Missionary Diary: The blessing of paperwork

Richard Wilson has served the local church in Italy for 29 years as a missionary with European Christian Mission (ECM). He recently moved to the town of Rovereto, with his wife Pinuccia and their four children, where they are helping a small church plant to grow.

In our age, it is a common experience at work – especially for those whose work is to directly help others, like teachers or health care workers – that a lot of time is spent on paperwork rather than with the people that they want to help. Missionaries are not exempt from this necessity because of the nature of their work. This is a large component of the daily life of a missionary, and while it might seem a frustrating distraction from “real” ministry at times, it is important to realise that it is an essential part of serving and glorifying God.

Missionaries generally do not serve alone; they belong to a mission. The mission exists, among other reasons, to do for all the missionaries what would not be effective if they all did it individually. This often involves representing the missionaries in their countries of origin (including recruitment of new missionaries), creating structures in the destination countries for the missionaries to work together and with local churches and organisations, and being an interface with government and other bodies on behalf of the missionaries. To help the missionaries in this way requires information from the missionaries: reports on how the ministry is going, prayer points, a vision to inspire others, personal needs where help is necessary, and so on. From the missionary’s point of view, which is sometimes limited to the local area, it can seem like a waste of time, filling out and sending forms to what appears to be a bureaucratic black hole, where they will be filed and never read. However, from the mission’s point of view, they are essential to support the missionaries well.

Missionaries who are involved in full-time administration have difficulty finding support.

My daily life is a bit different from the normal experience in this regard. I have reduced the amount of time I spend on ministry in my church and in my town, in order to be able to spend more time each day helping the over 200 missionaries in European Christian Mission around Europe. First of all, as the field leader for Italy, my role is to help the seven missionaries of ECM in the country, which often includes more administration. Second, among my international responsibilities in the mission is membership of the “Ministry Development” group, which aims to help the day to day ministry of all the missionaries, but also the transfer of information about the ministries around the mission. So I have the privilege of collecting and reading all the annual reports of each team, seeing how God is working across Europe, and collating information to be used by the mission leadership. Since the mission is a registered charity, there is also work looking at how policies, like safeguarding, risk management and best practices, are applied locally. A lot of my time is spent on this, always with the aim of helping the missionaries as much as possible whilst reducing their burden of administration as much as possible.

None of this administration ministry is “exciting”, neither what I do for my own local ministry nor what I do for the mission. So even though it is an important part of the daily life of any missionary, you will rarely read about it in a prayer letter! For this reason, the missionaries who are involved in full-time administration have difficulty finding support, because even though it is an essential ministry to keep hundreds of missionaries on the field, it is often seen to be less valuable than face to face ministry.

Missionaries do not serve alone – they serve not only with a mission but also with a team of supporters and churches.

Another large component of daily life for a missionary is interaction with supporters. When I left Australia almost 30 years ago, this meant sending a newsletter every three months, that would arrive almost a month later, and handwritten letters to a few friends. Now it means regular emails with up to date information, a Facebook page to manage, more frequent newsletters and videos, and, in the past couple of years, Zoom calls for the personal touch. And even writing articles about my daily life.

All this is great! Missionaries do not serve alone – they serve not only with a mission but also with a team of supporters and churches that are there (spiritually) alongside them in their ministry. It is a joy to know that if I have an important meeting the next day, that I can send a message asking for prayer and after the meeting, another one with thanksgiving. This is part of the “paperwork” of daily life that people with other jobs do not have, but it is a privilege to be able to spend a good proportion of my time in contact with my supporters.