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Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'm Not Asking

Every Christmas season, the International Mission Board launches its annual fundraising campaign, "The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering." All of the money raised through the drive goes to missions. That's the money that pays our rent and covers our ministry-related expenses. If you are Southern Baptist, I would encourage you to give generously.


The above paragraph is true. It also happens to be the only that way I, as an IMB missionary, am allowed to ask for money. The Board has clear policies against "solicitation of funds." These rules make sense for an organization that does not require its workers to raise their own support. Were we allowed to, I'm sure at least a couple of us would make a career of raising money (for ministry, of course) . This would be a distraction from church planting, to say the least, and would result in what amounts to competition between missionaries for funding. In order to avoid such chaos, I cannot, and will not, ever ask for money.

Despite the restrictions against soliciting funds, there is quite a bit of "channeled monies," and "designated offerings" floating around the mission field. I'm not insinuating any wrongdoing here. The logical limitations on my freedom to ask for money does not preclude Stateside sponsors from offering it to me. It happens quite a lot, actually. A partner church might ask, "What are some of your ministry's financial needs?" An extended family member who hasn't spoken to me in years might try to assuage his guilt for never having shown even the slightest interest in our work here might ask, "You doing okay money-wise?"

The answer is always: "If you'd like to contribute financially, I'd encourage you to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering."

But there's something more I need to say here. Something that you, dear reader, need to know: None of us are getting rich as missionaries.

The cost of living here in Wester Europe is high. Add to that what we spend on hosting parties and going out with nationals, and joining clubs/gyms. On top of all that, there's the trip back to the States every once in a while, and, well, you can imagine how difficult it can be to respond with the party line when someone offers money. Of course my Starbucks habit would love a little extra pocket change.

I'm not asking for money. I don't want it or need it. But I have a suggestion: give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and then consider paying for a missionary's family to fly to the field for a visit.

We don't get to see too much of our families while we're on the mission field. We usually chalk it up as one of those small sacrifices God has called us to. But many of my colleagues have never had their parents come to visit. There are MKs on the field who have never met their grandparents. It's expensive to fly half way around the world, so if you really want to minister to us, by our parents a plane ticket.

Think about how great an encouragement it would be for a missionary to have a church send their parents for Christmas. Consider how far such a gesture would go toward making our people on the field know they are appreciated. Sponsored family visits would help family members back home get an idea of what we're talking about when we share stories of our life here. They would be able to pray more specifically for our ministries. They would know what we go through. They would stop wasting their money sending packages of peanut butter (which, by the way, we can actually get here)! The parents and siblings of missionaries would be even better missionary advocates in our churches, and they'd be able to help our churches keep up with what's happening on the field.

We could even make it a big, shiny new denominational program. Operation: Missionary Family (or some other, pseudo-militaristic task-oriented brand name.)


Nomad said...

Thanks for posting this. We are some of those missionaries who have never even had a friend visit from the States, much less a family member. It is hard.

I know what you are talking about with "not getting rich". I see my contemporaries in the States at the height of their careers, many making 6 figures.We often depend on a cash advance just to make it to the next month. I'm not griping either. It is what I agreed to do when we came over here.

We currently live in a city where we can barely afford to go out to eat. Our utility bills and other monthly expenses eat our checking accounts up.

Our family members can't really afford to come visit either. I'm not from a rich family. They would love to come and I would love for them to. I know my kids would love it.

I like your idea of Operation: Missionary Family, as long as we don't get distracted from the Main Thing!

Anonymous said...

Do you think the IMB is in line with the New Testament model for supporting missionaries? When I read about Paul and company hiking across the land, seems like there was always a church with whom he had partnered that was there to provide encouragement, financial assistance and goodie bags. It wasn’t like the churches pooled their money and decided to whom they should send their assistance. The individual churches supported the missionaries with whom they had a relationship.

Nowadays, we ask Southern Baptists to anonymously give money to faceless missionaries they have never met nor connected with. We’ve reduced the joy of supporting overseas God-ambassadors to a business transaction between impersonal parties.

What if the IMB decided today they would no longer pay missionary salaries? Instead, they would leave it to churches to financially support the very missionaries they say they emotionally support. To a degree, it would place more responsibility on the missionary to “raise” their funds, but I think it also would eliminate some of the self-entitlement you blogged about earlier. Missionaries would answer directly to churches and hopefully would no longer think, “I deserve a better car, better home, better position” because they wouldn’t see their financial support as a business salary from the Board, but as a sacrificial gift from Grandma Jones.

Also, I think this system would eliminate some missionaries who never should have made it to the field to begin with. It’s easy for a pastor to write a recommendation for someone to service as a missionary, but a bit harder to do if the pastor knows he now will be responsible for supporting the missionary. Perhaps the opposite also would prove true: more missionaries would be freed up to serve because they no longer would be required to meet the trustees’ ever-changing criteria for service.

Just a thought …

Debbie said...

This is even more valuable coming from you as a missionary. Thank you so much for being even more explicit. I'm hoping my change jar keeps growing. :)

Watchman said...


So what you're saying is that I shouldn't send you the box of Jack Chick tracts, the 1952 Matthew Henry Complete Commentary set, and the white bed sheets torn into strips and rolled neatly into little bundles for your use as bandages?

Strider said...

I don't know who nomad is but he must live somewhere near. We do ok financially but noone from my family has ever been able to visit. Before too many people get excited about giving away their frequent flyer miles for M's families they should know it cost around $3000 per person to get to where I am round trip. Rules out any of my family and friends in a hurry. But I like your idea.
I will respond to annon's ideas though. I am not one of those who go on and on about how much better supported we are than all those ohter Ms who have to raise support and then starve their children half to death because while they are very effective on the field they don't do public speaking very well. Some M's get more than I do and some less. The finance guy at Richmond says that he is asked all the time how much we make and as long as half the people responding say we get way too much and the other half don't know how we can make it on that little then he figures we make about right. I would agree with him. But what I like about the whole situation is that money is not in the equation for us when we go back home. I can go to any church and preach my heart out and they know I am sincerely wanting them to get involved for the Kingdom's sake and not just so I can have a decent vacation this year.
We do need to personalize the work a lot more and headquarters is trying to do that. I see a lot of individual church initiatives on the field now and they are mostly welcome (some come clueless and don't want to learn but they are the minority). The 'adopt a people group' thing has largely but not entirely fizzled out. But I think the next best thing would be for groups to adopt teams and individual Ms to lift them up and partner with them. Leave the CP and Lottie Moon to cover base pay and support. But that doesn't mean that the local churches can not and should not be much more involved.

Bryan Riley said...

No more programs around the money... Let people be blessed by sacrificially giving directly to individuals they know as directed by the Holy spirit. That faith filled giving is incredible! Great post.

Growing up in SBC churches I neer once knew a missionary. Sure they occasionally came through and had a slide show, wearing a bad suit, but they never really tried to get to know anyone (except maybe the pastor). People give to the Lottie Moon and think they've done all they ever need to do. They don't even need to pray and ask God if perhaps they should do more. Sigh.

hellands said...

IMB missionaries are always known as the mercedez benz missinaries. They don't have to raise support and they get well paid. That sounds like heaven sometimes, yet I am not sure that is always so...