He could see the signs of burnout all over their faces.
They were desperate and their marriage was hurting. On top of it all, medical issues had gone untreated, leaving them physically and emotionally distraught. After all the work they’d put toward becoming missionaries to bring hope to the world, they were the ones left feeling hopeless.
CARING FOR MISSIONARIES
One of the greatest things missionaries need but often lack is a “safe space” to be vulnerable about the things they are facing behind the scenes, says Brad Winkler, Director of ABWE’s Member Care Department. “They need someone who will ask them the deep, probing questions, and care about how they’re really doing.
But there can be a fear that if you admit your struggles, someone might think you aren’t spiritual enough, or even pull their support.”
With hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars invested in getting a missionary through prefield training, language school, and then onto the field, Brad sees a huge need to proactively “protect that investment...by helping missionaries thrive in the work God has called them to do.”
The remedy to burnout and attrition?
“We need to keep investing in them, consistently.”
That’s why ABWE’s Member Care department—a team of 13 staff and missionaries—is developing a strategy that not only cares for our missionaries in times of crisis, but also works proactively to prevent it.
RE-ENERGIZED & RE-ENGAGED
After the Member Care team members had visited the missionary couple during a field “wellness visit”, they recognized the couple’s need for support. Initially, there was progress, but when things started to deteriorate again, the couple was brought back to the U.S. and sent to a Christian counseling center that works specifically with pastors and missionaries facing the unique difficulties of a life of ministry.
Attending the three-week retreat would be costly, and the missionaries had no money to cover the expense; but ABWE believed the value of their marriage, health, and ministry were worth more, and raised the funds to foot the bill.
By the third week at the center, thehusband called his Member Care mentor to say with emotion in his voice, “This is a game-changer.”
Seeing how well the couple had responded to the first three weeks, the center offered them a scholarship so they could stay an additional week and focus on their marriage.
Recently, they were able to return to the mission field, feeling well-equipped with the tools they would need to thrive.
If we had not provided the help they so desperately needed, we might have lost [these] amazing missionaries forever.”
- Brad Winkler, Director of Member Care
“Now they’re going back into ministry with spiritually healthy souls and the tools they need to succeed.”
WHAT IS MEMBER CARE?
This scenario isn’t uncommon. Time and again, Brad and his team have been met with tears of joy from missionaries and missionary families that they took the time and effort to visit and show genuine care for their spiritual and mental well-being.
“It means so much [to have an agency that] cares enough to send you guys here. I feel so loved,” one missionary told them.
When crisis occurs on the field, like the sudden death of a teammate, Member Care sends a pastoral couple to minister to the team and help them process the loss. The team also performs “wellness visits” to help missionaries assess the more subtle, day-to-day stress of cross-cultural living.
As a result, they are developing trainings and tools for churches on how to consistently and effectively support their missionaries, and establishing networks that connect with, and care for missionary kids when they return to the U.S.
The goal, Brad says, “is to have member care happening consistently. Not just during furlough or field visits.”
The demand for this kind of personal care is great, but the resources are few. Right now, Member Care staff raise their own funds to cover the cost of this ministry. But missionaries and those who support them are pleading for this kind of care more than ever.
In the next year, Member Care plans to continue to grow the ministry to meet the needs. Their dream is to build a functioning team of “Member Care missionaries” who could serve across all 90 fields of service.
But to better support the physical, spiritual and emotional health of missionaries and their families—moving them from surviving to thriving—the team needs support.
You can help care for missionaries in crisis, with a gift to Member Care through the Global Gospel Fund.
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