I thought I would share some thoughts with you all about a major dilemma that I believe faces many missionaries.
How do we we view our supporters?
Why am I thinking about this question – well I have been listening recently to some discussions in my world about the support-raising process and I have sometimes felt quite uncomfortable with certain views expressed.
Without judging these conversations there are a few basic views of ‘supporters’
1. cash cows
and there are probably other views as well which I may not have heard expressed!
The first view is one which is not of course expressed as baldly and crudely as I have described it – that would not be very missiionary like behaviour now would it!! However it is expressed in the how we talk about treating those who support. When we as missionaries write newsletters etc to keep people informed of what is happening in our lives some of the language that is used and the details which are included can be (even unwittingly) designed to elicit more cash from the cow.
Of course when we return ‘home’ we will meet with supporters and even in the way in which we approach this meeting we can be expressing this viewpoint – for instance I have a clear ‘pitch’ to say to each of those whom I meet and I choose my words carefully in order to get the best effect – i.e. more cash!!
Now don’t get me wrong here – I am not suggesting that most missionaries would knowingly engage in this behaviour, however it can be very easy to be under pressure of thinking I need my budget to go up or I cannot do what God has asked me to do without more cash and in so thinking unwittingly mould my meeting to squeeze the most out of it. This view can also be seen in the manner in which we meet people – a more cold, business-like meeting which tends to be short and sharp for which we often make the excuse of ‘not wanting to waste’ people’s precious time’ when in fact it can be our excuse for trying to milk as many cash cows in a short space of time that we can!
Now the second viewpoint is that of ‘investors’. Slightly more complex in some ways – this can be that we relate to people as investors in the work and so as most investors in a financial venture would be viewed we know we need to show results for the investment -‘ yield’ if you like. Now I am not at all against accountability and looking for results and outcomes from investment of time and money, however it can easily tend to exaggeration of what has been happening in a sometimes stagnant mission field. Perhaps for many months we have been walking in a valley of darkness in our personal lives or even just that the Lord is moving in ways that are not obviously visible and therefore not easy to show to those who are not there or do not know the context of our work. The idea of ‘investors’ though also renders a more positive view of that of people who are investing in the Kingdom of God and its expansion and who know that this investment is one which has definite rewards which they will not see here but in eternity. When I think of this it makes me much more I liberated to share what is happening in God’s mission where I am.
The final viewpoint I have heard discussed in recent times is that of ‘co-workers’ and it is one which I find myself more drawn towards as not only does it appear to me to have more resonance with the New Testament, but it also reflects the likely fact that many (if not all) of those who support God’s work and people will also be engaged to some degree in prayer support. This is something which lifts my soul as I know that although in the frontline of the physicaI human battle it may appear as though the forces of the enemy hold sway – the reality of the spiritual battle being fought by these co-workers in prayer is that the victory is the Lord’s.
This viewpoint of co-workers has other implications for missionaries – when I return home or send Newsletters or updates I want to share the challenges as well as the triumphs as I now that these are fellow combatants in the spiritual battle which continues in the heavenly realms. I will want to spend time with thme and will be willing them to ask difficult and even challenging questions, to suggest new strategies for the work, even perhaps suggest joining with me in the work for a short or even better a longer commitment.
I know that the Lords calls and the Lord provides. This is my experience and it is also my belief. I do however see that the enemy will try to get me to view my brothers and sisters in the work through a lens which is distorted and this will tend me toward being less than honest with them. In times when financially we all face challenges we must look to Him who is our Great Provider and not look to our own understanding and cunningness.
This is battle which I believe every missionary who believes that by faith God will provide through His people lives with every time Ithey send a newsleter or prayer request home and especially every time it looks like the support level has fallen by a significant percentage. I am asking God to protect me from these tendencies and I am also looking to those of you who support Rose and I in the work here to challenge us if we should appear to be moving more towards either option 1 or even parts of option 2. You are our corrective lenses and we trust that you wll do your work gladly.