One of my favorite things about school is the chance to hear from the people that have gone before us. It’s utterly enthralling to hear their stories and how the world of an entire ethnic group has been forever changed because of the gospel. We do all we can to absorb the lessons they’ve learned and try to get a grip on what’s ahead of us.
Payton and I, and our friends, the Cizdziels and the Millers, all had the chance to have a chat with Brad Buser (a former NTM missionary) over pizza one evening. There were many questions, but one of them in particular had been in the back of our minds for a while: “Why do so many young missionaries leave the field?”—this is a sad, but true reality. We recognize that according to statistics, our chances of making it through the full 15-20 years it takes to plant a mature church are very slim.
He gave a few reasons: 1) a misunderstanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, 2) you can find justification for any style of Christian life, 3) miscommunication, 4) no resolve, and 5) lines already drawn mentally.
He especially emphasized facing the harsh reality of those early 4 years on the field, the ones you spend doing culture and language study. He said that those would be the hardest and the ones that take the most devotion. If the men are to learn the language well enough to teach the Scripture later on, they will need to spend 8-12 hours a day in language for weeks and months on end if they ever hope to go beyond being “good” speakers and become fluent in the language. He mentioned that being a “good” speaker is okay, but you’ll never sound like a grown man when you teach the Bible if you don’t immerse yourself in the language day in and day out for those 4 years. Wow. That was intense to think about. He recommended not going home for any reason during those years if at all possible, especially because the language loss would be incredible if you were to leave in the middle. That prompted a lot of thought on all of our parts. After those “sacred” 4 years, he said that it gets easier because you’re not in the daily fight to learn the language and you’ll never have to put those particular blinders on again.
Some of the things he said were probably controversial, but I understand why he said the things he did. He said that we need to look at the cost ahead of time and determine what things might keep us off the field. If Payton and I have already drawn the line somewhere (sickness, frustrations, co-workers, leadership disagreements, etc), once things get hard, we’ll likely leave as soon as we get close to those lines. We must hold onto that resolve to stay on field with a death grip–and it’s the husband’s job to keep the family’s resolve strong and remind them why they’re on the field and why it matters.
He also mentioned family dynamics, furloughs, trying to cram theological issues into a translation, medical work, the importance of having a “home” for your kids in the states, distracting yourself with always fixing your jungle house up, and the fact that people are more resilient than they think they are.
I have pages of more notes about this topic, but what we came away with as prospective missionaries and students was the absolute necessity of counting the cost and rooting out the many things that might sneak up on us and try to pull us away from what God’s asking us to do, yet balancing all of that with wisdom.
Brad Buser has also been working with some other folks to start a new training center that’s similar to our MTC training, but with a somewhat different target group–a lot more to do with creative access work. Click here to see what it’s all about.