The advantages and drawbacks of independence
A long-time independent missionary shares the positives and negatives of his experience
Whether we’re independent missionaries or missionaries connected with a missionary organization, we’re all called to trust and depend on Jesus, who said in the Great Commission, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20 KJV).
The path to independence
Because we were responsible for our financial support, my late wife Connie and I were listed as independent missionaries in the JEMA Directory when we arrived in Japan from New Zealand in 1960. We chose this model as we had been encouraged by many stories of earlier missionaries who had had all their needs supplied despite not having any fixed income.
Before we set out for Japan, our church seniors suggested we itinerate around sympathetic churches and report our work in Japan to them on returning to New Zealand. We never directly asked for money. We desired to follow the example of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13, where the Holy Spirit made known to the church at Antioch that he wanted them to be missionaries. The Antioch church then seems to have prayed and fasted much to confirm the call. Similarly, we made our conviction known to our church elders, who doubtless prayed over the matter. They interviewed us to assess our call. Two churches formally commended us before we set out but didn’t promise any money. Didn’t Hudson Taylor say, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies”?1 And this has been our experience, for which we are grateful to God.
Health care as an independent missionary
A few months after we arrived in Japan in 1960, our 10-month-old daughter began vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea. Our three-year-old son suffered a milder attack of the same thing. Satan no doubt wanted to stop our work before it started. The hospital fees were about 23,000 yen, which was a little bit more than my weekly salary as an accountant in New Zealand, but God provided it. (These two children have now worked among the Japanese people for 40 years!)
Until Japan started to require foreigners to join a health insurance programme, we paid our medical bills in full. Now that we’re insured, I only pay 10% of the medical fees. Insurance costs are low. At one time, I was asked to teach part-time at a local university. The remuneration enabled all eight members of our family to be involved in various ministries, including ministry trips to closed countries.
Freedoms with being independent
Freedom is one of the pluses of being independent. If you don’t have a guaranteed income, you have the freedom to work and move about or have a furlough as God guides, without the supervision or direction of people off and on the field. You know your situation best and should have a good idea of your gifts. (“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly” Romans 12:3 KJV.) I don’t remember Paul taking any orders from Antioch, nor any money!
Being free regarding our children’s education allowed us to enjoy them staying with us (in an era when boarding school was common) and to discipline and evangelise them at home. Thus, our children speak Japanese as their better language because they attended Japanese schools. While we could have sent our children to New Zealand for education, we never felt guided to do so. I don’t recall any of our six children being unhappy to have been reared in Japan; rather, one or two of them have expressed gratitude that we brought them up in Japan. Furthermore, their education cost us little.
All three sons now have Japanese wives and are living in Japan. Some of our grandchildren are preaching the gospel in Japan.
Another plus for me at 83 is that I’m not compelled by mission regulations to return to New Zealand and retire. After spending so much money and effort learning Japanese, I’m happy being able to continue working in Japan, albeit at a slower pace. I also enjoy having my six children and thirteen grandchildren all in Japan.
Networking with others
Networking is important. We have joined many other missionaries in evangelism and training activities all over Japan. For many years, we have attended English-speaking camps in Karuizawa (although travel costs have often kept my family from attending).
In Hokkaido, we have networked by having responsible brethren from several churches meet from time to time, but this has dwindled in numbers as attendance is voluntary and some missionaries and Japanese elders are strong-minded individualists who use the freedom to do their own thing. For some years, we had all-Hokkaido believers’ conferences, but this soon fizzled out. Connie and I ran gospel camps here and there and many networking churches joined us. This went well for many years (even in winter), but about ten years ago I asked the Japanese brethren to take over responsibility. Now this camping ministry is down to a children’s camp held in summer with probably five churches combining (down from about ten to fifteen churches in its heyday). A small group of churches have their own camp, and there may be others.
I conclude with Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians: “Let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God” (1 Cor. 7:24 ASV). The principle I see here is that everyone should remain independent or in a mission as long as he or she is confident that they are “with God”.
1. Leslie T. Lyall. A Passion for the Impossible: The Continuing Story of the Mission Hudson Taylor Began. (London: OMF Books, 1965, 37).