Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Giving to Missions with Sensitivity

Possibly one of the things that still surprise me the most is the insensitivity that Christians seem to have towards missionaries. Of all people, Christians, who had been saved by the grace of the Lord, should have a feeling of sensitivity towards others.
A few years ago I was attending a church council meeting in an advisory capacity where a certain church was busy discussing their budget. They had been supporting a missionary and his family working in a certain Asian country for a few years. Throughout all the years, the amount given to the missionary had never been increased. The missionary had formerly been an engineer, called by God to this specific country where he is presently helping in a printing house from where Christian books are being sent, not only to their own country but also to neighbouring countries in Asia.
That evening, at the meeting, the members of the church council were struggling to balance the budget for their church. Salaries of pastors and employees had to keep track with inflation. There was also necessary work which had to be done to the church building. Ways had to be found to cut the expenses. Someone proposed that the money given to this missionary be cut completely. Someone else stood up and complained. Eventually another proposal was made that the money given to this missionary be reduced by half.
I was furious! I stood up and asked the chairperson in what way he thought the missionary would be able to cut their own budget in order to survive. They had a certain rent which they had to pay. They had water and electricity to pay. These were non-negotiable items. There also had other essential expenses (which we all have.) As far as I could see, the only place, other than their tithe, which they could cut would be their budget for groceries.
In spite of what I and a few others said that evening, the decision was approved that the amount paid to this family be reduced by 50%. (What then happened was exactly what I wrote about on Saturday: A number of church members decided to withdraw part of their tithe from the church and they then continued to support the missionary from their own pockets.)
Some years passed and the church’s finances seemed to improve. I was present at their missions committee meeting two years ago when it was proposed that the money given to this missionary be increased again. The proposal was that at least the amount which had been given to them before (in other words, double what they were receiving at that point) be given to them. In spite of God blessing this congregation with a lot of surplus money, this proposal was rejected. The argument: If they are given such a huge increase, then they may expect that it would happen every year! I just shook my head in disbelief. I told them that they had to keep in mind that the missionary was an engineer with above-average intelligence and not some kind of imbecile as people somehow seemed to think. (OK, I didn’t use those exact words!) A short letter could easily be written to ensure that they do not expect that the money given to them will double every year. However, a much smaller amount was eventually approved and, if I am not mistaken, have not been increased since that time. (Obviously that missionary is in no danger at all of making the mistake to assume that he will be getting a huge increase every year 😉
I am surprised how easily decisions can be made about a missionary’s livelihood, without any regard to the circumstances in which that person may find him/herself. People working with finances and budgets really have to pray that God will give them an extremely sensitive spirit for His guidance and also for the situation in which the missionary may be found. Ultimately, we don’t contribute towards missions because our budget allows it, but because we have been led by the Lord to do this.

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Monday, October 8, 2007 - Posted by | Church, Giving, Grace, Meetings, Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Theology, Tithing

11 Comments »

  1. Here is an example of the world infiltrating our thinking about the things of G-d rather than G-d influencing how we make decisions. I must admit that I struggle when it comes to our organization’s finances, but at the end of the day, I keep reminding myself that if G-d has called us to minister, He will also provide.

    In working with the mentally ill, I have noticed that the church is abundantly blessed in all areas when the mentally ill and disadvantaged are given place in their priorities as a congregation. When the mentally ill are rejected, I have seen the L-rd remove Himself from the midst of congregations. This isn’t immediately apparent to the average church goer, because church attendance and offerings may not decrease immediately. However, if one watches carefully, the direction, decision-making process and tone of the congregation changes and G-d is more and more left out of the process in order to “do church”.

    I suspect that this is also true when a church committee engages in decisions like the one you spoke of in your post. There could always be times when for whatever reason funds need to be cut, but I find it interesting that the church staff in no way saw those cuts as something they too should experience, but rather that “far away missionary” who they obviously had no love or connection to. I think this goes back to keeping those relationships real. Can you imagine a family member in some foreign country and you blithely cutting off their support? Certainly not. Part of this problem is that (in the case of your post) the committee did not feel truly connected to the vision of the missionary or his/her mission.

    Comment by Maya | Monday, October 8, 2007 | Reply

  2. Maya, your deductions about the lack of a true relationship are 100% correct. This is exactly how things happened. Although I do have quite a good relationship with the specific congregation but we’re not getting much from them either – even less than the person I spoke about! But I suspect that there is an element of jealousy involved.
    Your other remark is also true. I’ve seen this time and time again that when a church starts focussing on missions and starts giving towards missions, then God blesses that church with more than enough money. This specific church I’m speaking about went through a period when, under a specific leader, they were so focussed on missions and all the other churches around them were green with envy because they never lacked resources. And then that leader died and things changed and now it seems as if they really have to struggle to survive. When will we start to learn to do things God’s way?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, October 8, 2007 | Reply

  3. Arnau,

    Why is it that missions committees don’t trust people? 🙂

    I am currently serving on a wonderful missions committee at my church and we haven’t had anything like that happen.

    I have gone before a committee to request help for short-term missions. On my team were some people who were from the country that we were going to. One was married to the other guy that leads teams with me. They asked us (or stated) “My concern is this…would you be going to (insert country) if it were not for this mission trip?” This was asked of the two from that country.

    I was none too happy about and it demoralized my team. Since then I’ve received comments like…”We want to have a record of who raised what to go on your mission trip. We don’t want to give money to someone who does nothing to raise their support.”

    I was like we don’t work that way, nor have we ever worked that way. Coming before this committee is part of that work.

    Anyways, we (Christians) need to have a change of heart when it comes to missions giving, whether short or long term missions.

    Thanks for the post, I’m afraid I’ve had some similar experiences that have been brought up.

    Dougald

    Comment by dwmiii | Tuesday, October 9, 2007 | Reply

  4. In all fairness, many churches and missions committees have had bad experiences in the past. In a previous post, Asking, begging or manipulating?, I made mention of a couple from our town who raised money to go into Africa for a year and eventually went for two weeks on a glorified missions trip which was little other than a holiday in Africa. These things do happen and make people cautious. I’m concerned about the remark that the people made that they do not want to give money to people who have not done anything to raise their own support. I for one am not a fund-raiser and if my work in Swaziland had been dependent upon my ability to raise funds, I would have left long ago. As missionaries and as those planning and going on short-term outreaches, we will have to convince those supporting us that we can be trusted and that funds received will be used wisely. But then, at the same time, missionaries need to be treated as people with responsibility.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, October 9, 2007 | Reply

  5. Somewhere, between the two extremes is the way that we need to be when it comes to missions giving. I don’t think we should just hand some money to someone who we meet on the street. But, when it is someone within our church, who’s been going for say, 9 years and they have lead missions trips for three years…maybe we might want to trust them. 🙂

    Thanks for the comments, it is as issue that still needs to be worked out.

    Dougald

    Comment by dwmiii | Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | Reply

  6. …which proves my point that, if local churches started doing their duty in becoming involved in missions, most of these problems could be prevented, as they will make use of people who had proved themselves to be trustworthy in other matters and can therefore also be trusted in missions.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | Reply

  7. i have been a missionary on five continents for 18 years. it hasn’t always been easy, but it has been good. i am pleased to say i have a group of supporters from four different churches who have stood with me in thick and thin. the four churches are not from the same denomination and most of them have not worried too much about minor theological issues and focused on Jesus being lifted up and preached in places where He is not worshipped. i thank God for my supporters!

    missionaries go through different life stages just like the faithful folks back home. i find myslef at almost 50 years old and can pay most of my bills. on the other hand, i have no car, no home, no retirement, no insurance and sometimes wonder….am i being stupid, or obedient. will i still have the energy to walk 3-5 miles a day? will some of my supporters in their 80 and 90’s be replaced by younger christians who are just as faithful? missionaries face crossroads, just like everyone else.

    returning home brings an entire different set of issues. what would i do? would i be fulfilled? is this what God wants? how would i be received?

    it seems the enemy is a master at creating enough background noise to distract each of us who are trying our hardest to be faithful on foreign soil. more money won’t eradicate the problem, but it sure would help us to click the mute button on the enemy.

    Comment by joshua jeremiah | Monday, February 25, 2008 | Reply

  8. Hi Joshua, thanks for your response. I really like the way you put it: “It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been good.” I have a lot of respect for missionaries who rely on the goodwill of fellow-Christians to do their work. Well, we seem to be the same age: I’m just a few months shy of 50 myself. Something which you mention which is extremely important is the culture shock many missionaries experience when returning to their own country – it’s like a culture shock in reverse and it is very difficult to understand how other people cannot be equally excited and positive about the things that you are positive about.
    If I may ask, in which countries have you been working and where are you working at present?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, February 25, 2008 | Reply

  9. It seems what we need in addition to a change of heart towards God’s heart for missions local/foreign is to raise up leaders who are called to be mission senders. They stay on home soil although their heart is for the nations. God would be able to use them in mission committees to provide conscience/conviction about decsions that really matter, but their main objective in for the well-being of the missionaries as a whole, which is even more neglected than churches writing checks. For example consider the emotional and spiritual stress/depression of return culture shock about which the previous person wrote.
    Does anyone know of a church which has a paid position of mission sender? I don’t mean mission organizer or commitee chair, I’m talking missionary who stays home and is supported to know and represent other missionaries abroad.

    Practical question here: if an individual is invited by a church group to join their mission team a month and a half before heading to Ukraine, does it seem fair for that church to withhold the suport they raised until they return with an itemized list of purchases and receipts? This person was an invited guest from a legitimate mission ministry in Latin America. She raised her support through friends and family having them write the checks to the church only so they could get tax deduction. Then the church doesn’t redirect the money. What’s worse is after she arrived their the team deserted her and she found out Ukrainians don’t give out receipts like in the US. So not only did my friend have to last minute figure out how to raise $600 – $800 dollars just to get by in Ukraine, food, lodging and transportation, she never ditched the mission even though her host team did, knowing that she probably wouldn’t get reimbursed because the ukrainians would not give receipts. Now the mission lead who said he’d have her back and the mission accountants won’t speak with her directly if she can’t miraculously produce receipts which never exsisted.
    My friend is in the midst of pulling a Simon-Peter, Andrew and Levi, she sold her successful business, her renovated condo, cars and personal belonging to be a fulltime missionary in Latin America, but this detour of a two week invitational Ukrainian trip is thorn in her side.

    In closing, I wonder if God is preparing her to go through some hard knocks as basic training for current mission trends in churches minus the few great success stories we’ve read.

    Dan

    Comment by Dan Herndon | Friday, September 11, 2009 | Reply

  10. Does the above situation seem off to you? How would you handle it? Any suggestions?

    Comment by Dan Herndon | Friday, September 11, 2009 | Reply

  11. Hi Dan. Wow! It breaks my heart when I read stories like the one you described. It is so unfair. God willing, I’ll be preaching at a church on Sunday on invitation to inform them about our AIDS ministry in Swaziland. The pastor shared something of his own attitude with me some time ago. They support a number of missionaries. It’s not scores of them. But each one they support, they support fully, giving them a decent salary and enabling them to concentrate on the work they are doing instead of having to spend a lot of time raising funds. Oh boy, I can just feel for your friend’s frustration. And the sad thing is that she may be having it hard, but she’s still better off than the church that sent her, because they are missing out on huge blessings because of their attitude. I don’t know what I would have done. Probably told them to keep their money, because the Bible says God loves those who give with a CHEERFUL heart. It’s just so sad that things like this happen.
    Is it really God preparing her or is it disobedient church leaders who decided that they’re not going to make it easy for her to do her work?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, September 11, 2009 | Reply


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