Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Cross-Cultural Living Page 1 of 3

expectations
photo: “Heavy Luggage,” by Maurice Koop, used under a Creative Commons license

Excess Baggage: The Weight of Unmet Expectations

This blog post was originally posted on the blog “A Life Overseas.” It is reposted with permission from the author. Craig Thompson and his family served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan for 10 years before returning to the USA. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures.

A survey of missionary attrition

In the five years since Andrea Sears conducted her survey on missionary attrition, she’s been steadily analyzing and releasing the results, topic by topic. Late last year at her Missions Experience blog, she posted the data on how “expectations factors” affect missionaries’ decisions to leave the field.1 Andrea Sears, “Expectations Factors,” The Missions Experience,” October 14, 2021. Her findings show that at least half of the former missionaries surveyed “experienced disconnects between their expectations and reality” in the five areas of:

  • team members, reported by 62%
  • community, 58%
  • relationships back home, 54%
  • ministry results, 52%
  • job responsibilities, 50%

And in looking at how unmet expectations contributed to the respondents’ attrition, she finds the top four factors to be:

  • team members, reported by 65%
  • job responsibilities, 64%,
  • community, 61%
  • family life, 56%

A survey of missionary expectations

These findings are interesting in and of themselves, but they remind me of the results of another survey, one that formed the basis of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss. In their book, published in 2010, the two take a deep dive into the role expectations play in navigating cross-cultural work. In 2013, I referenced their work when I wrote about the topic of expectations at my blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately and hope to address it here in the coming months. To start, I’d like to repost my article below, in a slightly edited form. It originally appeared under the title “Missionaries, Don’t Let Your Expectations Weigh You Down.”

refugee
Photo by a colleague from the Ukraine-Poland border. February 26, 2022

I am a refugee: reflections of a missionary leaving Ukraine

I am a missionary who is also a war refugee. I came to that realization a couple of days ago. My wife and I are Canadian citizens but residents of Ukraine. Or at least we were until about a month ago. We have our Ukraine temporary residency cards, recently renewed. Our home for the past 12 and a half years has been in the city of Kyiv. This has been the longest we have lived in any country or in any home since we got married and left for the Philippines almost 35 years ago. Now we are “back” in Canada. Because of the current war in Ukraine, we do not know for how long.

In the past week, I have experienced many different and sometimes conflicting emotions. I am thankful to God that we were given sufficient warning and were able to leave Ukraine before the fighting began. But I am also shocked and deeply saddened by the devastation and death that the war in Ukraine has caused. I feel a great sense of loss as I think about the possibility that we may never return to our home, friends and ministry base in Ukraine. At the same time, I am proud of and admire the courage, resilience and resourcefulness of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Fervently and continually, I pray for peace in Ukraine – and wonder what this all means for us.

What is a refugee?

But am I really a refugee? After all, we were born and raised in Canada. This is where our parents, brothers and sisters, our daughter and son-in-law, and three of our grandchildren make their home.

Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.

UNHCR – What is a refugee?
foreigner
Photo by diGital Sennin on Unsplash

I really am not that weird

This blog post was originally posted as “I Too Am a Foreigner” on the blog “A Life Overseas.” It is reposted with permission from the author. Ivy Cheeseman and her family have served with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Southeast Asia for the last 10 years. She enjoys hiking, writing, and seeing God’s grace and power shine through the local church.

I’ve been contemplating these thoughts for years, but I’ve been hesitant to share them. Most importantly, I didn’t want to make any unfair comparisons. Unlike some of my foreign friends from other nations, I’ve never fled a house being burned by soldiers. They’ve endured so much trauma, and they can’t return. I, on the other hand, can go back “home” anytime I want.

Neither did I want to be misconstrued as being political. I’m not here to offer political commentary on complex issues such as immigration. As a Christ-follower, I live in this place in order to serve others.

need for resilience
Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

Resilience: the need

Resilience is a critical topic

How do Christian global workers become resilient? This is the question that Geoff Whiteman posed to over 1000 missionaries.1 See ResilientGlobalWorker.org for information about this survey. It is a question that concerns anyone involved with member care for global workers. To illustrate, the title of Laura Mae Gardner’s highly-recommended book on member care is “Healthy, Resilient, & Effective in Cross-Cultural Ministry.” From the title itself, one can see the central and crucial role of resilience in productive mission workers. Kelly O’Donnell, CEO of Member Care Associates also highlights the importance of resilience in his book on global member care.

Member care, I have learned over and over again, is not about creating a comfortable lifestyle. Nor is it about trusting people instead of trusting God. Rather, it is about further developing the resiliency to do our work well which includes our character, competencies, and social support. It is also about developing relational resiliency, which includes working through the inevitable differences and impasses with international and local fellow-workers.

O’Donnell, Kelly. Global Member Care: Volume One: The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice. William Carey Library. Kindle Edition, Loc. 459.

Why do we need to understand resilience?

In this blog series, I want to share what I have been learning about missionary resilience. I will be unpacking what I have read about resilience from contemporary authors and in the Scriptures.

Understanding resilience is not only important so that we can minimize attrition. In other words, our goal is not simply to prevent missionaries from returning to their sending countries prematurely. We want our colleagues and ourselves to thrive. Our desire is that they bear much fruit, and grow and develop in their ministry gifts and skills. We want our children to reflect positively on their experience as TCKs.2 Third-culture kids.

incarnational model

Are missionaries called to be incarnational?

The incarnational model is how we often describe our decision to live among the people to whom we are sent. We learn to speak their language. We immerse ourselves in their culture, eating their foods and building deep friendships within that people group. The term “incarnational ministry” may also refer to adopting a living standard (e.g., the type and size of our house, the transportation we use, the clothes we wear) that does not create social barriers to the common people.

But is “incarnational” the best word to describe our strategy of immersing ourselves in the culture of the people? Is the incarnation of Christ the model we should follow as we engage the unreached people of this world?

cultural value orientations communicating across cultures

CQ Communication & Decision-making Cultural Value Orientations

Introduction:

In this second blog post discussing the ten cultural value orientations of Cultural Intelligence (CQ)1Go to https://senduwiki.org/_media/summary_of_the_10_cultural_value_orientations_in_the_cq_assessment.docx to see a summary of all 10 CQ cultural value orientations., I will focus on the values related to communication and decision-making. It is important for the cross-cultural worker to understand these different values in order to avoid misunderstanding and offense. In order to help you, I offer an example in each value orientation pair. I’m sure you can come up with examples from your ministry context.

Again, I’ve included a discussion question after each summary of the three identity related cultural value orientations. Please share your comments. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Low-Context/Direct and High-Context/Indirect:

Communication styles differ in important ways between low-context and high-context cultures. In low-context settings, the relationship between people is a small factor in many conversations. For instance, the length of the line at a checkout counter is more important than the relationship one has with the cashier when deciding where to line up. People speak directly and frankly, and value clarity in others. Meeting agendas in low-context settings are usually brief and to the point. The chairperson who moves the discussion along quickly to reach decisions is admired.

cultural value orientations

CQ Identity-Related Cultural Value Orientations

Introduction:

Cultural knowledge is essential for missionaries as we make disciples in a multicultural world. SEND U is now using the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Assessment tool in our prefield training and lifelong development of cultural understanding. The CQ assessment identifies ten cultural value orientations framed in contrasting pairs that present a continuum of possible orientations.

But here a warning is necessary. Do not use these cultural value orientations to form stereotypes about particular cultures because cultures change. Globalization accelerates that change and has created a blend of global culture and local cultures often referred to as “glocal.” Don’t be surprised if an individual behaves with one orientation among internationals and a different orientation among his/her local culture.

I have written a brief summary of the ten cultural value orientations on the SEND U wiki. In three posts on this blog, I will discuss the ten orientations grouped as orientations related to:

  1. identity
  2. communication and decision-making
  3. time and planning

I’ve included a discussion question after each summary of the three identity related cultural value orientations. Please share your comments.

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