If you’re just joining us, the first post in this series was up yesterday. You can read it HERE.
Today I want to talk about something that’s a little touchy for some, whether it’s the actual missionary or those that support missionaries, and that’s the whole issue of raising support. This post is meant mostly for those that identify with the traditional style of missions where the Church is responsible for sending and the missionary is responsible for going so I’ll be using a lot of church related language in here. Just wanted to share that in case that isn’t your background.
I get it, talking about money and personal needs is a touchy thing and in some cases even socially taboo. But I have to ask the question – is that Biblical?
I’ve lost track of how often we’ve encountered people here in what would be a missions sense, who tell us that they haven’t actively raised their own financial support. In most of those cases they are living off of some sort of savings. When I ask about it the usual response is, “I just don’t feel comfortable asking people for money.”
I completely get that.
And, please know that anything I say in here is in no way meant to be criticism or judgement, but rather asking questions and getting all of us to think about this thing called missions and support – on both sides of the coin, as the goer and as the sender.
If we go to the Bible we see story after story of people like Paul who went to share the gospel, and relied on the local church to provide for their needs. God told them to go, and they trusted that he would care for them in all ways.
Remember that at the time the local church was a relatively new thing. Christians were persecuted to the point of death. And yet, they still chose to actively care for those that God had called into full time ministry.
I think one of the major downsides of coming from a culture where we have so much and access to so much is that we’ve lost the beautiful ability to fully trust God for our needs. Here in Haiti people literally survive day to day, and the sense of peace that so many exhibit is humbling. Often when you ask questions people will talk about their belief that Bondye konenn – God knows. He knows their needs and he will provide. These are not the kind of things that we might call a need back home, these are real life or death, daily survival type needs.
Our access to anything we want, at literally any time of day is crazy. Seriously. You think, “Hey, I need lettuce” and you can go to the grocery store at 1 am and buy lettuce. You can buy gas round the clock and you can go out for a meal at any time of day that you desire. We don’t have to wait for anything. Yes, many save and plan and that’s a great thing, but they don’t have limited access to those items. It’s not like in the old days where you had to order things through the catalog and wait for them to arrive.
I think this type of lifestyle has taught us how to forget to be reliant on God as our great Provider. Our culture also teaches us that independence is a quality to be admired, and that those who rely on others are weak or not responsible. Yet, when you step outside of North America there are cultures all over the world that are very communal. They rely on each other, sometimes even for meeting basic needs. There is a sense of obligation to one another and a sense of responsibility. This is just how it is. People from communal cultures often look at those of us from non-communal cultures as self-centered and they can’t understand why on earth we would want to live so much in isolation from one anther.
We all crave community to one extent or another, and that’s a good thing. It’s something that God has put in us, this need to need others. It’s funny how we drop that as soon as it comes to having our physical needs met though, isn’t it. I want community in an emotional sense, but I struggle to tell you that I might not be able to buy groceries today. When I worked at a church before coming to Haiti, we had a benevolent fund to help with community needs, and it was always so humbling to see how broken people were when they came to ask for help. Yes, some had an attitude of entitlement, but for others, it was the hardest thing they ever had to do.
But, that’s not what God wants for us, especially not when it comes to missions work. Over and over he calls us to love one another, to carry one another’s burdens, to pray, to feed, and to support each other.
And you know what, this is not just a Church problem. Nope, we missionaries are as much a part of the problem as anything. You see, if we feel uncomfortable sharing what our real needs are, how can the Church be the Church and do it’s part in the going and sending relationship?
Think about that for a second.
If you’re in the role of going, I’m going to talk to you for a few minutes here…
First off, I want to ask you what you are so uncomfortable about, in this whole sharing your needs thing?
Is it that you don’t like to tell people what you need?
I get not talking about money, but that’s not an excuse. You can share what your needs are, then let people ask specific questions or just give if they feel led. You can tell people that you will have living expenses to cover without going into detail about what that looks like down to the penny.
Is it that you struggle with actually needing to rely on others?
I get that too. Like I said, we’re taught to be independent and that’s a quality that’s respected. But I challenge you. Go to your Bible and see all the instances where God called people into community with one another. He did that because that’s how he designed us and that’s his ideal for us. He wants us to need each other because through people he can love us and show us his character.
Do you feel like the things that you might feel are needs are things that might be hard to explain to those that might send you?
Yep, get this too. And I’m actually going to hold off on this for a minute or two.
Whatever your reason for not wanting to raise support I want to challenge you to look at what God has given us as the example for missions work and the role of those who go and send, and then make a firm decision.
And you know what, maybe it’s not that you don’t want to, maybe it’s that you don’t really know how.
That’s a hard one too. Missions has changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. It used to be that families would go out to the field, and they would be gone for 4 years or so then they would come home and spend a year on home assignment, during which time they spent weekend after weekend visiting church after church in the hopes of raising more interest so people would financially support the work that was happening. And, as churches, this was our model for supporting missionaries. But things look differently now. Air travel means people don’t need to be gone for years at a time without some visible presence. The technology available means we can email supporters, post updates on social media and even call friends and family for free on things like Skype. We have zero excuse for not letting people be part of what we’re doing.
It’s our role to share with people what we’re up to, and what our needs are, and it’s God’s job to get people involved in that. If we make that decision for him ahead of time by not even being willing to share what we’re doing, then I need to question if we’re truly walking in obedience. He doesn’t call us to the mission field in a vacuum. And we aren’t the ones that get to determine who plays what role in things – that’s his job.
Let’s talk practicalities, because this is important. Maybe you DO want to raise support, but you aren’t sure of how to do that. These are just some ideas based on things that I’ve found to be important over the years:
First, you need to let people know you’re going.
Lots of ways to do this. You can put messages on Facebook and other social media sites, send out group emails and basically just spread the word about what you’re doing. When I was getting ready to come to Haiti I went through my address book, my parents address book and my church directory and sent a letter to anyone that I had a personal connection with that might be interested to know what I was doing. For some, it was just letting them know because I knew they would be excited for me. Others, it was because I knew they would find ways to be actively supportive of what I was doing.
Once you decide how to tell people what you’re doing, give them a way to stay connected with you.
Getting email addresses is one of the easiest ways to stay in touch with people. When I sent out my letters I asked people to send me an email if they wanted to keep getting updates once I was here because Haiti didn’t have a mail system. When my church announced that I was leaving the staff to come to Haiti they also posted something in the bulletin letting people know how to get added to that list. By the time I came to Haiti I had several hundred people on that list because they wanted to stay up to date with what was going on for me. If that’s not encouraging I don’t know what is.
Make sure you’ve talked with the organization that you’ll be working with about all things financial.
What are you responsible for, what will they cover, how do you pay for your part of things, and most of all, can people give through their organization to get tax receipts and direct their donations for your support? If so, where do they send it, how do they address it, etc? If not, then you need to look for other options such as your own church or perhaps an umbrella organization that exists to help missionaries out in this manner. There are a lot of options, you just need to see what best fits you.
Once you know that info SHARE IT.
Remember, it’s not your job to decide who and how people will support you, it’s your job to let them know what you’re doing, and what your needs are. Most times our family doesn’t talk about exact financial needs, but just shares that we’re here in a volunteer capacity and responsible for raising our financial support for personal needs and we let people know how to give to that if they want to. And let me tell you something else, you will be surprised at who chooses to support you. The people you will least expect are sometimes the greatest supporters. If you hadn’t given them the info, you may never have known this about them :)
Make a plan of how you want to stay in touch with your support base.
This is honestly one of the most important things for so many reasons. First off, remember that people care about you and want to know how you’re doing. Second of all, if you’re in this thing for the long haul, when you get several years into it you’ll come to understand how vital these people are. These are your prayer warriors, your carers, your encouragers, the people who will help with practical things when you come home on visits, etc. Keep them in the picture, and add to them as you expand your circle.
When I first got started I would just send an email from my Outlook. When Chris and I got married we combined our send lists and it resulted in having to do batch sends over two days. About a year and a half ago we switched over to using Mail Chimp, which is free and a great way to send good looking emails and not have to do logistical gymnastics. You can include support info in the footer, so it’s there for people, and you can share your updates on your social media feeds so people who might not be on your list can read and then subscribe to your list. Great resource!
Say “Thank You”.
And by this, I mean in a personal way like a thank you card with your actual signature on it. It might be difficult to do this regularly because of logistics, but when you’re able, sending a small note to let people know that you appreciate that they’ve supported you some how makes a big difference.
Now, every missionary does all of these things differently, and I know this list isn’t exhaustive. Just a starting point, really.
If you are writing any kind of update I want to encourage you to think about making it personal. What I mean by that is remembering that your initial list will be people that are in your life in some way. Typically the people that get added are people that you’ve met at some point, in some capacity. It’s okay to be personal. In fact, people love personal. Time and time again we have people tell us that they LOVE to read our updates because they are personal. They like that it feels like having a conversation with us, that they can learn a bit about Haiti, keep up with our family and still hear about ministry stuff. I’ve read a lot of updates from other missionaries over the years and I have to agree. Basically we always try to think about what would be interesting to us and what we would connect with, and we write from that perspective.
Blogging is another great way to keep people connected. Obviously it works because you’re reading this… ;)
I do want to take a moment to talk about something that I think we, the Church, need to be thinking about when we are sending things out to supporters and when we’re receiving things from those we support. It’s this…
How do we represent the places we’re called to and the people we’re called to serve well?
In the process of telling people what we’re doing, and keeping them updated, we’re going to have countless opportunities to share about the places we come to know as home, and the people God calls us to serve. For many of us, we find ourselves in places where we’ll be serving populations that would be considered “vulnerable” Maybe it’s extreme poverty, maybe it’s complicated cultural issues or history, or really any number of things. The bottom line is that we need to handle these stories and tellings with care.
First and foremost, these are the people God has called us to love and serve.
With that in mind, we need to have a firm idea of what that love looks like and what it means to truly serve in a Godly way. As you’re reading this I bet you’re thinking that you know what that looks like already, but I can promise you that any missionary in the field has been challenged in their views and has probably changed their definitions many times.
This is where I land on things (and I’ll admit that it’s something that I feel very strongly about):
God has called me to love my neighbor as myself. That is a really loaded thing when we put it in the context of working cross culturally or with vulnerable people.
If I love my neighbor as myself it means asking if what I’m sharing with my support base is something I would want someone sharing about me, even if the subject of the story may never know. It means being very careful about the photos I share, recognizing that there are times and situations where I wouldn’t want photos of my kids shared, or things about my life that might be very personal.
Please keep tracking with me here, because I know this is touchy, but I believe that we have a HUGE responsibility in this.
We are the ones with all the power in these situations. We see what we see. We have the means to record it and tell about it. We know that sharing this info and these photos might mean more support for the work we’re called to. But, if that’s where we land, then I need to ask a question:
How big is your God?
I ask that because sometimes the stories are not ours to tell. Sometimes loving our neighbor means knowing when to respect their privacy and it absolutely means treating them the way we would want to be treated. It means being sensitive to the things they might be sensitive about and not thinking that we have the right to tell their story, even if we believe our intentions are noble and right.
If I believe I am called to the mission field (or any other kind of ministry, really) and I believe that God calls me to love my neighbor as myself, then what does that love look like?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
It doesn’t boast. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It always protects.
So, if I’m walking in obedience and loving my neighbor then I need to honor them and protect them and not boast about or do anything that is self seeking.
Sometimes the stories are not ours to tell.
I firmly believe that God wants us to serve and love the people he calls us to minister to, and for me that means being careful about the information and photos that I share. When we share things from the mission, we’ve deliberately chosen to avoid the “baby with the fly in it’s eye” type imagery because I think we can do better. It goes deep that that though…
If I truly that believe God has called me and that he will provide for me, then I shouldn’t have to rely on telling good stories and heart wrenching pictures to raise support.
It’s a faith thing. If I truly believe that God will be God and do what he promises then I shouldn’t have to rely on those pictures and stories.
I believe God honors our efforts to do better. To love better. To walk in character and integrity. We have refused large donations because of the motivation behind them, and I’ve gone head to head with organization leaders about images used in promotional materials because I know we can do better. As leaders in our organization Chris and I have chosen to put the needs of the Haitian people above the needs of any donor or what might bring in more donations. We are very selective about how we tell stories and what kind of images we use in everything we do. And I believe that God loves that. I believe that he loves that we want to do better and to love our neighbors well. I believe that because I have seen that he has continued to provide for our organization without us ever having to compromise and use the people that we’re called to serve to raise funds.
I know that’s heavy, but I think we need to talk about it. It needs to be said and we all, no matter where we fall in the going and sending spectrum, need to think about where we land on it. Part of the fuel for this problem is that we’re often so bombarded with asks and pleas for support that we wait for the things that truly tug at our hearts, and that’s often a sad story or an image.
And you know what? Shame on us.
We can do better.
This provides the perfect segue for the next post where we get to talk about the sending side of things…