[I wrote this for our upcoming parish newsletter, but I think it raises important issues concerning Christian stewardship, and a wider circulation might be useful.]
It was a revelation to me, many years ago, that missionaries had to raise their own support. I had always thought that mission boards paid their missionaries. Many years ago, in certain denominations, churches did pay a kind of ‘missionary tax’ or take special offerings to go to the denomination’s missions fund. But the last vestiges of this way of funding missions died out in most denominations in the 1990s. Today, almost all missionaries are dependent upon the pledges of individual donors and local parish budgets. And because it may cost $40,000 or more to keep an American missionary family on the field, it takes a lot of people and churches to make each missionary ministry a reality.
From the missionary’s side, this means making contact with as many people and churches as possible, in the hopes that some of them may be interested in joining one’s support team. As with many things, personal relationships make all the difference. In my own experience, people who already know me and have a history with me are more likely to want to support me than someone who doesn’t know me from Adam’s housecat or who may simply be someone listening to ‘the missionary’ make a presentation at the parish coffee hour. In my experience, relationship trumps even denominational identity. I was surprised to discover, even after I converted to Orthodoxy from being a Presbyterian pastor and missionary, that most of the people who supported me as a Presbyterian were keen to continue their support once I had become Orthodox. The same was not true with most of the Presbyterian churches that supported me, for obvious reasons. And that is why it is important for missionaries to seek out new parishes and build relationships with the priests, parish and committee leaders and members there.
Reaching out to new individuals and parishes can be a challenge, as most Christians and parishes may have a more local perspective. This is a good thing, and what I say here is not intended as a criticism. It’s just that while a local perspective may be the default position – the way it is – among most Christians and in most parishes, the default position theologically is something very different. My job as a missionary is to help local Christians and local parishes begin to see the world from God’s perspective, to see that salvation is not just about me, but that God intends me to be the means by which His salvation reaches ‘them’. It means helping us to see that God’s love does not stop at the boundaries of our parish, or our jurisdiction, or our nation. It means helping us to see that all the wealth of resources and technology have come to us from God’s hand not for us to spend on ourselves, but so that we might wisely steward His blessings to further His priorities. These are counter-cultural concepts to try and communicate in the best of circumstances. But they point to the reality that we find in both the New Testament and in much of Christian history, namely that the Church is primarily a missionary organization. Our brief is straight from our Lord Jesus Himself, who said to His Apostles and thus to us, ‘Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations…’. This is not one option among many, nor is it to be relegated to the ‘really committed super Christians’, a relegation that gets the rest of us off the hook. No, it is our responsibility as Christians, to find our place in making Christ’s missionary mandate a reality in our generation. For some of us, God wants us to go and make a difference in the lives of other people, following the incarnational example of our Lord. For others of us, God has given us the means to help make this happen financially through our giving. And for all of us, God calls us to join with all the saints and angels in the ministry of intercession, praying for our missionaries, their families and their ministries. Missions is the work of the whole Church. And it’s part of our calling as missionaries to help our people and our Churches grow into their God-given calling.
But how does this work at the level of my life? How can I as an individual Christian plug into the big picture of what God is doing? Let me share from my own experience. God entrusts me with time and with resources. And part of my own discipleship (as a follower of Christ) is realizing more and more that my time and my resources are not my own, but rather God’s, and that God has given all this to me so that I might be a steward of His good gifts. This means that I am constantly in prayer about how God wants me to use the time and money that’s mine to use. Some of this money and time I want to give to my parish. But I also set aside a certain amount to help with special projects or ministries that come to my attention. And say, when a missionary comes by and I hear of the need and I’m challenged to pray if God wants me to join his/her support team, I then ask God if this is something He wants me to do with the resources He has entrusted to me. Sometimes God says, ‘Yes! Get involved!’ Other times God says, ‘No, I have other things I want you to do with what you have.’ But the key in all this is to ask God what He wants you to do. I think God is particularly pleased when we ask Him to show us how He wants us to give and live. I’ve never experienced silence when I’ve asked about these things!
Maybe you want to practice on me! I’ve just been accepted as an Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) missionary to Kenya to help train the new generation of Christian leaders there, both at the Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi and at St. Paul’s University in Limuru and Nairobi. I need to raise about $3330/month in order to cover my yearly budget. I need a team of people who will commit to pray for me and my ministry, and I need individuals and churches who would be willing to pledge $100/month (or more!), $50/month, $25/month, or even $10/month towards my support. OCMC makes this so easy to do so. You can go to the OCMC website (http://www.ocmc.org ) and to their ‘Active Missionaries’ page (http://www.ocmc.org/about/active_missionaries.aspx) where you will find my picture under ‘Kenya’, with options to read about me and how to support my ministry. OCMC will be happy to facilitate your giving, and will let me know what you’ve done. Or you can let me know yourself through an email.
So would you be willing to pray and ask God if this is an opportunity He wants you to be a part of? The important thing is to ask. One way or another, God wants to make you his blessing in the lives of many people. And this is one of the primary ways He does it.
|His Grace Bishop Innocentios, my spiritual father and now Bishop of Burundi and Rwanda|
May God raise up many more like him.
There is nothing closer to God’s heart than missions. We Orthodox hear again and again that God ‘loves mankind’. And the gospel is the way God’s love is expressed. And the gospel was never meant to stop with me or us. It’s meant to go to every person, to the ends of the earth. This is our glorious calling. Will you make it yours?