How to Pre-Raise Support Before You Actually Raise Support

Do you see missions in your future? Then this is for you. 

Right now, you’re just planning, and dreaming, and hoping. But one day it will finally be the right time, and you’ll find yourself filling out an application with a mission organization, packing your bags, and moving overseas.

There’s just one thing you might not be thinking about very much: Raising support. Before you can get on that plane, you’ll need to find an army of people who are willing to partner prayerfully and financially with you each month to make your missionary service possible. 

Raising support to become a missionary may just be the most challenging thing you will ever do. Trust me, raising monthly support will be a whole lot harder than raising $3000 for a short-term trip. Fundraising may require more faith on your part than even moving to a new country. But it’s necessary, and important. And guess what? There are things you can be doing, right now, to make that process much more effective when the time comes. 

So here’s my advice:

Starting now, get deeply involved in a missions-focused church. 

What do I mean by “missions-focused?” I mean a church who loves missions, and it’s obvious. They support missionaries, and they’ve got their pictures plastered in the hallway. They invite their missionaries to speak. They give regular updates on those missionaries, and pray for them often. The leadership intentionally encourages their people to consider missions (and not just for short-term trips). This is the kind of church you will need behind you when it comes time for you to raise support. If you are at a point in your life where you are looking for a new church (for example, starting college or moving to a new city), then make it a priority to choose a church that loves missions.

But what if you are deeply involved in a church that isn’t missions-focused? Should you leave and find a different church?

Not necessarily. Could you be an advocate for missions at your church? Could you meet with the leadership to discuss what a missions program would look like? Could you offer to host a Perspectives course? Could you contact your denomination to see if they offer any missions training or resources? Maybe God could use you to bring a fresh vision to your church that wasn’t there before.

And if that’s not possible, or just isn’t working? Well, I would never encourage someone to leave their church without understanding their unique circumstances, because I think it’s a big deal to leave a church. But you do need to consider how much more difficult your journey to missions will be if you don’t have your church behind you. Not only will it be significantly more challenging to raise financial support, but you will need your home church to give you spiritual, emotional, and prayer support as well. If you don’t think you’ll get that, then you should be fervently praying about your options–starting now.

What do I mean by “get deeply involved?” I mean that you need to be known at your church as someone who serves widely, frequently, and whole-heartedly. You need to take advantage of social events, men’s or women’s retreats, and church camping trips as opportunities to get to know people. Volunteer to be a greeter–that person who meets everyone at the door. You should be someone who is “always there.” Of course, I’m not encouraging you to over-stretch yourself, but your reputation should be as the one who is happy to volunteer for just about anything. Serve cheerfully, in any capacity– not just the “up front” jobs. 

When the time comes for you to talk to the missions committee about your plans to go overseas, their reaction should be “Well, it’s about time!” not “So who are you?” When your support raising coach asks you to make a list of people who know you well, the list from your church should be a mile long. It’s going to take intentionality on your part–starting now, not just when you are ready to start building your support team.

There’s a fine line here, because I don’t want to encourage you to attend the women’s retreat or volunteer in the nursery just because you’re hoping people will add you to their budget someday. You don’t want your motives to be manipulative. Hopefully, these ideas will just give you an ‘Aha!’ moment, not a guilt trip. If you find yourself resisting, you need to ask yourself, “If I’m not willing to serve here, how do I know that will change overseas?” “If it’s too much effort to build relationships here, how do I know I will be motivated to build them cross-culturally?” 

When the day comes to start humbly asking for financial and prayer support, a lot of your success will be dependent on how deeply involved you have been in your missions-focused church. Most likely, there will be a connection to how well you pre-raised support before you actually raised support.

Guiltitude: the Guilt of Having in a World of Sacrificing

by Michèle Phoenix

My pastor got a car.

His van was totaled in a wreck and, just as he and his wife were considering what it would take to finance a new vehicle, someone they know offered them a Volvo.

This past Sunday, he spoke with awe in his voice about the miraculous provision for his family. Then he emphasized that the car was well above their means and added, “I don’t want anyone to see the car and think, ‘Wow, my pastor can afford a Volvo?!’”

I turned to the friend sitting next to me and said, “I hate that he had to say that.” Then I remembered how often I’ve done something similar.

I’ve noticed the syndrome beforeI’ve lived it. And it has reached epidemic proportions in the world of missions. Even among the MKs I serve, I see it embodied every day, inherited from parents who might not have realized the lessons they were teaching.

Guiltitude [noun]

Condition in which guilt overwhelms gratitude—most commonly observed in those who are dependent on charitable giving—aggravated by fear of judgment, often resulting in calculated communication and/or conscience-stricken self-restriction. 

 

CONFESSIONS OF A GUILTITUDER
When I moved back to the States from Europe, I found my elation over God’s provision of my townhouse tempered by strong feelings of guilt.

Though I could document every miracle that had paved the way to my new home, I still struggled with the guilt of “having” when I lived in the ministry-universe of “sacrificing.” 

I wondered if guests would see my flea-market European antiques, bought for $50 but worth hundreds in the US, and question whether they’re appropriate for a missionary’s home. I found myself wanting to explain things by saying, “This was given to me by a friend” and “I bought this for next-to-nothing at a charity store in Alsace” as I gave tours of my two-story miracle.

Even today, nearly ten years later, as I look around this home and see the items contributed by the outrageous generosity of friends, I am assailed again by that uncomfortable combination of paralyzing guilt and galvanizing gratitude.

I live in the land of Guiltitude.

Guiltitude is not a uniquely Phoenix notion either. Though it doesn’t afflict all missionaries, it impacts enough of them to warrant some attention. Its symptoms are wide-ranging:

  • Missionary to Germany relinquishes the old, beat-up Mercedes he was given (for free!) by members of his local church and invests his own funds in buying a less “brand-y” car to avoid looking ostentatious.
  • Missionary to Switzerland, while interacting with his supporting church, avoids speaking of the recent purchase of expensive editing software, though much of his ministry relies on producing music and videos.
  • Missionary family scores $25 plane tickets to fly to Monaco for spring break. They post only a handful of pictures taken in the wealthy Principality, but are sure to thank the discount airline and the person who offered them cheap housing when they do. You know…just in case.

When I lived overseas, I vividly remember talking with a friend who had, for a year, bought virtually no furniture for her home. I asked her if she planned on getting a couch and kitchen table at some point, and she said, “My supporters send me money for ministry, and getting furniture is not ministry!”

Like so many others, she’d bought into something I call Donor Demand. There’s an old-school component to it. We like our missionaries to look deprived and to live without. It adds a certain nobility to the minister’s status and to the giver’s sacrifice. 

You might be amazed at the rigid (and sometimes irrelevant) standards by which the validity of a missionary’s work has been judged. Owning a Mercedes and serving in a beautiful location are just two of the numerous reasons for which devoted financial partners have been known to rethink—and sometimes withdraw—their crucial donations.

Guiltitude can be hard to diagnose, as it often masquerades as responsibility or humility. Its most obvious symptoms are:

  • Fear of having (because true ministers, by some accounts, must live in squalor)
  • Fear of doing (because some activities may be misunderstood as frivolous)
  • Fear of full reporting (because some ministry partners may misread the value and purpose of what is owned and done)

I’ve seen all three reach irrational levels in MKs who grew up in an environment where financial guilt of some sort prevailed. Even their adult relationship to money and ownership can be irreversibly skewed by the toxic influence of Guiltitude.

[Note: it goes without saying that there are instances in which missionaries truly have lived in excessive or dishonorable ways and been rightfully confronted about it.]

In my own life, I’ve found how easy it is for guilt to sneak into a spirit of gratitude. I am so grateful for God’s provision of my every practical, physical and spiritual need since I began in ministry in 1991—and for the donors whose gifts have kept me serving for these twenty-nine years!

That gratitude pushes me every day to be worthy of their sacrifice…but it also contributes to a creeping sense of guilt. How can I invest the funds I receive from supporters, who often give sacrificially, on things that are less than essential? Why should I buy a thrift store buffet or the used car of my dreams when others can make do with cardboard furniture and a 16-year old beater?

 

TREATMENT
I’m afraid I don’t know whether there’s a permanent cure for Guiltitude. Something tells me it’s a chronic disease that lurks in subconscious places. Perhaps a good place to start is for both sides (the servers and the givers) to acknowledge its existence, then treat its symptoms with a healthy dose of truthful assessment. If nothing else, this may at least mitigate Guiltitude’s damage.

May I offer a few additional suggestions? 

Missionaries:

  • Remind yourselves that you are called both to live and to serve. For most humans, living well requires rest, some level of comfort and the occasional escape. It’s okay to enjoy places, things, and activities that are financially responsible. You are not supported just to do a job, and there is growing evidence that self-care leads to greater longevity on the field of service.
  • Report clearly and intentionally, not out of guilt, but out of a desire to accurately inform those who follow your ministry.
  • Surround yourself with a smaller, understanding group of friends with whom you can share parts of your life that you don’t reveal on social media or in letters. This will keep you from feeling like you’re being deceptive. You’re just being selective.
  • Counter irrational disapproval with facts and assert truths that contradict flawed rationales.

Supporters and onlookers:

  • Understand that the occasional treat (activity, trip, unnecessary object) may actually enhance the missionary’s ministry, because it contributes to emotional and physical wellness.
  • Don’t apply to your missionaries restrictions you wouldn’t apply to yourself.
  • A poor, burned out, or suffering missionary is not more godly than a comfortable, healthy, and happy missionary.
  • Remember that the pictures you see only tell part of the story.
  • If you must speak with a missionary about what you think you’re seeing, begin by gently asking questions and truly listening with a compassionate heart.

As I sit today in my modest and comfortable home, surrounded by treasured bits and pieces of my years overseas, I am grateful for three decades of ministry rich in locations, accomplishments, and experiences. I am also aware of the challenges that come with the blessings. My commitment to myself, as I contemplate the opinions of others on what they see of my life, is to thoughtfully consider legitimate causes for concern, to adjust my choices (when appropriate) out of faithfulness to God, and to prayerfully let go of unfounded accusations—even those I inflict on myself. 

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Don’t miss the Pondering Purple podcast, available on all your streaming platforms. In each brief episode, Michèle highlights one of her most popular and helpful articles in a format you can consume on the go.

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Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions

When we’re on furlough and giving presentations about our ministry as missionaries, we always end with, “Does anyone have any questions?”

A hand goes up.  And the question is inevitable.

“How can we pray for you?”  Every. Single. Time.

Sometimes someone will ask to know more about our ministry.  Or a person we are investing in.  Or maybe, “What has God been teaching you?”

The questions, almost always, are spiritual. 

This is not a bad thing.  Of course, we’re thrilled people want to pray for us.  We are excited if they are excited about our ministry.  But do you know what we long to be asked?

The non-spiritual questions.

Sure, our ministry is extremely important to us.  But that’s only part of the picture of our lives overseas.  We moved to the other side of the world.  We landed in a country that most people only see on the news.  We had to learn new ways of shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping, educating, traveling, parenting, and talking.  It was not easy.  In fact, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.

We are different people now. And it is bursting out of us.  We might look the same on the outside, but we are totally different on the inside.  And you know what?  We long to talk about it with you.  We desperately want you to be interested in all of our other life, not just the spiritual parts. 

My husband and I have been missionaries for 13 years now.  And I must admit:  The people back home who ask us the non-spiritual questions are few and far between.  In fact, they are so rare that they stand out in my memory by name.

I’m not sure why there are so few people who ask the non-spiritual questions.  I think that sometimes, folks just don’t know where to start.  Or maybe they think that they already should know all those things and they don’t want to look stupid.  Or maybe they just assume that we don’t really want to talk about such mundane things.  (After all, we’re super spiritual…right?)

So let me just re-iterate:  Please, ask us the non-spiritual questions.  We missionaries would love to answer them.

Not sure where to start?

That’s easy.  Start with what you are interested in.

Are you into technology? Then ask about the part that technology plays in your missionary’s country.  Ask about internet speed.  Ask about cell phones.  Ask how technology is shaping the culture.

Are you into fashion?  Then ask about styles and fabric and cultural modesty standards in your missionary’s country.  Ask how your missionary manages to blend her own sense of fashion into her new culture.

Are you a foodie?  Then ask about grocery shopping and cooking.  Ask about whole food options, if you are into that.  Ask about the struggles your missionary has faced in adapting to a new diet.

Are you a mom?  Then ask your (mom) missionary about what it’s like to raise kids overseas.  Ask about what her kids have struggled with and how this new life has changed them.

Are you fascinated by politics?  Then ask about the government of your missionary’s country.  Ask how America’s politics (or your home country) has affected your missionary’s country.

I think you get the idea.  How about health care?  Transportation?  Housing?  Architecture?  Language?  The sky is the limit.  You will learn something new, and you will make your missionary friend’s day just by being interested.

Now, it is true that not all these questions will be appropriate during a group presentation.  But when you are one-on-one with your friend, or you have her family over for dinner, or when you are responding by email to their newsletters, please, ask the non-spiritual questions!

And if you know your particular missionary really well?  Then don’t be afraid to go deeper.  All missionaries need someone in their lives who is asking them about their marriage, their emotional state, the needs of their kids, and their walk with God.  Just keep in mind:  Don’t ask the deep questions if you are not ready to be a safe place.  Don’t ask these questions unless you are prepared to be entirely confidential.  Most people don’t have their job on the line if they confess to marriage problems or depression—but missionaries often do.  This makes them terrified to share openly about the hard issues.  Be a safe place—and work together with your friend if you think someone else needs to be brought into the conversation.

So yes—if it’s the right time and place and you are the right person—then go deep.  But asking about the everyday stuff can be just as important.  Being interested in your friend’s life overseas is one of the absolute best ways of showing your love.

You know who are our favorite groups to talk to back home?  Children.  They have no inhibitions!  We get asked:  “Do you ride elephants?  Do you eat bugs?”  We absolutely love it.  Sometimes we wonder, Do the adults think these things too, but are too afraid to ask?  If that’s the case, then today I give you full permission:  Ask about elephants and bugs.  You will make your missionary friend’s day.