Qualifications for Foreign Missionaries

Qualifications for Foreign Missionaries*

What are the qualifications for foreign missionaries?

By E. D. DICK, Secretary, General Conference

The cause of foreign missions is dearly beloved in the ranks of advent be­lievers. This program of world-wide evangelism has come to be the topic of daily conversation at the hearth­stone in loyal Adventist homes, the central theme in every Sabbath school, the objective of the aggressive activities of the church. And this is as it should be. The hope of the church is bound up with our foreign mission program. In the sixty-three years since our first foreign missionary was sent out, ap­proximately 4,470 young men and women, bravehearted and true, have answered the call to foreign service. These have been joined in labor by a large group of national workers. The Lord has richly blessed in the carrying out of His great gospel commission, and today as we sit in this council, our message is being pro­claimed in 377 countries and island groups, in 648 languages, written and oral.

What has made this encouraging record pos­sible? With all sincerity and truthfulness it can be said that our schools have contributed most largely to its success. From the doors of our educational institutions has come the lead­ership of our work in all fields and in all lines of endeavor. The path of leadership has led through our colleges. It seems highly fitting, therefore, that we bring to the consideration of Seventh-day Adventist educators assembled in this council, the very vital question of the qualifications and training of our missionaries. Volumes have been written on this question. This paper is not an attempt to bring forth any new discoveries on the problem at hand, but I do hope to give emphasis to some points which have impressed themselves upon me, growing out of my contacts in the mission field.

 It is scarcely necessary to recount to this group of workers the trying conditions under which the missionary is many times called to labor, and the exacting demands made upon his energy and resources. You know something of this from your own travels, from your general reading, from the reports by returned missionaries, and by other contacts. But let us reflect for a few minutes on what a mission­ary has to meet when he goes to a foreign field, before we consider his actual qualifications.

Hurried quickly away from home environ­ment, where he is surrounded by friends and loved ones, conveniences and comforts, to a land of strange peoples and strange customs, perhaps to live in a hovel until a permanent home is erected, amid extreme heat and threatening disease, a missionary finds his powers of adap­tability challenged to the utmost. It is then that a storm of contending crosscurrents sweep over the soul\ and tempt to discouragement. It is then that the calm, even balance and poise of a devoted Christian experience is most needed. I now recall with a certain degree of humor how, when we arrived at our post of duty as missionaries in Africa, my wife wept the first night, and I wept the second. Until then I had thought I was seasoned for foreign service.

The Challenge of Foreign Service

The debilitating effect of continuous high temperatures in certain countries is one factor which draws heavily upon the nervous and physical reserves, and in turn tests the spiritual courage and fortitude of the most zealous. I know of some mission stations where mission­aries have been asked to live in temporary homes with the temperature running from 110 to 120 degrees in the shade for six months at a time.

Few factors have greater adverse effect on our missionaries, and especially is this true of women, than extreme isolation. Shut in, as many of them are, by great distances or limited transportation, months pass by and sometimes years without their seeing another of their race. I recall one case of a woman who was 500 miles from a railroad, 200 miles from the nearest doctor, and 125 miles from the nearest white woman. Isolation may not appear to some to be a serious factor, but when actually faced, it is very real and stubborn.

Tropical disease is another factor to be reckoned with. The blazing desert, the dark forests, the flat river deltas, the fetid marsh country, and the pestilential coast lands all take their toll of health, and ofttimes of life itself. Trying beyond expression is the experi­ence of seeing one's loved ones laid low with raging fever, and many are the mounds on our long mission frontier which witness to the price of devoted service.

So much for the physical obstacles. What of the mental and spiritual? Languages must be mastered, often without a single help to aid. The language must first be reduced to writing, the Scriptures translated, textbooks produced, and an entire background developed before progress can be noted. This requires much pa­tience and immeasurable toil.

The spiritual problems are equally challeng­ing. Pagan peoples generally have few, if any, spiritual concepts upon which Christian faith and doctrine can be built. And their lives are so steeped in evil practices, with such debauch­ery of soul, that nothing but the regenerating power of the living God can renew them.

The missionary, then, must bring to the peo­ple for whom he labors reserves of physical, mental, and spiritual energy which will, under the blessing of Heaven, enable him to verily create new creatures to the honor and glory of His name. Just° what are the qualities and qualifications he must bring to such a work?

In endeavoring to crystallize the answer to this question, the Missionary Review of the World lists the following as requisites of the modern missionary:

1. He must be missionary-minded, with a spiritual purpose and ideal, no matter what his special work may be.

2. He must be sure of the gospel, realizing its unique value and its universal application for salvation.

3. He must be educated and prepared, an effective public speaker and personal worker ; a man who is wanted in his own land. [God 'forbid that any should be recommended for foreign service because they are not a success in the homeland.]

4. He must be one who can get along with people---good, bad, and indifferent.

5. He must have the spirit that John the Baptist had toward Christ ; i.e., "He must increase, but I must decrease."

6. He must have an undying zeal for service.

7. He must be a man of prayer.

8. He must be a living exemplification of the things that abide ; faith, hope, and love. This means self-control.

 One of our pioneer missionaries to heathen peoples, W. H. Anderson, gives us another list of qualifications.

1. He must know God—not just about God.

2. He must know this message.

3. He must be consecrated to his work.

4. He must have health.

5. He must have good sense.

6. He must be able to adapt himself to new sur­roundings.

7. He must be able to manage money matters.

8. He must be practical.

9. He must be able to get along with people and do teamwork.

10. He must stick to his job.

I heartily endorse these comprehensive lists, and would like to elaborate on a few points which are vital in meeting the conditions re­ferred to. I will classify my remarks under physical, personal, mental, and spiritual quali­fications.

I.  Physical Fitness: A sound bodily consti­tution, with unimpaired health, is an absolute foundation requirement for any candidate for mission service. It is not only imperative that the candidate possess good health, but it is also highly important that he have a balanced sense of health-mindedness, and be ready to exercise every proved precaution for the care of his physical well-being in his new environment.

II. Personal Attributes: The social environ­ment of the missionary makes just as exacting demands upon his personality as does the cli­mate upon his physical nature. The whole atmosphere in which a missionary works tends to bewilder, depress, and irritate a person reared in a Christian environment. He is sur­rounded by the stagnation and downward pull of stolid primitive conditions. The bulk of the population is "immersed in darkness." Adults exhibit the ignorance of childhood without its innocence. Great importance attaches, there­fore, to his temperamental qualities, his char­acteristic attitudes of mind and heart, the spirit he manifests in all relations to missionary associates and native peoples. Of particular significance are the following four points:

1. Attitude Toward the People.—The can­didate should be willing to devote himself unselfishly and yearningly to the uplift of the people for whom he labors, who, from many points of view, are unattractive at first ap­proach. Any manifestation of race prejudice or of nationalism is entirely contrary to the spirit of the Master and is fatal to the mission­ary's influence.

2. Cheerfulness.—The missionary should be an apostle of joy and gladness, his whole life reflecting cheer and good will. He whose out­look is characterized by this quality will be able to dispel the gloom of heathenism by radiating the sunshine of Christ's love. For­tunate is he who is good-natured, even-tem­pered, not easily depressed, and able to manifest a keen sense of humor even in difficult and try­ing situations.

3. Humility is an essential grace which should adorn the life of every missionary ap­pointee. Pity the candidate who goes to the mission field with the idea that he is going to do something great. Pity the mission field as well. Willingness to serve wherever one is needed and to work harmoniously with others, in honor preferring one's associates, is an ele­ment of true greatness. The missionary recruit should go to his field in the spirit of a learner, and welcome the counsel of older, more experi­enced workers.

4. Perseverance and Patience.—A patient, forbearing spirit is necessary in dealing with primitive peoples who are much like children. Possession of these attributes enables one to meet and endure isolation and loneliness, adapting himself uncomplainingly to emergent and unpleasant situations. Unmeasured pa­tience, backed by the spirit of Christ, will inevitably win in the most stubborn situation.

III. Mental Or Scholastic Requirement: I have long been persuaded that a balanced pro­gram of education and evangelism go hand in hand in missionary work. Education without the saving grace of the gospel does not avail to permanent purpose. And a program of evan­gelism without the supporting, propagating in­fluence of education will sooner or later come to nought. With but few exceptions, the mis­sionary comes, sooner or later, to have respon­sibilities directly or indirectly in connection with school, whether he is answering a call to connect with a school or not. For this reason, I firmly believe that the minimum of a college degree should be required of all appointees. The time was when a practical man with a missionary spirit, though he had only eight to twelve grades of education, was thought quali­fied for work among primitive peoples. If there ever was a time when this was true, that day is past. Educated men and women with a Christian viewpoint are needed. The best is none too good for our foreign fields.

Since I have emphasized the need of training for those under appointment, I will also men­tion some of my convictions regarding the type of training needed. I am frank to say that the great need of the foreign fields as I view it, is for trained educationists—men and women who are able to evaluate school methods and procedure, to build, administer, and supervise courses of study which will measure up to the standards required by educationists in coun­tries outside the United States. I would appeal for higher standards in scholarship, particularly in the elementary and academic grades. Only those who have a thorough grounding in these grades themselves are prepared to give sym­pathetic counsel and leadership in effective schoolwork for primitive peoples.

In the field of specialized courses, I would strongly urge that our young men pursue at least elementary courses in agriculture, wood­work, carpentry, bricklaying, and cement con­struction; and that our young women prepare themselves in domestic science, taking courses in cooking, sewing, mothercraft, and hygiene and sanitation. Young people who are trained in these fields will always be assets to mission fields. There are other lines of work that are also useful. Every person is strengthened in his preparation by being able to conduct classes in physical drill, including march formations and vigorous setting-up exercises. Ability in blackboard illustration, a clear, legible hand­writing, being able to conduct music and teach sight singing, and a thorough course in phonet­ics are all advantageous.

IV. Spiritual Qualifications: While stress­ing the physical, personal, and scholastic fac­tors, I would not wish to magnify these to the disadvantage of the spiritual, for the spiritual is paramount. Forbid that any, because of his scholastic attainments, should respond to mission service with the viewpoint of merely carry­ing on an educational program among the people for whom he labors. The object of all mission endeavor is to save souls. Robert E. Speer, who for many years was president of the Foreign Mission Conference, said: "Perhaps the largest part of our whole problem is to find and prepare men and women who know what the gospel is and who are intellectually and spiritually capable of communicating it."

Our need is for men and women whose lives have been transformed, not simply by cultural contacts and educational advantages, but by the power of the gospel. Of this, we read in "The Desire of Ages," page 826: "The gospel is to be presented, not as a lifeless theory, but as a living force to change the life. God desires that the receivers of His grace shall be wit­nesses to its power."

God grant that the educators of this move­ment may hold before our youth the spiritual as the essential qualification for mission serv­ice, which, balanced with the other requisites, may furnish "that army of workers" who will join with us in finishing the work both here and in fields abroad.

* Resume of paper presented at Educational Con­vention, Blue Ridge, N.C.


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By E. D. DICK, Secretary, General Conference

November 1937

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