Warm greetings to you in our Lord's name!
It is so encouraging to hear many reports of how the Lord is using Chinese Christian workers both in China and outside of China. We have heard of your love for one another, commitment to reconciliation and good relationships, suffering and hardship, passion for the Lord, and zeal to take the gospel to many peoples. It is like what Paul said of the Thessalonians, who through their lifestyle became an example for believers in other parts of the world. They, like you, had strong faith in our Lord, perseverance in the face of affliction and persecution, and growing love for one another (2 Thessalonians 1).
We have also heard some troubling stories too. Stories that remind us of our own struggles in doing cross-cultural work. We both can share many examples of how well-meaning Christian workers go out—or are sent out--without adequate preparation. And without a wise plan for staying healthy as they face various obstacles (diseases, team conflict, language difficulties, culture shock, sexual temptation, etc.). Many return home saddened and broken by the difficult experiences that they have had.
There is a proverb from Uzbekistan that says “A bitter truth is better than a sweet lie.” We in the non-Chinese world are coming to terms with the meaning of this proverb, as we have had to face the “bitter truth” that many of our workers were not doing well on the field. One of the best research-based estimates, for example, is that about 12,000 workers per year return prematurely, for preventable reasons, and their return is likely to be permanent. We have had to look at these facts, talk about them, call out to God, and do something about them.
I remember how much I myself needed better training and support during my first cross-cultural ministry trip. I was a young, enthusiastic believer of 19. What joy I felt when I head that I could join a short-term team to work with a tribal group in the mountains of southern Mexico. It was a mixed experience for me, as are many mission experiences. Not surprisingly I got sick with stomach problems (unclean water), confused by the language (a different dialect of Spanish was used), and was often cold (did not bring the right jacket), tired (from the high altitude and reduced oxygen), and hungry (little food available in this poor area). By the time I returned to my home country, I was not very excited about doing mission work again. God used me nonetheless, but some of my struggles, as I think about it now, could have been easily prevented.
We have been asked by some of our Chinese friends to share more about our experiences in the care of workers. And so we have put together this initial CD/web site with short articles, testimonies, and tools to help you in your work. We love you and want to see you bless the nations with the gospel. May the Lord use it to strengthen you and further equip you to serve Him. ‘Because the leaders went to the front lines, and because the people freely volunteered, bless the Lord!’ (Judges 5: 2).
Some Biblical Perspectives on Member Care
Over the last several years, a special ministry, really a movement, has developed around the world which we call member care. This ministry did not develop easily. It was often through crises, mistakes, and failure that we began to realise that Christian workers needed quality support in order to help them in their challenging tasks. At first many of us thought that we were being unspiritual or weak, and not trusting the Lord enough. But we were overlooking our own humanness, sometimes trying to be something that we were not created or called to be. We began to realise our Biblical need for one another—as seen in the dozens of “one another” verses in the New Testament (e.g., Hebrews 3:13; I John 4:7,8). We began to understand that the issue was not so much a lack of faith, but rather our need to clearly see God’s plan and His provision of care.
Jesus cared for His disciples, of course, comforting them and correcting them at times. But He deliberately sent them out in the midst of wolves, like sheep (Matthew 10; Luke 9). Note though that He did not send them out without putting a helpful structure of care in place. There was previous preparation including lots of time with the Master; specific advice and orientation about what they might encounter; His Spirit’s presence and power; companionship by sending them in teams of two; a plan to stay in the homes of those who supported them; and a commitment to reviewing their experience (we call this debriefing) when they returned. Likewise I believe that we are to follow His example as we send out and support our Christian workers. ‘As I have washed your feet, so you must wash one another’s feet. As I have loved you, so you are to love one another’ (John 13). Member care is a practical application of the Lord’s command to love one another.
Paul himself was also a recipient and model of such care. And rightly so, as he was a leader subjected to extreme hardship and ongoing suffering (see 2 Corinthians 1). In one situation, for example, he talks about how the household of Stephanas journeyed some 400 kilometers in order to visit him and refresh him. ‘Therefore recognise and submit to those who minister in this way,’ he says (I Corinthians 16). In fact, Paul in his epistles lists by name over 75 specific friends and colleagues who were significant in his life an ministry, many of them who ministered to him (e.g., Colossians 4:10,11; 2 Timothy1:16).
Defining Member Care
The current definition that we are using for member care is this. It is the ongoing commitment by senders and workers alike, to provide and develop supportive care/resources for Christian workers. Not only at the beginning of their service but throughout it. It is not only for the husbands, but for the entire family. And single workers need it as much as married people! A core process of member care is first, being able to admit that one is struggling and needs some care, and second, being able to reach out and receive care from others. This is not always easy to do, as many times we prefer not disclose our weaknesses to others. Not even to close friends!
There are many examples of member care. And many ways that people can help support Christian workers. Prayer of course is foundational, as are encouraging the devotional times that workers have to seek and worship Christ. Other areas include logistical help to obtain visas, training in conflict management, learning language acquisition techniques, doing field visits, sending letters and if possible email messages, giving regular financial support, planning and orientation for possible crisis events (imprisonment, evacuation, natural disasters, etc.), and praying and listening to one another.
Member care therefore, is not about creating a comfortable lifestyle. Not is it about trusting people rather than trusting the Lord. Rather, it is about further developing the resiliency and godliness to do our work well. We want to balance the realistic demands of suffering and sacrifice with the realistic needs for support and nurture in our lives. We can pray for stronger backs to endure, yet at times we must also find ways to lighten the load of ourselves and our colleagues. The call to take up our cross daily is also understood in light of the fact that we are to support each other as we bear our crosses together. And in light of the reminder from the Lord to come to Him for refreshment, as His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Some Final Thoughts
The same discipline that Paul said is needed to “run to win”(I Corinthians 9:24-27) is also needed so that we can “rest to win” (Matthew 11:25-30). Think of member care then as a type of discipline. It is a personal, community, and Biblical practice—an intentional practice—to help renew us and remain resilient. Our personal relationships with each other are foundational to our Christian walks and ministry. The support we receive from those who send us, and those who go with us, is key. And the support that we offer others is also.
In putting together this CD/web site, we wanted to acknowledge the reality in China that the main sending structures are the churches and not mission agencies as in other places. And that these sending structures in China are still very much in the early stages of development. Historically, mission agencies often developed from the need to do what many churches themselves were not doing—that is, sending and supporting missionaries. Currently this is shifting, as more churches are sending missionaries as well as drawing on the experience of mission agencies by partnering together with them. Note also that agencies also developed at times from the realisation of the strategic need to form specialised ministries and groups outside of the usual focus of the local church, such as Scripture translation, air transportation, relief work following disasters, and radio programmes.
For the most part, the materials on the CD/web site emphasise the experiences of mission agencies rather than sending churches. However we do not want to create an impression that we are promoting mission agencies more than sending churches by presenting these articles to the church of China. Further, it is not yet clear what additional directions the missions movement in China will take—whether it will develop additional mission structures/agencies (training institutions for example) to work alongside the sending churches. Right now the vision for missions is born in the church and the church is doing all the preparation for it. But please understand that many of the same issues and practices of mission agencies can be similar for sending churches. In the future we plan to include materials that represent the experience and approaches of various sending churches.
Perhaps you have lots of questions about member care. If so, great! I think that many of your questions will be answered in the materials on this CD/web site. I pray that you will get many practical ideas and tools to help you further develop your training and support for workers. I encourage you to read these materials carefully, as they relate what others from places like India, Africa, South America, and Europe and doing. So be blessed as you read, reflect, respond to the questions, discuss, and apply these materials with your colleagues. May Biblical member care take root in your hearts. And may it flow into and from the lives of your workers.
For the unreached. And for the Lord Jesus Christ,
CHAMP, The Chinese-Asian Member Care Project Team