by Dan Harrison
Practical ways in which we can minister to our partners.
Many people know of William Carey, the "father of modern missions." But few people have heard of his sister. She was a quadriplegic and had to be carried from bed to couch. For 50 years she lay in bed, and prayed for William Carey. She wrote him encouraging letters— with a pencil between her teeth.
Her ministry was perhaps more important because she was a silent partner. God knew. And God heard her prayers. Nothing can happen without prayer. Certainly William Carey realized God’s blessing was as much a result of his sister’s commitment to pray for his ministry as was his dedication to serve God.
The same is true today. As missionaries we know that our ministry would be impossible without giving and praying partners just like William Carey’s sister.
This brief article deals with some practical ways in which we can minister to our partners.
I have discovered, while counseling with new missionaries and potential candidates, that one thing keeps surfacing-feelings about finances. The uneasy feeling of being obligated to people must be dealt with. We need to examine our attitudes and feelings about being a missionary, particularly in the area of finances. No one really likes to feel obligated to others. How do we react in the "receiver" role?
I grew up in Tibet, the youngest of four sons. The oldest got the new clothes and as the one at the end of the line, I got all the hand-me-downs. Quite frankly, I resented it. Later in life I had the feeling that I had to explain everything nice I had.
Can we learn to be comfortable in tastefully sharing our needs with our constituency and with others whom God might be leading into his service?
The Bible has something to say about the relationship between the sent-one and those who send. ". . . for the worker is worthy of his support" (Mt. 10:10). "And let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches" (Gal. 6:6). "… in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now" (Phil 1:5). "So also, the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel" (1 Cor.9:14). "For the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ " (1 Tim. 5:18).
I have listed only a few references here to illustrate one point: In each case something of value was exchanged. Ministering is not a one-way street.
MYTHS ABOUT SUPPORT RAISING
There are some who believe that support hinges primarily on the abilities of the missionary. If you are a good communicator (the myth goes), you will be well-supported. If you are not an effective communicator, you won’t be well supported.
This is just not so! This philosophy implies that support hinges primarily on the person and not on the Lord. You do need to communicate as effectively as possible, but you are not alone in your work. God has to be in control, especially for the funds to keep coming in month after month.
Another misconception is, "I don’t have anything to share." Perhaps a person thinks that because he is behind a desk, working on engines, or juggling finances, he doesn’t have anything exciting to share. Every job cannot be on the "front-line," but God can use us wherever we are. The body of Christ has many members, each one necessary to fulfill his purpose. That is the benefit of working on a team. Everyone shares in the results. If you don’t feel you have much to share of your own particular ministry, then feel free to share some of what the Lord is doing through someone else on the team.
Others may say, "My constituency is not interested in me." Really? When you have your finger on the pulse of missions, you are plugged into the power source. You are helping make possible some of the most exciting things that God is doing in the world today. Your constituency (your partners) needs to know this and believe me, they are more interested than you think.
"God can’t provide my full support in the homeland as an office worker." Even if you are not on the foreign field, he is the God of the whole earth. He can provide for you anywhere in the world.
"I am too busy and my work is too valuable to spare the time and energy to build relationships." Developing relationships is an essential part of our work. Often these feelings are a defense mechanism, a way to avoid doing something we don’t enjoy.
"If someone else gets support, that means there is just that much less for someone else." Do you believe that? Nothing could be further from the truth. This just is not scriptural.
There is also the matter of experiencing guilt feelings. Some folk may think they are not worthy of full support. You may have met missionaries who feel that because they don’t have full support, God must not be blessing. All of God’s blessings are not financial and we should not feel in any way guilty in this situation. Often God has something to teach us, an attitude of patience, faith, or just to wait on his timing.
OBSTACLES TO MINISTRY
One obstacle is misunderstanding your mission’s funding policy. In Wycliffe we have traditionally been rather low-key in this whole area. Our policy is often misinterpreted in too narrow of a manner by our members. Find out just what the real policies are in your organization.
Another obstacle is misunderstanding the role of the constituency. For example, Bible translation is not Wycliffe’s job. It is the job for the whole church. Wycliffe is just one tool that God uses to get the job done. It is important for us to remember that the Great Commission is the responsibility of the whole church. We are merely servants involved in the process.
Our own lack of giving may keep us from being fully supported. When I first came into Wycliffe I considered my 10 percent assessment to the organization my tithe. Besides, I was giving up my family, my home, and my life. I was way off base. God expects us to give no matter what our circumstances are.
How about pride? Could that possibly be an obstacle to support? You bet it can. The counterpart to this is resentment of what is perceived as a beholden relationship with our constituency. When asked, "Do you have any needs?" one person replied, "No, we depend on God." I have also known missionaries to become resentful of other missionaries on full support. Sinful attitudes toward God, the missionary cause, the organization, or toward those in authority over us can also keep us from full support.
Inactivity with our constituency is inexcusable. In talking to one person who was low on support I discovered, to my amazement, that he had not written a prayer letter or a thank-you note in 18 months. It was a wonder he had any support at all.
Another missionary I talked with had not visited two of his supporting churches in 10 years. How can you have a relationship if you don’t spend some time with people. We are talking about relationships. It may not always be possible to visit all of our churches as often as we would like if they are spread out, but we must do the best we can to develop and maintain relationships.
Lack of faith is a major hindrance to support raising. I worked with a couple one time who were having difficulty in the area of support. I had a group of people pray for them and I wrote a letter to their constituency validating their work and sharing their need for support. The husband remarked to me, "We have been on 50 percent of quota for 10 years and I don’t see any reason why it will change." My heart sank. I told him that his support would likely not go up in spite of all we were doing because of his lack of faith. Faith is not the only ingredient, but it is a critical factor.
Did you know your constituency has certain needs that you can help meet? They need vision. They need prayer. Encouragement. They want to be a part of something important and meaningful.
One opinion surveyor in the U.S. found that only 19 percent of Americans are fulfilled in their work. You can help change these statistics. Some people are desperately lonely. They need to be loved. You can love them. They need to be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission. Some of them don’t know that, and you may have to break it to them gently. But it is a command to all Christians. As believers they need to give. Through their involvement with you they are giving and responding to the Great Commission.
A COMMUNICATIONS PROGRAM
This is a very important area. Sometimes we fail to thank our partners or acknowledge every gift we get. If you were to write a love letter to someone you love, appreciate, and need, would you say, "Dear Friends"? Of course not. You would make it personal. I don’t believe you can effectively thank people or show appreciation adequately in a printed form. You need to write by hand or in a personalized way (a computer typed letter is fine). I believe every gift should be acknowledged.
If you are in your homeland while on furlough or assigned there, consider calling supporters on the phone. The personal contact by phone, letters, or in person will pay dividends in your relationships with these folks who stand behind you.
Every thank-you note should contain at least these four basic ingredients: (1) Some expression of love and appreciation-those words with strong feelings. (2) Something exciting that God is doing. (3) Your needs (other than financial-personal or family prayer items). (4) If it is true, tell them you are praying for them. These do not need to be long letters. A short one will do just fine.
Be careful that you don’t consider communicating with your constituency a "tack-on"-something you get to when you have time. They deserve your quality time. Communicating with your partners is part of your job. Since missions is a confrontive battle with principalities and powers, informed prayer is more important than the work done by the missionary.
A PRAYER PROGRAM
We should take very seriously our commitment to pray for our constituency. In our family we have a notebook in which we keep pictures, requests, and letters from our partners. A member of our family will pray for one of these, then take a postcard and write them a short note saying, "I prayed for you today." This has tremendous impact on people and truly blesses them.
Another suggestion is that you occasionally pray for several people on your longer prayer letter list. This will take a little creativity because it is likely you don’t hear from some of them very often. Write and let them know you are praying. Don’t do this with dollar signs in your eyes. If you do, don’t be surprised if they see them. Don’t just pray, "God bless our supporters!" Be specific. God will bless your efforts.
In addition to those we pray for, we communicate our prayer needs regularly to a list of people who pray for us. A printed letter is great for communicating information but not for conveying our feelings. People who pray for you need to be adequately informed about your work, family, and personal needs. Your partners will only get to know you well if you are willing to share with them in depth-personally and through letters.
Try to simplify your communication. Mechanize your thank-you letter and prayer letter system if you can. Put it on a computer. Ask someone to volunteer to help you, if necessary. This will save a lot of time and energy.
We all need to keep in focus that the Great Commission is a job for the whole church, not just missionaries and mission agencies. We can’t arrogantly say that to the churches, but we can help them realize that they can help fulfill their responsibility through a partnership with us.
The bottom line is an exchange of something of value. You have something valuable to share. As you reach out with your constituency’s needs in mind, God will bless in giving you relationships-strong relationships that will help meet your financial needs and make you more effective spiritually.
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