Most missionaries (and international workers) are limited by resources. You know that if you generated more income, engaged more supporters, or hosted more volunteers, you could help more people. After all, there are enough resources in the world to end hunger, cure diseases, and put an end to poverty as we know it. So why do we still have global poverty? Before this post turns into a real downer, watch this video and know that progress is being made.
Back to our point: whether you’ve ever accepted it or not, you are limited by your ability to get others involved in your mission. There are valid exceptions, such as God intervening, but you can’t really plan for exceptions. So the question becomes, how can you effectively become a voice for the voiceless?
Focus on why, not how
There’s a concept in marketing called the Golden Circle. It explains that at our core, people care about why, more than what or how. This is contradictory to how we usually communicate. Typically, we explain what we do or how we do it much better than why. One common technique for counselors dealing with shaky marriages is to help the couple articulate why they got married in the first place. Once the “why” is figured out, the what and how take a back seat (they become no less essential, just less foundational).
When communicating with your supporters, friends, and family, make sure you give ample space for why you do what you do. In Donald Miller’s famous book, Blue Like Jazz, he explains that he didn’t really like jazz until he watched someone else enjoying it. Seeing someone else’s joy awakened an unknown urge within him to share that same joy. There’s a TED talk about the Golden Circle that I highly recommend.
Connect people to people, not programs
There’s a famous study where people were brought into a room for a survey. They were each paid $5 in one-dollar bills for participating. Before they left, each person was given an opportunity to donate their new found wealth. The first group’s presentation was based on overwhelming facts and statistics like how many people lived in dire poverty and how many children die every day. The second group was presented with an opportunity to help a little girl, Rokia, who had a name, a picture, and a story. Which group was more generous? When there is an “identifiable victim” generosity increases significantly.
It’s vital to emotionally connect people to people if you want to get their engagement. I’ve heard CEO’s, publicists, and missionaries make this mistake over and over again. We talk about our Bible studies, our faith gardens, or our sports outreach programs. Here’s a little secret; people don’t care about your programs. People care about people, so make sure you are talking about real people.
For a quick side note, this is what makes child sponsorship programs so brilliant from a marketing perspective. It’s an incredibly scalable and profitable program with clear and identifiable victims. (These relief-oriented, paternalistic sponsorship programs are problematic for various reasons, but that’s for another post.)
It’s as much a part of your ministry as praying or baptizing
Most missionaries think that corresponding with their supporters and spending time on social media is a necessary evil. This view is tragic and detrimental. The bottom line I’m trying to get across with this point is: being a voice for someone without one is straight up Biblical. Advocating for the poor might be the most important thing you do today. The reality is, with our advantaged position in the world, our highest and best use could be sharing stories and compelling people to get involved.
My brother works in a corporate office in Phoenix. He’ll probably never have the opportunity to interact with a single mother of 8 living in extreme poverty in a remote village of Nicaragua. He wants to help, he’s capable of helping, but how can he? If I don’t share the stories with my brother, I’m stealing his opportunity to fulfill his Biblical mandate as a giver and I’m preventing countless opportunities for growth all across the globe. Share opportunities on behalf of those you are trying to serve.
What kind of stories do you find easiest to tell?
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Dustin Patrick, 1MISSION in Mexico & Central America