Missionaries who may have lived through war, detention, interrogation and other "bad experiences" need time to deal with these issues at the same time they adjust to losing their job on the field, according to a resource booklet the International Mission Board has just released.
"Be 'quick to listen and slow to speak' (James 1:19) and 'weep with those who weep' (Romans 12:15)'," the booklet advises churches and individuals who seek to support field personnel returning to the United States as the largest reduction in forces of missionary personnel ever to take place among evangelicals.
Southern Baptists this year announced it would trim its total missionary and support staff force of more than 5,200 by 600-800 according to a fact sheet issued Aug. 27. The cuts are being made in anticipation of a budget shortfall of $21 million and due to spending $210 million in reserves over the past several years.
The news was made amidst additional news that the International Mission Board would also appoint 600 new missionaries in the next few years.
Key components of the booklet include acknowledging the missionaries returning have changed, their support network of relationships has changed, their church may have changed, and the US has changed—all contributions to what essentially will be "culture shock."
The booklet details several ways to be appropriately supportive:
- Let them talk.
- Be sensitive to culture shock.
- Give them some breathing room.
- Be sincere, and be patient.
- Help them network.
Some missionaries "may have lived through traumatic events such as war, detention, interrogation, injury, illness, disease or other kinds of distress," the booklet warns. These individuals will have to learn to process their "bad" experiences while dealing with culture shock at the same time.
"We must get to a healthy place in the present in order to be in a healthy position for the future," Platt said in the organization's initial announcement. "We want to move forward with innovative vision, wise stewardship, and high accountability to the churches we serve, the peoples we reach, and the God we worship."
Listening and understanding can be a balm to people in transition, the booklet adds. "Everyone who has experienced any crisis needs the opportunity to debrief by sharing stories and emotions. Returning field personnel are sometimes reluctant to do this. Offer a safe place for them to open up and tell their stories."
Above all, pray for the 600 to 800 people who are or will be transitioning out of missions or from one type of missions to another. Platt said, "Please pray that God will provide grace, wisdom, strength, and unity across the IMB family as we navigate the various challenges that we are walking through together over the next six months.
"Regardless of where we find ourselves six months from now, of this I am sure: it will be good, and God will be glorified," Platt said.
This article was originally published in Christian Examiner.