A few weeks ago I posted something about missionaries who face rejection from their families. At the tail end of the comment cycle, someone posted the following:
I hope you’ll include a blog in this series about when plans change (like when the SBC, the denomination you’ve been a part of your whole life, can’t send you to the mission field like you’ve been praying about for 15 years because they’re just not sending people where you feel called… THAT can be a challenge, too!)
I want to reply to this if I can. I can’t provide a comprehensive response for the simple reason that I am not a policy-maker in the IMB, and I am not privy to the discussions that take place well above my pay grade. As well, I cannot truly address the emotions that the commenter apparently felt. I don’t know anyone who did not get accepted by the IMB because those people never end up as my colleagues.
Despite all this, I’d like to take a stab at a response.
A question we should ask is “Why are they not sending you where you are called?” I understand reasons and rationales may not warm our hearts, but knowing there is some valid thinking going on often helps us cope with the disappointment. (I’m not answering the question of why someone isn’t approved to work with the IMB; that’s another issue. Instead, I’ll only address the case of a worker who would is pretty much approved to go, but not where he wants.)
Here are some possible reasons for the IMB not sending people where someone might want to go:
That people group has been reached, with sufficient numbers of local Christians to continue the work without outside assistance or interference.
As hard as it might be to accept, there is a point when foreign missionaries need to step away and watch the nationals take their churches where no outsider could ever go. I know: you feel called to go there. What would you have the IMB do? Send you anyway, even though every possible perspective would seem to justify not placing new missionaries there? Instead, take a moment and rejoice that these people have seen the light, despite the disappointment in not being able to go work with them.
That area is a high-security country and the IMB currently lacks access that would allow the organization to send people there either openly as missionaries or via some sort of creative platform.
There are a good many hostile governments in the world, places where leaders detest Christians and do all they can to limit the entrance of missionaries. Officials have noted the creative ways various organizations send missionaries and work to eliminate those loopholes, making it extremely difficult for workers to enter and stay. Some countries will accept missionaries from any country in the world except the United States due to local animosity for Americans. The IMB works diligently to carry the gospel to all the world, but they cannot always enter places where Americans or Christians are forbidden. What’s more, they may not lay out all these reasons for you simply due to the fact that security issues are sticky, and the IMB keeps that sort of thing in-house for the protection of national Christians.
The IMB currently lacks the funds to send missionaries to all deserving people groups, so they are left with sending workers to areas with the largest numbers of lost people. This philosophy leaves smaller groups and nations off the list for now, but that is a necessary evil when one considers the financial limitations the IMB faces.
In my particular slice of the IMB, we have about 35 workers attempting to reach 50 million people spread around the entire globe. Our leaders typically try to place new workers in large cities in areas of the world that have the fewest missionaries: Asia and Africa. This means that I, working in Ecuador, will likely never, ever have a co-worker. There are just too many places that need a missionary for anyone to justify putting another worker here with us; and lest you think this is an academic point, I recently had to share exactly this sentiment with someone who said, “You think I could come work with you guys?”
We’re not the only group in the IMB facing that particular choice. This is by far the rule, not the exception.
That’s not all: at the risk of putting people on the defensive, if giving from churches goes down, then reasonably (rationally, logically, irrefutably) church members should expect fewer openings for new missionaries to go where ever they are called. Do you know what the solution could be? Give more. Just an idea.
We’re considering sending workers to that area, but you aren’t qualified to be on that particular list. Sorry.
This is a hard one, but hear me out. Part of life in the IMB is that people are matched to specific job requests. Sometimes no matter how badly someone wants to go to a specific people group or nation, the fit just isn’t right.
The IMB won’t send someone with seasonal affective disorder to Moscow, where there are only 1731 hours of sunlight per year (and 7,029 hours of no sun). Families with small children aren’t going to make it following nomadic Bedouins. Asthmatics shouldn’t live in Quito (elevation 9,700 feet), nor can folks with heart conditions sign up for sports ministries. Single women won’t go to Arab-Muslim nations, on the average, and bootstrap evangelists won’t end up working in a seminary somewhere.
This is just a sampling, by the way, of some very real reasons why someone might hear, “Sorry, but we can’t send you to that particular country or people group.” Believe me on this: the IMB wants the world to know the gospel. They really, really do. If the personnel deployment office isn’t sending people to a specific location, trust me: they’ve got good reasons.
This is getting a little long, so I’ll stop for now and leave the rest for Part Two.