Yesterday I began a post on why Christian workers struggle to raise support and get to the UK. As I prepared to write the post I took an unofficial survey of some missionaries I know and asked them what struggles they faced in raising support to come and work here. Most of the responses included similar items, and many included struggles of the missionaries own making. Today I want share 6 more reasons why Christian workers struggle to get to the UK. Some of these reasons are applicable for missionaries going to any field.
1. Because supporting churches or pastors opposed the missionary working as part of a team
This may or may not be something unique to Christian workers coming to the United Kingdom. The New Testament does not lay out direct commands on the process for planting churches. However, by example it does seem to demonstrate a good practice-working as a team. Paul very often worked with another individual, a couple or a group. But for some reason missionaries today often face opposition when they attempt to follow the same practice as the Apostle Paul.
Numerous missionaries shared that when they expressed the desire to work as part of a team a pastor opposed them. Some churches give the impression that US churches can have a pastor, assistant pastor, song leader, treasurer, cleaner, Sunday School teachers, treasurer, deacons and secretaries, but the missionary overseas must do it all alone.
Do you realise everything your missionary does in a new church plant? He evangelises, preaches and teaches, yes. But with the support of his family he also has to do everything else. Many missionaries become talented in graphic design because they have to design their own materials to use in evangelism. They constantly learn new skills because there is no one else to take on the labour (there’s maybe a point there for supporters to get more involved in a practical way, check here for some practical ideas: http://www.pioneersenders.org/).
One missionary shared with me that he would love to work as an evangelist for an established church in the UK, but that his supporting churches would not support that. They wanted him to be the pastor.
Teamwork on the field, amongst other things, can provide fellowship and encouragement for your missionary, it provides a division of labour to allow more to be accomplished and it promotes accountability.
2. Because circumstances at the local church hinder them from supporting more missionaries
Sometimes a missionary schedules a meeting with a church months in advance. The pastor speaks positively about taking them on for support and the missionary looks forward to the visit. But then a week before the scheduled meeting a tornado destroys the church’s buildings, the pastor dies, a national tragedy such as 9/11 puts the country into turmoil or a business meeting goes bad and the spirit of the church is distracted. Sometimes a missionary visits a church and the church just is not in a position to take on a new missionary.
Other times it is not the timing of the visit, but a case of secondary separation. It becomes known that a missionary did or did not graduate from a particular Bible school, or they have books on their shelf by a certain author, or the missionaries sending pastor once had a falling out with the pastor the missionary is visiting, or the church the missionary is visiting does not like something about your mission board.
Let me encourage pastors and churches to support the man and his family. Judge each man on his own merits and not on people with whom he has a connection. Of course there may be exceptions, but as a rule, judge the man before you and nothing more.
Lastly, sometimes if a church faces a trial or general busyness around the time of the missionaries visit, the missionary ends up forgotten. It is not about an inability to support the missionary or any malicious intent, but in an almost administrative error the church forgets about the missionary that made a visit.
Some of these reasons for not supporting a missionary are unavoidable, but others can be avoided. What could your local church do to ensure you take on the missionary that visits regardless of some current events in your church or community?
3. Because of unrealistic expectations on missionaries and their families
Sometimes a church hesitates to support a missionary because the family does not seem to support the husband/father.
Now, some families thrive on deputation and furlough. You know them when you see them. As the van rolls up to the church you can hear them singing their favourite hymns. As the family unload you can hear the children reciting memory verses. You hear the husband praising his wife for teaching their teens calculus during their 16 hour drive that day. One of the children accidentally drops their suitcase on a sibling and the sibling lovingly forgives them and they move on. During the service the family sing a special and all the children play a different instrument. Then the father shows a flawless presentation of the country to which he is going with just the right combination of statistics and moving human stories. Then he preaches and expounds the Word, demonstrating an extensive knowledge of the Scriptures and a deep, personal walk with the Lord.
Others do not thrive quite so well. This time as the family roll up to the church car park you only hear the rattling of the exhaust that partly fell off on the way there. As they unload nobody says a word to each other. In fact, you catch the occasional glare between the husband and wife. As the husband steps out he does so straight into a puddle and lets out one of those Christian swear words “Good grief!” or “Good night!”. You know the ones. Then a sibling bumps into another sibling and they start to fight and fuss. They manage to get into the church and the service begins. The youngest child starts to cry and so the mother takes the child out. Now with dad in the pulpit there’s nothing to stop the little pagan children in the pew from whispering and rustling papers as the service continues. Then the presentation starts… and then stops. The software the missionary used to make the presentation is not compatible with the church’s computer. The sermon is adequate, but nothing to write home about.
Sometimes churches expect every missionary family to be like the first family described, but then how do you respond to the second? This could be the same family, just on a different day.
Understand the pressures on your missionaries on deputation or furlough. Sometimes the family stay at home because the children’s education is suffering due to all the travelling. As their time to move to another country arrives perhaps they need to spend some visits with grandparents. Normally they have just taken a step of faith and financially they are struggling. I have heard numerous stories of missionaries who only had enough money to purchase the fuel to get them to their next meeting, but they had no way of paying to get home. They simply trusted the Lord.
Have you read any books on parenting or education? How many recommend spending hours in a car every day? How many recommend using a hotel room or the back seat of a car as the class room? Yet this is the life your missionaries may have for several years.
Missionaries on deputation face trials and struggles most people could not imagine. I want to encourage you not have unrealistic expectations of your missionaries and their families. Instead try to anticipate their needs, provide them with an ideal environment and I guarantee that will go a long way toward enabling them to be the family you hope they are.
4. Because of a lack of training on how to raise support
Do you know there are books on the deputation process and on how to raise support? I did not. Not until I had learned many hard lessons anyway. Some missionaries struggle to raise support simply because they do not know the process. They do not know that once all the material (introduction letters, prayer letters, website, bookmarks, display table material, etc.) is designed and printed they to need send out an introduction packet to the churches they want to contact. Then they need to start making phone calls. They need to make dozens and dozens of phone calls. Everyday. They need to keep a record of the conversations. They then need to send out letters acknowledging the contact they had with the church. If a meeting was booked they will sometimes send out a letter the week before the meeting. Then they have the meeting and include all the elements required and expected of modern missionaries. After they leave they send a thank you letter. I did not know any of that.
Sometimes they have a good process, but they are just not good fund raisers. They do not communicate their burden effectively to the congregations and pastors. They can preach and teach and evangelise, they just do not seem to be able to grip pastors and churches with their need.
Maybe a church can compassionately and constructively give feedback to the missionary on what would have helped them. Certainly the missionary must constantly evaluate his means and methods and always be ready to learn.
A good resource by Pastor Austin Gardner is “The Deputation Manual for Missionaries” and I would highly recommend it.
5. Because missionaries have returned discouraged and defeated
Sometimes a church is deterred from supporting missionaries to the UK because of previous bad experiences. Maybe one missionary raises support but then does not go. Maybe around the same time one who has raised support reaches the UK, but then shortly thereafter returns home. Maybe another family you support seems to be taking a long time to complete their goal. There could be valid reasons all these missionaries did not go or did not stay. Each situation must be judged on its own merits.
I would encourage churches to express understanding. Do not turn your back on a whole country because of what you may decide are bad experiences. Perhaps it should show you that you should redouble your efforts to the UK and similar countries. Perhaps where you see discouragement and defeat you should make a determined effort to contact missionaries there and encourage them. Seek out missionaries going to that difficult field and truly get alongside them.
6. Because of red tape – the UK Border Agency
All I will say is this. Red tape exists, but it is not stopping missionaries from entering the country. It is another layer of administration, but it is not a barrier to entering the country.
There is much a missionary can do to improve their chances of raising support and reaching the field. But there is much more that potential supporting churches and pastors could do to help them. I trust these two articles would have been a help to supporters in understanding missionaries trying to raise support to come to the UK, or any other nation.