Why do CMS missionaries spend their first years on location learning, establishing good habits and laying foundations? CMS Australia Federal Secretary Peter Rodgers explains the fundamental importance of getting the first three-year term of missionary service right.
We all process a big life change at some point. Consider the experience of leaving school, moving house, getting married, having a child, beginning a new job or retiring from the workforce… Change is wonderful but can also be disorientating and uncomfortable.
CMS missionaries know what this is like. When they depart for their location after five months of cross-cultural training, they undergo some of the most stressful transitions that human beings experience. Cultural dislocation, unfamiliar surrounds, language barriers, isolation due to lack of relationship networks, a new job… Often all at the same time!
We believe that this discomfort and period of significant adjustments is fundamentally worthwhile. As CMS missionaries learn to participate fully in another culture, they are doing mission in the most effective way possible – by investing to stay long-term. The benefits of long-term mission abound.
The CMS Vision: Towards 2020 states that we want to see gospel-poor people groups, especially in Australia’s near-neighbour region, reached for Christ. Long-term mission is the best way to do this. To be effective, our missionaries invest deeply in relationships. We all know that growing relationships takes time. How much more so for our missionaries building relationship with people from Muslim and Buddhist backgrounds, who have very different approaches to almost every area of life! Our missionaries must be learners. They must listen, ask questions, live with failure, act humbly, sit with people and love them.
Equipping Christian leaders for church and society is another key focus of our Vision. It is easy for people from the West to assume that everybody learns the way we do. However our analytical approach to learning is completely foreign in cultures that have a tradition of oral learning. To be effective teachers and trainers, our missionaries need to become students of the culture and people they are serving. Again, investing in long-term mission is the best way to do this.
Sometimes people are impatient to get on with mission. 'The task is urgent!' they say. Preparation time is dismissed as an unwelcome delay. However history has demonstrated that missionaries who fail to lay a good foundation in their first three years are likely to come unstuck when things don’t work out as planned. Ill-prepared missionaries can cause a lot of hurt to themselves and others. Personally, I don’t want this to happen to CMS missionaries! I want them to have the skills and understanding to cope when difficulties arise, to be able to interpret the inevitable cultural clashes, and to possess the tools to persevere.
Most importantly, our missionaries must invest their first three years in learning language. Recently, a prospective overseas mission partner tentatively suggested that we might like to consider giving CMS missionaries some time to learn the local language. He was delighted to learn about the value CMS places on knowing the local language well. Clearly this is not the practice of most missionaries today!
Connected to language is an in-depth understanding of culture. Cultures are very complex and operate below our level of our consciousness. CMS missionaries need to grasp the culture in their location in such a way that they know which Western practices and values to leave behind. Only then will they really know how to lead a person to Christ and disciple them within that person's own context.
This is why CMS supports missionaries as they lay a foundation during their first three-year term of missionary service. The fellowship of CMS encourages them and continues supporting them as they implement the extensive cross-cultural training they receive at St Andrew’s Hall.
The first three years of the missionary's life must be reserved for learning, so that the next 10 or 20 years can be can be marked by ever-increasing effectiveness for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God.
Please remember to pray for missionaries in their first term of service. What they are doing can be very difficult. In fact, this is likely to be the hardest time in their lives! Ask God to sustain them and to continually motivate them by reminding them of the brilliance of the gospel and the urgent need to tell it to others.
Pray: Pray for new CMS missionaries and ask God to carry them through stressful seasons of change and adjustment.