I was thinking this last week as I had time at a camp with my daughter about missions and member care and the worth of a worker. I discussed this with a friend while we watched the kids learn about leaves and tree cycles and fungus.
If you think of missions as an army (I know it is a limited view), you have different values of soldiers. Different views, perhaps. There are some soldiers that were trained for a few weeks, shipped to the front lines, and used to break a hole in a defense wall or storm and "weaken up" a defensive position. Many of them died, many were injured and that was that with them.
There were other soldiers that were trained for a longer period of time. Ones that learned the strategy of war, techniques, studied the enemy position and tactics, knew their own fire power, etc. These soldiers were more valuable. They would be used for specific objectives, for planning, for special forces operations, and things like that. No one would send these soldiers by the thousands to break a hole in a defense line.
We joined a mission which formed at a period on Christianity when people thought they only had a few years left. Jesus was coming back any day - the signs pointed to it, etc.
(I believe Jesus is still coming back any day... but my belief in that does not mean that I have to save the world this minute and it all depends on me and my speed. Jesus will come soon, when the time is right. When He comes, there will be some workers on the field, some still learning the language, and some still in Bible school preparing to go. That is just the way it works out. As my dad would say, "Don't get tricked into thinking God is depending on you to do a job. He's chosen to use us, but there is a vast difference between those two thoughts. Prepare, train, and go. Don't skip training simply because you believe He will come back too soon for you to be prepared to do what He asks you to do.")
Yet the mission we joined was one of those formed during this time period in Christian circles. So they placed emphasis on getting people out quickly. Go. Jesus said, "Go into all the world, so let's get people going." My parents worked along side these people while I was younger. We joined them on the field, partnering with two of these types of missions. Great people. We loved them, loved growing up among them. Yet sometimes my dad would shake his head and sigh. Once or twice he took a few under his wing to disciple them out on the field. He sighed and said, "They basically got saved in the Jesus movement and were sent out - no training, no doctrine, nothing." Don't get me wrong, they were good people. Very good. Many of them stuck it out, grew, learned, and stayed with it to this day. But they came ill-prepared and had some difficulties as a result.
As I sat at camp watching the kids study leaves, it began to make sense why our group is not that good at member care. Their emphasis has historically been on, "get them out on the field!" Also, being some of the first of a new trend - the short term missionary. See, my great-grandparents served under Hudson Taylor in China. Back then, when you signed up to be a missionary, there was no question of "How long do you want to go for? Six weeks, three months, one year, two years?" No statement of "After two years, then we begin to talk about long termers." No. It was pretty much a life commitment, although people did retire after thirty to forty years or because of ill health.
However, when you have a culture of "send these people for 1-2 years", you begin to see missionaries as disposable. One group comes, stays for a time, leaves, another group comes, stays for a time, leaves, etc. That affects deeply how you treat "problems". People who struggle. "Oh, they're not doing well here? OK, send them home early." Ta-da, problem solved. Move on.
The problem was that these short-term focused mission agencies went long term. People began to stay longer. Become "lifers". And the culture of how to care for them did not change (or at least change fast enough). Perhaps it is because there are still a huge number of short-termers, and it seems to be the most efficient way to handle short termers who have problems - ship them back to their home church and let them deal with it, and go back about the Great Commission. So when any longer term people had struggles, the culture said, "Oops, problems! Get rid of them!"
All this worked well when their goal was to head into a country, do some evangelism, have some believers, move on. Then you hit those "other countries". Where you can't simply stand on the corner with some easels or a mime and hand out Bibles. (not that I would agree that was the best technique anyway!) Countries where you really had to work to learn the language and culture. To work effectively in those took years. There were those workers. But, then, it has to be taken into consideration when you have someone living in working in very difficult situations long term, they are going to begin to carry some heavy loads. Trauma, violence, wars, terrorism, sheer poverty, kidnappings, assaults, sexual assaults, deaths, etc.
When you follow the former policy, you end up treating your trained soldiers like new "disposable" recruits. Sending them in to difficult areas to break through a defense without a real good plan for their protection, care, or recovery.
Valuable workers are lost this way.
Please understand me, this is an imperfect metaphor. No one's life is more valuable than another despite length of time or anything! But I am talking about the value of the years invested in language and culture learning, time spent getting to a place where they are able to minister. It just is a poor use of resources to throw away all those years and start fresh with a new recruit because an agency doesn't want to invest time and money into mending the wounds of those who have served long already. (I'm also all for having new recruits, treating them as valuable, and getting them proper member care, too!)
I don't believe our mission agency is inherently evil. Just unprepared and stuck back in a "short term world view". There have been some changes, and I hope and pray that good member care becomes a part of normal practice so that they are able to keep and care for long term missionaries who will be effective because they have the knowledge and the care to do their jobs well. Those changes have not yet come to where we are. As a result, we will be looking for a different mission agency. Because in the end, the value of a worker is shown in how well that worker is cared for. A good workman cleans and properly puts away his tools. He takes care of them because he knows that they are not disposable.