This past fall, FEA Ministries brought Steve Stetler onto the staff as Director of Member Care. Rev. Stetler has a long history of involvement with missions and a heart for those who serve. In this conversation Steve explains his passion for member care and his goals for the department.
- Many people already know you, but can you tell a little about yourself and your mission background?
I am the fifth of the six Stetler children. My parents were Kenneth and Jewel Stetler, and I was raised on the campus of God’s Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio. My wife Beth (Sankey) and I have been married for thirty-five years. We have one daughter Maria and one son Kent who is married to Jananne (Glick). Beth is the oldest child of Leonard and Janet Sankey. She was born in Guatemala and lived there or in Honduras for the first eleven to twelve years of her life. After more than twenty-five years of youth ministry and Christian education, we moved to Mexico as missionaries. We spent nine and one-half years as missionaries and/or field director for the Bible Methodist Church. We currently work with the Hispanic bus ministry at Donna Holiness Chapel in Donna, Texas.
- What is member care?
Member Care is the care and support of the missionary team during every stage of their service: recruitment, orientation, field assignment, home assignment (furlough), and re-entry. Anything, positive or negative, that affects the missionary team during any of these stages is part of my concern and responsibility: language training, orientation, support, sickness, mental/emotional/spiritual health, education, family trauma, financial or moral failure, furlough, retirement, and much more.
- Why is there a need for a mission organization like HIM to have a department of member care?
With over eighty team members representing ministry into more than twenty countries, the needs are varied, and they compound quickly. To respond to these in a timely manner, it is imperative to have an objective, experienced representative dedicated specifically to the team members—listening, advising, and working through their needs.
- How did you feel led to join HIM in the capacity of director of member care?
At the end of our time in Mexico, both my wife and I knew it was God’s will, and our need, to take a break from the constant pressure of violence and harm. Beth had started working as a “special needs” teacher in the public school, but I was left sitting on the siding with no direction. I preached revivals and taught a mission class at GBS, but I was restless. I had offers to pastor, teach, or work for other mission organizations, but God said no to all of them. When President Martin called and asked if I would pray about doing member care, the Lord whispered, “This is it!”
- How do you feel God has prepared you to serve in this position?
Honestly, it is like He has been preparing me all my life. In the thirty-eight years I have been in ministry, I have been a pastor, youth pastor, homeschooler, a teacher at all levels from elementary through college, an administrator, missionary, field director, spent hundreds of hours counseling, janitor, maintenance man…you name it. In this job I find myself drawing on all those experiences. God’s plan is just amazing like that! He also made me with a learning disability so I could understand how to empathize and help others who felt “broken.”
- What goals do you have for the department of member care?
The first goal is to get and keep the missionary families/members healthy in every way. I plan to work hard to raise awareness among local churches and sending organizations of the struggles and needs missionaries face. I am compiling a resource file for missionaries which will include contact information for professional help available on any pertinent topic: counseling, medical services, investment/retirement services, auto repair, retreat centers, lodging, homeschooling, Christian education, etc. There are other goals we will try to address as time goes on.
- Realizing member care is broader than a department of HIM, what can churches and individuals do to become more actively involved in effective member care?
Only months after initiating the member care department, we are already seeing significant benefits. However, a “department” within an organization will never replace the impact of the sending church on the life and ministry of the missionary. As member care director I am endeavoring to minister to the needs of missionaries, some of whom I have never met. Their church people know them much more intimately than I ever will. I can help them from personal ministry and missionary experience, but I do not know the “family history” aspect of their lives. Dates, memories, traditions, even jokes have a certain significance only those with whom they share a history will remember. These are the ties that ground them and give them an inseparable connection to the senders. Remembering those moments together through text or email assures them they are not forgotten.
When God urges you to pray for missionaries at some specific moment or day, let them know it. Often that special burden comes in conjunction with a specific danger or difficulty on the field. They may be afraid, all alone, and the devil may be telling them that no one cares. The thought that God remembers them and is watching the happenings of their lives so closely that He calls for a prayer meeting among their friends to support them in that precise moment brings them to tears and maximizes their faith.
Any worry you can alleviate removes part of the excess burden they carry and assures them of your thoughts and love.
—Reach out to their kids who are attending college, or assist their aging parents who are struggling.
—If they own a home, help maintain the house and property, pay the utilities, collect the rent, or make sure it is winterized properly.
—Send an unexpected gift with a note urging them to take some time to do something fun.
—Communicate your love and care in a tangible way. Keep it short, to the point, but from your heart. There are many other areas we will discuss more fully in future issues.
God has called Steve Stetler to minister to the missionaries of Hope International Missions. But He has also called each Christian to bear the burdens of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Member care can be given in a multitude of ways by anyone with love and compassion.