Tag Archives: raising support

Why in the world…

People sometimes want to know what it is like to live on the full-time financial support of others.  Isn’t there a better way?  Grants, say, or the insurance payout from accidental dismemberment?  The very idea of raising support gives most people the heebie-jeebies, and when one’s son or daughter is contemplating a life of service, and therefore, support-raising, many a parent would rather lock said child into a padded cell than allow them to embark down that trail.

Michael and I have been support-raising missionaries for over 17 years now, altogether.  We’ve laid bare our finances before lots of curious eyes, fielded questions about how we spend our money, prayed in earnest when the account was drooping low, whooped with joy when unexpected gifts arrive.  We’ve watched with a hint of envy when our friends have been given raises and promotions and blushed with embarrassed gratitude when large gifts have been dropped in our laps.  And this week, as has happened many times before, we have cheered on friends who’ve given up lucrative careers to do the same.

Why in the wide world would any able-bodied, reasonably intelligent human being determine to pursue a career requiring such a humbling posture of need?

Well, I’ll tell you.

fontcandy-2First of all, nobody ought to do such a thing unless pretty darn sure of calling.  If you’re kind of on the fence about missions, or you know, you’d just as soon be a dentist, you might want to head that way.  But if you are pretty clear that you’re setting off to follow God down this counter-cultural bunny trail, even if you don’t happen to know where He’s going, you’re in good hands.  The God who’s called “Jehovah Jireh,” the God who provides, is not pulling a fast one on you.

Some of the best stories on this score come from George Müller, a Prussian fellow whose family pretty much thought he was cracked.  But Müller was listening to a voice his respectable father couldn’t hear, and in spite of opposition, went on to found 117 schools and take care of over 10,000 orphans.  His story is fantastic, especially the times (and there were many) that he blithely set out to do something completely impossible and God came through in the eleventh hour with exactly — I mean exactly — the right amount of money to carry it off.  My favorite is the time he’d run out of money and food with 300 hungry orphans to feed.  What would you do?  He seated everyone around the breakfast table and thanked God for the food.  (There was none.)  Just then a baker showed up and offered fresh bread for everyone.  “God told me to,” he explained.  A few moments later there was another knock; a milk truck had broken down outside and the milkman had to get rid of 10 large cans full of milk before it spoiled.  Just enough, of course, for 300 kids.

So if you have to raise support because you feel like God’s called you to, that ought to be reason enough to do so fearlessly.  But once you’re out there doing it, there are lots of reasons it’s not so bad.  Heck, it’s even pretty great.  Top of the list?  Kindness.

fontcandyHaving a cadre of dozens and dozens of families who love you and pray for you on a regular basis is better than winning any lottery in the world.  It’s magical.  It’s beautiful.  There is a kind of love lavished and heaped on us that could crack your heart in pieces.  And the absolute ravishing power of prayer, hundreds of prayers, lifted on our behalf, is an amazing thing to feel.  No doubt those prayers have done more to advance the gospel and shine the love of Christ than all of the outreaches and services and good deeds we’ve ever done, multiplied 100 times over.  I cannot imagine embarking in missions without our prayer team standing behind us.  I think if we were offered a full and easy salary we didn’t have to raise, but at the forfeiture of our prayer team, I’d have to turn it down.

Our supporters put hands and feet on the grace of God and pass it on so very tangibly that it never cUnknown-1eases to astonish us.  We know down to our DNA that we don’t deserve this grace or do a thing to earn it; it is heaped up, pressed down, and running over, simply because our God is so, so good.

It’s no small thing to support a missionary, either in prayer or by check or charge.  So for all of you supporters out there, know that every time you lift up a missionary family before you pass the peas, every time you stamp an encouraging note and drop it in the box, every time you count the cost of another dinner out you’re passing up in order to give, you’re actually enfleshing an answer to prayer.  You are God’s beautiful gift to us.

Thank you.

The Toilet and the Teabag

My husband and I have had the dubious privilege of living entirely on a missionary’s salary our whole married life, indeed, since before we were married. We began our lives together by spending two months in training, then four months more raising support. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about our supporters as we look back on a year of gifts, receive daily extravagant offers of kindness. I have often said that every Christian should do a stint of support-raising at least once in life. Here are a few of the benefits:

One. It becomes abundantly clear to missionaries that God is the supplier of every good thing in life. God puts it on the hearts of lonely widows to send in $10 a month. God puts it on the hearts of wealthy families to donate a car. Perhaps it is tough to remember that your paycheck is a gift of God when it has been issued by a corporation; it is not hard at all when it comes accompanied by letters expressing love and sacrifice. We have been the recipients of money saved up by elementary school children, cancer patients, and one billionaire we’ve never met. God has answered many desperate prayers when times were tight. Once, we didn’t have enough money to buy groceries. A friend appeared on the front porch with a bag of onions and beans. Dinner. Three times our car has died and been immediately replaced by the generosity of our supporters.

Our first home was a ramshackle hovel built 100 years earlier. It crouched in a seedy part of town, slowly disintegrating, before we bought it. The toilet had been leaking so long that when we ripped up the linoleum we discovered the floor rotted right through. How did we not crash to the basement? For a month, we had no toilet, and had to walk to the inner city office where we worked to go to the bathroom. Our front porch was literally falling off of the house. After we moved in, the insurance company announced they’d changed their minds about insuring us, due possibly to the porch, perhaps the crumbling foundation, maybe just the fear of the insurance agent as he drove through our neighborhood.

For a long time, I did not lose heart. We spent our date nights at Home Depot. We dreamed. But when our first son was on the way, my enthusiasm dampened a bit. How could I set a baby on that disgusting floor? We couldn’t seem to get rid of the mice. I began to pray, earnestly, for carpet. There was no money left for carpet; the money had gone to fix the toilet and the porch.

A toilet with the potentially dangerous arrang...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Sunday school class in North Carolina heard about our house and sailed to the rescue. They raised $10,000, gathered a team of eager friends, and flew to Denver. Carpet was not on the agenda. They repaired our back fence, re-tiled our bathroom, painted the whole interior of the house. They brought in beautiful Spanish tile for the kitchen, donated by a contractor. They ate lunches with us on our sagging porch, laughed with us, prayed for us. They met one of our homeless friends, moved to tears when he played the guitar for them: “Shout to the Lord,” and “Amazing Grace.” And as they left, they handed us a check. For carpet, they said. They thought we might want some.

The generosity of others has taught us the exceeding value of generosity. Having received, how can we not freely give?

Two. Living on full-time support makes you very aware of how you spend money. It is, after all, God’s money, given in the form of George and Hazel’s tithe. What kind of car should we buy? Well, what kind of car would Jesus drive? I have no idea. But I suspect he would be cautious about dropping a year’s salary lightly, especially if the choice is between luxury or feeding a town for a year.

And yet. Living on the good graces of other people also puts you in the glare of uncomfortable scrutiny. Is it OK to wear a fancy brand if you bought it at Goodwill? Is it all right to eat dinner out at a nice restaurant when you are weary and need to connect with your spouse? Is it better to save carefully for college and retirement so that we won’t have to come round, hat in hand, once again, or better to raise less support now and figure out these little bugaboos later?

I bring this up because part of giving generously is letting go of the gift. The gift is grace, unearned. And part of living on grace is learning to set wise boundaries and reasonable budgets and let go of guilt. God gives and God takes away, blessed be his name. His gifts come with no strings attached.

And so, three. Living on support taught us to freely give.

A tea bag being removed from a cup of tea
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a long-circulated story about a missionary overseas who received a box of used teabags in the mail. “We didn’t want to throw them away when we knew you’d be thankful for any tea at all,” said the givers. Really? Is that giving generously? Are these the acceptable extravagances for one in Christ’s service? Used tea bags, maybe a nibbled biscuit?

Giving generously, in the way that will add to your joy in life, means daydreaming before you give. What is the one gift that would make someone smile? How could I go a little further, dig a little deeper? What would delight my friend?

On a trip to Cameroon, in West Africa, my husband was greeted like a king. Everywhere he ventured, the impoverished villagers went all out to make him feel appreciated. Women would spend an entire day scraping out the meat of tiny seeds, mixing them with ground up fish –bones and all — and serving this delicacy with wide grins to the important foreigner at their table. We sophisticated Westerners do not know how to give.

What if you set out today to knock someone’s socks off, to bowl someone over? Would you crouch behind the bushes for a chance to see their face, all astonishment? Would you cherish the memory of the day you felt grace flow through you? What if you changed your giving strategy, relied less on formulas and percents and more on the Spirit, the sudden impulse of love? What if you did not automatically write a monthly check in one lump to your church, but split it around, joined the support team of a missionary or two, began to pray for them daily, began to share their joys and sorrows? What if you made a goal to flip your tithe upside down, to give 90% and live on 10? Would God provide for you? Doesn’t He now?

Giving generously is not an ethic you can work toward, it is a mentality that all is God’s; we are not meant to be a dammed pond but a river of grace.

We live simply; we give freely. While we are free to enjoy extravagances, the joy comes not from the pampering but from the taste of God’s grace, the reverberating hum, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” We can as easily find joy in a butterfly on the window sill as a Monet on the wall, as easily find entertainment sharing tacos with a few friends as buying tickets to a Broadway show. When the crazy gifts come, the key to the cabin, the time share in Cancun, we can be blown away, we can say thank you. When we have the opportunity to sell our old paperbacks and unused appliances, purchase a cow for some starving village, we can be blown away again — I get to give grace!

We say thank you.