The final part in my series on the conversations we need to have as missionary care providers has been hanging over my head for some months. Finally, here is part six: A discussion that we need to have about the future development of missionary care in New Zealand is a deep engagement with what it means theoretically and practically to be foundationally Christian. In our pursuit of a greater professionalism and commitment to professional practice, we must not forget the spiritual nature of our work. I believe that it is because of the spiritual nature of our work that we must aim for the best possible care that we can provide. There are two central themes on which our discussion can centre. Firstly what does it mean for our practice to be centred in and based on Jesus kingdom values, secondly what role does the Holy Spirit play in leading us as care workers, those we care for and corporately as a profession.
The call to participate in Jesus kingdom, (kingdom values for short) form an overarching theoretical and conceptual foundation for our care work. This involves understanding work (both our own and our workers) as a God-given pleasure, a way of being God’s apprentices in the world in his work of restoring and creating. Kingdom values also underlie our understanding of the work of missionary care as vocational – not just a job but a calling from God to feed and care for his people.
That leads us to understand that our care work involves acknowledging, nurturing and growing the vocational call of those we care for.
We understand that a sense of purpose and calling are important factors in increasing the resilience of our workers and so we take care to ensure that they are affirmed and supported in their (not what we think their calling might be) calling.
Kingdom values lead us towards a deeper understanding of people and their humanity, our care skills need to be based on an understanding of theological anthropology. We see and treat people as God created and God imaging, of inherent worth and value apart from what they do or produce. This allows us to develop a critically reflective stance on concepts like success and flourishing and leaves room for a fuller expression and acceptance of emotions (that we understand as God created and healthy).
Kingdom values lead us to promote and support definitions of success that that don’t rely on secular standards of productivity and numbers and leave space for a good theology of risk, suffering and failure.
A danger or temptation that seems to be ever present for care workers is to take a rescuing or protective stance to those we care for. It is very hard to let missionary workers fall, or try things that don’t work, but a deeper theological understanding can lead us to understand risk, suffering and failure as not things to be avoided but rather part of life that is to be embraced as an expression of our humanity. We can then trust our workers to make decisions and stop being fearful of sending our workers into situations that may lead to the painful process of stretching and growing.
Generally, those who care for missionaries are good at understanding the role that spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines play in the well-being and resilience of our workers. There are two areas in which we can delve a bit deeper and gain greater understanding. One is the impact on our workers own faith of becoming mission workers. Workers are often naive about the possible impact on their own faith and beliefs of going into mission work. There is room to develop a greater understanding of these impacts, then we can support better preparation for the faith challenges that they will face. The other area that often comes to the fore when speaking to workers, but that I haven’t heard care workers speaking about, is spiritual safety and spiritual abuse. We need to know more about both of these issues so that we can play a better role in ensuring that the teams to which our workers are sent are safe spaces for differences. Then we can help create teams and workgroups where our workers can express themselves (including their doubts and questions) no matter their Christian background or culture.
That brings us to our second theme – what does it mean to conceptualise our work as Holy Spirit led. The Holy Spirit helps us to hold out hope to those that we work with, especially when they struggle. When my clients are stuck I often say – “well we can pray for a miracle”. We may work very hard to support and care for our workers but actually, it is the Holy Spirit that does the work of healing in a way that we cannot. Perhaps our work is simply creating space and sometimes stepping out of the way for the Holy Spirit to work.
The Holy Spirit’s call is often visionary, prophetic, it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to growth, prompts us to go further, to go beyond what we think we can.
For missionary care to express being Holy Spirit led we need to wrestle with what it means to be visionary and prophetic.
It seems that we often get so caught up in our support role that we forget to step away and take a wider look at what is happening, within our sending agencies, societies, teams or sending churches. Yet to care well and to follow the Holy Spirit’s prophetic leading means being open to what we need to speak out about. In our own lives, we need to cultivate an openness to the Holy Spirit that leads us to suggest proactive changes in our agencies that ensure our workers are better prepared and more proactively supported by their teams and churches. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that leads us to maturity, that nudges us towards best practice, that prevents stagnation and nurtures growth.
That concludes my series on the 6 needed conversations in missionary care. I look forward to hearing from you especially about how you are being prophetic and visionary in your context.