The Missionary’s Biggest Secret

This post goes out to all my friends who are working out their callings on a mission field.  Some of them are teachers, some are preachers, some are doctors, and some are house parents.  Some of them are posted in America, some of them are posted abroad.  Some of them are on college campuses, others in rural third world countries, some in urban America, and others in developed countries.  Regardless of their station, this one goes out those missionaries who raise support for their salary.

I’m about to share a secret that most missionaries won’t talk about: Support raising sucks!

I haven’t met a soul in all my life who enjoyed asking friends, family, and perfect strangers to contribute to their paycheck.  I’ve met a few people who are good at fundraising for a cause; who can earn millions for an organization they believe in.  But those people are raising money for a cause or for others’ salaries, not their own.

The people I know who raise support feel called to something that requires them to raise their salary.  I’m 99% sure that if those people could earn a paycheck the old fashioned, conventional way, while working for their cause, they would.  The people I know who raise support believe more in the cause than the security of a consistent paycheck.  So they sign on to raise their support with total fear and trembling.

They sign on to their income being at the mercy of the generosity of others.

They sign on to having awkward conversations, where they get sweaty pits, have to take big gulps, and fight the urge to nervous-barf when they ask friends and family to support them and their cause financially.

They sign on to writing weird letters a few times a year, justifying their continued plea for support by proving the effectiveness of their work toward a cause.

They sign on to crying over their budget and praying like crazy when support doesn’t come in like they had hoped.  They question if they heard God right and if they were really called to this cause in the first place.  They think about the catch phrases they’ve heard like “Where He guides, He provides” and wonder, if He’s guiding, why isn’t he providing?

They sign onto battling jealousy and judgmentalism when they see friends living the American Dream when they are living in the midst of poverty and more often, living in poverty themselves.  They sign onto assuming best intentions when the very friends who declined support because “money was tight” have just posted pictures on facebook from a tropical vacation.

They sign on to feeling vulnerable around those who do support them, and even more vulnerable around those who they have met with or sent letters to, who have avoided the topic since.

They have deep secret thoughts that they will never tell you, but in the spirit of total honesty, I will.  (Sorry missionary friends, I’m ruining this for all of us today).

Your support-raising friends wonder if:

* you get nervous when they ask you to dinner or you see their name pop up in their inbox because you’re afraid it’s a money plea and not a friendly interaction

*you feel obligated to give to their cause to show them that you support and believe in them

* you judge the necessity of giving to their support based on their fashion-sense, home accommodations, blog updates, and eating habits

I know this to be true on a very personal level and I know this to be true because I have a lot of missionary friends.  I’m telling you this on behalf of your friends who feel too awkward to bare it all and are fearful that honesty will impact their support.  I wanted to be honest, so that you can be a good friend to your support raising friend.

Here’s what I think your missionary friend needs from you:

1.  Your friendship: Your unawkward, totally honest friendship.  Above financial support, your friend still needs your emotional support.  If you weren’t able to or chose not to support him or her financially your friend still loves you, but he/she may feel awkward around you.  Act normal and your friend will, too.  If you chose to support your friend, keep acting normal too.  Don’t let money get in the way of a good friendship.

2.  Your concern: Ask you friend how support raising is going.  80% of us support-raisers won’t see that as an open door to do an “ask” for money.  (And just tell the other 20% to bug off.  We all get desperate and make mistakes).  Money is such a taboo conversation in America, so it feels weird to bring it up, but the truth is; raising support takes an emotional toll.  Your missionary friend will really appreciate you asking how it’s going and asking how it’s affecting their head and heart.

3.  Your validation: There are a lot of skeptics in the world, and there are a lot of skeptics about modern-day missions.  A lot of mission organizations are re-programming, re-configuring, and re-structuring to be evidence-based, community developers.  But there are still a lot of biases about the need for missionaries and the need for support-raising missionaries.  Get to know what your friend’s organization is doing, and validate your friend’s work.  You don’t have to invest in them financially to invest emotionally in their cause.

4.  Your understanding: Missionaries feel like weirdos a lot of the time.  Whether stationed in a third world country or a college campus or an American inner city, missionaries have seen some things and lived some things, and they feel out of place in typical American culture.  You know that feeling you had when you got back from your first mission trip, and you hated all your nice clothes, and you vowed to never eat out again, and you pondered selling everything because your excess made you feel sick and uneasy?  Most of the missionaries I know feel that tension all the time.  When they come home on furlough or hang out with you on a weekend, just understand that they might act weird at times.  They hopefully aren’t judging you, but don’t be offended if they decline a spa day or shopping trip; they may not feel comfortable with the idea, or they may not have the funds.  Just understanding that your lives are different but that you love one another makes friendships work.

5.  Your money (Gulp): well, maybe your money… I had to bring it up, it’s the elephant in the blog.  Your friend sent you a letter or had dinner with you at some point, so it’s very possible she/he were hoping you’d give.  I’m not saying you have to in order to be a good friend, but I am proposing that you at least think about it and pray about it.  Even if you don’t have a felt passion for their cause or their location, you have a passion for them, right?.  Charitable donations have taken a real hit with our current economy, and missionaries have been affected by that.  Pray about giving up a cup of coffee a week or a dinner out a month and use that toward supporting a friend.

Support-raising friends, what did I miss, what do you need from your friends?

Friends, what has your experience been with those who raise support?  What can your missionary friends do to make friendships work?

9 thoughts on “The Missionary’s Biggest Secret

  1. Allison, I really enjoyed this post since I just finished raising the rest of my support to leave for the mission field again. What I’ve loved about raising support this time has been watching God provide, even when I really didn’t think that He would.

    “you judge the necessity of giving to their support based on their fashion-sense, home accommodations, blog updates, and eating habits” – I often wonder what people think about what I wear or write about or if they think I travel to fun places too much or ___________. It’s crazy, but we really do think these things. Thanks for taking time to write this because it’s true raising support isn’t fun.

    1. Thanks for wagering in, Laura. Support-raising is a crazy-making mind game if we allow it to be. Thank you for bribing up the important point, though, that there is a deep joy in watching God provide! Hope your next adventure is amazing!

  2. Good post, Allie…that about covers it! 🙂 Although I would also add the dread of writing newsletters, and always worrying that when I’m late on newsletters (which is always), I’m going to lose support (which does happen sometimes, I think because people forget!)…

    1. Thanks for wagering in, Bex! Oh the dreaded newsletters. Thanks for bringing those up. To be honest, we’re fortunate that we don’t have to write those, so I completely forgot. Good one (and bad one all at the same time)

  3. As former funraiser and current fundgiver I must say, spot on. Honestly, its convicting now because there are folks I want to give to or give more to and I just keep forgetting or dont make it a priority. For instance, it took like 6 months from us saying yes to yall to actually doing anything about it. We lived on the generosity of others for so long…cant believe i was so lazy in taking care of you and Adam.
    As always, great conversation starter Allison!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Christian. This post wasn’t mean to be manipulative or guilt-inducing, hope that didn’t come out! I’m glad it was a reminder tho. Thanks for the feedback and dialogue. We are so grateful for your emotional, spiritual, and financial support. You have been so loving and understanding as we have been in this season. So grateful for you both!

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