Missionaries are accountable, even though those he is accountable to are many miles away.
Being on a foreign field by himself, a missionary can feel alone. There is not a church on every corner like there is in some places in the USA. In some countries, a missionary may even go months without having contact with another Christian. Slowly, the missionary can easily forget he is accountable to someone. A missionary can easily forget that there are people back home who are supporting him through their prayers and finances. If enough time goes by, the, “out of sight, out of mind” viewpoint can be easily be adopted. When this happens, it is easy to forget he is accountable to no one. Yes! He may know in the recesses of his mind that he is, but his actions may show another thing altogether. Missionaries should know that this phenomena does happen.
If I were to visit a missionary on the field in which he was laboring and confronted him with the statement, “You know… you are accountable to the folks back home who are supporting you”, I am sure that he would immediately chide, “I know that!” He would be true and sincere in what he was saying. However, because they are so far away, and communication with them is not regular, the missionary can easily forget this. He remembers as far as “head knowledge” is concerned, but in his day to day living it is completely forgotten. This is usually manifest in the monthly prayer letter.
The monthly prayer letter is the missionaries most vital line of communication to his supporters. It reminds his supporters that he is there and informs them of what he is doing. It shows them the value of their investment in souls though his work in a foreign country. It encourages them to be consistent in their commitment to God by supporting the work of the missionary. It is the greatest tool that a missionary has to keep in contact with his supporters, but it only works one way.
Seldom does the missionary hear any news from home. Although some do, there are not many supporters who will take the time to send the missionary a letter. The missionary sends letters. Supporters receive them. Supporters send support. The missionary receives support. This situation is not conducive to real communication. In fact, it establishes a “one way” communication structure, with the missionary doing all of the communicating. It establishes the “out of sight, out of mind” relationship. This relationship can cause apathy for accountability to creep into the missionaries subconscious. He feels like he is doing all of the communicating and he begins to have difficulty writing the monthly newsletter–so it begins to slip. It begins to be forgotten. When one newsletter is forgotten the missionary has forgotten that he is accountable to folks back home. He begins acting like he is accountable to no one. This situation can snowball.
I was with a pastor in Centralia, WA many years back. I respected his view on things so I asked him, “What advice do you have for me when I get on the field?” He replied, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” He then elaborated, “Send newsletters regular and often.” I have never forgotten his advice. It was not to keep the support flowing my way. It was to remind me that I was accountable to folks back home. The work that I was doing was a team effort between supporters and me; I could go to the field. They could support the work there. The arrangement could not work if one element of it forgot that.
When a missionary sits down to write a newsletter month after month, it is sometimes difficult to think of what happened since the last time he wrote to his supporters. He begins stretching his mind as he strains to think. When he stretches his mind and thinks, he begins thinking about his supporters. They come to mind. He remembers meeting them. He remembers situations where he had fellowship with them. He relates with them in memories. This too is a reminder of the accountability arrangement he has entered into with them. Even though they are many miles away, he is accountable to the relationship he has with them.