I start this off with a bit of fear. I want to talk about a topic that makes me feel uncomfortable, and I have little expertise when it comes to financial planning, but it is important so I’m going to push past my excuses.
Money and missionaries: do you have a plan for retirement?
Let me set this up with a bit of back ground information about me and what has both formed and informed me after working with hundreds of folks on the field. I’m going to make a list, because lists help me bring (some) structure and order to parts of life that feel large and chaotic.
- My personal financial history is that I come from a relatively stable, healthy family when it comes to money. Both of my parents are educated and successful. During my childhood my dad started a company that ended up not taking off and then had a serious disease and was unable to work for over a year. Before and after this period, he was employed as an engineer. They modeled and taught how to handle finances when you have a steady income and when curve balls get thrown.
- I had a strong sense at a young age I wasn’t going to live a “normal life” (whatever that is) and started saving for retirement at 16. Let it not be said that I don’t like to be prepared! I’ve been thinking about this subject for over thirty years.
- When I went to the field, it was after working in a public school where I had a job that included retirement benefits. At that time, I thought I was stepping out of the system for two years. I was still in my 20’s, so it didn’t seem like I was making a HUGE life decision or weighing much when it came to life decisions. I was simply, taking two years off at a time when two years wasn’t a big deal. That was 20 years ago.
Like me, you might be thinking this is only for a few years so you don’t need to factor in the idea of retirement. Or like me, your journey could evolve over time and “suddenly” it’s been nine years and you think, “Um, this might be a career. When did that happen?!” Or you might have entered the field thinking this was for the long haul.
You can see how any of those mind-sets could influence your approach to money and the long-term view.
- Coming from the west, money has been relegated to the “private” part of a person’s life. For Christians, two of the greatest areas of shame involve sex and money. We often have such shame about our finances and have no idea how to initiate talking about them, that we end up isolated and ignorant. Which, ironically, only feeds the shame. And then years pass and you might now be in an overwhelming situation.
- When it comes to missionaries, this discussion is complicated because instead of just the individual/family and an employer, there are often three parties involved.
- The individual or family
- The sending organization
- The sending church (or churches, many churches)
Who, ultimately, is responsible for thinking about your retirement? And then let’s also throw into the discussion that there are many countries represented here at A Life Overseas. Meaning we have a myriad of philosophies and government programs when it comes to retirement.
- We are Christians who do live by faith and believe in a loving God who provides. Money is not to be our idol, source of security, or source of identify. (But I would also say, neither is ignorance to be our idol, that’s why I want to talk about this.)
- Though I could share many stories, I’ll share two here. I don’t want us to be so theoretical we miss that we are talking about real people. People like you or me.
First story involves a family of six. A surprise came up with their visa and they needed to pay an additional $50 for five of the family members. When I called to tell them, they freaked out. F.R.E.A.K.E.D. O.U.T. I get that money stuff can be stressful. As I brainstormed with them about the situation, it turns out they had $18 USD in their bank account.
And then it was my turn to F.R.E.A.K. out! Because we so rarely talk about finances, I assumed that others would have enough of a cushion in case of an emergency. Six people on the field with access to eighteen dollars. People, this is not good.
My second story involves a friend who is a mission’s pastor. Because the church had not historically had plans for retirement they have several people who need to retire now, but can’t afford to. One situation involves a man with dementia. I do not know him, so the picture in my head is purely of my own making. Can’t you see him? Doesn’t your heart go out to this man who has worked faithfully his whole life? But without much provision for this later state?
I am hoping this post is just the start of the conversation. I don’t want to stir up fear or undue concern, but to help bring this area a bit more into the light.
- When you think about preparing for retirement, do you have a plan?
- Who do you feel is ultimately responsible for your retirement plan? You, your organization, your sending churches, or your government? Have you talked with each of these players and asked their philosophy on their role?
- What is your organization doing well in this area? What is/are your sending church/churches doing well in this area?
- What do you wish your sending organization or church would do differently?
- How have you seen God provide for you thus far in your experience on the field? How does this foster hope when it comes to your finances long-term?