Neither Ann nor I come from missionary-type backgrounds, so this whole process has required a pretty steep learning curve for both of us. Bursting with enthusiasm and energy, we were accepted into long-term overseas missions last December by World Harvest Mission. Within an hour of accepting a five-year commitment to serve in Africa, we were presented with our monthly budget, given a hearty slap on the back, and told to go out and “raise support.” I think my exact response was: “huh?”
In fairness to our esteemed sending agency/new bosses, that’s not at all what happened! We have, however, had to get our heads around some concepts which are distinctly different from the way we were raised, and perhaps even at odds with some aspects of Western culture itself.
The basic concept of “raising support”, or living off of support, is this: the one who is sent is really just an emissary, a representative, of a large group of people who are committed to the work being done. As such, the one being sent is as much in the service of those sending him as he is to those in his host country or project. Our role is to be the “boots on the ground” for a group of people who believe in what we’re doing, but are not in the position at the moment to do it themselves.
There are both spiritual and financial components to living off of the support of others. The great Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski is quoted as saying “If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.” We feel that way about prayer. We can’t go a day without it. As stumbling, broken, imperfect followers of Christ, we depend on prayer. Our motivation, our energy, our reasons for what we do, are spiritual. The most vital role of our team is praying for Kenya, for us, and for each other.
Raising support also fills a very pragmatic role. As you read this, there are thousands of people serving around the world in developing countries. Whether they are teachers, preachers, pastors, doctors, hydro-engineers, or agricultural experts, they all have in common that they’re working at something that doesn’t inherently allow them to make a living in their host country. Some work for non-governmental organizations, some for government agencies, some for faith-based agencies. All of them, however, are supported financially either by others’ generosity or tax dollars.
This alone is a strange concept: living off of others’ generosity. This doesn’t sit comfortably with such tenets of western thought as rugged individualism, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and success. We’re told from a young age to pull our own weight. Our definition of success almost always includes financial independence.
Conversely, the formation of a team of benevolent supporters pushes back against some of the greatest ailments of our society: isolation, boredom, loneliness, and purposelessness. As humans, we’re inherently social creatures, and many feel the calling to be associated with something larger than ourselves. Faced with natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, or famine in Africa, many are moved to respond to help those in need. As we move to Kenya, we take seriously this role as emissaries of those who send us. We look forward to maintaining a dynamic relationship with our support team. We believe that inter-dependence is a higher calling than independence.
All that being said, we are continually humbled, amazed, and encouraged by the outflow of prayer, enthusiasm, and generosity we encounter. Only a few weeks after making our needs known, our budget is already 45% funded for the next five years! In the middle of an historic recession, with homes in negative equity, and no one feeling particularly secure about their future, many have already recognized a way to reach out to those with less. We’re hoping to be 100% funded in the next 4-6 weeks, which will allow us to depart for Kenya in early August.
I’m a big believer in the Jewish concept of “Shalom.” Far beyond our usual translation as “peace,” shalom refers to individuals, societies, and nations being in harmonious relationship with one another and with God. We’re hoping that our support team represents a tiny manifestation of Shalom in this world, and we welcome you to join us.