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Russ Turney: Leave a Legacy

Russ Turney, Leave a Legacy: Increasing Missionary Longevity (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 124 pages, ISBN 978-1498294812 .

Dr. Russ Turney and his wife, Patsy, served for a number of years as missionaries in Asia. He eventually became the Regional Director of the Asia Pacific Region of the Assemblies of God World Missions. One of his concerns as Regional Director was missionary attrition. As he studied the subject, he identified reasons why missionaries leave the field. He also tried to determine if there were things that could be done to help reduce the number of missionary losses. This book describes the steps he took in identifying and addressing the losses in his own denomination in the Asia Pacific Region.

The book is comprised of eight chapters. These chapters are: “Statement of Problem,” “Review of Literature,” “Challenges to Longevity,” “Interpersonal Conflict and Spiritual Factors That Impact Missionary Longevity,” “Description of Project Research Methodology,” “Research Results,” “Results From Veteran Missionary Survey Questionnaires,” and “A Strategy For Longevity.” Under each of these chapter titles the author lists a number of sub-points which tell the reader what specific topics will be covered in the chapter. Though Leave a Legacy is a short book, it is quite thorough in its treatment of the subject matter. As you may have surmised by now the approach taken in this text is quite academic. This is not to say that the book is weighed down with technical language, for that is not the case. But it lays out in a very organized fashion the steps that were taken in the course of this study. It is quite clear that this is a research study. In the opening chapter the author addresses such things as: The Problem, Factors, Purpose, Significance, Research Questions, Scope of Research, Definitions, Assumptions, and Methodology (pages 12-16).

Missionaries leave the field for various reasons. As the author points out, some missionary departures are unavoidable, these would include death and retirement (page 12). There is not much that can be done about them. But there are other reasons why missionaries depart. Citing Frank Allen, Turney lists some of Allen’s reasons why missionaries leave the field, these include: expectations, culture shock, and family problems (page 17). One significant cause for missionary attrition is conflict. Missionaries can experience conflict with other missionaries, with the national church, and with the leadership of the missionary organization (pages 59, 89). This is an area where attrition could be reduced if appropriate steps are taken.

For those of us that remain in our home countries, this book can open our eyes and our hearts to the struggles our missionaries face.

Though the focus of this study was specifically to identify the reasons why Assemblies of God missionaries were leaving the Asia Pacific Region and to try to address some of those issues, the author consulted sources from outside of his own denomination. I found chapter 2 particularly interesting. In it, the author cited the works of a number of different writers. Their findings helped reveal the reasons why missionaries leave the field. Those of us who remain in our home country may not think about the challenges that missionaries face. This chapter can help open our eyes and our hearts to their struggles (it may also provide some direction regarding how to pray for missionaries).

Proper preparation and ongoing instruction can go a long way in addressing the challenges of missionary life.

The results of Turney’s research were applied to specific information from the Asa Pacific Region of the Assemblies of God. This data analyzed concerned missionaries in this region between the years of 1986-2005. The information regarding the different reasons why missionaries left the field during those years was analyzed in 5 year time periods. As a result of this study, they were able to identify problem areas that could be addressed in both pre-field and on field instruction (page 121). Proper preparation and ongoing instruction can go a long way in addressing the challenges of missionary life.

This book may be especially helpful to Missions Directors. It may also prove to be beneficial to pastors of churches that support overseas missionaries. The text will help readers identify areas in which cross-cultural workers tend to struggle. With this knowledge believers may be able to offer some prayerful and practical assistance to their missionaries who labor far from home. The fact that this study was done for a specific denomination in a particular part of the world does not diminish its value. The insights it contains can be used and reapplied in a different context. As believers we need to do all we can to help one another remain faithful to the calls that we have received from the Lord. The laborers are already few (Matthew 9:37) we can’t afford to lose anyone.

Reviewed by John Lathrop


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Category: Ministry, Spring 2021

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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