Why missionaries keep asking you for money and what it’s like on the other side.
This is Part Two of a 2-part post. To read Part One click here.
Round Two: Repeat Naïveté
I landed back in Canada in July after almost a whole year in Asia only to begin a six-week mad dash to raise full support again. The year away must have erased some of the realities of raising support from my memory because I snapped right back into the unfounded optimism I had at first. I needed about $30,000 for the coming year—the budget for a national internship turned out to be just over half of the overseas internship. “If even 60-75% of my supporters stay on my team, I’ll easily have all the support I need,” I thought to myself.
In my email updates, from January until July I had repeatedly shared that I would be continuing in ministry as a national intern. I even encouraged everyone to continue their giving the coming year. When I actually began the process of reconnecting with all my supporters, I found that people were much less excited to give to a local mission compared to overseas missions. Even though I would still be reaching out to the same group (overseas Asians in their homeland, then Asian nationals in Canada), people did not seem to see as of similar value. Many times I was told, “No, I want to give to overseas mission work.” Although I understood the sentiment, I was admittedly disappointed.
As a result, I had a lot of difficulty in raising the full amount in the six weeks I was supposed to, or even with an additional two weeks before the beginning of the mission term. I was held back another 2-3 weeks after the term began and went unto the field slightly underfunded. Again, there was a sense of disappointment that God’s provision did not come quickly, amply, and abundantly as I had so hoped—if the first time was so difficult, God may just grace me with a smoother ride the second time, right? No so. Even so, He did provide all I needed.
Even though raising support has proved so difficult, the mission is worth it. It has been my privilege and joy to serve and nothing short of this that could have induced me to sign up for this full time. I decided to become a long-term staff with a ministry organization, which mean that relying on the support of others is now necessary for my livelihood. This will be an ongoing part of my life from now on. So, again, I have been required to raise support—this time with a need for monthly, ongoing support—so that I can report to my ministry assignment and stay there for the long haul. In the future, I’ll only be spending a few weeks each year to make up for lost support.
I began raising support for this long-term position in May 2018. I’m writing all this at the end of a long year of raising support as my full-time job. I’m drawing near to being 100% supported. I can’t believe it—both that I’m nearly done and that it has been a whole year (and I survived it!). It is hard to summarize these days, weeks, and months of… of what? Of uncertainty, discouragement, encouragement, peace, gratitude, bitterness, exhaustion, hopefulness… so much happens over the course of the year as I’ve both worked hard and waited on God.
Again, I was hoping for a much faster process. But as I reflect on the year and consider where I’m at now, I’m okay with it. I’m so thankful for God’s provision and everything I’ve learned through this long stretch of raising support. I really can’t summarize the year and I won’t attempt to do so in this post, but I want to share just a few more things that happened along the way.
Emotional Roller Coaster
If you’ve been able to track with this on a heart level, you may have been able to gather that beyond the numbers and the process there is also an emotional toll. Let me be transparent with you on a few things that have hit me in the process.
Effort ≠ Results
Right from the start, one of the most stressful aspects of raising support is having a goal that I can’t meet. What I mean by this is that though I have worked together with a coach to craft a plan to raise all my needed funds within a certain timeline, I have little to no control over the results. I can pray, then faithfully and effectively carry out each of my responsibilities. However, unlike most other jobs, the effort I put in does not necessarily equal measurable results. Hitting “quotas” is really important in the Western workplace as it as seen as productivity, competence, and success.
For example, if my total need is $4000 in monthly support, my goal could be to gain $200/month in new support each week. Math this out and it means I’ll be done in a mere 20 weeks! I could work really hard for three weeks and see a grand total of $150/month in support come in: this would be very discouraging and make me feel like I have failed. Or perhaps in those same three weeks, I could have been a bit distracted and a little lazy and gain $700/month in support: despite my lack of effort, it looks like I’ve done a good job. I don’t condone the lackadaisical approach, but what I’m saying is that because there are multiple factors I can’t control in the process the progress I make is not directly related to my effort or lack thereof (which is difficult to come to terms with).
I can’t control whether people pick up their phone or reply to my email. I can’t make anyone agree to meet with me. Even if I give a compelling presentation, people may not donate. And even when someone does commit financially, they determine the amount. I need to be faithful to do everything to the best of my abilities, but so much of the outcome is out of my hands. God is ultimately the one directing the process and providing the financial and prayer supporters I need. This is so important to keep in perspective. Even so, week after week I am reminded of these “goals” that I am meeting or not meeting. I meet or surpass my goal—I am elated. Weeks drag on and there is barely any progress—I am desolate. The daily ups and downs of being encouraged and rejected—it is a lot to process emotionally. It takes time to balance out the emotions that come with the experience.
Give Me Grace
The second year of raising support, I became quite frustrated with how others were responding to me. Even though I felt that I was as friendly, cordial, honest, patient, and easygoing as I could be when reaching out to people, I didn’t always get that kind of response back. I was prepared for “rejection”—people saying “no” to my requests, that was only to be expected and I could handle that. But often I felt as if I were being avoided or ignored. It is hard to discern someone’s motivation for failing to reply to a call or message, but I was experiencing that with around 200 people all at the same time. There were even a few people who cut me off (blocked me on Facebook, etc.). I felt that I was being dealt with ungraciously. It hurt—I was confused and felt wronged—how could fellow Christians be so unkind? I’ve since learned that this is not an uncommon experience among full-time ministry workers who have had to raise support.
Another ongoing challenge is being misunderstood. As mentioned, at the beginning of raising support I read a book and underwent training. So—for better or for worse—I was asked to conduct the process and the presentations in a certain way. Unfortunately, because the average person has not experienced being on this side of it (asking for support) there is a lack of understanding. In part, that’s why I wrote this: I hope sharing my experience will illuminate this a bit. The lack of understanding leads to a lot of questions. (I’ve attempted to answer many of those in another post: **Missions and Money: FAQ About Fundraising**—Coming Soon)
Sometimes the questions were sincere attempts to understand. Sometimes the questions were veiled judgment, for example, “Why are you asking people to donate?”=”You should not ask for donations like that, you should just pray.” Sometimes people would come right out and say something like: “I don’t like how missionaries fundraise.” (We don’t always love it either, but it’s part of the job.) Sometimes (as mentioned earlier) people would misunderstand and outright refuse to engage. These things left me feeling misunderstood and hurt. So as I wrap up, I want to explain all this a little.
The Heart Behind it All
Instead of giving reasons for why the process is like this or that or why it’s good or not, I want to get to the heart behind it. We (missionaries and ministry workers) do support raising because we care deeply. We care deeply about the work God has called us to, the mission we are engaged in, and the people we are bringing the gospel to. I’ve never heard of anyone who went into ministry because they enjoy support raising; rather despite mixed feelings about support raising, they are willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field and carry out the mission because they believe it is worth it.
Inviting you to be part of that is not supposed to be a money grab. Yes, we need the funding to be on the field but it’s about so much more than the cash. When you support a missionary—through prayer or finances or both—you are investing in the mission. You get to “vicariously” and really be part of what God is doing all around our country and world. If I don’t ask you to join my support team, I’m actually depriving you the opportunity and privilege of getting in on that. If I shy away from inviting, you miss out. You miss out on new beginnings, stories of changed lives, and celebrating how God is working through us, together.
You also miss out on the “Return on Investment.” In Philippians 4, Paul thanks the church for their financial support and talks about this “ROI” that givers can expect.
Thanks for Their Gifts
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul is clear. He does not merely ask for their support because he is in need (v. 11). He gives the reason in verse 17: “Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.” Let me be clear: this is not prosperity gospel preaching. He is not saying “if you give God $100, He’ll bless you and you’ll get back 10x the wealth.” No. I believe what Paul is referring to is that more will be credited to your heavenly account. And Jesus encourages us to pursue this! He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
How can I take that away from you? I know most people don’t see it quite this way from the beginning, but I hope that this really encourages you. Join a missionary or ministry worker by investing in their ministry through prayer and support. I’m sure your involvement will be a blessing to you. And I can say with confidence that your support is a great blessing to us! If you are part of a support team, from the depths of my heart: thank you. It is you and those like you who make gospel work and global missions possible! I’m so grateful for you all.