try to sleep or pretend to sleep when you're supposed to be asleep in that place, and stay awake when you're supposed to stay awake. Drink plenty of water. Take aspirin to help with the brain fog that inevitably comes, and make sure your visit is more than just a 24-hour flyby. Next, sharpen your observation skills and question asking skills. Remember, you are there to learn and absorb as much as possible in a limited amount of time on behalf of everyone in the congregation, so you've got them in your backpack so to speak, and you're thinking about what questions they would want to ask if they were there, not just your own curiosity. Lastly, don't even try to go through the whole checklist I'm going to give you because it's too much in one sitting.

It might even take more than one field visit to comprehensively get through them all, but it's a start to begin the process and you can continue on Skype or some other kind of video call or email. Now, I'm going to give you my secret comprehensive list of areas guiding my visits. Obviously, the concerns are pastoral in nature, and they may vary depending on the person or the tenor of the missionary relationship that you have, the type of ministry, and the depth and scope of your relationship with them. Here we go. Number one, spiritual vitality and consistency. These are asking questions about their devotional life, their fellowship with other Christians, any areas of sinful temptation or weakness, relationship with local bodies of believers. Believe it or not, missionaries often are more tempted to sin when they're alone on the mission field than they might have been when they were home.

Somehow the tempting media stuff is more pervasive or more available to them or more private feeling to them. The next area is physical, mental, emotional health, and that includes typical local diseases or susceptibilities, checkup schedules, individual needs of the individuals in their family. Thirdly, is marital relationship health. Sometimes cross-cultural stress is a cause for the marriage to grow closer. Sometimes it's a stress that causes a marriage to show fractures. Is there positive growth there? Are there problems or needs? If the person is single, what is the relationship with the opposite sex or issues of singleness? If they're a couple, I would urge you whatever the man says, check it with the woman separately or even privately to confirm. And if the person or persons traveling are a couple, then obviously the wife can talk to the wife and the husband can talk to the husband.

Next area are family relationships with the children. Are there stresses or concerns, practices or discipline or spiritual leadership that's going on that's healthy for the family? I can't tell you how many times I've been asked for parental counsel about child discipline while making a field visit. The next area is schooling and ongoing education, not just for the children, but for everyone in the family. Are there concerns, resources, needs, plans for further education for the parents? The next area is language and cultural proficiency. Are they exhibiting diligence in growth in those areas? Do they have the resources they need? Is there a prescribed plan or at least a plan that they've thought through for continuing growth for the whole family and language and culture proficiency? The next area on my list is team relationships. Learn and get introduced to the people that they work with. Who do they report to?

How do they relate to them? Who is the team leader? Does the team leader know your church and your church know the team leader? Are their regular meetings? Is there an annual field conference or retreat of some kind or regional meetings? What spiritual input do they have? What pastoral care? Are their regular onsite visits from others beside your church? Do they receive specific guidance from their team, their field, or their organization? The next major area is relationships with nationals. This means their neighbors, their friends, the people they do business with in the community. Their hospitality, do they have friends and neighbors that are nationals around them in their home in any fashion? Do they invite people to have coffee? What is their participation in the community and community events? What is their feeling of acceptance within their neighborhood and community? The next area is about housing and utilities.

Is their housing adequate? Is it appropriate to their standing in their culture and environment? Is it healthy? Do they have a good water supply or appropriate filtering for their water supply? Do they have good bathroom and hygiene capacities in their home? Do they have heat and air, electricity, internet, all of those kinds of things. The next major area is security and contingency issues. Have they had appropriate training? Do they have a sense of physical security in their home? Is their location secure or is it at high risk, and what is the mindset of situational awareness? The next area is transportation needs. Do they have the right resources to get around town? Usually when missionaries start out, they don't have any personal vehicle at all. It's not necessary, and in fact, it's maybe important to not have it so that they can see how others get around and relate to them using public transportation or whatever is available. What are their resources and alternatives for transportation?

The next area is communication, and it is asking the basic questions of phone, internet, radio, any other kind of communication they may have, which may have a lot to do with exactly where they are and how remote they are and how their organization has equipped them for regular communication. The next area is financial, and this is drilling down a little bit to find out about their support, what projects they may have. Are ideas taken care of with regard to home assignment needs, furlough, repatriation? Do they have a retirement plan or what are their retirement plans? Do they have appropriate insurances? Do they have a plan for long-term schooling for their children and the costs of those things? All of that is wound around financial needs. The last question is how can we, that is our church, help?

What can we do better to help you and support you and shepherd you and your family? How can we pray and partner better? Are there some specific things, ideas that you have that will help us do our job better to help you be more effective long-term on the field? I love this question of doing field visits. It's something that I have enjoyed for decades. I have mentored missions pastors and missions leaders in doing field visits for a number of years in many different situations. It is a huge blessing to the missionaries to know that they can count on someone to come, that they have their ear and their hearts tuned to their situation and assisting them to relieve stress, understand them, communicate with people back home, and be their partner in the long term.

So please plan on doing field visits. My recommendation for senior pastors is that the senior pastor should be one to make a field visit on a regular rotation around the missionaries that they support, maybe doing a little hopscotch from one place to the other to the other in a single trip in order to get them all in a reasonable amount of time.

That means the church needs to budget for that, perhaps allowing the pastor to visit every missionary on the field every five to 10 years depending on the size of the church and how many missionaries you support. Again, it's not putting the pastor in the limelight to do ministry on the field. It's the pastor learning about that missionary and focusing on them for the sake of the supporting church.

May God richly bless your field visits for his glory. Thanks for joining us today on Missions On Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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