How long should someone receive financial support while they are in the States?
We are living in unprecedented times with many sent ones having to be home due to the COVID-19 health crisis. A year into the coronavirus pandemic, many have been off the field the majority of that time. Some have a vision to return. Others seem to have door after door close on them. It is frustrating for all involved. In light of the length sent ones have been off the field, it brings up a key question:
How long should someone receive financial support from their donors and/or church while they are in the States?
Of course, this is not a new dilemma. There are a variety of situations that sent ones find themselves in returning from overseas beyond COVID-19:
1. Transitioning off the field for a new job or retirement
2. Moral Failure
3. Health issues with them or their family
4. Team conflict
5. Season of Life
Generally speaking, most missions organizations allow sent ones to receive financial support for one month per every year of living overseas, up to six months. This takes care of most of the scenarios listed above and is a good rule of thumb. Even with this rule of thumb and especially with those stuck in the States due to the coronavirus pandemic, we need to consider going beyond that rule of thumb. Here are a few guiding principles you can use as you walk through these decisions:
Recognize that COVID is unprecedented. We are in uncharted waters in terms of the pandemic and how each country has acted in response (whether proactive or reactive). There is just so much unknown.
Be slow to hire and slow to fire. It typically takes a missionary one to two years to go through the “hiring” process, raise support and obtain training before they ever arrive on the field. Once they arrive on the field they spend two to three years learning language, not to mention the assessment process prior to support raising. In total it takes about five years for a sent one to become effective overseas. Therefore, especially in the coronavirus pandemic, we need to remember the investment made prior to letting a sent one off support.
Consider a different location. Should sent ones consider a different location overseas in the short term or the long term? Does it look like their country will not be opening up soon? If so, help them think through where to relocate. One key question for you to ask is whether or not this new location is within your strategic parameters as a church for mission partnerships. It could be a way for you to strengthen some existing teams.
Be graceful when possible. We need to lean into grace and give people space. It takes time and sometimes months back in the States to even think clearly. Only then can you really start processing the circumstances. When one has a strong sense of calling on their life it is hard to let that go, especially if you are married. Offer grace and listen well.
If a sent one is spinning their wheels, help them seize the opportunities in front of them. Don’t be afraid to pull support. Let’s face it. Sometimes sent ones need to kick it into gear. A deadline for ending support can help with that. Everyone has had to pivot during COVID. Just because sent ones have had to return to the U.S. doesn’t mean they should have a free pass to do nothing.
Timelines. Six months is generally plenty of re-entry time for someone who is transitioning off the field to a new job, but consider up to a year in cases where they are working towards returning to the field. There are reasonable signs with the vaccine that more and more countries could open up by the summer or fall of 2021. Help your sent ones stay on track towards going back overseas. Take the opportunity to have the hard conversations with those who should potentially off ramp during this time.
IN THE MEANTIME, ASK THESE QUESTIONS:
• Is there a specific volunteer role they can play in your mission strategy at the church?
• Could they reach international students or refugees in your city?
• Is there a church staff position open?
• Are they able to be a mobilizer or work in the area of member care?
• Could they consider part-time work to offset expenses?
• Could you help them get certification or training in a new area while they are in the waiting period?
• Can they look into another field of service in a strategy area for your church?
These are times when a sending church needs to be proactive in relating to and conversing with their sent ones. Many are doing a lot of soul searching during this time and self-evaluating their life and ministry overseas. This could be an excellent time for this type of evaluation and conversations but make sure you take the initiative to step into that conversation. It can be helpful for them to know that you are listening well and providing encouragement and honest feedback.
This article originally appeared on TheUpstreamCollective.org and is reposted here by permission.