The Economic Crises Facing Missionaries
By Greg Mundis
I received an emotion-riddled e-mail from a missionary: “Over the past 6 months we have struggled with incredible financial need. After arriving only 18 months ago, our work account is in the red. We can barely pay our utilities and rent. The exchange rate is 2 for 1. Right now the American dollar is worth 48 cents with no change in the foreseeable future. … We’ve taken money from our personal finances the last 6 months just to survive. We cannot keep this up. Every month we go further in debt. We know God is faithful and that we are in His will, but we also know that we cannot continue to incur debt to do missions work. I do not believe God expects us to. We may need to return home.”
“The dollar is a basket case,” says Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital. “We are going to have to pay the piper for years of having the underlying fundamentals of our economy disintegrate beneath our feet.”1 The Euro has risen from 82 cents per Euro in 2000 to $1.3682 in 2007. This is a 68 percent devaluation of the American dollar.
Struggling With Economic Crisis
The missionary mentioned earlier is not the only one who is facing an economic crisis. Many missionaries serving in world-class megacities as well as missionaries serving in remote places are facing major financial challenges: budgeting, raising funds, cost of living, inflation, and devaluation of the dollar. (See sidebar World’s 25 Most Expensive Cities, 2007. Ten of the top 20 cities are in the Europe region.)
The struggle for these missionaries is not only financial, but on several other fronts as well that interrelate with finances: theology; family responsibility; calling; and the endorsement and support of their Movement, their district, and their sending churches.
The present and future economic crisis(es) reveals underlying issues that the Movement, Assemblies of God World Missions, and we as individuals in the United States do not deal with directly. Nevertheless, missionaries face these issues (consciously or subconsciously) when they experience an economic crisis. The quote at the beginning of this article reveals this dynamic tension regarding a missionary’s calling and the reality of a lack of funds.
A foreign missionary is not the only one who may face a financial crisis. A person who has lost his job, a home missionary on a limited budget, a struggling new church plant, or a church that has had a split are other examples of economic crises. The distinctive difference when a foreign missionary faces economic crisis is his environment. Economic factors such as inflation, exchange rate, and devaluation of the American dollar affect his personal finances as well as his ministry. In addition, the missionary faces the issues of theology, calling, and AG endorsement and support in a context in which other means of a steady income (outside of missionary ministry) are not an option. Financial dependency and faith is ultimately in the Lord, but in reality a missionary’s financial support comes from people and churches through monthly faith commitments and offerings.
From the time an individual seeks world missionary appointment, AGWM leadership addresses the issue of finances. AGWM does not appoint potential missionaries who have personal debt that exceeds $200 per month. AGWM also conducts a financial background check. This protocol is in place because of experiences AGWM has had in dealing with missionaries in financial crises.
At their initial orientation, AGWM trains potential missionaries in accounting and reporting. This training is re-emphasized when they attend candidate school and School of Missions. A growing realization exists that crunching numbers does not address all the issues regarding financial crisis.
The old maxims regarding how to balance one’s budget — cut expenses, increase income, or sell assets — do not always answer all of the questions in the context of meeting financial needs in spiritual ministry. Where faith, promises, life, and ministry expenses intersect, there is tension.
How can a missionary understand that God has called him, his Movement has commissioned him, his district and churches believe in him and support him, and his ministry is effective, yet he is not financially surviving? This is usually because of factors beyond the missionary’s fiscal control. We read and reflect on the stories of early missionary pioneers, both inside and outside of the AG, and wonder at God’s grace in their testimonies of His provision. These stories cause us to rejoice and encourage us. Some, however, wonder about the missionaries who came home because of financial problems and never wrote their testimony for others to read. What about them?
Coming to Terms With Economic Crisis
Where does the responsibility of the sending organization end in regard to supplying finances, and the missionary’s responsibility begin in regard to trusting God “to meet all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19)? When should the sending organization address the situation raised when a missionary is facing economic hard times? Even though the missionary has faith that God will supply his deficit spending (spending for ministry expenses that factors in the economic forces out of the missionary’s control), how long should mission leadership wait before intervening? AGWM operates within an accountability plan. AGWM is responsible and accountable to the Movement and the government for how missionaries spend the funds given to them. It would not be responsible for AGWM leadership to allow missionaries to continually go further and further into debt. This scenario can become a stressor in the relationship between the missionary and AGWM leadership.
The supporting churches and individuals share part of the tension in an economic crisis. Whereas Hudson Taylor would pray in the funds, in our 21st-century paradigm, missionaries go to their donor base and ask for more funds. Soliciting funds takes place on a cyclical basis when a missionary comes home for itineration (usually the first term is 3 years and subsequent terms are 4 years). Now with the means of communication at the world’s disposal and the inexpensive cost of calling, texting, e-mailing, skyping, or taking advantage of Vonage or some other phone service, the missionary can — at will — knock at the door of the church for financial help.
Some missionaries believe AGWM will bail them out when they get behind in their finances. Most of the funds AGWM handles, however, are designated for missionary or project accounts. AGWM has little reserve funding to bail out missionaries. In fact, if churches and individuals did not give anything for 2 months, AGWM might need to shut down. The question is: how does a church, district, or AGWM respond to a missionary in desperate financial need?
The pressure that a missionary feels in desperate economic circumstances puts his belief system to the test. Who is his provider? The missionary, as the head of his household and the provider for his family, asks, Can we borrow from personal funds and future resources to provide for the ministry need now? Do we believe God will miraculously meet our financial need? If God is not meeting the need now, is that a sign that we are out of His will? Should we press on and believe that God will supply the need down the road? Should we go into debt believing that God will supply the need later?
Dealing With Economic Crisis
Having served as missionaries in Europe for more than 17 years, my wife and I know the ups and downs of financial crisis — particularly with the rising expenses and the devaluing dollar. We have felt the pressure to continue our ministry with its expenses even though the money was not in our account. We have borrowed against our savings to finance our ministry and have often asked: Where are You, God? I offer these suggestions for dealing with economic crisis based on our practical experience, Pentecostal theology, missiology, and leadership observations.
God is our Source
Jehovah-Jireh supplies our needs. Matthew 6:33 says to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Scripture is clear that the battle is the Lord’s, and God’s gifts and callings are without repentance. The assurance of the Word of God and our faith in the unchanging character of God give us hope in spite of difficult circumstances.
Our cooperative Fellowship is our friend
Sometimes pastors and missionaries experience tension in their relationship with each other because both have financial needs. The pastor might feel the relationship exists only because the missionary has a financial need. The missionary might feel the pastor will not want to develop a relationship because the missionary, of necessity, must look for funding to sustain his ministry as a missionary. Relationships in the body of Christ, however, promote loving one another and sharing the truth in love. God has given us fellow believers for mutual edification and each has special gifts with which they bless others. Finances are secondary to trust relationships.
Missionaries are collaborators, not competitors
In the missionary family, missionaries must continue to foster a spirit of cooperation. It warms my heart to see missionaries who have funds in their account transferring money to missionaries who are in financial need. This speaks well of missionary collaboration.
Stewardship and sacrifice as well as suffering are not old-fashioned, out-of-date words
Missionaries are in for the long haul in the country of their calling. They make sacrifices. At times suffering is a present reality in a missionary family when their funds do not stretch far enough. We wish no suffering on ministers and missionaries, yet we understand that sacrifice and suffering are part of the spiritual DNA Christ has given us.
As missionaries, we do not have rights and privileges; we have obligations and opportunities
This is true of all ministers of the gospel. We surrender our rights and privileges when we say an unqualified “yes” to Jesus. We are obligated (as Paul declared) to preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. Today we have unprecedented opportunity to preach the gospel. AGWM has entered 81 new countries since 1989. Missionaries and associates have increased since the year 2000 from 2,401 to more than 2,770 in 2008. Technology has served to amplify our message through new and creative means. This means that missionaries need more funds to take advantage of what God is doing in these last days.
The career missionary on the ground is the most effective means of reaching the lost for Christ
Short-term teams, trips, in-country prayer teams, technology, and different building and creative projects are great resources for building the body of Christ. However, the most effective and beneficial resources for the Kingdom are the lifelong efforts of missionaries. They have learned the language and culture. They have built credibility with the national church and integrity with the government. They have established a continuous physical presence in the country of their calling. The growth, the trustworthiness, and authority of the Assemblies of God worldwide are because of this distinctive missiology.
District and church participation is crucial to fulfilling the Great Commission
If every district and church will teach the following principles, we can continue to support our God-given overseas mission effort: 1) support, as much as possible, the missionary from your church; 2) support every district missionary; 3) support projects from the missionaries you support — this continues to build relationships; 4) support other AG missionaries from other districts; and 5) support whosoever.
Regarding the missionary whose e-mail was mentioned at the beginning of this article, AGWM Europe and his district sent funds to help bridge the crisis. He is also raising some additional support and finding ways to cut expenses. His ministry is continuing and prospering because of the cooperation between the mission, the church, the district, and the missionary. A report from this missionary has just come in that 17 young people have accepted Christ as their Savior.
Overcoming financial crisis is extremely important in the economy of God. We need to cooperate, work hard, and depend on God for His intervention. Financial crisis in a world economic system is inevitable. As believers, we have the promise of Jesus that transcends the world system and gives us hope for the future. John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
1. International Herald Tribune, 11 July 2007.