This is the third post in a series considering what we need to talk about as missionary care steps up, upskills and develops as a profession. I believe New Zealand can lead the way in increasing the professionalism of membercare. This time I want to start a conversation about understanding what it means to be locally grounded and globally informed. This doesn’t just apply to member care, it has an impact on recruitment and training also but I think it is important to make it more central to member care.
As missionary care workers our eyes are often turned out into the wide world, to different countries and cultures. Yet part of our increasing maturity as a member care profession is being able to negotiate the tension between the need to be locally grounded and globally informed. We need to be culturally grounded, in an awareness of our own culture, a deep engagement with what is happening in our own countries, including what is happening in our professional bodies, the church and mission agencies. This needs to be held with a global awareness of what is happening in the world, a strong cultural sensitivity, and a looking outward to be humbly informed by the professional contributions and cultural knowledge from other countries.
Being culturally grounded means developing a good awareness of our own culture (or cultures). The world is not experienced in the same way for everyone, culture has an impact on how different stresses and pressures are experienced, and the most effective ways of processing and coping with these pressures, and even what our ideas of healthy look like. This has an influence on the workers that we are caring for, and us as membercare workers. Being aware of our own NZ culture and the issues that workers from our culture struggle with the most and the type of care that is expected by workers from our culture can help us provide the most appropriate care for those workers. We may also develop a sensitivity to how our culture interacts with other cultures and what the likely reactions and tensions points are in a cross-cultural team. Grounding in our own culture needs to be balanced with an awareness that culture is not simple and that many of our missionaries may identify with more than one culture.
Professions develop differently in different countries, and so we need to be keeping up to date with current research, best practice and growth areas in our countries, as they can be world leading, and culturally appropriate for the workers from our country. We also need to be aware of what is happening in the church as a whole in NZ. Sometimes mission workers get so focused on what is happening in the host countries their agencies work in they forget to pay attention to what is happening in NZ. These changes and trends within our home country church have an impact on who comes to our mission agency, and how able agencies are to find new workers. It also has an effect on how able churches are to support mission workers, many churches in New Zealand are struggling with decreasing giving, which means staff have to do more, and churches may have less to give mission workers in time and money. New Zealand is often ahead of other countries in experiencing the influence of secularisation and globalisation. Lack of deep theological engagement within the church leaves our workers lacking confidence in the gospel that so many of our agencies are focussed on ‘sharing’. New workers often lack the theological depth, and experience of spiritual formation required to get through the challenges of field service. There is also a thread of hurt and dissatisfaction with the church that many of our church goers are dealing with. This may be something that needs to come out into the open before we can be truly free to make a difference globally.
As we engage deeply with our own culture we also need to raise the problems and challenges of the history of Christianity in our own country. As a church, we need to first deal with the need for racial reconciliation in our own country before we turn our eyes to the world. We need to recognise that the Christianity that was associated with colonialism hasn’t always meant liberation and affirmation for all in our home countries. Before heading overseas to share our faith we need to ensure that we have developed a good theological understanding of how our faith is a message of liberation and affirmation for all cultures and people not just our own. We need to have found ways to put this into practice and demonstrate this truth to the indigenous people of our land. Perhaps this type of acknowledgement and awareness of our difficult history and some moves towards restitution would create a more healthy attitude for our humble engagement with cultures overseas.
Once we have a firm local grounding then we can lift our eyes to be globally informed. We have an increasingly global missionary workforce, traditional sending countries are being overtaken in numbers by those from the majority world. Sending nations are now accepting missionaries into their countries and younger generations are connected with global issues, this has changed the context in which we are operating. Our models of member care and counselling practice need to be assessed in this new global context. Currently, our models and theories are created and tested in a white western environment that may not translate well to other cultural ways of understanding and being. I have heard people wanting westerners to come and provide training to host country workers basically because they are not following the western way of doing counselling. Perhaps they did need help but we need to be very cautious that we are not assuming that our way is globally appropriate or always best or better. Instead, we need to develop truly collaborative ways of working that lead to humble learning on the part of all participants. A tool that could assist missionary carers in developing an awareness of the cultural limits of their practice would be to require all carers to undergo cultural supervision as part of their training. Cultural supervision is a type of external supervision that provides accountability and support for the cultural learning and appropriate and safe practice of the supervisee. It helps them consider their own worldview and models and how they may be having an impact on their practice.
We need to keep up with best practice initiatives from around the world, being aware of what is occurring in other countries, and how it may be different from our own. For example, missionaries from Asia and the Middle East have much to teach us in the west about a theology and understanding of sacrifice and suffering. Missionaries from collectivist cultures have much to teach us in the west about what it means to create and sustain a team. This needs to be a genuinely collaborative practice all shaping and forming each other as we learn and grow together.
Let’s strive to create a member care that is locally grounded and globally informed.
Next time we will have a conversation about member care that is holistic.