Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Missionary Perspectives on the Effectiveness of Current Member Care Practices

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Missionary Perspectives on the Effectiveness of Current Member Care Practices

Article excerpt

This qualitative study examined current member care practices from the perspective of 13 former missionaries using a semi-structured interview. Seven male and six female missionaries, ranging in age from 46 to 76, were asked to share their experiences of serving on the field as well as their experiences of member care practices throughout their missionary life-cycles. Thus, participants shared their experiences of training to work in the field, of serving in the field, of preparing to return to their home country, and of re-entering their home country. The data was analyzed using a grounded theory qualitative coding process. The results of this study identified several important components of effective member care practices: (a) agency attunement to missionary needs, (b) agency provision for missionary needs, (c) invested church partnership, (d) the impact of relationships, (e) missionaries' self-care, and (f) consistency of care across the missionary life-cycle. A discussion of these findings is offered as well as recommendations for improving member care practices among mission-sending agencies, organizations, and churches.

In the last 20 years, many important contributions have been made to the literature regarding the psychological care of missionaries. Missionaries are a unique population because individuals, couples, and families devoted to a missionary cause for religious and/ or spiritual reasons are often commissioned to live in international contexts where they may be faced with a myriad of interactive and dynamic stressors. For example, many missionaries encounter transition-related stressors, such as cross-cultural adjustment, acculturation, difficulties re-entering the home culture after service, and living far away from pre-existing support structures. Others confront stressors related to their job, including managing the demands of the mission organization, dealing with potentially dysfunctional team and leadership dynamics, facing burnout, and balancing the demands of family life and mission work. In addition, it is not uncommon for missionaries to experience unique stressors related to their marriage and children. Much has been written about the unique stressors that missionaries experience (e.g., Andrews, 1999; Bagley, 2003; Carter, 1999; Hall & Duvall, 2003; Hall, Edwards, & Hall, 2006; Irvine, Armen-trout, 8c Miner, 2006; Jensma, 1999; Powell, 1999; Rosik & Pandzic, 2008; Rosik, Richards, & Fannon, 2005).

While it is difficult to identify with certainty the number of individuals and families involved in serving as missionaries around the world, one source estimates that there are 4,600 international sending organizations and approximately 500,000 missionaries currently serving in countries other than their own (Barrett, Johnson, & Crossing, 2009, Global Table 5), making it crucial not only to understand and delineate specific stressors but also to elucidate how these stressors are being addressed by sending agencies and by the missionaries themselves.

The unique services provided in caring for missionaries as they face various types of stressors are known as member care. As O'Donnell (2002) defines it,

[Member care is] the ongoing investment of resources by mission agencies, churches and other mission organizations for the nurture and development of missionary personnel. It focuses on everyone in missions (missionaries, support staff, children and families) and does so over the course of the missionary life cycle, from recruitment through retirement. (p.4)

Member care services have typically sought to improve candidate screening processes, pre-field training, critical incident support, family developmental support, ongoing vocational training, general emotional support, and re-entry support (Hall & Schram, 1999; O'Donnell, 2002). The literature demonstrates chat effective member care decreases missionary attrition rates and improves the quality of life for missionaries (Andrews, 1999; Hay, Lim, Blocher, Ketelaar, & Hay, 2007; Rosik et al. …

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