"Safeties" for missionaries The most neglected missions verse in Scripture, 1 Cor. 16.2, ". . . no collections when I come."

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Your comments are invited. They will help me prepare for a second round of discussion at a congregational mission board meeting on June 2nd. Most helpful comments would be about how realistic this idea is or isn't in your situation. How likely would you or people you know be to take on the role of "safeties" (or "safety nets") as described in this concept paper?

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"No Collections When I Come"

 

The Apostle Paul went to great lengths to avoid looking like a fund-raiser. It is hard for missionaries today to look like anything else, and that is not good for anybody. We are neglecting Paul’s model and his whole mentality by failing to do anything about the now standard pattern, which looks like this:

Steve and Michelle raise support to take the gospel to a closed country in the Muslim World. After fourteen months of exhausting fund-raising work, they make it to 95% of their support target. (Their organization requires a minimum of 92% by the time they leave.)

During their first two years, two of their supporters pass away, taking them down to 91%. Then a conflict in one of their supporting churches leads to a budget crunch and they drop to 86%. The dollar loses some of its value in their country of service, and their health insurance cost rises so their target amount goes up, and 86% of the old target is only 77% of the new target. A major supporter has a bad year in his business, and they drop to 73%.

Then they come home, and their agency won’t let them return till they get back up to at least 92% of their target. That means they absolutely must tell everybody that they are at home raising funds and can’t return till they get them. They are exactly where Paul never wanted to be, and we put them there.

How did we put them there? We know that it is very difficult for missionaries to raise support while they are on the field. It takes face to face work, or so we think. But face to face work means there definitely will be “collections when I come.”

 

Paul’s model was “no collections when I come,” (1 Cor. 16.2) and he was not even raising money for himself! He was raising charitable funds to take along to Jerusalem for the poor in the Church there. (Jerusalem was relatively worse off economically than many of the coastal cities where Paul planted churches.)

 

The point is that even when Paul was raising money for other people, he deliberately and consistently avoided any hint of a fund drive. Instead, he wrote ahead to people like those in Corinth to set some money aside week by week and then just hand it over when he passed through on his way to Jerusalem. He would not make any appeals in person at the time in order to persuade the reluctant to give more. That would give an impression he was out for money, like many other traveling teachers were, and he wanted to avoid that impression at all costs.

 

What could we do to help today’s missionaries avoid giving that impression when they visit during their home leave? We could make sure that their funding is at 100% on the day they step off the plane.

 

That sounds so strange that some people might wonder whether the missionaries would come home at all. The very question shows how closely linked home leaves and support raising have become. Paul’s idea has vanished.

 

We could bring it back by putting a safety net under each missionary as follows:

  1. Each missionary identifies two or more supporters (“safeties”) who are willing to raise funds on the missionary’s behalf whenever funding drops.
  2. Each safety keeps a running list of prospects of people he/she would approach if a need came up today. That list is the starting point when a need arises.
  3. The “safeties” divide up the work and take turns so only one is raising funds at a time. For example, “I’ll pray and work to find new sources to cover the first shortfalls till the total is $200/mo., then you take the next $200, etc.” That means that different potential donors are being approached in turn, no donor feels bombarded with constant appeals, and no safety gets worn out.
  4. If after a while a safety feels he/she has exhausted his contacts, an additional safety can be recruited and/or the safeties can report their struggle to the congregational mission board for advice or help.

This process keeps funding appeals out of the prayer letters that the missionary is sending to the whole circle of friends. Or if financial need gets mentioned, it can be indirectly stated, “Please pray for our ‘safety net’ friend X, who is currently trying to find new donors to cover a shortfall in our support.” How different that sounds than, “Would you consider supporting us?”

 

The safety may, of course, involve the missionary, perhaps with a FaceTime call or Skype call when the potential supporter(s) and the safety are together. But the point is that the safety, not the missionary, is developing the strategy, making the phone calls, and doing the actual request for support, and it is not happening in a large public meeting while the missionary is on home leave and desperate for funding to go back overseas.

 

These new methods are game-changers, and they move us a long way back toward Paul’s model. That is so much healthier than what we are settling for today. Missionaries on leave would not be raising funds. They would be bringing praise to God by sharing stories of what God has done, and they would be healing and recharging for the next term.

 

Missionaries who had safeties would come dancing off the planes for home leave instead of dragging a suitcase containing the 800-pound gorilla of fundraising. That gorilla should never make the trip.

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