This year, over 7,000 missionaries will be forced to leave their calling. This is an overwhelming dilemma. That's almost 20 missionaries a day throwing in the towel. From those 7,000 workers, about 71 percent leave due to low morale, lack of funding, fatigue and other issues. This exodus may have been alleviated if their support system had been better equipped to care for them.
Not everyone understands the life missionaries choose. It has a unique set of problems. There are several reasons why they leave missions work. Observe some of the reasons we lose valuable, qualified Christian workers. Statements similar to these are reported every year:
- "They burn garbage day and night. The pollution's killing my asthmatic son."
- "Our denomination shut down all ministry in that region—we're out of a job."
- "The locals tried to kill us in our own home."
- "The war is getting too close. They air-lifted us out."
- "I hate my assignment. My heart is in Africa but they sent me here!"
- "We lost everything in the earthquake."
- "My wife died. Our sending agency is making me come home."
- "The government won't renew our visas."
Most of these reasons are unavoidable and often unpredictable. They go with the job. Short of prayer, there's little we can do to prevent them. After all, if mission work was easy, everyone would be doing it. However, most of the reasons missionaries leave are not because of war, famine or natural disasters. They leave for reasons that are unnecessary, like this:
- "We've been in this country five years with no converts—we're discouraged."
- "Our kids need a better education."
- "My wife left me for another man in the village."
- "My father-in-law offered me a tempting job back home with better benefits."
- "Our home church has a new pastor who doesn't have a vision for our assignment."
- "My relatives are embarrassed because I live off other people's generosity."
- "It's too lonely. I don't hear from anyone back home."
- "I need to be ministered to. I'm exhausted—burned out!"
These matters and dozens more are pulling gifted, anointed ministers off the field and into different occupations. Full-time missionaries are leaving the field left and right when they really don't have to.
This isn't a new problem—it happened to John Mark in Acts 13, and it's still happening today for one reason or another. Missionaries have always been leaving the field, although it wasn't as easy as it is now. Stories abound of missionaries in the 1700-1800s who packed their belongings in wooden caskets, knowing they might never get to return home.
Today, missionaries can hop on a plane. Our modern-day mission organizations make it a lot easier to return home, regroup, refresh, raise funds and go back to the field healthier and better equipped. So why don't they?
Although most missionaries have a support system in place before they leave, there are still a large number of individuals and families leaving ministry. What can supporters do to help missionaries avoid the ambushes laid out by Satan, or even the harsh realities of everyday life in this career? Beyond praying or writing a check, how can we love and care for those we send—whether it be to a university across town or a village across the ocean?
It's not the job of churches and families to prevent, care for, or even know about every single need over which a missionary struggles. But we can make a huge difference with easily established habits that can change the course of missionary history. Small investments—big rewards.
Ultimately, the results aren't left to us. God certainly has the sovereignty to call back missionaries or move them to other ministries, and He does. God often uses hardships and trials to move Christian workers into different seasons of life, when they are either too scared or too comfortable.
But with numbers like this, it's evident other factors are at work. Spiritual warfare is very real, and Satan detests missionaries. While we may not be the sending agency, we are no small part of the support system set in place by the Lord. God has invited us to be part of this ministry, to partner with these valuable souls and, along with their spiritual leaders and any other involved organizations, watch over them. We get to stand in the gap and intercede for these precious anointed ones. It's an honor that God chose us to be part of this person's journey.
Maybe we could offer the care that might stop a Christian worker from calling it quits this year. We must discover ways to combat the enemy and keep these full-time "fishers of men" in the boat and serving the Lord—long term. You can profoundly leverage your influence and involvement in the Great Commission without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Consider one of the following things you can do today:
- Moral Support: Write a short note of encouragement or send a care package to a missionary.
- Financial Support: Ask a missionary about the best way to financially support them. Do they need one-time gifts or consistent, regular giving throughout the year?
- Prayer Support: Ask God to help you understand the unique call of a missionary so you can pray more effectively for him or her.
- Go: Explore options for visiting your missionary overseas.
- Learn: Read this article to learn.