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When you’re headed overseas, it’s easy to underestimate the effects your organization’s health could have on the ability to thrive overseas.
As I type, I think of the friend who called me recently, voice throaty with tears, as she discussed their lack of ability to care for her after stepping off the field.
Or I remember my conversation with the missionary couple who felt they had no option but to leave their organization once they’re on the field.
I think of a young mom who felt her agency had far more interest in “the mission” than they did in the missionaries themselves.
I remember the friend that arrived with her family of five in-country for the first time, but were simply dropped at a boarding house with no cash, no meals for the first night. The whole family went to sleep on an empty stomach.
Feel Free to Date Around
Unfortunately, looking for an organization is a bit like dating. Everyone’s got their best foot forward–and is often unable to see the friction inevitable in a future “marriage”.
And keep in mind–there’s no perfect partner on either side. The trick is to go in with eyes wide open.
How can you set yourself up for a wiser partnership when it comes to the emotional health of an organization?
1. Think bigger than a shared mission–and get intuitive.
Finding a good organizational fit can’t only be about a similar mission and proper theology–because no one wants to share a mission, but deal with unhealthy conflict management, possess few resources to care for trauma, or feel like their org doesn’t really listen.
When dating, I remember looking at the guy’s clothes, observing how he carried on a conversation (do I have to drive the convo constantly? And is he genuinely interested in me?). I watched how he tipped, how he treated the wait staff.
Bring that kind of intuition into your interactions with your missions organization. Chances are, the person who’s interviewing you or answering your questions won’t be the same person managing you or living down the street when you’re overseas.
Gather as much intuitive information as you can, sorting out how each individual changes the dynamic of your interactions and your impression of the agency.
2. To find an emotionally healthy agency, Ask Good Questions.
Consider asking questions like these to narrow down your choices to an agency that’s more emotionally healthy.
Questions to ask yourself
- How much does this organization value appearances over authenticity?
- Do their rhythms and expectations allow great margin for missionaries to replenish and serve from the inside out?
- How do I anticipate resting, finding community, being personally discipled, finding personal enjoyment, and otherwise creating an emotionally healthy environment that helps me stay as long and as emotionally healthy as possible?
- Who are this organization’s heroes? Of whom do they speak more negatively? (What does this tell me about their values?)
- How truthful and realistic does this organization seem?
- Do I agree with their approaches to evangelism?
- What do I identify with about this organization? What turns me off?
Questions to ask the organization
- What infrastructures are already in place for
- on-boarding once you arrive
- member care
- trauma care
- emergency evacuation (physically, but also emotionally)
- holding staff accountable
- manager training (Pro tip: healthy management is often taken for granted…until it isn’t there)?
2. How has your organization and its goals changed to respond to the changing face and theology of missions? (How are you doing missions differently now than you used to?)
3. How have you dealt with burned-out missionaries in the past?
4. How do you work to increasingly partner with nationals?
5. What’s the missionary community like in the area(s) we’re considering? Are there children our kids’ ages? What are the educational possibilities?
6. Can you offer us any anonymous examples of how you’ve dealt with conflict or missionaries’ “red flags” (porn addiction, severe anxiety, depression, etc.) while on field?
7. What are your expectations for emotionally healthy home assignments, including
- how we would spend our time while in our passport country
- ways to replenish ourselves and address needs harder to meet on the field (counseling, etc.)?
8. What ways do you help missionaries succeed cross-culturally? Who will introduce us to the country cross-culturally?
9. How do you partner with other organizations interdependently?
10. What options will be available to us if we need counseling?
11. For what matters (e.g. with extended family) do you encourage missionaries to return to their home countries temporarily or long-term?
12. Describe your prayer support system.
3. Consider your singleness, gender, and unique family structure.
Questions for Singles
Elizabeth, a missionary with SEND International for over 37 years, advises these questions for singles:
1. How are singles, especially single women, viewed in your organization? Can they hold ministry leadership positions?
2. If singles are part of a team, is there a good balance of singles and married couples?
3. How is the support structured for singles? Is it assumed they will live with another single or do they have the freedom to live alone?
4. What are your policies for a single marrying someone from their country of ministry?
5. Is a single woman treated at all differently than a single man? What is the difference?
Also, if you are dating or engaged, how does this affect you joining that agency?
Questions for Families
Families might also consider questions like these:
- Jesus sent his disciples out in a minimum of twos. How do I see our family connecting with other like-minded families in the area we hope to go?
- What are expectations for standards of living, e.g. appropriate and inappropriate levels of comfort?
- If my marriage or a child needs immediate help with emotional issues, what are our options?
- What’s the expectation of involvement for missionary spouses?