When missionaries ask for money
Do we really understand and support missionaries? I’ve been thinking about this lately, after reading the post of a friend. She received a support letter from a missionary and felt like she was being used, because they had not had a meaningful conversation recently.
Having been a missionary for nearly 10 years, and raising my own financial support, this comment made me think about how we view people in need, and in particular missionaries.
I believe that every Christ-follower is called to missions. None of us get a free pass on helping the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, binding up the broken-hearted and setting captives free. Our spiritual DNA as believers is no longer ours; we are called into the good kingdom work of Jesus. How we do missions is set for us in the word of God. If we have handed over our lives, and we believe that everything in our life is worship to the Lord, then this should be easy, right?
For most people, this call to mission is their life in the marketplace. They get a job and work diligently there, seeking to be used by the Lord however he pleases. Years move by and sponsoring a child orphan, supporting a local mission, tithing and saving for future retirement seem like great goals. Then out of the blue you get that letter. You know, the one from a long-time friend whom you haven’t heard from in a while. They write a great descriptive letter explaining how God has called them to be a full-time missionary and could you keep them in your prayers. It doesn’t stop there; they ask if you could prayerfully consider how you could support them financially. I know these letters so well, as I wrote quite a few.
Before you respond or don’t respond, I want to share a little of what it feels like to write a letter like this. For me, it took hours to complete my “support letter.” I knew that I had limited space. I wanted to be as precise as possible in order to convey the heart of the ministry. Sharing highlights that would ignite a sense of intrigue and allow the reader to catch a vision of the important work being done. I also wanted to share personal information so you could get a glimpse into my family life. I sought to be open and transparent, giving my contacts insight into our life and how to pray for us. I shared financial needs as well. Then we’d spend a few evenings stuffing and addressing the envelopes, and send them off in hopes I would get a response.
I am thankful for the few people who responded. I had a core group of people who would send me encouraging words, cards expressing their thanks for the work I was doing and sometimes an extra financial gift that went toward my support.
But for the most part, I’d hear from very few people. I wondered what people thought about my newsletter. Did they throw it out without even reading? Did they think that I was just using them because we hadn’t had a meaningful conversation lately? I tried my best to stay connected with my donors, but to have a meaningful conversation with over 200 people takes time. That’s why I would share so intimately in my newsletters, because I knew I couldn’t have a sit-down coffee with each and every person on my mailing list, even though that would have been great. I took risks sending my newsletter off to people I knew, knowing that I might get a response that was far from gracious. And some responses did leave me feeling like someone had kicked me in the gut: “Get a real job!”, “My kids worked hard and have great work ethic; they don’t ask for handouts!”
So next time you get that letter, think about the person sending it. Think of the risk they took to send it to you, and the gift of who they are to you and you to them. Before throwing away the letter or quickly believing the worst in them, think about responding in a way that encourages and builds them up in their faith. Believe me, they need it more than you think.