Missionaries face a diverse and constantly changing set of challenges. On Aug. 27, one of the largest evangelical mission agencies announced a radical plan to deal with their revenue shortfalls; among other things, it involves offering some of the most experienced, seasoned and proven missionaries the “opportunity” of voluntary retirement incentives.
Seven years ago, I transitioned back to the U.S. after what I thought would be a lifetime of missionary service. I humbly offer the following as food for thought, not just to the servants of that one organization, but to anyone facing major change in ministry:
1. God Called You
At least, that is what you have been telling people. If that is the case, be certain that it is God calling you to leave. You have been theologically trained, learned a language (or two or three), adapted to different cultures and been separated from parents and later children. Please do not make a decision unless God is clearly in it.
2. God Might be Calling You to Go
This could be the time. Part of service culture is that we despise the idea of quitting; it makes us shudder. We do not want to be that person who we heard about in training who left prematurely, but is there a time to leave maturely? Could this be an appropriate time for a change?
When I was not be able to return to the mission field, I was devastated. It took a while to realize that leaving was the only way I would have been able to be in a ministry of teaching students and preparing the next generation of missionaries.
3. Plan to Transition
Missionaries are great at planning and strategizing for everyone but themselves. You are ready for volcanic eruption and government upheaval, but when was the last time you updated your resume? Do you have a teaching certificate, a nursing license or CPR certification? Get them renewed.
When I went through a transition, some of the people I had as references had gone on to be with Jesus! Talk to some friends in North America and see what they have to say. Reacquaint yourself with your college and seminary alumni office. Consider how your expertise can make a difference in your country of origin.
I admit to bias when it comes to missionaries. As a child, they were my heroes. As a young adult, they were my examples. For the past 15 years, they have been my colleagues, and I find them some of the hardest working, most giving, best educated and dedicated Christians I know.
May God grant you wisdom and peace as you face the big decisions ahead.
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