Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Working with the Younger Full-Time Missionaries--George's Post

I.           Working with the Younger Full-Time Missionaries

A.   Mission Demographics
The size of the Zambia Lusaka Mission, which encompasses all missionary activity in Zambia and Malawi, has fluctuated quite dramatically during 2014 and 2015, ranging from a low in the middle 60s to over a 100 missionaries.   The fluctuations were due to the bulge in new missionaries, following policy changes allowing elders to come when 18 and sisters when 19, resulting in a full spade of missionaries toward the middle of 2015, as well as the fact that visa waiters (i.e., missionaries waiting to get visas from African countries where it is tough for missionaries to get admitted) could be temporarily placed in Zambia or Malawi, where the visa requirements are more lenient, while their visa for another African country was still being processed.   As of September 2015, the Mission had roughly 100 full-time missionaries, including the Ericksons, 12 senior missionaries,[1] and balance in young elders and sisters.   The missionaries are spread across four zones: the Lusaka and Copperbelt Zones in Zambia (Lusaka, Copperbelt), and the Lilongwe and Blantyre Zones in Malawi (Lilongwe and Blantyre). 
The Blantyre Zone currently includes 20 missionaries—14 elders and 4 sister missionarie and  2 senior missionaries (the Beals), who, in addition to being MLS missionaries, are asked to cover the office functions in Blantyre.   Of the 18 younger missionaries, 11 are from African countries—Uganda, Ghana,[2] Zambia, South Africa—7 from the United States and Canada.  When possible, the preference is to pair Western and African missionaries, allowing the cultural diversity to enrich the skill set of each missionary and to enhance teaching.  Most of the African missionaries have been in the Church for less than five years, so generally speaking they have less familiarity with Church policies and customs than their Western counterparts, many of whom come from families who have been in the Church for years or, in some cases, generations.   These differences in background, however, do not translate into corresponding variances in spiritual maturity or gospel knowledge, a topic which I will touch upon later.
B.   Formal Relationship Between Senior Couples of Younger Full-Time Missionaries
The mission president is responsible for overseeing the conduct and performance of the younger full-time missionaries.   This is a calling unique to him and one he does not delegate to his counselors.   Moreover, senior missionaries in his mission field—regardless of the nature of their calling—are not in the chain of authority.  Neither do they give directions or instructions to younger missionaries, nor are they responsible for their conduct.   On several occasions during our mission, President Erickson has felt impressed to make sure senior missionaries understand precisely the lines of authority.  Younger missionaries, including district and zone leaders, report directly to the mission president.  They do not report to, or are accountable to, senior missionaries, even if one is serving as a counselor in the mission presidency.   Instead, mission president has the keys for, and is responsibly for, teaching them their duties, setting mission policies and goals, and directing their day-to-day activities.   Senior missionaries are not to interfere with these lines of reporting and accountability.   They are not to counsel full-time missionaries or reprimand or correct their conduct.   If they have concerns about the propriety of younger missionaries’ conduct, they, like any other church member similarly troubled, may bring those matters directly to the mission president’s attention, leaving it to him to decide what, if any, corrective action to take.   Of course, they can, and are expected, set a good example of faithfulness, but in doing this, they are no different than any other church member.  They are clearly outside of the lines of formal authority.   They become involved if and only if invited by mission president.
In addition, when instructing senior missionaries, President Erickson has stressed two other points.  Senior missionaries are to resist the temptation of assuming the role of “grandparents” toward the younger missionaries.   They are not to assume paternalistic attitudes—they are not to mother the missionaries, cooking their meals or providing treats on a routine basis, giving them a place to relax and kick back, offering a sympathetic ear to hear their gripes and complaints.   Instead, they are, at all times, to maintain a warm, friendly, but independent, approach in dealing with younger missionaries. Younger missionaries should not confuse these relationships with the slightly indulgent relationships they have or may have with parents or grandparents, nor are they to look to senior missionaries for same level of emotional support they get from home.   Obviously, this can be a tricky balance to maintain—warm, friendly and supportive, and caring, while, at the same time, not crossing the line by being too indulgent, motherly, protective, smothering.   Striking the right balance requires a spirit of discretion, recognizing that not all missionaries are alike, and not all circumstances identical.   Sometimes, senior missionaries should provide more care and direction; sometimes they should hold themselves more distant to give younger missionaries the needed room to grow on their own.     
Hand in hand with this proposition is the emphasis on allowing the younger missionaries to be and become self-reliant and independent.   Younger missionaries are expected to do all in their power to take care of themselves on their own.   Just like Church members, they are to learn and develop self-reliance and to become independent.  If, however, they have problems that they cannot solve on their own, they should turn first to the local mission leaders (Mission President, zone and district leaders) for assistance.  Generally speaking, they are not to call upon senior missionaries to bail them out of problems, unless local mission leaders are inaccessible.   Missions constitute wonderful opportunities for the younger elders and sisters to learn to stand on their own—to figure out what they need to do to solve a problem and then to access local and personal resources to do so.   This process is compromised when senior missionaries are too involved in problem solving or become involved without the mission president’s knowledge and consent.  Sometimes, of course, the mission president may use local senior missionaries as his agents to help solve problems beyond the missionaries’ reasonable reach.   Occasionally, senior missionaries are called upon to get involved because they have access to and control over local Church funds needed to cover the costs of paying doctors, dentists or other professionals to provide health or medical services.        

[1]Elder and Sister Groesbeck, whom we have yet to meet, are the new office missionaries in Lusaka.   The Bodilys, based in Lusaka, are welfare service missionaries.  Hulls are also new to the mission, now working at MLS missionaries in the Copperbelt; we have yet to meet them as well.   The Stones (including their son Nathan) are laboring in Lilongwe as MLS missionaries.  Elder Birrell is the missionary medical adviser, and his wife handle the office duties in Lilongwe.  Carole and I are now the only senior missionaries in Blantyre.  
[2] Sister Frimprong has dual citizenship, carrying both British and Ghanan passports.