In the fall of 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain rose to reveal that God had been at work in Eastern Europe. I enjoyed a front row seat during these events as a student at Edinburgh University in Scotland. So, a few years later, when my wife and I felt called to missions, we strongly sensed God was leading us to post-Communist Eastern Europe. We approached our denominational missions agency, Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM), to see if it could use us as career missionaries in that part of the world. The answer was no. Instead, we went under a parachurch agency with the need to raise 115% of our actual costs. (The additional 15% covered supervision and support-raising costs borne by the agency.) By going under another agency, my wife and I were able to answer God’s call to serve in missions.
CRWM was already financially stressed in 1996, a chronic state has continued to the present. This stress is due to our old financial model assuming a large and increasing amount of funding from Ministry Shares and other general fund gifts for career missionaries. Until about 1990 this system worked well because general gifts were regularly increasing. This enabled CRWM to send new career missionaries, open new fields and enter into new partnerships from a solid financial base. Since then, however, things have not been working so well as the purchasing power of the Ministry Shares dollars actually received by CRWM has gradually declined by about 50%.
As a former pastor and field missionary who is deeply committed to seeing the Gospel penetrate new places and people groups, it has been painful to watch our career missionary force shrink year after year. We have adapted by working in new ways in order to make up for this shrinkage, and we have seen God’s blessing. But, we need career missionaries to do primary evangelism among unreached people, train nationals to serve and lead, support partner missionaries, receive volunteers, and administer grants. And, our old financial paradigm has made it very difficult for us to appoint new career missionaries.
CRWM has helped prepare quite a few promising missionary candidates who ended up not going overseas at all because there was no place for them in our ministry. I think of a young couple who came to Calvin Seminary specifically to train for mission service, did an internship in Africa, and completed seminary with anticipation of a call through CRWM. But, there were no new positions at all that year. The chronic problem became acute. As a result, they went into pastoral ministry instead. God has blessed their work, but I wonder how He might have blessed if they had gone into missions as intended.
The choice for Christian Reformed World Missions was not between sending new missionaries with a low support-raising goal and sending them with a higher goal. The choice was sending new missionaries with a high support-raising goal or not sending them at all. CRWM chose to keep sending sons and daughters of the Christian Reformed Church to serve God in missions.
These are exciting days at CRWM with three career and one associate missionary successfully raising their support and positions available for four additional missionaries to serve. We have not had eight missionary positions in one year for well over a decade.
This week the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church considered two overtures which challenged CRWM’s decision. After carefully weighing the matter, Synod turned down those requests, reaffirming the direction taken by CRWM. You can read a news article on that here. The basis for their decision is here. You can also look at a PowerPoint which provides additional perspective.
The mission is ultimately God’s. It has been delegated to His Church. The way that congregations engage in missions has changed, and CRWM is adapting to that change. We ask that you pray that the Lord of the Church will enable us to meet the challenge presented by changing times with faithfulness to His Mission, and consider whether He is calling you and your church to a deeper partnership in prayer and finances with your missionaries.