In response to my series on Re-Thinking Mission Work, I have heard from a number of current missionaries who felt like I was touching on their story somehow. This last week, I received an especially moving letter from a couple whose story is just so familiar that I asked them if I could reproduce it while protecting their privacy.
With their permission, I want to share this letter with you, not to condone every decision, every comment, or every emotion, but so that you can get a glimpse into the frustration that our current system creates and what it does to many of the people who try to work their way through it to the mission field. You won’t enjoy this letter, but try to put yourself in the position of this couple and see what you think!
I hope you really meant it when you wrote that you wanted to know more about our experiences, because here goes. Our first full-time missions experience was in the Czech Republic. Our sponsoring church at that time was the X Church of Christ in Texas. We had been members there for 2 years and were on a team prepared by [Missions organization]. My wife and I have teaching degrees from [Christian college]. The team we joined spent about 4 months at [missions organization] preparing together. The [sponsoring] church made a 5 year agreement with us and provided half of our support. The rest came from various other individuals and churches. We worked in the Czech Republic for 5 years and helped to establish a small congregation that still meets today without the presence of missionaries. During that time, the [sponsoring] church never once sent anyone to visit us and at the end of the 5 years they were done.
We reluctantly came home and resumed teaching . . . . We cried through every worship service for 6 months, but the Christians at the Church of Christ were really great and very understanding. We moved the next year to [city] so that I could resume my secular career and so that our children could attend a christian school.
After 2 years, we felt called to return to missions. We had become aware of the need for the gospel in Slovenia during our last year in [Czech Republic]. We spent a year preparing at [Christian college] and looking for teammates. This time, the church in [small city] made a 3 year agreement to sponsor us. They had been one of our contributors while we were in [Czech Republic]. We had become close to one of the missions committee members during that time. When we returned, he told us that when we were ready to go back (because he knew we would) to contact him and so we did. [This church] had never been a sponsoring church before, but they wanted to give it a try. They provided half our support. We never found teammates, but went to Slovenia anyway.
During our 2nd year in Slovenia, the dollar tanked against the euro and we began to struggle. We went into debt so that we could continue to do the work there. During the 3rd year, we began working with a small group of Christians from a former International Church of Christ. This was, of course, after [the decentralization took place]. They were eager to have someone to help strengthen them after all that had happened. We also meet ICOC Christians from Croatia, Hungary, and Bosnia during this time. [Our friend] was the only person from [our sponsoring church] to come and visit us during the 3 years we were there. He and his wife came for one night while they were visiting their son who was doing a study abroad program in Europe.
At the end of 3 years, there was a new missions committee head at the [Sponsoring] Church who decided it was fiscally irresponsible to continue being a sponsoring church. We were preparing to come home again when an opportunity to become self supporting missionaries came up. We took jobs with [international schools] and moved to Bosnia. We knew that there were Christians here and were eager to help them. We worked there for a year and a half and decided to return to Texas to resume our teaching careers and build up some retirement.
After 3 years back, we met a young couple looking for teammates to go to the Czech Republic. We felt like God was once again presenting us with an opportunity to serve the Czech people, so we once again began looking for a sponsoring congregation.
During the past year, we have been turned down for the following reasons:
- we are too small to take on a responsibility like that– our current congregation;
- we just had to take on more support for the missionaries we already have, and we prefer to support missions that our members can go to on mission trips;
- we feel that our congregation will get more excited about a mission to Africa;
- we feel it is more fiscally responsible to support the X Bible Institute (more bang for the buck).
It’s the last one that hurts us the most. If you look on their website, you’ll see that they have 3 missions listed: Christian Service Center- benevolence, not missions; a work in [foreign city] which we were told they are phasing out; and the X Bible Institute- preacher training, not evangelism or church planting. Not only that, but when I was there, they announced that in addition to the 4 ministers they already have, they are hiring 2 more, a communications minister and a family life minister.
I was so hurt that I wrote an email to [our contact person] and asked him to forward it to the elders but have received no reply. My family has been associated with this church for more than 30 years. They used to be known as a sending church. So, here we sit in a hotel room [in a small US city], waiting to be interviewed and try out for a preaching job.
So sorry, people of the Czech Republic. Be warmed and filled, the churches in the US would like to do more, but you are not high on their list of priorities. Can you tell that we are discouraged and frustrated? Some have said that it must not be God’s will that we go. Maybe, but what if God calls these churches into account one day for not reaching the Czech people. They may say to Him, “when did you tell us to go to the Czech people?” and He will say, “I sent you [this couple], but you ignored them.” It is our hope and prayer that someone will pay attention to you [people of Czech Republic] so that others that go after us will have more success and the gospel will reach even those places in the world that are difficult and unexciting.
I hope this letter is a small window into the experience of trying to become, to be, and to remain a missionary in our current system. MW