How do churches support mission partners effectively? What happens when unrest happens or people have to move suddenly? Some mission partners share their stories.
Caught in the crossfire
Peaceful images of harmonious life in Kenya were shattered by the violent protests that followed the November 2007 elections. At that time the Morgan family (from Warwick) were working at St Andrew’s School in Turi, an international Christian boarding school in the Central Highlands. Sandy writes, “Whilst we were kept safe on the school site, we were in an area where tribal clashes were taking place. We could often see houses burning on the hills around the school compound, hear gunshots in the nearby town, woke to news each morning of further bloodshed in the locality and there were times when traveling proved extremely difficult.”
Due to the unrest, the school decided to close early for an extended half-term break. While the Morgans were feeling emotionally and physically drained and in need of rest, they were unsure what to do. At exactly that time they received a phone call from their home church (Saltisford Church, Warwick) to say that the Mission Support Team had put sufficient money into their bank account so that they could buy emergency flights back to the UK if they felt that this was necessary. However, the money was theirs to use as they saw fit. Through the generosity and thoughtfulness of the church family, the Morgans felt like a huge burden had been lifted – they had the means to do whatever they felt they needed. As it was, the north coast of Kenya remained free from trouble and they decided not to leave the country but to have a much-needed holiday on the coast instead. Sandy comments, “As we enjoyed a complete break, gaining refreshment for whatever lay ahead, we thanked God for our church family and their sensitivity to our needs.”
Coping with grief
John and Sheila were working in South Africa. Complications had arisen in the last stages of the pregnancy of their third child and he needed intensive care hospitalization immediately after the emergency caesarean delivery. Ten days later, the baby died. The support this family received was a great example of co-operation between the sending agency and church, local ministry team, and local church. They were given financial assistance (the local team held a collection), meals were provided every day for over a fortnight, babysitting for the other children, guidance on service, funeral and burial arrangements, phone calls from their home church pastor and adequate time off assignment. The local ministry leadership also stipulated that the couple attend bereavement counselling sessions which were then arranged (free of charge) by their local church. They also encouraged the family to bring forward their next furlough by 12 months so that they could share the grieving process with their families, supporters and home church.
Nick, Ann and family were extremely happy in their work. They felt they were both making a real difference in their respective assignments, their children had adapted to life in the tropics very quickly and were thriving in school. However, changes were introduced by the local management board of the development project that Nick was directing and his contract was abruptly terminated. The whole family were enveloped by a sense of loss and disappointment as they returned to the UK.
Over the months that followed, as both Nick and Ann found securing employment very difficult, their youngest child (12) began to show signs that he was not re-adjusting well. He became extremely withdrawn and there were concerns over self-harming and anorexia. He was not engaging in school either academically or socially. He had no desire to try and make new friends. Expert help was sought (and paid for by their sending agency) and the entire family involved in the special measures designed for his support. Their home church family were sensitively made aware of the situation and surrounded the family with their prayers. After a period of almost 18 months the parents feel that he is now re-emerging with a more balanced attitude to life.
These case studies are success stories in member care terms – sadly stories of failure are often much easier to find. To help churches and agencies address the issue of forming a long-term strategy for mission sustainability and retention, Global Connections members involving church representatives, HR specialists, counsellors, and Member Care providers have produced Guidelines for Good Practice in Member Care. It provides comprehensive ideas for helping mission partners and their families develop both personally and in effective ministry.
The full guidelines are long and daunting. but the aim is to prevent problems not just to solve them, not to be a hospital for the weak but a means to help people grow and ‘produce fruit that will last’.
One respondent to the process commented: “Having worked overseas myself, as first a single then a married worker, later as a field and base leader and now as international coordinator for member care, I see the guidelines as a Pole Star for our navigation through the maze of messy situations and imperfect entities. As I take it very seriously, I will grow to be a better leader and facilitator”.
Kingdom mission demands our best and the code is designed to be a help to churches and agencies support people well.