More Missionaries Please

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As the Placement Advisor for Canada, I am sometimes asked how I got this job helping Canadians find their place in global mission. The most simple and honest answer is that I applied. . . and got the job. However, the route I took here was not direct.

A few years into living in a remote west coast community, I found myself seeking solutions to an internal growing distress to the cultural disparity I saw around me. Shortly after completing a counseling diploma addressing remote community needs, I inquired about working with a local mission that helped families in difficult circumstances and landed a role that gave me the title of ‘missionary.’

Working as an independent missionary was not easy. Living at a remote mission base and on-call 24/7, there were many aspects to the missionary life that I was not prepared for including fundraising for my living expenses, finding a work/family/ministry balance, and maintaining church connections—all while working with a challenging demographic. There were times I would seek advice on my situation from my extended family and their befuddled response usually sounded something like ‘that’s not how we do mission in the CRC.’ Six years into it, almost completely disillusioned with mission and ministry, I was ready for something different. I found myself looking to Christian Reformed World Missions (now Resonate Global Mission) for new opportunities.

Please do not read this as a dis to other mission organizations; there are wonderful mission organizations and agencies doing amazing things around the world. It's up to each individual to do their homework on mission agencies, but my experience of landing with Resonate Global Mission has been an assuring and impactful one. In Resonate I see a team of dedicated people looking to make a difference throughout the world in a healthy and sustainable way. There is a care from the CRC to look after their missionaries and ensure they are equipped for work that affirms and supports all people and cultures.

Now a year into this role, I can’t help but laugh as I remember my first week on the job. As I learned about the training, emotional care, and church connecting provided, I teared up multiple times at the thoughtfulness towards those with a heart to share Jesus’ love. Setting out into the world with God’s Word has always been, and will always be, challenging. In fact, Jesus lays it out, “if they persecute me, they’ll persecute you also” (John 15:20). Knowing this, how invaluable to have a backing team, supportive churches, and a platform of care and commitment to finding better ways to show God’s love to our neighbors around the world.

Will you join us in praying for more missionaries as Resonate Global Mission moves ahead with learning together how to best join in God’s world-wide mission? There are many opportunities to engage in meaningful work within Resonate networks and partnerships. Call us to explore available opportunities or visit our website at www.resonateglobalmission.org/go.

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Community Builder

Appreciate this story and the positive outcome. I do wonder though, with the issue of  World missionaries having to fund themselves for 90%  of their expenses and salary, what your thoughts were about that requirement. You did not mention you are now a foreign (or should we say "World") missionary.  Funding themselves is what missionaries outside North America have to do, so I assume in the new  Resonate World Missions organization that rule would apply to all who call themselves "missionaries".

Community Builder

Harry, 

This is something that Synod upheld 3 years ago, you can see that here:

Synod Upholds Missionary Support-Raising Policy

This support-raising policy has enabled Resonate to have a historic number of open positions, additionally, churches and individuals have been incredibly generous and a number of our missionaries have exceeded their funding goals and the majority are meeting or very close to meeting their goals. 

Church Planters in North America have always had support-raising as part of their ministry and Resonate continues to support their work through grants. 

I would encourage you to read a book that we share with our missionaries when they are first appointed, A Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen. 

To quote Nouwen: "Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission. Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging. When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, “Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.” Rather, we are declaring, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you — your energy, your prayers, and your money"

We at Resonate are excited about what God is doing in this world and want all people to become involved, whether it be by serving themselves or supporting those who are serving.

Thank you for your passion for missions.

Community Builder

"This support-raising policy has enabled Resonate to have a historic number of open positions". This is an interesting way of putting this. The policy caused an historic number of open (meaning unfilled) positions? The CRCNA now seems to have three different employment standards depending who the person works for. The Resonate "missionary" in x foreign country is on the 90% standard. The BTGMI person in Russia in on the "try and raise money" but pay is guaranteed standard. The Church Planter in North America is on a strict salary standard.  The latter may work for/be supervised by Resonate, Classis or a local congregation. But they certainly do not have a 90% rule.

IMHO there is something not quite right with this picture.

Community Builder

Open, meaning the number of positions that we have available. Under previous funding models, we were not able to have as many missionaries on staff. Under the new model, we are able to have more missionaries. 

But you are entitled to your opinion, even if it defers from the decisions of Synod. In the end, our goal is to see people involved in God’s mission in whatever way they feel called.

The redoubtable Mr. Boesenkool does not need my support for his spot on analysis but here it is anyway.

I have heard from a missionary that I have supported of the heavy burden the 90% rule imposes.  It delayed their entry to the mission field by over a year and continued to drain from their "in-the-field" effectiveness. This despite's the "alternative facts" euphemisms put out.  Consider this thought experiment: how well would denominational headquarters run if every position had to operate under the 90% rule?  It would allow for many more open positions, wouldn't it, to serve many more needs?

Community Builder

Bernard,

You are free to disagree with the decisions of Synod and you raise all of the same points that were discussed 4 years ago. For further information, I would direct you to the 2014 Acts of Synod starting at Page 456 and the final decision on page 551.

Thank you.

Community Builder

I appreciate this conversation and the care indicated in not wanting to overburden the missionary.  Reading your response is evidence again of the care for missionaries in this denomination.  This ongoing conversation is a good one to ensure that we are doing the right thing.  It is a fairly standard practice among mission agencies for missionaries to have to fund-raise their wages, which I believe should be looked at critically. What other employment exists that has to justify their work and pay with such scrutiny? However, this is the way it has always been done to some degree, so I invite you to dream with me of other ways to keep our missionaries sufficiently supported.

What I allude to in my story is the heavier burden of going on the mission field without sufficient support.  Having to approach churches and maintain relationships ensures a level of engagement and investment in the people doing the mission work that can easily get forgotten or dismissed when it is not present in need and/or urgency… “out of sight, out of mind”.  Churches want to invest in people and get to know them – to have this support come from personal conviction and connection is what keeps it alive and real.

In some ways, the real issue here is the perception of what the fundraising represents.  I think it does not represent the deficiency of the missionary, but rather the opportunity for church involvement.  Churches and individuals have the opportunity to invest at least 90% (but hopefully 100%) in the work being done around the globe of furthering the hope we find in Jesus!  

Community Builder

As a missionary, fundraising has been a wonderful way to connect to churches.  For us, it thankfully has not been too challenging.  But we are also not with RGM and have not needed to raise as much as RGM missionaries have to raise.  

Being supported by God's people, by churches, is such a blessing.  We are so grateful for their interest in our lives, for their faithful prayers for us, and for their generous financial support.  It is amazing.  And it is exciting knowing that they feel part of our ministry overseas.  We are not forcing them to give.  It is their privilege to give as a way for God to use them.  Without this fundraising component, as was mentioned, they might not feel so connected.  And we also might feel much less connected.  It's hard to know because we have never done it any other way.

On the other hand, almost all of my missionary friends who are in one way or another connected to the CRC, or are with RGM, struggle a lot with the fundraising.  It is a constant prayer item and a constant stress.  Given how much stress there already is being a missionary and living in a new culture, this added stress is especially not nice.  Even when they are meeting their fundraising requirements it can still be a constant stress and worry, wondering if they will lose one of their monthly supporters, wondering if they are thanking their supporting churches enough, etc.  

It is interesting that Bernard noted that we just pay people who work as pastors or in the denominational offices.  On the other hand, if they raised support, would anyone give?  We could argue that their positions are just as important as those of missionaries.  But why the difference?  Not as exciting to partner with those people’s ministries?  Just tradition?  For myself, I don’t have any problem actually with missionaries raising support and those people being paid.  I love the relationship we have with churches.  But it does seem very unwise and unfair to put such a huge burden (100%) on missionaries who are already taking up other burdens, and no fundraising burden at all for others.  I guess I would personally love the denomination to go back to funding missionaries like 50% of their need through ministry shares, and just encourage people to give more generously.  Maybe the people in the denominational offices could also raise like 30% of their salary.

Part of the financial problem must be also that churches are not giving to ministry shares as much as they used to in the past.  In addition to that, a lot of churches and individuals in North America today do not necessarily want to give money to church planters or missionaries.  Evangelism has become something offensive.  It’s easier to support let’s say, World Renew, the organization I am with, as they feed the hungry and help people to develop their communities.  It’s harder for many people to support people who are going out and telling people that they are sinful, in danger of God’s judgment, and need to repent in order to be saved.

Also, I think there is one thing could help a lot, which has been noted in other articles and posts.  It won’t solve all the problems but will go a long way.  If our church culture changes, and churches start to support less missionaries and organizations, but instead support one or two missionaries with a huge financial amount, this will decrease the burden on missionaries, make their home services less stressful, and the relationships between missionaries and churches closer.  We only have about 11 supporting churches, and it’s hard enough to keep up on the news from all of them.  But some missionaries have double or triple that amount.  The more churches you have supporting you, and the more missionaries a church supports, the more superficial the relationships.

Hello Jessica, thanks for your presentation at Classis BCNW recently.  Do you have any ideas/thoughts about how to set up or stimulate a ministry among native/indigenous groups in the Nanaimo and Duncan area of Vancouver Island?

Community Builder

Hi John - 

Indeed I do have some thoughts on how to go about this --

1. I suggest connecting with Shannon Perez (sperez@crcna.org). She heads up the CRC's Canadian Aboriginal Ministries Committee.  She has some wonderful news on what we have done and are continuing to do as a denomination towards Indigineous reconciliation here in Canada.  Knowing the work that has been done can open up conversations within the broader community.  She also has some great suggestions and tips on how to make church more invitational to members from the neighbouring tribes and communities.  

2. I suggest coming alongside the ministries to Indigenous peoples that are already happening within your community and learning from them.  I know for sure that North American Indigenous Ministries (NAIM) has been working on Penelekut Island for quite some time in your area.  If you haven't already, I'd perhaps begin with inviting them to come and present something at your church and hearing how you might join in with their efforts.  Tal James, who is one of the local missionaries with NAIM also attends Christ Community Church, the CRC in Nanaimo.

3. My final suggestion is to be a good neighbour and simply become friends with individuals in your area.  Do you know anyone in your neighbourhood who is Indigenous/First Nations? Can you invite them over for a coffee and boterkoek?  Speak with one another about commonalities.  Many conversations with my FN friends began by talking about big families, how many cousins I had, mutual love of children/babies and eating each others cultural foods.  Avoid dividing conversation and instead build off of loving connections.  

4. Before any of this, pray pray pray that our good Lord would show you open doors to walk this path.  Jeremiah 6:16a was a guiding verse for me when I launched into ministry -- 

16 This is what the Lord says:

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls.

Blessings to you and your church.  This is good work that needs addressing!

 

The analyses of Harry and Bernard may be "spot on" if we lived in a perfect world. The simple fact is that the world has changed from the days when ministry shares supported the work and mission of the church.

Giving to charitable causes by CRCNA folks has changed. The work of the church may still be the main charitable priority for many CRC members however the number of givers is still decreasing and national statistics bare this out. The number of tax filers who claim charitable receipts has been on a downward trend for over a decade or more. The last statistic I saw cited a decrease of 23% in the number of people using a charitable tax receipt on their tax returns. (Here is a link to a CBC story on the subject. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/taxes/charitable-giving-falling-to-fewer...

While the amount of money going to charities has remained relatively constant in actual dollars the fact is that fewer people are giving larger gifts, and as Harry and Bernard both know, a constant number does not keep pace with inflation and is therefore equal to an effective decrease in funds available for charitable activities. In this scenario something has to give. Ministry costs money and models for funding ministry have to adjust to changes in social behavior.

The world has changed in so many other ways as well. The government regulatory environment on both sides of the border requires much greater scrutiny over funds going to foreign countries. Ministry not only cost money, it requires careful stewardship and administration. Any claim that ministry (or any other charitable activity for that matter) does not need to include administration a non-starter.

Here are a couple of examples: Putting missionaries on the field today requires monitoring for security concerns and it requires staff to provide tax receipts. Think for a moment about placing a missionary on the field without an emergency evacuation plan… or, what would life be like for a missionary without the possibility of a tax incentive for charitable giving? The answer to these two basic questions is; living in constant fear and on substance wages.

In Resonate Global Mission we are talking about what it means to generate a “culture of philanthropy” by which we mean that every staff person has a role to play whether directly or indirectly in the raising of funds for ministry. When supporters are encouraged to change the paradigm by which they conceive of ministry to one where “everything is mission” that begins to make a difference. The fund raising adage is that “people give to people”. To achieve the shift in thinking that “everything is mission”, mission workers have to play a more active role in the raising of support for ministry work. 

Since our old models of ministry support have fallen short of the mark Resonate has chosen to adopt this more direct approach to support raising through the 20/20 ministry support goals. Yes, this includes asking missionaries to raise 90% of their personal support budgets. Expecting a better result from a system that had been declining for years required a new approach. Harry and Bernard are you getting on board?

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