Why Are They Leaving…And What Can We Do About It?

It’s complicated…or is it?

Missionary attrition has been a hot topic for years, and past research data was only collected from leadership within agencies, not the former missionaries themselves (the one’s who REALLY knew why they left!). Recently some interesting new research was conducted and the results are in. You can read the full details here.

A Summary:
One of the highest rated factors in the decision to return home was a lack of missionary care. Besides personal reasons like illness or finances, other highly rated factors were: lack of integrity on the team, lack of freedom to pursue calling, team conflict, and confusion over role on the team.

Now, this may be shocking to those of you who hold missionaries in the same esteem as Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. But let me assure you that these issues are commonplace in the world of missions. Sort of reminds us of the local church, doesn’t it? Only Gospel workers seldom have the kind of help and support that we have access to here at home.

We’ve known for a while that team conflict and the multitudes of things that spur on this conflict are often a catalyst for workers’ decision to leave their country of service and return home. But the importance of this recent research is that it clearly points to a deficiency in care as an equally driving force in that decision.

These results do not surprise us. As a matter of fact, they merely confirm what we’ve consistently witnessed ourselves in our 10 years of missionary service. The latter half of this has been directly involved in caring for missionaries and local believers. Some missionaries have been on the verge of throwing in the towel, calling it quits. Others already have their suitcases packed by the time we see them. Sometimes the chaplain visit comes just in time and we can co-create a good plan with them to stay and flourish in missionary service either in the same area or a new one. Other times its too late for them to stay well. The damage is done. The best we can do is simply help them make a plan to leave well, if possible.

Mark’s area of specialty seems to be conflict resolution and mediation. By God’s grace, he has been able to help many individuals, couples, families, and teams overcome conflict and reconcile. But often teams have no chaplain, no person trained in mediation to help them navigate the treacherous waters of conflict. Wounds grow deeper and fester, speculation abounds. The enemy builds a stronghold.  Among missionaries?! Yes, for they are human beings, sinful, broken, hurting, sometimes traumatized, sometimes angry, sometimes struggling to forgive.

Another area of great pain is marriage and family relationships. A trusted, confidential ear is needed, someone who can speak hope, life, and biblical truth into desperate situations and, when necessary, can direct them to specialists for more care.

Chaplaincy is needed to provide support for all kinds of crisis that missionaries face…dealing with traumatic stress, grief, loss, addictions, suicide….you name it. Many chaplains are ordained, licensed professionals (like Mark) who have years of experience in counseling, coaching, and mediation. Others are lay chaplains who receive certification after specific training and supervision. Whatever their training or specialty, they are compassionate and competent pastoral care-givers who long to see their brothers and sisters thrive in God’s kingdom service. By developing Chaplains for cross cultural teams, we are taking a definitive step towards stemming the tide of missionary attrition.