careAs those sending and supporting cross cultural workers how do we, in the 21st Century, with its own unique set of challenges (e.g. Christian cross cultural workers are often now the target of violence) and opportunities (e.g. technology), show that we really care. What is our 'Duty of Care' for those we send out?

The attrition rate of Christian cross cultural workers is something we need to take notice of. Much attrition is premature, preventable and permanent. Too often, good people return prematurely for reasons that are often entirely avoidable. This would be greatly decreased if there was a comprehensive and balanced approach to caring for the people we sent (including children). As senders we must first acknowledge the need to provide supportive care and nurture, and then put structures in place that allows this to happen. It rarely happens automatically. We do this, while at the same time, preparing our people so that they have a clear sense of commitment and call to the work at hand. This then allows them to embrace the reality of sacrifice and suffering that comes with living in a 21st century missional setting.

The word 'Membercare' is used widely in missions circles to define all that we do to show that we care. Here is a commonly held definition from 'The World Evangelical Alliance - Global Member Care Network'.

Doing Membercare well helps us to do missions well. It strengthens the cross cultural worker so they can effectively love, evangelise, and disciple people groups, endure hardships, and grow as people. It is one strategic way to fulfil the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Too often we have narrowed our caring down to a few basic components. We have often 'spiritualised' our care of those we send out, giving it over to God, but in doing so abdicate our God given responsibilities. Caring for people includes the whole person – all spiritual, emotional, relational, physical and economic aspects. When we do this well, the Christian worker doesn't just survive but thrives in their environment no matter what the challenges are. If they are cared for, it builds resilience so that they can go and share the hope of the gospel by word, deed and character.

Member care is the responsibility of everyone in missions – the sending church, mission agencies, fellow workers, member care specialists and the people themselves. It should not be left to the 'specialist'. Too often this is the case because the other spheres have abdicated their 'duty of care'. When these different areas/
spheres operate interdependently, what results is in a natural flow of care between the different spheres. K. O'Donnell and others (in 'Doing Member Care Well' Ed. Kelly O'Donnell 2002 William Carey Library. p13ff) came up with a model that highlighted the different spheres, gave definitions to them and looked at some best practice principles in each area. They divided the different spheres of care as: Master Care, Self-Care, Mutual Care, Sender Care, Specialist Care and Network Care. Have we ever sat down with those we are sending and used the above categories as a checklist on how we are doing in our particular sphere, making
sure care is being done in the other areas?

Imagine if we really cared... (This is far from an exhaustive list but one to get us thinking...)

We would prepare our people through good pre-field selection and training. In today's world this now commonly includes such things as Psych tests, mentoring and accountability, spiritual formation, interpersonal skills, developing a theology of suffering and risk, understanding expectations and needs, gaining experience in community and team living pre-field etc. On the field we would support our people in personal, professional and spiritual development. Provide good financial systems, stay connected through technology and thus know their current situation and needs. We would develop regular reporting/ accountability structures, including both financial and personal matters, including an exit interview and report before each home
assignment. There would be evacuation and crisis management policies worked out. Having a 'Memorandum of Understanding' or something similar between our people on the field and those who they work for (whether it is a local NGO, a mission organisation, local church etc.)

Back in New Zealand whilst on home assignment or permanent re-entry we would be offering operational and personnel debriefing opportunities. There would be practical help in a variety of areas – work place and vocational issues, initial living assistance, schooling options, health concerns etc. Giving people opportunities to share their story.

No matter what stage the cross cultural worker is at, whether they are a newbie or a seasoned veteran, they will know that they are cared for if people make time for them and intentionally build good supportive relationships with them.

Sadly this sometimes does not happen.

The good news is that we don't have to invent the wheel in our care of those who go cross culturally! A comprehensive 'Guide to Good Practices in Membercare' for 'NZ sent cross cultural workers' has already been developed by a group of people who have much experience in caring for those working cross culturally. Every sending church and mission organisation should regularly go through these aspirational guidelines to see how well they are doing. This 20 page document can be found on the NZ Missions Interlink website:


We need to commit ourselves to a more comprehensive specific care package for each individual/family that sustains and nurtures them over the long haul. It will involve time, resources, personnel, finances and good relationships. Do they deserve any less?

Gavin and Michelle McConnell

Gavin and Michelle run a Debriefing centre called 'Piringa' ( where Christian cross cultural workers and NZ based mission and church workers come for a five day personal debrief.


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