Annual synodical reports from our foreign missionaries are published in the PRC Acts of Synod. Slotted in the supplements along with the Foreign Mission Committee’s (FMC) annual reports rest the yearly snapshots from the eyes of our foreign missionaries about their labors on our foreign mission fields. Members of our denomination can read those reports and familiarize themselves with the history and the current status of our foreign mission work in the Philippines.
However, one aspect of the reporting that our foreign missionaries do may not be so well known. That is our monthly reports. These are submitted at the end of each month for the Council of our calling church, the Doon PRC, and the FMC. These reports set forth in detail what is happening with our missionaries and their families on their foreign field of labor. Each month the Doon PRC Council and the FMC study these reports, approve the labors of the missionaries, and approve any specific recommendations from the missionaries in these reports.
This idea of regular reporting has been a long standing practice by our foreign missionaries. All of our foreign missionaries, past and present, in Singapore, Ghana, and the Philippines produced monthly reports. Reports have been submitted by mail and by fax machine. In recent years, reports have been submitted quickly by email to the Doon Council and the FMC.
This missionary duty is required according to the Constitution of the FMC of the PRCA. In section VII, C, we read that “the committee shall receive a monthly report from the missionary concerning the details of his labors and the expenses incurred.” A little later in the same Constitution, it is noted that the Council of the calling church is also required to “receive a copy of the monthly report of the missionary.” This duty of monthly reporting is implied in the call letter for foreign missionaries to the Philippines, where it lists one of the duties for the missionary as conducting “the administrative work of the mission field.”
What the details in the report should be is not suggested in the FMC Constitution. However, the Constitution of the Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) of the PRCA does provide some helpful ideas about what details would be worthwhile in a monthly report from our foreign missionaries. The Constitution of the DMC states in section V, B that
the report shall contain the following:
1. A statement of the number of calls made.
2. A statement of the number of speeches delivered, and radio broadcasts, if any.
3. Figures as to the number of pieces of literature mailed and personally distributed.
4. The number of miles travelled, how travelled, and why.
5. An opinion as to the progress made, and the prospects of the field, together with the motivation for such an opinion.
6. Requests for information, advice, and assistance deemed necessary.
This list is not exhaustive. In fact, foreign missionary reports might include such details as the number in attendance at speeches, conferences, pastors’ training classes, and the number of families at worship services. What is preached and what subjects and doctrines are taught are routinely reported. Recently, it has become a routine for our Philippine missionary reports that lists of questions asked by those attending our instruction classes are included. The welfare of the missionary families is included in the reports from time to time as necessary. The impact of national calamities or other major events that affect our work is reported.
In other words, the missionaries attempt to provide enough profitable and sufficient detail about their labors that a clear picture of the labors can be submitted to the calling church and the FMC. Failure to do this will cause problems and might even result in a visiting delegation being unpleasantly surprised about what is actually happening on the mission field. Hence, there is need for faithful reporting. That work involves trust, clarity, and transparency by the missionaries so that a stream of monthly reports delivers the necessary and accurate summary of what is happening on the mission field.
Of course, once the Doon Council and the FMC receive the monthly reports, they have the responsibility to absorb the information of the reports, so as to become knowledgeable of what is happening in the field of labor over which they have been placed as overseers by the Lord of the harvest, Jesus Christ.
That position of the Council and the FMC over the mission field and our missionaries is the main reason why missionaries are required to submit detailed monthly reports. Receiving and treating monthly reports is one way in which the overseeing bodies do their necessary part in foreign missions. Without this regular reporting, the calling church and the FMC would have no idea whether the Word is being preached, whether there is an open door of work on the field of labor, whether there are any positive and/or negative fruits to the mission work, and in what direction the work is headed. In order to observe properly the labors of our missionaries and, in that way, to take ownership and oversight of the mission work, the Council and the FMC need regular and accurate reporting.
The place of regular reporting in connection with proper oversight of the mission is based on what we read inin regard to the mission work of the apostle Paul. When he with Barnabas came back to their calling church, the church in Antioch, at the end of his first missionary journey, they gave a verbal report of their labors to the church. We learn this detail from Acts 14:27, “And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.”
The church to which this passage refers includes the officebearers of the church, particularly her elders. To those ruling elders in particular, the apostle Paul rehearsed all that God had done through Barnabas and him in their mission work in Asia Minor. This practice honoured the principle of proper church government in which the ministers of the Word and sacraments remain accountable to their ruling elders. That accountability applies not only to pastors, but also to missionaries.
Even today, then, this principle must be applied. Missionaries, no matter how far away they may be sent by the church to their foreign field of labor, are accountable to their calling church, to their Council, and particularly to their ruling elders. To their Councils, they must rehearse and give an account of what God has done through them. They must tell the good news about how God has either closed or opened a door of faith unto those peoples among whom the missionaries were sent to labor.
Is all of this monthly reporting beneficial? We believe so.
First, the monthly reports serve as the basis for the personal meetings that the missionaries must also have with the Council and the FMC. In the current practice, our foreign missionaries usually have three meetings a month: one with a three-man committee of the Doon PRC Council, then a meeting with the entire Doon Council, and later another meeting with the FMC. During these meetings through the electronic means of Skype, the reports are worked through carefully. Issues raised in the reports are discussed. Developments, both joyous and disappointing, are noted. When necessary, questions are asked by the Council and by the FMC, and in real-time the missionaries answer those questions. The overseeing bodies are kept as close to the work as is possible and as up to date as possible. Although the unavoidable separation of significant distance remains, yet our Council and FMC members learn the challenges, the joys, the disappointments, and the direction in which the work is headed. They become part of the work and enjoy the blessings of that oversight for the gathering of Christ’s church from the peoples of the earth by His Word and Spirit.
Secondly, this regular reporting serves an important purpose for the missionaries. It helps them to remember that they are accountable to their overseeing bodies, which are far away and unseen. Because the Council is not nearby, easy it is for the missionary to start doing things “on his own.” However, the note on his monthly calendar about another report being due, is a reminder of the oversight of his Council and the FMC. In this simple way, the hand of Christ through the oversight of the Council and the FMC taps the missionary on the shoulder, and through this monthly duty He asks him, “What did you do in the past month as you laboured in My harvest?” The detailed, monthly reports for the Council and the FMC are the missionary’s answer to that question.
Finally, this practice of regular, monthly reporting serves as a good example to the groups and churches among whom our missionaries labor. It shows that our foreign missionaries are not self-appointed and self-directed in their work. Our missionaries are sent by Christ through the local, calling church. They labor under the oversight of Christ through His ordained ruling elders in the church. This example and practice is noticed on the mission field, which promotes a good example for the local churches, their pastors, their consistories, and for future missionaries to follow some day in their own orderly mission endeavours.
Thus, in addition to the preaching, catechism teaching, advisory, and pastors’ training work that our foreign missionaries conduct in the Philippines, remember that they also faithfully rehearse each month the various details about what God has done through them, and how He has opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles, particularly in the Philippines.