Saturday, January 24, 2009

Missions: Ejection, Reflection & Reconnection

When I served in the United States Air Force my job was aircrew life support. This had to do with everything that kept the pilot of an F-15 fighter jet alive: parachutes, ejection survival kits, water survival training, helmets, oxygen masks, etc. One day I had just changed out the survival kit on an ejection seat before the pilot climbed in for a mission. The kit including a life raft that automatically deployed and inflated after the pilot was released from his ejection seat. Hopefully, he would never need this…

I had a few more jobs that day, and upon returning to the squadron shop I found out that the same pilot had just
ejected over the Gulf of Mexico. I froze and turned pale with fear, but we later found out that all my equipment had worked and the pilot survived with injuries after punching out at over Mach 1 and landing in the Gulf.

The pilot was not in error, and the cause of the crash was structural failure. The Air Force knows that a pilot’s confidence is often low after a mishap, so they always seek to get the pilot back in the cockpit as soon as he is physically able. Our pilot was flying again in a month.

On the mission field there are also mishaps of various degrees where the missionary has to punch out, leave the field (eject). This could be battle-fatigue, health-related, severe persecution, marriage or family related or even spiritual failure.

Regardless of the reasons I have found that even though many ministries do a good or average job of sending out missionaries very few know what to do when a missionary has to eject. This is true for small ministries and large denominations alike. The ministries and leaders do care about their people, but they just don’t have the experience with this phase of ministry.

Some missionaries end up as adjunct staff members of churches with little definition, few who understand them and little to do because it is believed that they need an extended break from all ministry. This is often called “being retooled”, but this is not only a misnomer but a total misunderstanding of what the missionary needs.

I have experienced this to various degrees during our 16 years on the field, and I now find myself advising other missionaries who feel that they have failed, been fruitless or found themselves on the perpetual “sick list” of their ministry because they needed to eject for a season.

While the needs of many missionaries are very unique and not easily understood by the sending agencies there are some simple principles by which we can keep our missionaries encouraged and moreover, in a state of health in all areas of their lives. There are not many who will uproot their lives to move to another country, so we would be wise to help those who do as much as we can. The bench of replacements is usually empty, so I have compiled a short maintenance list that will keep us flying. To be fair to my own ministry many of us are working on ways to better implement these ideas.

I hate the way this word has become a blanket answer for actually doing little, but in the right context it means to sharpen or give a better tool for the task. The zeal of the worker is not in question, only the effectiveness of the tool. This is a matter of training, and training does not mean sitting. It means doing.

When something has been built wrongly it needs to be repaired or built again from scratch. It might need a new foundation altogether. Some missionaries have a works or a man-pleasing foundation that cause them to burn out quickly. This might also cause them to burn others out. Unfortunately, this may take an extended season of sitting and learning how to be a follower of Jesus all over again. The famous racing horse
Seabiscuit had been trained so badly – trained to lose so other horses would feel more confident - that his new trainer said that he just needed to learn how to be a horse again.

This happens when an attempt at launch reveals a faulty strategy or poor state of readiness. Reassessment, correction, and subsequent better preparation will make a relaunch more effective. Again, inactivity is not the answer. Listen, study, Work!

Refreshing or Refueling
When someone needs encouragement then we should simply encourage them. This is not a complex or deep concept. The umbilical cord from sending nation to the field is often long with limited nourishment – encouragement, coaching, mentoring – coming through. The missionary might have done everything right and still have met with little success. Refreshing comes with periodic breaks in ministry to spend time with God, family and missionary friends who know how to encourage us with new perspective and wisdom.

On most computers there is a “restore point”. This rolls back the operating system to a time before the virus or mistake was made that caused the computer to shutdown. Restoration when there has been personal error is not easy, but suffice it to say that there must be a plan to remove the error and reboot the person’s life and ministry at that point. The restoration can occur in proportion to the health of that person and the renewal of trust with those who were affected by the failure.

To bring back to life, from death or near death. This is essentially CPR. All people, saved or unsaved, are valuable to God. If you don’t believe this then look at the average price paid for each individual life. A good shepherd will leave the 99 for the one.

A battered reed he will not break off, and a smoldering wick he will not put out, until He leads justice to victory. Matt 12:20

He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Is 40:29-31

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