He Said/She Said/You Say? “Should I go overseas with an organization?”
Part I: The “Yep” Side of the Argument
Agencies make you more effective.
Agencies differ, but most of them offer these services:
Placement. They tell you about openings and opportunities in the countries where they work.
Financial support. Agencies usually require you to raise your own financial support. However, they guide you in this process, giving you materials to give to potential supporters and helping you describe what you’ll be doing. Once you’re accepted by the agency, they provide your supporters with tax-deductible receipts.
Orientation. Crossing cultures is a demanding experience, both intellectually and emotionally. Good mission agencies can be of great help, since they know the culture where you’ll be going and how best to prepare you. They will recommend a language-training option and help you find your way around the country.
Supervision. We all need supervision to guide us in our work, help us learn from our mistakes, and encourage our development.
Member care. Early mission pioneers were pretty much on their own. Now more mission agencies look out for their people: their spiritual needs, their intellectual growth, their plans for furlough, the education of their children, and their preparation for retirement.
From Jack Voelkel, missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Columbia.
Agencies handle the sticky stuff.
[Our church] first sent two women to Panama. Immediately we encountered numerous complicated background checks and bureaucratic paperwork in order to acquire their visas. Then we needed to consider where to secure medical insurance and a pension plan. Once our workers arrived on the field we had to furnish their office, which raised another question. What if our missionaries returned home soon? What would we do with our office furnishings sitting in Panama?
We also sent my grown son to minister in Ecuador. He coordinated our incoming short-term teams. One day while he was traveling on a bus, bandits hijacked the bus and forced everyone out for a couple of hours. While we were thankful that no one was hurt, we realized that we could encounter even more difficult political upheaval. We knew that if our missionaries were ever taken hostage, we lacked the expertise to negotiate with terrorists or foreign governments.
We decided that we indeed needed mission agencies through which to send our people. Agencies offer the church wise placement of workers, expertise on the field, and contacts in the host country. So we earnestly began looking for agencies willing to partner with us. We found one in particular that is proving to be an excellent fit for us. It has also developed ways for missionaries to receive quality training in shorter stints, closer to home.
I would encourage the church that is considering sending longer-term missionaries without an agency’s help to exercise extreme caution. Such a church is shouldering a tremendous responsibility for its missionaries’ safety, health, and supervision in ministry. It’s a big task for which few churches are prepared. We are a church of eight thousand. We are well staffed and financed for missions, yet we found that we weren’t equipped for the job of mission agency.
Excerpted from the article “We Found That We Needed Agencies” in the March 2002 edition of Mobilizer magazine, published by ACMC (Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment).
Prep & Teamwork
Pre-field prep. Most agencies require their missionaries to train from a few intense weeks to several months studying different issues like cross-cultural adjustment, anthropology, mission strategy, and church planting.
Strategic planning. A mission agency can give you a clear understanding of its work with the particular people group or country of your interest and connect you with workers already there. This helps avoid silly mistakes in planning.
Accountability. Many people may have trouble planning their time, using it wisely, and knowing how to evaluate goals. Also, falling into temptation is easier in isolated situations, where missionaries are lone rangers and think they won’t be caught.
Encouragement. Within an agency, missionaries share the same ethos of mission, and they encourage and pray with each other in the hard times. Yes, we can always email friends back home, but it’s really nice to have a “flesh and blood” person available to hear our concerns.
Freedom for ministry. Usually, an agency has several staff members to take care of matters that would consume a lot of our time if we had to do them ourselves. This might include buying airplane tickets, transferring money, obtaining certain supplies, and keeping track of our finances. If you live in a more rural area, weeks of time can be lost making frequent trips to the capital to take care of business matters. Agency personnel taking care of those things can free us up for ministry.
Teamwork. The New Testament concept of evangelism and church planting usually involved teamwork. Today, being part of a team can offer many benefits. (1) Working in fellowship, a team has the potential to model Christian community for a lost world, especially if it is a team of internationals working together. (2) A team can give several different perspectives on the work. (3) The Bible teaches that joining together increases our potential exponentially. (4) Other people working with us from our sending agency can offset our weaknesses. (5) Other people can help continue a ministry we started if we must return to our home country.
Response in crises. An agency usually has a network of workers within a country that is up-to-date on our lives and work. If a personal crisis occurs or an outside threat is imminent, the mission can provide prompt response with personnel on the spot.
Working independently in a highly specialized field (medical missions, Bible translation, etc.) is usually very unwise. For example, the person who tries to do medical missions on his own has to create a lot of systems, including a way to get inexpensive drugs in wholesale. You might be able to do it, but it will also eat up a lot of your time.
From Ed in Ghana, who has served with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana for more than thirty years.