Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

When a missionary’s support falls away

Probably one of the most traumatic experiences a missionary can face, is to be informed that his or her support is going to be terminated. It is my guess that this will be happening again as the impact of the global financial crisis starts having greater effect on the income of missionary organisations and churches. Over the past week or so, I’ve received three messages from missionaries or mission support organisations, all mentioning that dark days may be lying ahead. Things like a global financial crisis or a depression are more or less out of the control of the church. I was reading a post today of someone who described how their church had kept on sharing their funds in spite of severely hard times that they went through. People who make faith decisions like this need to be honoured. It is also understandable that individuals who had supported missionaries in the past, may now be faced with the harsh reality that they need to decide whether they will continue with their support or not.
I do not know of a single missions organisation that do not need financial support. Long distances that need to be travelled, the harsh circumstances under which most missionaries are working amongst people who more often than not are themselves barely surviving, the lack of proper schooling, sicknesses and many other issues have the result that finances are needed to support those who are working as missionaries. When it comes to the point of support, I can think of a few things which need to be kept in mind if the work has to continue over an extended period of time.
First of all I think that it is not wise for one individual or one organisation to fund a missions project on their own. Supporters lose interest. Financial circumstances change. A variety of things may occur which makes it impossible for the individual or the organisation to continue with their support. What happens if the supporter dies unexpectedly? What happens if the supporter’s source of income falls away? If a potential supporter is convinced that a missions project is from God, then they need to discuss it with other partners and get them to invest financially in the project in order to establish some form of sustainable support.
Secondly, new projects need to be considered prayerfully and not emotionally. Now, this works both ways. I’ve seen many a project being started due to the convincing arguments given by a missionary. But if such a project is from God and the supporters are truly living in a relationship with God, then God himself can convince the supporters to fund the project. Gather people together to hear whether the new project is really from God. But the argument also has another side to it. I’ve seen many a missions project stopped because the supporters or supporting organisation used equally emotional arguments why the project could not be started. Sometimes a new project has to be started as a leap of faith. As long as we are convinced that it is what God wants us to do, we need not fear to take the next step.
Thirdly, supporters need to realise that they are working with people’s security when they make decisions about support. I once attended a meeting in advisory capacity where the future support of missionaries working in Asia was discussed. The congregation was not going through a particularly tough time, but they did need to do some renovations to their own property. They then suggested that the missionary’s support be cut by 50%. I had trouble to control myself, asking the meeting where they wanted the missionary and his family to cut on their own budget. Their rent was fixed. Water and electricity was fixed. School fees for the children were fixed. The only place where they could cut, was on their monthly groceries. By cutting their subsidy, this family was effectively being told to eat less if they wanted to remain in Asia. The sad news is that the cut was approved. The good news is that individuals then started supporting the family with even more than the reduction in the subsidy.
Financial support for missions is an extremely sensitive issue. I am aware that some missionaries misuse funds. But on the whole, most of them are stretching the funds to cover much more than would ever be possible on the home front. Whether you want to start supporting a missionary or whether you are starting to feel the pinch and considering to withdraw your support, don’t do it without seriously praying about this and discussing options with Christian friends you trust.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009 - Posted by | Church, Dependency, Giving, Mission, Mission Resources, Missionary Organisations, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Support teams, Sustainability, Tithing

9 Comments »

  1. I understand and resonate a little with this post. I work for Youth for Christ and our staff members are somewhat like local missionaries, expected to raise part of their salaries. In many Christian organizations (Campus Crusade, FCA, many others) staff members are expected to raise 100% of their support, just like missionaries, except that many work right in their own communities. Overseas missionaries and even local mission organizations reach people that are outside the reach of the local church. Their work is (or should be perceived as) an extension of the local church and thus supported as part of the work of the church.

    But I have another angle too. Often individual Christians (at least in the U.S.) depend upon their local church to do their mission giving for them. The church has a wonderful wall of missionaries and organizations supported by the church and congregants feel like they’ve done all they need to do globally when dropped their weekly offering in the plate (rarely is it 10% of their income). Without some intentionality, church generosity can foster mission complacency among members.

    And this post prompted a third thought. Should overseas missionaries always be supported by western funds, or should there come a time when their work should be supported, at least in part, by the indigenous people they’ve been serving? Or, should the locals begin to be self supporting, no longer in need of the missionary? Much of what I’ve been reading about the model of western mission work decries the way we (westerners) have created a bunch of international versions of our western churches that cannot sustain ministry without a western presence and western money.

    I guess the last question is better suited for another post.

    Wendi

    Comment by Wendi Hammond | Tuesday, January 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hi Wendi. Great hearing from you again! What frustrates me is that people who are called by God into full-time missions have to beg and pamper their own churches for support. Isn’t the right way that churches make a decision to send out missionaries and then train and support (both financially and emotionally) these people to do the work? This is where you remark on “intentionality” comes in.

    The issue on self-supporting churches have long been debated in mission theology. I have written a lot about it myself. Do a search on my blog for “Glenn Schwartz” and for “Three-Selves”. The Western church needs to change in that it doesn’t dictate what is necessary for the mission and what is not. Too often Western churches have given stuff to newly formed churches which are not needed. And then the Western people are surprised when these items are not used or are neglected. By sitting down with the local Christians, listening to their stories (NOT merely asking them what they need!!!) and discussing their real needs with them, I believe that it is possible to support people responsibly even over an extended period of time.
    If a church decided to invest in a certain area or in a certain ministry, I think it is just unethical and unchristian for them to decide on their own that they no longer want to support such a ministry.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. I have major issues with people claiming priorities they don’t believe enough to act on. To me, this is the crux of the issue. (And many, many others.)

    If a congregation claims that it is a sending church, and all it has to show for it is a static bulletin board, that’s a major disconnect. There needs to be regular dialogue with missionaries, putting their stories and needs in front of the congregation regularly. Prayer requests need to be inserted into all the ways the church facilitates prayer (prayer meetings, small groups, etc.). And ultimately, the church needs to work on sending more people to go, to see and bring back reports and help to clarify the church’s (and potentially the missionary’s) vision.

    That probably sounds like I think the onus is on the church. It’s not. It’s on the missionary to keep that going too. In a real sense, the missionary has more at stake. It is those relationships (money is just a by-product) that enable her to continue responding to God’s call. I’m just closer to the local church’s perspective at the moment, and so I’m preaching to myself. 🙂

    Too often, what I’m seeing is the opposite of what you’ve mentioned, Arnau. Instead of relying on too few supporters (e.g. one), missionaries are forced to rely on too many. Relationships are stretched too thin. Either the church is supporting too many missionaries, or a missionary is supported by too many churches. Often both. Either way, anonymity creeps in. And with it, apathy. And that’s such a disastrous reason for ministry to fall apart.

    There are ways, means and legitimate reasons for reducing — or even ceasing — support. But those decisions should be made by a missionary and his supporters together — well in advance of the decision taking effect!

    Comment by brad | Thursday, January 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. Hi Brad. You make a few very important and valid points. I think most churches want to say that they are focused on those outside, but few, as you also mention, do much to motivate their members / board / leadership to really make this a priority. I’ve long been involved in a “traditional” church in the town where I live, preaching there from time to time and helping them in advisory capacity. Last week I led a prayer meeting (about ten people attended) and asked them specifically to name the places outside their own congregation that they support and pray for. In the end it was Swaziland (where I work), Russia (which I visit annually) and one other place where one of those who attended the prayer meeting was supporting a missionary. Then I asked that we pray specifically for these places, but I sensed an irritation from the leadership for doing this. What a difference it would have made if the leaders had stood up and said that we need to pray for the missionaries.
    The missionaries have a great responsibility. I’ve written about that. Sending out newsletters, prayer requests, keeping contact. But any relationship has to work from both sides and therefore the “sending” church also has to put in an effort to find out what is happening.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, January 30, 2009 | Reply

  5. One comment in support of church members and churches. I agree that it is not nearly enough to put up a picture board with missionary stories or occasional bulletin inserts. However, in American churches, often the supporting churches, the congregation is presented with a virtual heaping smorgasbord of options; programs in which to become involved, organizations and missions that need support, activities nearly every night of the week. Add to that parents, often both, working 50+ hours per week, kids involved in scouting and sports, the list goes on and on . . . Whew, I’m exhausted just writing it.

    Not that I affirm the high speed lifestyle of American families, I just point out that in an effort to offer discipleship and stewardship options to her members, a church often contributes to the problem.

    Real, relational partnerships with missionaries get lost in the frenzy.

    Wendi

    Comment by Wendi Hammond | Friday, January 30, 2009 | Reply

  6. Wendi, I hear what you’re trying to say. The point I was trying to make is that church leaders need to bring these options to the church members – not just by putting them up on a board but giving opportunities for people to get involved, to contribute, to go on short-term outreaches. If the leadership is positive, the people will follow them, even if they are busy. But if the leadership isn’t interested, not much is going to happen.

    Do you have fairly unlimited access to the internet where you are? If so, do yourself a favour and download the video (188 MB) about the Courageous Leadership Award. You’ll find it here: http://www.courageousleadershipaward.com/2008_award_winners.html I’m not 100% sure of the contents (I’ve almost reached my limit for the month and I have all the DVDs myself, so I didn’t download it), but I think that is the DVD which was shown during the Award presentation. I would like you to listen to what the two churches in the USA had done. It is absolutely amazing. In fact, once you’ve downloaded it, write it to a DVD and show it around.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, January 30, 2009 | Reply

  7. We are a new Evangelism Ministries willing to reach out to
    millions of unreach people in Africa.

    Comment by Michael O Dada | Saturday, July 11, 2009 | Reply

  8. Hey all, I do agree that missions is very hard to do, being a missionary. Someone had mentioned above about occasional bulletin inserts and such but I want to share with you all how I have come to raise support and my support letter and maybe you could comment on it or even support me in my mission if you feel led.

    I want to share with you a challenging ministry opportunity God has presented to me. During the next year starting Sept 2012, I will serve Christ in Valencia, Venezuela with an Ohio State team through Campus Crusade for Christ. The International mission of Campus Crusade for Christ is to help build spiritual movements everywhere, so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus. As I am now out of college and hired full by Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), I will be headed again to South America for a year as my first assignment. It was on Summer Project there one year ago when God started the process of calling me. Our mission will focus work at Universidad de Carabobo as we continue to develop a local self-sustaining movement of believing students who will likewise take the gospel to the world. Universidad de Carabobo is a gateway university to the rest of the country.

    This mission to Venezuela presents both tremendous challenges and opportunities.
    Around the World, here is a tremendous competition for the hearts and minds of college students, and Venezuela is no exception. These include pressure to succeed, economic stability, poverty, and world view that is no longer foundationally Christian.
    -Suicide rates have increased due to students succumbing to parental and academic pressures.
    -Economic instability is rampant resulting in lack of hope, and feelings of despair
    -In some surveys, as many as 90% of students have an apathetic view toward God.
    The goal of our team is to change this worldview, by introducing students to the love of Jesus Christ that they might experience hope.

    My last summer in Venezuela, is a powerful testimony. Even in the midst of these cultural pressures and hostile ideologies, God is bringing an increasing number of Venezuelan students into a relationship with Himself. Last summer, we witnessed 120 students trusting Christ as their Saviour! I am very excited to see what God can do through us in a whole year with these students.

    I, like literally hundreds of other recent college graduates, join the goal of taking the gospel to every student, every campus, and every nation. It is a global vision to reach the 150 MILLION Students of the world!

    Our strategy in this mission, is Win, Build, Send.
    Win, is about introducing students to Jesus.
    We talk about Jesus in many ways:
    -Conversations with Students
    -Outreaches
    -Digital and Social Media

    Build, is about seeing spiritual growth through life-changing community.
    We help students grow in their relationship with Christ through:
    -conferences and retreats
    -small group Bible studies
    -mentoring relationships (one on one discipleship)
    -equipping others to share Christ.

    Send, is about living all of life on a mission
    From university campuses around the world a great missionary force is being raised up and sent out to reach the world for Christ.

    John 20:21- “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”-Jesus
    The reason I am writing you today is that we invite others to partner with us to reach people for Christ.
    The first and foremost way that you can help our ministry is through prayer. Prayer is the fuel that will allow us spiritual success as we follow God’s leading in our ministry in Venezuela.
    The second way that you can help our mission is financially. As you can imagine, getting missionaries to the field requires prayer and financial support from many people. Like many other mission organizations, Campus Crusade for Christ depends upon the consistent financial support of concerned individuals, like you, and churches who want to help in the spreading of the Gospel.
    My commitment to my partners and supporters:
    -To work diligently to touch the lives of people in Venezuela for Christ
    -To regularly let you know how God is blessing the ministry (monthly/weekly newsletter from me personally, email, etc.)
    -To share prayer concerns with one another, this means your prayers as well. I want to pray for you and with you.
    There is one more very vital way that you as a partner can help. I can’t do this alone. Are there others-friends, family, church members, coworkers-who you could refer me to?
    Your partnership makes a huge difference in reaching students for Christ.
    In order to report to my assignment on time, I must find a team of 100 Partners who will provide $25 a month or some other amount in financial support for me throughout the year. I pray that you will consider being one of these 100. When this team is complete, I can turn my full undivided attention to reaching students to Christ.
    I hope that you will find the value in our mission and what we are trying to accomplish, and I pray that you will consider supporting me both prayerfully and financially. May God Bless you for your prayer and financial support!
    http://give.cru.org/give/View/0659762?pp=

    thanks for the comments and/or support!

    Comment by dustincurtiss | Sunday, August 12, 2012 | Reply

  9. I’m a missionary and it is a challenge when support levels drop. We have to find ways to cut our budget, starting with ministry-related expenses first. There is only so far you can cut back. We’ve had to take salary reductions and struggle with our grocery budget as a result. Fortunately, we’ve had savings to rely on, but we’ve seen the savings drop every month.

    We know circumstances change for donors and sometimes they can’t keep commitments. It is nice to hear from a donor and be given an explanation about the circumstance. But usually no explanation is given.

    Inflation and the loss of support are the two main factors requiring us to need to raise more support every itineration cycle. It does create quite a bit of pressure.

    We trust that God will provide and are thankful for His provision. At times of desperate need, we have seen His provision and have always had a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothing. For that we are thankful.

    Comment by Michael B | Friday, December 5, 2014 | Reply


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