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Questions: Time on the Field? (by Mark Tolson)

The following are questions that I asked Austin Gardner on his “Leadership with Vision” podcast. He answers these questions in two different podcast. You can listen to the podcast below:

Answers Podcast #1 |  Answer Podcast #2

 


My Questions:

I would like to know from your personal experience and your current opinion on what a missionary’s time on the field should be in today’s world. I know this can be a complicated answer that has many different aspects, so I will try to clarify below:

A missionary, as we would define it, is someone who is living in a foreign country, learned the local language, and is actively discipling believers, planting churches and training men. Therefore, his job should be and is carried out by being “on the field”.

In today’s world, getting from country to country is generally cheap, easy and convenient; meaning old reasons to keep a missionary on the field, such as “it’s too expensive to travel” or “it’s to complicated or hard” is not longer valid. People come and go between their home country and the mission field with no problem.

FURLOUGH TIME

Traditional, missionaries have done a 4 years on the field and 1 year off the field plan. Today, many people are switching to 2 years on the field and 6-9 months off the field. Also, many are taking several small trips back-and-forth between their “scheduled” furloughs.

So my question is: Do you think this new shift is wise? Should this be encouraged or discourage? What are the benefits and downfalls? What are expected consequences of the short-furlough that are yet to be seen?

TRIPS BETWEEN FURLOUGHS

Furthermore, the ease of travel between countries has led to more missionaries being in the States more often. The reasons for going back are vary from person to person and usually go unchecked or without accountability. Some of the reason people go back are as follows:

  • Visit family for the holidays.
  • Take a vacation.
  • Visit family and friends.
  • Participate in a mission conference.
  • Have baby in the States (not a medical emergency).
  • Funerals friends and family members.
  • Visit sick family members or friends.
  • Participate in the wedding of a friend or family member.
  • Wife’s Happiness.

Also, there are some obvious reason that a person would go back that everyone understands:

  • Death of a close relative.
  • Family member who is sick or near death.
  • Medical problems that can’t be resolved in your country.
  • Adopting a child from the States.

So my question is: What are reasons that people should and shouldn’t go back to the States in-between their scheduled furloughs? Since it is easy to travel and missionaries raise enough money to do whatever they want (at least those who train under you) what should they do?

FAMILY

Wife – You often say we should do whatever we can to make our wive’s happy, so would this mean if going back more often than not made her happy, it should be something that we plan to do or no? How much would you plan or advise others to plan going back to the States based on the preference of the wife, how often she wants to go back?

Children – You want your Children to know American culture and not be disconnected from it. Does more trips more often help accomplish this goal? Or do you think less often but longer trips help accomplish this goal? Should trips to the States be less frequent when the children are young and more frequent when they children are older? Why? When my daughters are of dating age, should I consider moving back to the States? Why?

LOCATION OF YOUR FIELD

Another factor which plays a role in the decision to how often does one go back, seems to be the location of one’s field. The closer you are to the States the more convenient and cheaper it is to travel back often. If you live in the same time zone as the States and tickets are the right price, could that permit you to come back more often than someone whose tickets are twice as much and the time change can be as much as 12 or 13 hours different.

So my question is: Should there be different ways missionaries organize their time back in the States based in their location? How would you advise those based on their location?

If it cost someone in South America $600 for a plane ticket and they live in the same time zone and the flight only takes 6 hours, should their plan to how often they visit the States be different that someone who is coming from Asia, that has a plane ticket that cost $1,200 and lives in a time zone with a 12 hour difference and it takes 13 hours to fly there.

If it is convenient and cheap enough, can I visit my family every year for a month okay to do?

Or If I budget it and plan it, can I visit my family every year for Christmas?

Where should we draw the line? Why?

MINISTRY

The last aspect that I see between this topic at hand is the maturity of one’s ministry. If someone doesn’t have a ministry yet, they can travel easily back and forth without a problem. If someone has a very mature ministry with trained leaders they can also travel back and forth without a problem. Even people in the the middle, who don’t have trained leaders, can usually find someone to fill in for them or at least play a movie for the time they are gone.

So my question is: How would you advise a person based on where their ministry is? In the beginning stages of ministry, should it be more time on the field, such as the 4-year-on 1-year-off plan, and then as your ministry matures, you move to the 2years-on 6month-off plan? What does a person need to have in place if he is going to travel to the state more frequently?

What are ministry reason to go back to the States? Should a missionary who becomes well know because of a successful ministry fly back often to preach in conferences, teach in seminaries, participate in missions events and mobilize more people for the mission field? Just because those doors are opened for them, how often should they take advantage of them verses focusing on starting more churches and training more men on the field?

ACCOUNTABILITY

Accountability in Communication: Missionaries go back to the States and it is often with no accountability. People usually don’t know where they are or what they are doing. Many even try to hide it so people do see they are back in the States often. They will turn off their Facebook so family won’t write on their walls, they stop blogging and giving updates, and start acting as if it is something know one else needs to know about. Reasons for this may vary but it is usually to keep churches uninformed so they don’t loose support. Should missionaries be honest and open about when they are on and off the field, or is this something that supporting churches don’t need to always know about?

Accountability in Work: As I already said, a missionary, as we would define it, is someone who is living in a foreign country, learned the local language, and is actively discipling believers, planting churches and training men. Therefore, his job should be and is carried out by being “on the field”. If the missionary is no longer on the field he can no longer do his “missionary” job. So during his time in the States, during furlough, or a short-term 1 month trip to visit family or participate in a wedding, what are things that he should be doing? Normal working people don’t get the advantages that missionaries do, such as, leave their place of work for the amount of time of their choosing, so what are things they can do, that is still consider “ministry work” while they are not on the mission field to ensure churches they aren’t just stealing money or taking advantage of the system?

Accountability in Finances: Missionaries have the money to fly back as often as they want and also to usually setup house, buy/rent cars, and spending lots of money in-between. Should finances dictate how our trips work or because we can afford it, it doesn’t matter. Two six-month trips within a period of five years cost much more that one one-year trip in a period of 5 years. Is more frequent trips wasting money? Or did we raise money for it to be used in this manner? How should finances affect the way we plan trips?

FINAL QUESTION

How do you think the ways things are currently being done (within the realm of this topic) affect the rate of missionaries leaving the field? If at all?

 

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