I have listened as they recount their pain. Time and time again, missionary after missionary, the story of absurd treatment reinvents itself with different names and an all-too-familiar plot. We in the Independent Baptist world have a lot of explaining to do when those who should be treated as our finest are treated as if second class and suspect at that.
Of course some of us love missionaries, and I know personally many pastors who make it a point to honor, help, and support missionaries in every way possible. But, sadly, this is not true across the board. The ill treatment comes in three categories:
1. Abuse in the screening process.
Since no pastor or church can support every missionary who calls, nor is every missionary equally worthy of support, some screening must take place. Actually there are more great missionaries than that can be taken on, so we must learn more about each one so the Lord can lead to those we should support. Still, some questions are degrading and give the impression that no missionary is worthy of that particular church and pastor’s support. It presents a standard that no one could live up to and really presents that pastor’s ministry as the gold standard to judge all others by. In other words, if you don’t do everything exactly as we do to the smallest details of life, you aren’t worthy! Besides the audacious pride involved, and instead of just saying that the Lord hasn’t led us to take you on, it insults the missionary as if to say we aren’t taking you on because you aren’t worthy! You are under no obligation to take any particular missionary on, but it is cruel to degrade instead of just politely saying no.
Some pastors question about personal standards in a perverse way. I know of dozens of missionaries who have been asked the question: What does your wife wear to bed? The point is apparently if the wife wears pajama pants, but I always fear a pastor who goes here has his mind in the gutter and I would keep my eyes on him if my wife or daughters were around him. Plus, this is an embarrassment for all of us who are Independent Baptists.
2. Abuse in the interviewing process.
Let’s face it, deputation is tough. All that traveling and living out of a vehicle must be draining. For most missionaries, there are some children thrown in the mix. The best child on earth can’t always be at his or her best after 8 hours in the car. Actually, I can’t even be at my best at such a time! The Lord made them with all that extra energy and it can’t be bottled up for such extended periods. Many times missionaries will rush to the next meeting, barely getting there on time, go straight into a church service, and then they will be taken out to eat. While the meal is a wonderful idea, oftentimes these children have now reached their limit and some “hyperness” starts leaking out. It usually isn’t too bad, but a little noisy. Many pastors have picked just such a time to lecture the missionary on child training. When they do not support the missionary then, the missionary is left to assume that this is the issue–again just not worthy because not quite perfect enough. I imagine the pastor would not like his child rearing skills analyzed in such a way.
This is just a sample of some horror stories. If they mention they like a certain preacher, church, or school, that could change a pleasant visit into the proverbial laying your head on the chopping block. I have even heard of such an innocent comment leading to the missionary being denied getting to present his ministry after all and being sent on his way with no love offering! This is criminal!
3. Abuse in the supporting process.
Some actually get through the above with such pastors and get support while on the field. Then, they feel in a few of these pastor’s cases that they are ever being watched with a nitpicking eye. At times it seems they are vultures just waiting to cut support and leave the missionary in a difficult place until the next furlough. Of course there are real reasons to drop support if there are major doctrinal changes, or a denial of the great fundamentals of the faith, or a failure to serve, but smaller things and whims should never do something that would endanger a missionary family and jeopardize their work for Christ.
As an example, think of social media sites like Facebook. What a blessing it could be to a lonely missionary to both stay connected to family and dear friends and to share pray needs with supporters. ( I always read the statuses of missionaries on my newsfeed when I see them.) What a win-win situation, but there is the fear that the activity, or outfit, or personal opinion, that they would love to share with family might make some pastor angry and support will be lost.
Then they are faced with two scenarios. They are either forced to back away from social media, or they can present an image of themselves that is not altogether who they are and they are left feeling dishonest. Neither is an option that any missionary should ever face.
Then there are pastors who visit the field and forgo the opportunity to pour fellowship and encouragement into these valiant soldiers of the cross. Instead they criticize and force unneeded counsel in an area they really know nothing about. For example, I know of a well known pastor who went to the field once and told the missionaries there that they were failing because they didn’t have a bus ministry!
It seems to me that in these cases the sacrifice made is forgotten. The heroic nature of what they have given their lives to is overlooked. Use your imagination and think how you would feel. I can just see that missionary missing fun things he did at home. I can see that missionary wife slipping to her room to hide her tears that the family will gather for Christmas and she will not be there. I can see that missionary child asking why they never get to see Grandma. The costs are real, the sacrifice substantial, and we should honor it as such and give every benefit of the doubt.
One of the greatest badges of honor Independent Baptists can hold up is the great band of dedicated missionaries they have sent around the world. Why any of our number would ever do anything to increase their load is beyond me. No matter what others may do, I stand before our missionaries today and tip my hat to them for their glorious service to our worthy Christ! I want to enter into their labors by offering every possible encouragement I can. Dear missionaries, I thank God for you and for your taking the Gospel for me to the world. Every one of you the Lord has allowed me to know has enriched my life. May every pastor neither complicate their lives, nor miss a golden opportunity to encourage every one of them.
Find all articles in the series here.