Thursday, October 6, 2016

When the American Church Fails Its Missionaries

Here are some people you need to meet:  

Omega and Julie Edwards have lived in Tanzania for two years.  Omega is a medical doctor who gave up a lucrative career to train medical workers and church planters in East Africa.  They are some of the most generous, humble, and faithful people I know.

The Edwards family has been in the States since April, trying to raise financial partnerships to return.  Though they enjoy ministering to their community in California, they were hoping to come back to Tanzania in August for the start of the school year, but the funding wasn't there.  So they sent their 9th grade daughter here ahead of them.  Now it's October.  Though they are so grateful for their financial supporters, they still only have 81% of what they need.  When Omega returns, he will join the leadership of our team in Tanzania.  We really need him.  They are ready for their life to start here again.  They desperately want to be reunited with their daughter.  Yet still, they wait.  The funding has still not come in.  

Rebecca Laarman is the academic counselor at Haven of Peace Academy.  Her job is to help juniors and seniors transition to college, but in reality she does so much more than that.  She is a mentor, friend, and advocate for these students.  She invests countless hours of her own time every week answering text messages, listening to, and discipling these young people.  The students adore her and her impact on them cannot be minimized.  This is Rebecca's fourth year at HOPAC, and she wants to stay longer, but she's not sure she will be able to.  Despite her persistent prayers and effort, Rebecca has never been able to raise adequate financial support.

These stories are far too common.  There are many others I could list here, like Marc and Gretchen Driesenga, who teach Bible and disciple students at HOPAC--and also are not sure whether they can continue in their ministry due to funding.  The stories could be repeated among missionaries all over the world.

I have been praying fervently for these friends, and many others like them.  I have seen firsthand how committed, driven, and strategic they are.  They need to be here.  They need to stay here.  But that can only happen with enough financial support.

Which is why I was particularly depressed to read a new study that came out this week on American church spending.  The study reports that 'only 52% of churches spend 10% or more of their current church budget on ministry beyond their own congregation.'

Included in that 10% (which, remember, is only half of American churches to begin with) are soup kitchens, harvest festivals, community outreach....and foreign missions.  I'm not a math person....but could we safely estimate this means that American churches overall devote maybe 2-5% of their budgets to overseas missionaries?

Friends, this is sad.  And pathetic.  And one day, I believe, we will be held responsible.

The United States makes up less than 5% of the world's population.   Yet Americans hold 41.2% of the world's wealth.  90% of Americans qualify as either upper-middle income or high income on a global scale.

Ninety percent.

Americans are expected to spend 8.4 billion dollars on Halloween this year.  8.4 billion dollars.  Let that sink in.

Yet even though 27% of Americans call themselves evangelical, Rebecca and the Edwards family can't get the funding to stay in Tanzania.

I am dismayed today.  But I am not angry at you personally.  Every month I see the list of people and churches who have sacrificially given to our ministry and I know how humbly dependent we are on them.  We are eternally grateful to those who support us financially.  I personally know several families--who are certainly reading this blog--who are living a lifestyle far below their salary...for the sake of the gospel.  That could be you too.  I am not pointing fingers.

But I do know that corporately, as a nation of the wealthiest Christian churches in the world, God will hold us in judgement for our inability to get missionaries to the field faster and keep them there longer.  Something is wrong.  Something needs to change.

Let me be real with you:  It's tough for missionaries to talk about this.  I don't know a single missionary who says, "I love support raising!"  It's hard.  It's humiliating.  It's exhausting.  The only reason I have the courage to write this today is because I am advocating for my friends and not for myself.  It's just so discouraging to see so many missionaries worn out from the stress of living far below their budget, or just giving up completely because of finances.  These are people who want to be here.  It's hard enough to find godly and strategic overseas missionaries--can't we trust our Church to keep them there?

I unequivocally believe that not every Christian is called work cross-culturally.  But every Christian is called to participate in the Great Commission.  God has granted the United States unprecedented wealth and resources.  It is our responsibility to stand with those who are sent out.  To whom much has been given, much will be required.  

Please, American Church, I believe you can do better than this.  Find a way.

For more about the Edwards family, click here or go here to donate (account #2016).
For more about Rebecca or how to donate to her ministry, click here.

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