Missionaries who have lived through war, 'other bad experiences' need time as they lose their jobs, IMB says

by Kelly Ledbetter, |
The sun sets as Christian worker Peter Matheson* talks with a father of six children about pressing needs his family has as they live outside the refugee camps. (*Name changed) | IMB

RICHMOND, Va. (Christian Examiner) — 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.


-- ASK the Father to continue working in the place and among the people they served on the field.
-- PRAY about your church's involvementamong people groups in your area that would benefit from your returning personnel's experience, language and/or cultural understanding.
-- PRAY that TCKs will make a smooth transition into school and church life. Pray they will make friends who will strengthen them in their walk with the Lord.
--PRAY that married and single adults will make a smooth transition back to the U.S. and establish strong relationships among friends and family.
-- ASK the Father to continue to faithfully provide for the needs of former field personnel: vehicles, housing, employment, finances, meaningful relationships, ministry.

Your gestures of kindness and prayerful support will be appreciated, but keep in mind that your team should not create needs or dependencies. Direction can be providedby the IMB Member Care team at (804) 620-3371.

"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.