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For those of you who would like more details on the research I did on career transitions for returning missionaries, Missions Resource Network has posted the results on their web site. You can download the results as a PDF file. Click on the links below:

A Season of Transition for Returned Missionaries – an 8 page article plus 1-page summary of results
Career Transitions of Former Church of Christ Missionaries – full academic paper

You can also read lots of other great articles on missions by going to the MRN Home Page and clicking on the Library tab.

A few weeks ago, I told you about a survey concerning career transitions for returned missionaries. Well, the results are in. I’ve written a long paper and an article which I could email you, but here is a quick look at the results.


MISSIONARY CAREER TRANSITION

Based on Anthony Parker’s September 2006 survey of returned Church of Christ missionaries

· Over half reported that career transition was a significant source of stress upon reentry.

· The majority received ongoing support for 1-3 months after return; 10% received no ongoing support; 20% received continuing support for 1 year or more (often working for their overseeing church or being supported by them in stateside ministry). Extended financial support is linked to lower transition difficulty.

· 70% reported that their churches were financially supportive; 60% said their sending congregations were emotionally & spiritually supportive.

· Emotional and spiritual support went hand-in-hand with healthy career adjustment.

· Least career adjustment difficulty – university teaching; most difficulty – self-employment or non church-related employment.

· Most former missionaries report being fulfilled in their post-field careers, but even more report having been fulfilled, and to a greater degree, on the mission field.

· Women reported a higher degree of difficulty in adjusting to career change than did men.

· Elements of a low-difficulty transition:

o Highly supportive sending churches.

o Post-mission field career stems from continuity with previous relationships.

o Continued connectedness to mission work

· Elements of a high-difficulty transition

o Perceived insensitivity on the part of sending churches

o Perceived expectations to quickly enter the American work force

o Lack of suitable credentials for stateside employment

o A failure to receive counsel

o Financial and business difficulties

o Difficult transition to dual-career family life

· Elements of moderate-difficulty transitions

o Flexibility in less-than-ideal circumstances

o A willingness to learn about themselves through their experience

o Functioning effectively while never completely adjusted

· Career transition advice from former missionaries to those planning for reentry

o Plan in advance for career change

o Solicit help from others

§ Colleagues and returned missionaries

§ Mentors

§ Leaders and members of supporting church(es)

§ Business contacts

§ Counselors – missionary reentry, financial, career

o Arrange for a transitional period by pursuing continued financial support upon return from the mission field; ideally, one month for every year on the field.

o Seek a ministry/missions-related career

· Recommendations for sending churches

o Make reentry provisions more generous for those with longer terms of service

o Allow a six-month no-pressure transition period

o Provide a livable income based on American economic realities

o Consider returning missionaries for local church staff openings

o Educate missions leadership and church regarding reentry challenges

· Recommendations for missionaries anticipating reentry

o Nurture professional relationships that can continue off the field

o Keep professional credentials current

o Pursue continuing education

o Get sound advice and counseling

o Educate sending churches

o Stay involved in God’s mission

One of the things that I’m looking forward to in moving to Albany, is the opportunity to, once again, experience authentic Christian community.  It seems that in a small town, there would be fewer barriers.  One amazing thing we observed on our visit last month was that, after the Sunday morning assembly dismissed around 11:00 a.m., everyone went home – and came back at noon with their contributions to the church pot luck for the day.   Almost everyone lives within a few minutes drive of the church building, so those amazing casseroles can be kept warm at home.  I can’t imagine anything like that happening in Birmingham, or even some rural communities where I have lived.

Texas, like Alabama, is also football country.  Pardon my reverse culture shock, but I continue to be amazed by the millions of people who pack sports stadiums.  I know that it’s great fun and going to local sports events can be a good opportunity for involvement in the lives of people.  But there is a great difference between being swept along with a crowd and taking part in authentic community.  

I picked up a book called The Silent Life by Thomas Merton at a used book sale recently. Although he is writing about life in a monastery, I think his words are also appropriate for understanding what the church should be.  (Pardon the gender exclusive language, but the book was written in the 1950s.)

There is all the difference in the world between a community and a crowd.  A community is an organism whose common life is pitched on a somewhat higher tone than the life of the individual member.  A crowd is a mere aggregation in which the collective life is as low as the standards of the lowest units in the aggregation.  In entering a community, the individual sets himself the task of living above his own ordinary level, and thus perfecting his own being, living more fully, by his efforts to live for the benefit of others besides himself.  Descending into the crowd, the individual loses his personality and his character and perhaps even his moral dignity as a human being.  Contempt for the “crowd” is by no means contempt for mankind.  The crowd is below man.  The crowd devours the human that is in us to make us the members of a many-headed beast.

Now I don’t think this has a lot to say about whether or not we go to football games – but it may say something about why and with what attitude we go to them.  More importantly, it says something about why and with what attitude we are part of the church.  A church should be focused on building community, not a crowd.  Of course, the church is an open, inviting community, which thrives on the diversity of its members and on drawing others into its fellowship, but not at the expense of losing its essential identity as a community created by God’s Spirit to bear witness to his love, grace, and glory.

T is for THANKS for all of you who have been so faithful in praying for and encouraging us during this reentry process.  It ain’t over yet, so please keep up your prayers.  This week, however, we reached a significant milestone in our process of settling into life in America.

For a few weeks now, we’ve had a pretty good idea that God was leading us to a “T” state – we had one ministry opportunity in Texas and another possibility in Tennessee—both of which were good and where  we feel that God could use us.

This week we made the decision that for us, T is for …

TEXAS!

We have accepted an invitation to minister with the Church of Christ in Albany—the best little small town in Texas.  Click here to read more about this town of 2,000, located about 35 miles from the greater metropolitan area of Abilene.  In addition to its proximity to ACU, the town has plenty of bragging rights (which I understand are pretty important in Texas) of its own—including two live theaters, an internationally renowned art museum, an annual “Fandangle” that draws crowds from all over and involves the whole town, exemplary-rated schools, the best steak house in West Texas, and just some great people (you don’t move to West Texas for the scenery).  The church there has made us already feel so welcome.  We are excited about serving Jesus alongside out brothers and sisters there.  We will also be able to stay in touch with our West Africa roots—Andy & Rhonda Wilson and their boys are in town, and the Hollands, McVeys, and Baileys are all nearby (“near” being relative to the size of Texas).

We are looking at moving soon after Thanksgiving, with maybe a trip out there in a couple of weeks to look at housing.  There are tons of details to be worked out, but God has been so faithful through so many details of this whole transition, that he has built my faith to the point that I’m not feeling the stress—at least not too much—yet.