Deputation, aka home ministry assignment (HMA), furlough, fund raising, support raising, is always a challenge for missionaries who serve in agencies that require the missionary to obtain his own funding for ministry. It does several things to the life and ministry of the missionary.
First it requires him to interrupt his ministry in the culture to which he has been called and uproot his family and return to the culture of his passport. Often he leaves the field feeling like assignments are left undone or that new outreach that was just up and going is now going to be endangered by his long absence. Then comes the issue of having to resettle into the passport culture. Housing, cell phones, internet service, transportation, schooling for the kids and a thousand other details all clamor for his attention. Even shopping becomes a challenge as the choices and new products in the supermarket can be overwhelming. (By way of example, I counted 50 different choices for peanut butter in one store. Multiply that by how many other choices for how many other products and perhaps you can get a sense of what I mean.) Missionary kids often feel overwhelmed by all the people saying things like, "My how you've grown" (I never wanted my kids to respond with "My how you've grown too", although I thought it might be funny), or "Isn't it good to be back home" (The kids are thinking I wish I was back home and not here), and over bearing, but well-intentioned, relatives smothering them with attention when they don't know them and would just as soon be with their missionary aunts and uncles in the country they have left behind.
Once the physical issues are solved then comes the more challenging task of scheduling and traveling to visit churches and supporters. Churches have changed, pastors have changed, ways of doing things have changed and the missionary often feels out of date, uninformed and just plain stupid. He shows up with suit and tie to find everyone else in casual dress. If he comes in casual dress the pastor has a tie and coat. (I remember once wondering if I needed to have my suit coat on for an evening service or if just my shirt and tie were enough. Then the pastor came out in tee-shirt, shorts and sandals and I realized I was way over dressed.) The missionary has many things to share but is expected to challenge, inform, entertain and serve the local congregation in the 20 minutes that the pastor has given him. He then needs to keep a still upper lip at the missionary offering time as the pastor reminds the congregation that the church furnace is going bad.
When the missionary is housed with a family in the church, or even with the pastor, he silently hopes that his kids will behave well and not have a meltdown for if they do they will be labeled as spoiled, undisciplined, ungrateful, and "not well behaved like my own children." (I have wanted to say to someone who was telling me how misbehaved the previous missionaries' children were that they should first try packing up their children into the car, travel for two months staying in complete strangers' homes each night where the rules, food and accommodations are vastly different from the night before, and then see how well their children do before pronouncing judgement.) And the parents will also be labeled as unfit, incompetent and too easy going.
I could continue this litany of the challenges that the missionary on deputation faces but I might be charged with complaining or griping if that thought has not already passed through your mind as you read this. The truth is that I am not complaining, only stating things as they are. The above illustrations are based on our real life experiences on deputation. Thankfully the negative things don't happen very often. (I've only once been called a burden after staying one night in someone's home.) Pastors and churches tend to be very gracious and understanding. But the temptation is there to consider yourself misunderstood, deprived and unappreciated. I wonder if the Apostle Paul had the same temptation as he traveled about and faced opposition from both his converts and his home supporters. Yet he could write "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." I have learned that secret too, at least up to a certain point. I enjoy deputation travel and being with people. However, my prayer is that I continue to learn it as we launch out into this year's deputation.
I hope to see you soon at your church. And, yes, you can say to me "My how you've grown!" and you'll know what I am thinking as I simply nod my head and smile.
Who am I?
- gordon elliott
- Monrovia, Liberia
- I live in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa with my wife and youngest son. We are recently arrived in Liberia where we are serving as missionaries with Evangelical Church Missions working under the Liberia Evangelical Mission. For most of the last thirty years we have served under ECM in Bolivia, South America. We are the happy parents of four children and the proud grandparents of two grandchildren.