I have been inspired by missionaries since childhood. During the Second World War, when I was a baby, our family had to escape from Hong Kong, the city of my birth, into China. The Imperial Japanese had invaded the then British colony, so dad took us back to our ancestral Hakka village, in the mountainous areas of Guangdong province. His father, my grandfather, had earlier been the Gospel Mission Hospital Director in that village, and my dad then assumed that position during the War.
Because of that, our family lived on the mission compound, and missionary doctors and nurses became our family friends and neighbors. Later on, growing up in Hong Kong, our family also had many missionary friends who would come by to visit. So, there is little surprise I guess, that from early childhood, I grew to know and appreciate the key roles of missions in the church and world.
In my mind, there is no question that missions is a vital key component of church health, as emphasized by Christ’s Great Commission. With the perspective of nearly 5 decades of church ministry, and observing growing churches, I like even to say “no mission, no church.” Or, “if we don’t have missions, the church dies.” It is that important. But, sometimes we think missions simply means sending financial support overseas. That is actually the simplest step. It is the mission involvement that is so vital to our own spiritual growth. When we become involved in the lives of missionaries, we begin to truly feel real joy, especially as we see the wonderful blessings that come with missions, but, there is also the possibility of real pain. We may not like it when the lesson of “love is painful” happens, but it could be only then that we truly learn the lesson of love, God’s love for the nations.
The minute we begin church missions, we are instantly reminded of a competing tug at our heart for many other church needs, near at hand, and possibly staring us in the face. Something like never-ending possibilities of church maintenance, renovations, and building expansion. And if we are a very responsible church, local ministries also cost a lot. Often, the faraway missionary stands little real chance of financial and spiritual support, compared with local needs. Missions truly needs out-of-the-box thinking, and requires full support of ministers, elders and deacons, otherwise it won’t work. Especially from the most senior leadership.
But, missions can be great fun, so let us start with that. My decades working in church missions included 3 decades specifically in China and Thailand, and close involvement with new and established mission agencies. It has been a great experience, full of joys and pain. Right off, the biggest problem is its complexity, needing several articles to cover adequately.
From our church’s very beginning, we began efforts in missions. We found it practical to focus on certain geographic areas, to not get too diffusely distracted, since mission needs are always very large in scope (like the whole world!). Asia was a natural focus for an Asian church, given our closer understanding of the cultures, and natural connections. Another key area soon appeared to us, in the Middle East and related areas, which was extremely challenging, but therefore likely in greatest need, from which we would learn many new lessons.
This latter field we learned early on, especially from a white couple studying at our University of Cincinnati, who came to bible study because of interest in northwest China minorities. They went on to serve in the Middle East, where they remain, after decades of ministry. And, later on, from a new lady youth director who, after leading our youth ministry, went to a similar field. Her courage was shocking to us, since she was diagnosed with diabetes just a few months before she was due to go, and yet she was determined to go, and still serves there today.
And, there are other areas, anywhere in the world, of high personal risk, and therefore similarly the most needful. Such as, a couple planning to work in the highly risky border region of Northeast China and North Korea. Unfortunately, we lost contact with them, after many years, likely because of the sensitive nature of their work. This was the only situation where we “lost” a worker. Such as, also, a single brave lady working in the “slums” of Cincinnati, seemingly just as risky a venture, given the drugs, gangs and prostitution problems, a ministry we maintained for decades, to this day.
We realized early that if we were a solid Bible believing church, practically by definition some young people should soon be eager for missions, and therefore should be given high priority. The first missionaries the church supported were indeed an American raised, Cantonese origin, physician with his Taiwan-born wife, both of whom studied at our University, destined for medical mission in Igbo, Nigeria, soon after graduation.
Many of our young people destined for missions needed quite a bit of hand-holding, counseling and prayer support. Especially since nearly all parents in our first decades, instinctively balked at the prospect of their own children “responding to the call.” Since I was eager for missions, there was even a rumor going around church, warning serious youth, “don’t talk too much with uncle Reggie, he might get you into missions.” It turns out, on the contrary, I have been dead serious that the missionary call should be a “God call,” and definitely not a calling from an elder, no matter who he is.
Each young person truly had to struggle and wait patiently, till their parents accepted their call, or at least did not directly obstruct them. Thankfully, all who were called were able to proceed, after a few years of struggles. Over the years, the growing numbers were exciting, and provided encouragement for subsequent youth to be even more open to full time service.
Somewhat later, another priority for missions support was early retirees, where financial needs were much lower, or none. My wife and I were privileged to respond to full time mission at age 54, a great age for our “first early retirement.”
Overall, the great thrill was that, over the first 46 years of our church history, over 55 church related members went on to full time ministry, with over half being young people. And, each new missionary automatically became a role model and example to others.
Many young missionaries-to-be had no experience with donors, so they needed coaching on approaching churches, committees, small groups, and individuals for support. “Non-Asians” often preferred more direct approaches (some agencies even teaching new recruits how to “close the deal”), but “Asians” preferred more nuanced approaches, so there were cross-cultural differences straight away.
有志成为宣教士的年轻人多半没有支持者联系的的经验。因此他们需要接受辅导，了解如何能向其他教会，社区，团体，以及个人寻求支助。“非亚裔人”一般喜欢比较直接的方式，有些机构甚至教导新人如何“close the deal（完成交易）”，但是亚裔人比较接受间接的方式。这是文化上面的差异。
I liked to encourage especially lunch or coffee with potential donors, that allowed a thorough one-on-one explanation of missionary calling, and ministry needs. The personalized connection, even with a small group, left more lasting impressions and connections, for a precious and strong bond, sometimes, for life. Many missionaries-to-be of course needed help to overcome their initial embarrassment and hesitation, but they learned, literally on the job.
Church leadership and mission committee members definitely helped make the connections for aspiring missionaries, to meet individuals or small groups. The usual 7-minute (or 3 minute) presentation at Sunday service, was helpful but “ceremonial,” usually signifying a blessing by the church, encouraging missionaries to be able to meet freely with church members. The Sunday presentation usually raised little real support, but in the long run, personalized interactions provided greatest support.
We learned, from hard reality, that there should be a support team of at least 3 in the church, willing to pray seriously and regularly (even using the internet) for each missionary, to provide spiritual support for the long haul. Otherwise, the missionary could later lose connection with the church, especially if there are mission problems, or changing membership in the mission committee or even the sending church. We considered it so essential, that later in our mission committee, we insisted on a core team as prerequisite for approval of each missionary for support. In times of trials or special needs on the field, this core team becomes an advocacy group for the missionary, like a cheering team, helping to raise awareness, the “la la team,” in Chinese.
So, how do we mobilize support for the missionary, for the long haul?… Please read on, in part 2.