Facing the Facts
A mission executive addresses the sometimes distorted financial picture of missions.
Operation Mobilization has people from about 80 different countries working in dozens of other countries around the world. But, we do not take people from new, emerging, sending countries unless they can arrange their own support—most of it from their own country, and a good part of it from their own church. In the long term, we feel that this is the right way forward. The future does not lie in larger and larger sums being channeled from the West to support the work in so-called receiving countries.
I appreciate those who are carefully trying to help nationals in their own country to get the job done by supplying them with books, tools, and sometimes finances. However, dependency and paternalism easily come in when we give large sums of money to people to work in their own country. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am saying that we should count the cost, face the reality of what we are trying to do, and avoid making negative generalizations about different approaches. Supporting national evangelists and missionaries can actually help the local church by lifting some of the burden, but it does have a possible downside: the church fails to send.
The most strident argument in this debate is the one that says that the cost of missionaries from the West is just too great when put against the amount needed to support a national worker in the same situation. The whole question of money and the comparisons made between the “inexpensive” national and the “expensive” missionary can get greatly distorted.
Many are unwilling to draw attention to the fact that although nationals often live very inexpensively as single people, when they get families, the price often seems to go up tremendously, especially if they are interested in sending their children abroad to be educated. I am not criticizing them for this, but it does make a mockery of the statement that national workers are cheaper. Some of the least expensive people to support on the mission field are Westerners on short-term programs. On the OM and YWAM ships, Christian workers can probably live more cheaply than anywhere in the world; of course, they only get a few cubic meters of living space, and for this reason not many families are accepted.
Churches that complain about the high cost of missionaries need to ask themselves searching questions about how they spend their money. It seems silly to me that a church that has several millionaires and a building program worth seven or eight million dollars could complain that they need to raise $48,000 for a family to work overseas.
The cost of supporting a missionary, of course, varies greatly from one part of the world to another. This further complexity, that supporting a missionary in France is different from supporting one in India, for example, is often not taken into consideration. This adds to the irresponsibility of those who circulate figures like $40 per month to support a local worker. It simply is not true. Things are much more complex than this. It may be that $40 from here, $40 from there, and a little job on the side could provide enough. However, this can put people with such meager support under so much financial pressure that
sometimes they end up being dishonest and unable to handle money in the work of God.
I am convinced that in certain countries some people are gathering up workers—who have no call from God—by paying them a small salary to do Christian work. They simply need a job; there is massive unemployment, and so they line up to get involved. If you have the money, you can sign them up. They often don’t have enough training, and their lives often go out of control. After they get married and have children, there is no longer enough money to support them, and resentment, hurt, and confusion result. These are things that we cannot afford in this great task of world evangelism.
It is essential to accept the fact that a large investment is needed for the effective preparation of missionaries.
We also need to understand that if we think supporting nationals is some kind of miracle shortcut toward getting the job done, we may be making a serious mistake. There is no simple, cheap, discount shortcut to world missions, although there are ways in which we can economize and be more diligent. At home or overseas, a more complete picture is needed to deliver us on every side from small mindedness, whether it’s missionary small-mindedness or national church small-mindedness. When most of the money comes from abroad, it often leaves the person’s local church out of the picture. We cannot afford the disunity between those who feel they want to put their money into supporting nationals and those who want to be involved in sending missionaries from their own church or country. Not everything can be judged on the basis of money.
The Great Commission calls us to not only send [money] but [also] ourselves. Just as the Father sent the Son to become man and dwell among us, Jesus sends us into the world to personally identify with those whom we would reach. This will not always be the most economical solution, but it will be the greatest demonstration of love: We cared enough to surrender our comfort and way of life to share Cod’s love with others.
It is a time for repentance and brokenness, a growth of grace and a turning away from subjective to objective and biblical ways of thinking about how we can get on with responding to the challenge of Acts 1:8. Whether our emphasis is on the sending of resources for the use of national churches overseas or on the preparation and sending of missionaries, we can work together for the fulfillment of the Great Commission that burns to this day in the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ.