Scaffolding: Organisational member care
Member care “scaffolding” is about enabling missionaries to reach the heights and stay safe
Have you ever watched Japanese workmen erect or take down scaffolding? If not, I recommend it sometime; it’s fascinating to watch metal poles being tossed up or down with great precision.
Scaffolding is crucial—it enables builders to reach the heights and stay safe. How much more essential then, when it comes to the scaffolding of member care? Kelly O’Donnell, a psychologist who consults for mission organisations, states that member care is “an embodiment of love . . . to make people more effective, efficient and enduring. It is the response to the Master’s mandate.”1 It is crucial for every missionary and each mission organisation to consider, not only how to accomplish the Great Commission, but also how they fulfil the Great Commandment in relation to one another.2
This article seeks to examine the “scaffolding” of organisational member care from the perspective of personal experience of over 22 years in Japan with OMF and to provide a stimulus for reflection. Even if you aren’t with an organisation, do please continue to read and consider how you can get the care that you need.
Pre-field member care
Looking back to before I arrived in Japan, I remember both good and not-so-good personal experiences in recruitment and mobilisation. On the plus side, I remember, back in 1992, the mission agency moving heaven and earth to get me to Japan for a one-month missions trip. However, on another occasion, a well-meaning individual suggested that my boyfriend (at the time) should go to Japan without me, and if, after completing a four-year term, I was still interested, he could marry me then. This did not go down well!
Pre-field member care can be very good or very poor. Lois and Lawrence Dodds, long-time experts in missionary care, write that recruitment is key: “Ethical issues for missions begin immediately . . . in the recruitment, assessment and selection of missionaries. Choosing the right people is crucial to the survival and development of the person.”3
For those who work in the area of recruitment, you may like to ponder the following questions:
- How honest is my agency’s recruitment: do we “tell it how it is”?
- How are we helping candidates to examine their call and suitability to missions?
- How is member care practiced in regard to applicants in our agency?
On-field member care
My husband and I first arrived in Japan as long-term missionaries in March 1998. We were met at Chitose Airport, provided with lunch, and taken to our fully-furnished, rented apartment. This all demonstrated excellent member care. Further meals were delivered, and we were welcomed into the OMF language school community in Sapporo. Member care could not have been better. Although two years of full-time Japanese language and culture study didn’t feel like good member care at the time—anything but—I knew how valuable it was, and still is, as we acquired vital skills for service in Japan. This, too, was true member care.
Fast-forward a few years and my husband was struggling with depression. Medical care from OMF during a home assignment was excellent, and some individuals went out of their way to care for us. Yet others failed to understand the nature of depression, making unhelpful comments and demands. On one hand OMF’s member care meant the difference between returning to Japan and staying in the UK permanently; but at the same time poor communication and a basic lack of understanding led us to seriously consider resignation! Member care was both very good and very bad.
These stories demonstrate both the indispensability of on-field member care and the potentially toxic results when that care is not what it should be. Williams says that missionaries “need ongoing care where they live and work, and this is most effectively provided by one’s colleagues.”4 This mutual care should involve everyone at every level and must be encouraged, initiated, and demonstrated by those in leadership.
All of us, whether member care is our specific role or not, need to consider on-field member care. The following questions may help you reflect:
- How well are we/am I caring for new missionaries, in welcome, orientation, and training?
- How well do we/I practice member care for other missionaries, personally and organisationally?
- How am I, or how should I be, receiving member care?
Sending-side member care
By this point in this article, it won’t surprise you to know that my husband and I have experienced both outstanding member care and inadequate member care during our four home assignments to date.
Continuing the story above when my husband was so unwell, I recall our arrival in the UK being followed almost immediately by a visit by a mission representative. Not only that, all our medical bills were met by the organisation. We were so grateful for their effort, prayer, and continued concern. What excellent member care! We might never have made it through without it.
However, there have been other times when we’ve felt either ignored (not seeing anyone from the sending side for months) or used (asked to speak here, there, and everywhere; or to represent the agency at too many events during home assignment). I recognise, however, how hard it can be to get this balance right.
O’Donnell and Williams say, re-entry can “be the most difficult part of any cross-cultural ministry. This is true of . . . a missionary who returns for a . . . limited period, as well as the missionary who returns permanently.”5
Here are some questions to ponder as you reflect on sending-side member care for missionaries: (If you aren’t with an agency, perhaps you can consider how you might find care.)
- What has been most beneficial to you, in terms of organisational member care, in your home or sending country?
- When and why haven’t you experienced member care in your home or sending country?
- Ideally, how would you most appreciate receiving care during home assignment, and how could you communicate that?
The “scaffolding” of member care for missionaries is vital, extensive, and complex. All agencies must carefully consider the entire missionary lifecycle and how they will provide the needed care at every stage for each individual. If you are an independent missionary, you need to consider how to get the care you need. O’Donnell sums it up: “Missionaries need . . . all the supportive resources they can get.”6 He exhorts us, “It is not enough simply to send out strong workers into the fields. These workers must also be maintained and nurtured, and not only for their own sakes, but ultimately for the long-term impact on the people who are the focus of their ministry.”7 Member care “scaffolding” is about enabling missionaries to reach the heights and stay safe.
1. Kelly O’Donnell, “Going Global: A Member Care Model for Best Practice,” in Doing Member Care Well, ed. Kelly O’Donnell (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2002), 25.
2. O’Donnell, 23–25.
3. Lois A. Dodds and Lawrence E. Dodds, Selection, Training, Member Care and Professional Ethics: Choosing the Right People and Caring for Them with Integrity (Liverpool, PA: Heartstream Resources, 1997), 1.
4. Kenneth Williams, “A Model for Mutual Care in Missions” in Missionary Care: Counting the Cost for World Evangelization, ed. Kelly O’Donnell (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1992), 46.
5. Marina Prins and Braam Willemse, Member Care for Missionaries: A Practical Guide for Senders (South Africa: Member Care Southern Africa, 2002), 78.
6. O’Donnell, Missionary Care, 286.