What is Member Care?
Many mission workers experience a continual stream of stressful incidents which can affect their health and their efficiency in carrying out their God-given mission. ‘So what?’ you may ask. ‘Don’t we all?’
Indeed we do, but most of us have support mechanisms in place which help us keep on top of the stress. In other words, although we experience situations which cause our inner batteries to run down, we have ample access to supportive relationships and resources which help us recharge the batteries.
Moreover, the constant stress of living cross-culturally can reduce the mission worker’s ability to deal with each individual incident. To understand how need for support increases, let’s look at a scale of cross-cultural mission which clearly demonstrates why certain roles require more support. It recognises that all Christians are called to mission, but shows how the context can vary:
- Christian has normal job in home town and uses existing family and workplace connections missionally;
- Christian deliberately selects a job in a company with little Christian representation, OR moves into a different part of town with a view to being an active witness
- Christian moves to a completely different part of their home country, OR deliberately changes career in order to be an active witness
- Christian moves abroad to be an active witness.
As the Christian moves further down the scale from 1 to 4, he/she moves further away, whether physically or psychologically, from their natural support base. Someone living missionally at point number 1 may well have the active support of parents, siblings and in-laws, access to old school friends, the support of a church they’ve been a member of for decades as well as knowing and feeling comfortable in the surrounding culture in which they grew up. Someone at point number 4 will have none of that: no church, no family, no old friends, strange language and culture. And although they’ve prepared for that situation, sometimes for many years, it still makes daily life much harder.
Member Care steps into that situation to provide active support not merely to help the mission worker survive, but to help develop a resilience that will learn from the challenges and ultimately equip them to thrive in an ‘alien’ environment. It is not there to wrap them up in bubble wrap and protect them from the challenges, but to provide them with additional resources to help them weather the storm and to grow stronger. It can be compared to staking a young tree for protection. If the tree is staked too tightly so that it never moves in the wind, it never develops a strong root system to support it against strong winds. Good staking is loose enough to allow a sapling to sway enough to remind it that it needs to send its roots deep, but tight enough to stop it blowing over. Member Care does exactly the same! It can be defined as:
The continual and systematic application of support into the life of the mission worker before, during and after their assignment to ensure they develop the inner resilience to withstand the stresses of their vocation and its context.
Are we getting soft? Surely the great saints of old didn’t need this level of support! What about all those missionary pioneers who went abroad with their belongings packed in a coffin because they knew they weren’t coming back?
Firstly, there is ample New Testament justification for Member Care. Just look at Luke 8:3, Acts 13:1-3 and 14:27-28, 1 Corinthians 16:15-18, Philippians 1:3-7 and 4:15-20, and 2 Timothy 1:16-18 to see how people did things that are recognisable aspects of modern Member Care – funding, sending, caring and welcoming back. Secondly, how many of those great saints experienced Member Care through prayer, supportive teamwork and the hospitality of local believers? Perhaps we’ll never know the full extent. And finally, there is some evidence that some of the pioneers of the 19th century missionary movement experienced disillusion or stress-related illness that could have been relieved if they had known what we know now.
Member Care is an enterprise of the whole Christian community. Primarily based in a sending church, it also involves friends, family, a sending agency (or maybe two), other mission workers and local church, and Member Care specialists like Syzygy. It does not mean that life in the mission field is not going to be without challenges, but it does mean that a large group of fellow-travellers are there to support and encourage us through those hardships. Just as St Paul’s missionary journeys were not without their ‘momentary, light afflications’ (2 Corinthians 4:17 – cf 11:24-33!), he found himself greatly encouraged by those who partnered with him in the preaching of the Gospel (Philippians 1:3-5).
Or, as one contemporary support agency puts it:
We don’t fulfil the Great Commission at the expense of the Greatest Commandment.