by Ken Williams
Many of us have been taught that our relationship with donors means we receive money and prayer support, and they get information, nothing more. So our goal is to find churches and people who will give to us, expecting very little in return.
Many of us have been taught that our relationship with donors means we receive money and prayer support, and they get information, nothing more. So our goal is to find churches and people who will give to us, expecting very little in return. But as I translated Philippians for the Chuj people in Guatemala, I discovered that Paul was writing a "donor letter." He talked about being partners with them (1:5; 4:15, RSV). It was a partnership of giving and receiving.
I began to ask myself, "What am I giving to those who support me, besides information?" As I pondered this, it became clear that we did not have a partnership. Partnerships are mutual, but I had been doing almost all of the receiving and little of the giving.
Thus began a journey that eventually brought me into a delightful new view of missionary support. I believe our side of partnership centers on two major issues: gratitude and ministry.
This must be the keystone. Without gratitude most of us will be doomed to struggle financially. God’s nature is to respond to a grateful heart. God responds to our financial needs when we consistently thank him for his provision, and for those hearts he has touched to give and pray.
He has created us in his image, and when we express our gratitude to others, their nature is to respond, with a greater motivation to pray, give, and be even more involved in our lives.
Gratitude unexpressed is ingratitude. It’s not enough to feel thankful toward our partners; we must communicate it. Do I consistently express my thanks to God and to others for every act of kindness shown, for every gift given? In my judgment, printed letters are useful for conveying information, but not for communicating gratitude. Thanks must be personally expressed. Here are some methods that are more effective than printed letters alone:
- Well-typed or computer-generated, newsy letters with personal notes and an expression of gratitude.
- Short, handwritten letters of thanks, with a little news.
- Printed letters with handwritten comments and thanks.
- Photographs. Appreciated much more if not printed in a letter.
- Phone calls, even from overseas.
Writing personal letters and notes is hard work and time-consuming. But people prefer frequent short notes or post cards over infrequent long letters.
When someone sends a one-time gift, send personal notes every month or two for a year. Don’t mention financial needs. Many will be so encouraged by your love that they will want to be more involved in your life and ministry. Over $700 of our monthly support comes from people who originally meant to give only one gift.
When partners send money quarterly, annually, or only occasionally, write them personally at least every two or three months, as a ministry to them. I write them every month.
I’ve come to believe that information is not as important as we used to think. Yes, our partners do need information about us, our mission, and our ministry, but they are overwhelmed with junk mail and information overload. They are not only interested in our work, but in our personal lives. Most of them need to know how we are, a little of what we’re doing, and one or two prayer requests. They prefer a little information at a time, provided often.
When we began to shift from "donor relations" to partnerships, we realized our responsibility to minister to our partners, as Paul did to his partners in Philippi. What we decided may not necessarily be the best or even feasible for everyone, but I urge everyone to consider it and then adapt it as needed. We began to send personal letters and notes every month to each of those giving, 42 singles or couples and three churches.
We decided to focus on ministering to those special people and churches God had brought into partnership with us. Incredible things began to happen. Within two years, nearly all of them were drawing into a much deeper relationship with and commitment to us. The year we returned to work in the U.S., our financial support went up 30 percent. All of this came from our partners, without our mentioning additional needs.
Partners assume responsibility for us. For 35 years we have done no typical support raising whatever. Our partners share our needs with their family and friends and encourage them to get involved, because they are so blessed.
Partners are in it for the long haul, usually for life. None of ours have stopped without extreme circumstances on their part. Location is irrelevant to partners. They don’t care whether we are overseas or in the States.
Partners give all they can. All of our partners have significantly raised their support. In all these years in the U.S. God has provided more than full support. In addition, more than half of our partners have become involved with other missionaries, at our encouragement.
Partners don’t give just because we’re needy. Whatever our level of support, they eagerly want to be a part of our lives and ministry because they are so blessed.
Our ministry to our partners must be based on their needs, not ours. This means we must get to know them and their needs. We often tell our partners we love them and show it in practical ways. We may be the only ones who tell them that they are loved. We have even given money to partners in need. Why should we be the only ones to receive financial help? When we’re with them we help around the house with cleaning, yard work, painting projects, and small repairs.
When we are with our partners, we spend most of the time just listening to their joys and struggles, rather than trying to tell our neat stories. When we call them we say to them, "You’ve heard about us in our letters. We want to hear all about you."
Many Christians in America are friendless. Being a true, caring friend to our partners is a wonderful, healing ministry. For many, our gratitude will be the greatest encouragement they get on a regular basis. They will never tire of hearing it, if we’re creative in how we express it. Make a list of as many ways as you can think of to demonstrate your gratefulness to them.
Paul prayed for his partners and told them what he was praying. Ask for prayer requests, and remember to ask them how God answered.
We can have a significant spiritual ministry through our letters, phone calls, and visits. Besides praying, we can encourage them in their walk with the Lord, share what we’re learning from God, and help them to focus on Jesus.
It is a privilege for them to be personally involved in God’s work. As our partners pray, give, and get others involved with us, they get blessed. Show them how they can provide practical help and expertise to you and other missionaries. Remember, by being our partners they are laying up treasures in heaven.
Discover those partners who are willing and able to have a small group of friends and relatives come to their home for an informal time of getting to know you. Ask your partners to interview you and encourage questions. If you need more support, groups like this are usually far more open than people who have no common ground with you.
Ministering to partners this way takes serious time and effort. But when we see it as a key part of our overall ministry, rather than just writing donors, we will look at it in a new light. Most of our partners have been with us for 35 years. We know that their lives are different, yes better, because of our ministry to them and theirs to us. I’ve come to see this as one of the most joyful and productive areas of my life.
Copyright © 1994 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.