Why the heck would a Missionary need so much money to live in a poor country?

A picture is worth 1000 words and this one pretty much sums up the cost of living in El Salvador.  Exact same Hot Dog from Costco/Pricemart.  In US $1.50 with a 20oz soda and in El Salvador $2.49 and if you want the drink it will cost you $1.29 more.

 

I remember several years back speaking with a close pastor friend about a couple that was preparing to go the mission field. His church had just heard back from the sending agency the amount of money they would need to raise for their budget. He was aghast at the amount, remarking that it was almost equal to his salary.

I remember being struck by the two things this revealed. The first was that we American Christians expect missionaries to have a much lower standard of living than we would subject our pastors to. The second was that the majority of Americans do not realize how cheap things are in the US compared to the rest of the world. Most do not realize how much it would take to maintain their same standard of living, even in very poor countries.

Our work in El Salvador is primarily providing on- ground missionary care to long term missionaries.   We see firsthand the strain unrealistic budgets have on the missionary families, and their ministries. Because we are bi-vocational missionaries (We go back to the US several months a year to run a seasonal business.) we are in a unique position to speak about this issue. Most missionaries will not bring these things up, because they don’t want their supporters to feel like they are ungrateful. Since we don’t need to raise support for our living expenses it is easier for me to be more frank about this issue.

While I want to mostly focus on why it is so expensive to live on the mission field, I do want to take a brief look at the first thing I mentioned.

Why do we assume that missionary’s families should live at a much lower standard of living than we would ourselves be willing to live at?

Missionaries leave behind their support network of family and friends often moving into a dangerous environment where daily life is so much more difficult. A place where a car that breaks down is more than an inconvenience, and living in a nicer neighborhood is not about prestige but being able to sleep with less fear at night. Where power and water outages make being able to buy fast food a life saver, and where shopping at a decent store is more about not getting sick from parasites than convenience. In a foreign land missionary kids feel lost and alone struggling to communicate and spending most their time locked in their homes because of safety concerns. They miss dearly the freedoms they had in their former life. There is no walking to meet friends at a local park and very few free opportunities for recreation as most has to be done in areas with security and high walls. For a missionary couple, having the financial flexibility to allow their kids to participate in an extracurricular activity is critical to the family’s survival.   The above are just a few of the challenges missionaries face; there are many others (cannot flush toilet paper, no hot water, days spent in long lines trying to pay bills or get government documents, the list could go on and on.). So why when we send them out to face so many challenges do we also expect them to live at a level we would deem unacceptable in the US?

It seems ironic that the corporate world sees the necessity of paying people who move overseas to work a larger salary, while the church does the opposite. Corporations do not offer higher salaries overseas because they just want to be nice. They do it because they realize the extra hardships and costs their employees will face, and they want to make sure they have the resources to be successful. Does it really make sense to do the opposite for our missionary families?

A look at missionary marriages and finances https://elsalvadormissionaryfellowship.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/you-see-that-happy-missionary-family-smiling-out-of-the-postcard-on-your-fridge-their-marriage-is-probably-hanging-by-a-thread/

 

The myth of a cheap life overseas

“I heard that the average person in xyz country makes $300 a month so if we give you $1500 a month your family you should be able to live like kings.”

 

People have heard how low the salaries in xyz country are, or read articles about how it is so much cheaper to retire overseas, or know you can get an hour long massage for $5. Therefor,  you must be able to live on next to nothing. There are a number of reasons why a poor country that seems cheap when you visit can be so expensive to live. Since we serve in El Salvador I am going to use examples from here, but the same principles hold true regardless of the country your missionary is serving in.

The first thing you have to wrap your mind around is that the situation in the US is an anomaly. In the US things (food, clothes, electronics, building material, ECT) are cheap and labor is expensive. In most of the world it is the exact opposite, things are expensive and labor is cheap. That means in most poor countries luxuries like a massage that you indulge in on vacation are cheap, but day to day things you need are often more expensive.

 

Below I have outlines what I feel is the minimum budget for a missionary family of 4 in El Salvador to operate in a healthy way. As a reference point this budget would allow them to live at the same level as a family of 4 living in San Diego making $65,000 a year.

Costs for things like cars and furnishings are taking the average over a 5 year period. It also assumes that at this income level they will not owe any state or federal income taxes, but only social security and Medicare.

The budget comparison is a family of 4 in Escondido California (low cost suburb of San Diego) with a combined gross income of $65,004. It also assumes employer provided health insurance and matching 401k. Those who live in San Diego area know that $65,004 a year is far from living a life of luxury. You will notice that besides rent, for comparable items most things are more expensive in El Salvador.  I explain why these things are more expensive in more detail towards the end.

Monthly expenses-

Monthly amounts for items like furnishings and car are averaged over several years

                                                             San Salvador                              Escondido

Rent (1100 square foot apt)                   $800                                             $1300

Furnishings                                            $200                                             $100

Water                                                      $75                                                $37

Electric                                                   $200                                              $100

Internet                                                  $50                                                $30

2 cell phones                                          $160                                              $80

Total House and Utility                         $1485                                            $1647

Groceries                                                $770                                              $700

Eating Out                                              $100                                              $75

Household Items(Soap, shampoo, etc) $110                                               $100

Car expense (5 year old base model compact SUV) below are costs for 2 vehicles

Depreciation                                           $366                                             $250

Insurance                                                $150                                             $150

Gas                                                           $275                                            $250

Repairs and Maintenance                       $350                                            $250

Tuition and school fees 2 kids                $900                                           $50

Entertainment                                         $100                                            $100

Misc.                                                         $250                                           $250

Retirement contributions                        $400                                          $200

Emergency Savings                                  $200                                          $200

Total                                                          $5586                                        $4754

10% tithe                                                   $559                                          $432

Total Net monthly income needed          $6145                                         $4754

Medicare and Social Security owed         $940 (15.3%)                             $363 (7.65%)

Heath Ins not paid for by employer        $1000                                         $300

Total Monthly                                           $8085                                         $5417

Yearly                                                        $97,050                                      $65,004

Airfare and travel expense to US             $4000                                         $0

Visa and Lawyer Fees                               $500                                           $500

10% fee for sending Org overhead          $10155                                         $0

Total Needed                                            $111,705                                       $65,004

So a missionary in San Salvador needs to raise $111,705 to have a similar standard of living as a family of 4 living in San Diego making $65,000 a year. This does not even cover any funds to be used for ministry. Remember a big portion of this is for things most employers pay for and people don’t consider part of their salary (the employer’s share of SSI and Medicare, health insurance, matching 401k, airline tickets, and admin fees) and $10,000 is for school tuition that they would not have to pay in the US.

If you look at our sample budget there is not really any fat to cut. Unfortunately most missionaries we work with live on budgets much lower than the one I have outlined. Sometimes this is because they have struggled to raise funds, but often it is due to the living allowance allotted by their sending church. This means that all the stresses of living in a foreign land are compounded by finances. Unfortunately this often has dire impacts on marriages and families causing many to leave the mission field. Even from a purely financial perspective it is more expensive when we do not support our missionaries properly. When a missionary leaves the field after only a couple years because of financial stresses it means tens of thousands of dollars of wasted investment.

We would invite you to have an honest conversation with the missionaries you partner with. Are they operating on an adequate budget like the one we detailed? One that allows them to focus on the ministry task at hand? Or are they in a situation where more effort goes into keeping their head above water than pushing forward in the ministry.

 

Below is a further explanation of all the line items

 

Rent

Just as in the US, in El Salvador rents are all over the board. Most missionaries in El Salvador live in the capital city of San Salvador because that is where their ministries are based. Wanting to live in the nice part of town has an entirely different motivation when your host country has the highest murder rate in the world, and gangs control most of the city. A 3 bedroom cinder block apartment with security in a safe area of town can be found for about $800 a month. This would be a simple but clean 1100 square foot block construction with old window unit AC units in some of the bedrooms. We know missionaries paying from $400-$2000+ but around $800 would be the norm. A similar apartment in Escondido (inland San Diego) would probably rent for about $1300 a month. We are talking something livable, but nothing to get excited about.

This is a great blog dealing with living in the murder capital of the world https://robeckfamilyblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/do-not-fear/

Furnishings

Because of import taxes and less competition new furniture and appliances are about 30% more than they are in the US. Used furniture is at least double what you would pay in the US if you can even find something used.    Also due to the harsh environment and erratic power, appliances last about 1/3 as long as they would in the US. We are on our 3rd brand new washing machine in 8 years

Utilities

While rent is cheaper in El Salvador utilities are more expensive.   The US has very cheap electricity because it has access to cheap coal and natural gas. Water is cheaper because US has more efficient infrastructure and cell phones are cheaper because it is a bigger market with more competition

 

Water

Non drinkable piped water averages about $12 per 1000 gallons in San Salvador. In San Diego it is less than half at $5 per 1000 gallons and it is even drinkable. Most missionaries pay $50-$100 a month for piped water in San Salvador. This does not include the bottled water missionaries must buy not just for drinking, but also washing produce, cooking, and even brushing teeth.

Electric

Even though San Diego has some of the highest electricity rates in the US they are still about half the cost of El Salvador. The US has plenty of cheap coal and natural gas giving it some of the lowest electricity costs in the world.  At our house in El Salvador we pay about .30 per KWH. This is 3 to 4 times the average rate in the US. I remember being shocked when we got our first electric bill. Our house in El Salvador is only about 900 square feet and our electric bill was over $500 for one month. In San Diego we had a 2600 square foot house and our bill was usually around $200. Most missionaries spend between $100-$400 a month on electricity.

Internet

If you live in an area with fixed line internet it is a little higher than prices in the US. We have to rely on cellular internet which is $90 a month for enough data for emails and normal web use but no videos.

Cell Phones

Cell phone plans with about 300 minutes of call time and 3 gigs of data is about $80 per phone. No unlimited calling here. It is about 2x what you would pay in San Diego for a similar plan. It is a necessity for the family to have a minimum of 2 cell phones for safety.

 

Groceries

We spend about 10% more on groceries here than we would in San Diego. If we tried to eat the same here as we did in San Diego it would be significantly higher than that. We just don’t really buy things like cereal or chips that often, because they are crazy expensive. They also don’t really ever have sales on things. In the US you can often find nice steaks on sale for $5.00 a pound where here those same steaks would be about $12.00 per pound. I love steak, but we wait until we go back to California to buy it. There is also not really any advantage to buying in bulk. If the package contains 10 times as much it is usually 10 times the price.

Eating Out

Fast food is more expensive here than in the US if you are trying to get a cheap meal. You can get a Whopper for about the same price as in the US, but there are almost no $1 budget menu options. Also if you want a drink you have to buy it. There are no free cups of water and if you buy a soda. no free refills. Mid-range restaurants are about the same as the US. High end restaurants are cheaper than the US.

If you are really on a budget in the US you can go in and feed a family of 4 for $10 off the dollar menu. You do not have that option here. Pricesmart which is the Costco of El Salvador is a prime example. At Costco you get a hot dog and soda for $1.50. At Pricesmart the exact same hot dog (they actually use Costco’s hot dogs) is $2.49 and it is another $1.29 for a soda. So a hot dog and soda at Costco is literally 2.5x as much in El Salvador. Things like saline solution, feminine products, laundry detergent are about 30% more expensive than in the US.

 

Vehicle expense

Because of high import and sales taxes and less competition in the car market, new and non-salvaged used vehicles are about 30% more expensive than in the US. This is further complicated by the fact that if you do ministry outside of the capital you need an SUV or truck due to the road conditions. Gas is about 10% more expensive. Having a decent car is much more critical in El Salvador than in the US. Breaking down in the US is a hassle, but breaking down in El Salvador can put you in serious danger. Also the driving here is very aggressive and you are much more likely to be involved in a high speed head-on accident. For the first time in my life I care if my car has airbags. Average cost in El Salvador for a 3 year old non-salvaged Honda CRV is $22,000; the same vehicle in US can be bought for$16,500.   Some families make due with one vehicle, but this is very difficult especially with kids. Usually means the wife is stuck at home quite a bit and can be very isolating.

 

School for the kids

This is an area that a lot of people do not think about because school is free in the US. Some missionaries home school, but often times this winds up being just as expensive as private school. Other missionary families feel it is best for their kids to have some semblance of a normal life by attending school. In El Salvador private schools range from $300-$900 a month per student. For a mid-level school it would average about $450 per month per student or $900 for a family with 2 kids. Most of the time public schools are not even an option as the education is at such a low level.

 

Entertainment

It is crucial for families and marriages that missionaries budget for fun time together. Some things like going to the movies are cheaper in El Salvador, but this is offset by the fact that there are very few free options. Even going to the beach usually means paying a fee for access.

 

Misc.

This covers clothes, gifts, birthday parties, haircuts, kids karate classes ECT

 

Retirement Contributions

Retirement is an area that most people neglect to even think about. For some reason people think missionaries will not need any retirement. The fact is they should be saving even more than people back home.

Home equity is usually the biggest asset of people when they retire and most missionaries don’t own a home because it is hard to get a mortgage overseas. Missionaries should be saving significantly more than average to compensate for the fact that they will be paying a mortgage or rent during their retirement years. They also do not have any matching 401K plan so it is all on their shoulders. The last thing you want is to put people in the position where they cannot leave the mission field in their later years because they have nothing saved to live on. I would guess that at least 80% of those we work with are not putting anything into retirement accounts. Unless their sending churches plan on supporting them in their old age they need to make sure their missionaries have budgeted enough to contribute to an IRA or other retirement plan.

 

Emergency Savings

It is always wise to set money aside for emergencies. It is more critical on the mission field than anywhere, as most missionaries jump from one emergency to the next

 

Tithe

Missionaries should be able to participate in the joy of giving. Not only are they members of local churches that need to be supported, but they also are continually presented with dire needs that they are compelled to help with. We expect that our pastors give back a portion of their salary and we need to make sure our missionaries have this opportunity also.

 

Medicare and Social Security Taxes

Many people do not realize that they only pay half of the Social Security and Medicare taxes and that their employer pays the other half. Because missionaries do not have an employer they are responsible for both the employer and employees share. This is a 15.3% tax and there are no deductions at all. If your salary is $50,000 your Social Security and Medicare taxes due are $7650. There is no way to lower them. This catches many missionaries by surprise.

 

Health Insurance

Most people get health insurance from their job. Even those who have a large amount taken out of their paycheck every month still have the majority of the costs picked up by their employer. It costs most companies anywhere from $12,000-$30,000 a year to provide health insurance. Of course missionaries do not have a company picking up most of the tab for their policy. Usually it is cheaper to get insurance outside the US even if they have to pay the Obamacare fine, but most missionaries also have higher medical expenses from tropical diseases and injuries.

 

Airfare and travel expense.

Most missionaries return to the US every few years to see family, report to supporting churches, and to fund raise. In addition to airfare they need to pay for housing and travel expenses. This is in addition to their expenses in the country they are serving in. They usually keep paying rent and other expenses so that they can return to the same home.

 

Visa and Lawyer fees

This is for ongoing visa issues. First year expense would likely be much higher

 

10% fee charged by sending Org to cover overhead

Most sending agencies have a 10% service charge for handling all the logistical and regulatory issues of taking in donations. This usually also covers the fees involved when people make donations by credit card.

 

This is a follow up blog to explain why it costs 4 times as much to send a missionary family of 4 than it does to send a young single missionary.  We had a lot of feedback from young single missionaries who  had a hard time understanding why a family of 4 would need so much more than they were living on.  This answers that plus a number of other great questions raised by commenters.

https://elsalvadormissionaryfellowship.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/buy-1-missionary-get-3-free-and-other-myths-why-it-costs-a-lot-more-to-send-a-family-to-the-mission-field-than-a-young-single/

 

Visit us http://www.missionaryfellowship.com

 

Added Sunday January 31 in response to earlier comments

 

To clarify we do not take any personal support, we are not advocating for ourselves but for the missionaries we work with. 

According to the world bank out of El Salvador’s population of 6,000,000 people- 100,000 are wealthy and 1,000,000 are middle class.  The salary we are advocating for missionaries, would make them part of the one million strong middle class .  It hardly, as some have commented, puts them in a rich bubble.  I have never heard anyone claim that a middle class American would have trouble ministering to somebody on welfare, so I am not sure why people think that in El Salvador it would raise barriers.  We work with dozens of missionaries in El Salvador at all support levels and have seen zero correlation between low support and impactful ministry.  We do however, see a high correlation between low support and burnout. 

Since I keep seeing outraged comments talking about $111,000 salary I am adding this section to try and simplify things for those having a hard time understanding.  Most people only look at their take home pay, not the value of everything that their employer pays for.  The salary I describe above is not $110,000 a year it is $58,140 ($6708 which is given back as a tithe) so $4286 per month net.  Plus tuition for kids at cheapest accredited school, health insurance, and minimal retirement.

Would it be easier if I told you that even with all the travel costs and ministry overhead, it costs the church the same amount to send a missionary family of 4 overseas as it costs California to pay the salary and benefits for a teacher to work 9 months?

I hope this will help put this in perspective by comparing it to the average total compensation of a Californian Public School Teacher.

For 1 year

                                                 Missionary              Average Californian Public School teacher

Salary                                              $58,140                                                  $71,396

Retirement contributions              $16,080 (SSI+400 p/m)                         $22,132

Health Ins (w/ 2 kids)                    $12,000                                                   $17,000

Kids tuition accredited school        Paid                                                           Paid

Work related expenses                    Paid                                                            Paid                   

 

I am advocating that we pay our missionary couples who serve in the most challenging of conditions, 22% less than we pay 1 Californian teacher, to work for 9 months.   I also assume of course to pay their work related expenses and for a comparable education for their children.    

 

 

                                             

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165 thoughts on “Why the heck would a Missionary need so much money to live in a poor country?

  1. Thanks for this article, and thanks to everyone else for the comments! What a great debate. We’ve lived in a very stable (and expensive) Central American country for a little over 7 years. Labor is cheapish, things are costly. Generally things (cars, gas, clothes, food, appliances, etc.) cost 2x more here than we could get them for in the US. Also, we don’t have as many discount options–garage sales, goodwill. Even the “ropa americanas” sell used clothing at higher prices than I could get things on sale at Target or Old Navy. The times I have bought shoes or clothes here at prices I could afford (new) the quality has been horrific. And locals sell used items for much more than we are accustomed to spending. I remember when we first got here, looking at used couches (that we wouldn’t have picked up if they’d been free on the side of the road) that were selling for over $300 each! Other things for us here are cheaper, cell phone plan, local produce (pineapples and mangos for almost nothing when they are in season!), water and electric. And I admit, I always feel a little smug when people visit us and start to calculate the prices of things and say, “Wow, you were right–I can’t believe how expensive this is!” There is a lot, needless to say, that we do without–usually happily :). While we don’t eat only rice and beans, we also don’t eat a ton of meat (and we buy the “cheap” stuff usually), and I’ve figured out which things are worth buying at Pricesmart and which things are better to get at the Maxi Pali (local grocery store). I have had to let go of a lot of ugly entitlement that I didn’t know was hiding inside of me, and it’s part of God’s refining process in my life. I also recognise this attitude in some other foreigners and I don’t like it, but I try to give grace. I recognise my privileged life more and more. And the point of this article isn’t to say that missionaries deserve to live in luxury–I hope none of us (missionaries or not!) would say that is what we deserve!! But there is something to say for living in a balanced way that takes into account ALL of the things we have all brought up–trust in the Lord as provider, God’s specific calls, safety concerns, stewardship and accountability of money often times given sacrificially, mental health, physical health, retirement, longevity, children’s needs, location and lifestyle in consideration of those we are working and and serving among (being incarnational), etc. etc. etc. How to do that perfectly? Not sure.

    I think for us one of the biggest shocks was school for our kids. B/c ours were little when we moved, and I’m a teacher, and our host country has “good public education,” we didn’t really think about it. But then we realised God had called us to an area where the public schools are not that ‘good.’ And the 1/2 day schedules wouldn’t have allowed me to be involved in our ministry start up. So, we ended up putting them in a local private school that was close to us. Happens to be a pretty good one, and one of the more affordable ones, but we still pay over $300/mo. per kid (we have 3 kids and youngest is starting kindergarten). I pulled #2 out last year and homeschooled him for special needs reasons, but a benefit has been that we save some $$$$. A down side is my involvement in ministry changed a lot.

    Also, a thought about stewardship. Why do we feel like we need to police the spending of missionaries and not other Christians? I understand that other people/churches are giving my family money so that we can be here, etc., and I feel a huge burden to use that money wisely, to be accountable, etc. On the other hand, GOD IS our provider (through the generosity of others, primarily). But God was my provider when I worked as a public school teacher in California, too. I felt my ‘mission’ was the same, and I had the same conviction to steward that money as I do now. Should I have more freedom to go to Starbucks and own 2 or 3 cars and eat steak every week when my salary comes from the state (which comes from taxpayers)?

    Maybe I should say a big THANK YOU right now to all of our supporters that have given generously, that have trusted us, that have encouraged us and pray for us, and have even given me money to get things like a new haircut, a blow dryer and to go out to dinner with my husband! You guys believe in what God is doing here and I am humbled at the extent of your support.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why does everyone assume their situation is the same for everyone? Single power say families should live like them. People in the Caribbean think people in Asia or Africa should live like them. People in predominately Christian think people in Muslim countries can function and live the same. This article is addressing a serious issue. Americans are widely uninformed about cost of living overseas. Short term trips do even more harm in this area. People don’t buy a refrigerator with 100% import tax on a short trip but do see the $5 massage place. I see what many of you are saying about sacrifice. We make many sacrifices but some we aren’t willing to make. I’m not sending my children to the Islamic school, Sorry. My wife is involved in ministry when should she home school? We will be required by the government to travel with guards, should I just tell them no I want to be like a local? It isn’t an option.

    How much money does God have? That’s right ALL of it is His. We should be good stewards. We shouldn’t live in mansions and drive Lamborghinis (they’d get all messed up by the potholes). But guys and gals what if God called me to live in a mansion and drive an expensive car to reach oil barrons of the Middle East then I should do it and believe me God can provide.

    Thanks for writing this article. Your replies have also been well thought out and point on. Financial stress hopefully will never claim another missionary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the information. I travel regularly in short term mission work and work with missionaries often.
      You are exactly right in what you are saying. We need to step up our support level. It is essential that we realize the challenges our families face as we expect them to minister effectively on the field.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. A very thoughtful and timely article. My husband and I are Ngerians serving with an indigenous mission agency in Nigeria. We have been engaged in missions work in and out of Nigeria for about 24 years and are blessed with 5 children. The issues mentioned in this article are so very true even in this part of the world. I am touched that someone cared enough to bring up these issues. I really hope Christians understand these things. Because the truth is while we Christians who claim to have a truth worth sharing with the world, are put off by the need to ensure that missionaries are well supported to reduce destractions as they carry out this assignment, the terrorist groups we condemn daily are growing because fellow Muslims see it an honour to give generously to their cause, as destructive as it is. Sometimes I think that if Jesus were here in our day, He would probably have asked the church to learn from the Muslims as far as commitment to a cause is concerned.

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  3. While I sympathize with the desire to give your family a “comparable” quality of life, using an economic comparison to examine the needs of a missionary is way too simplistic. What about the need to understand local struggles? What about the need to be able to relate and connect in every day life situations? Material satisfies the needs to make missionaries comfortable, but these intangibles are the “needs” that make missionaries effective.

    Here in Haiti, anyone living at an “American” standard of living lives at a higher standard than 99% of the rest of the country. As a result, lines form at their guarded gates with their “friends” and neighbors hoping to profit from their benevolence. When extreme need must stare relative wealth in the face on a daily basis, it becomes a stumbling block to real relationship. We pretend that a needy local should be able to sit in a missionary living room (bigger than his whole house) without at least the hope that he might get to go home with a little something extra that day.

    The stark difference between the missionary standard and the “ordinary” standard of living automatically builds a socio-economic barrier that inevitably reduces a missionary’s effectiveness. It’s hard to invite ordinary people into every day life because there is a pink elephant in every room of the house, car(s), etc. It creates awkward situations where missionaries who read of the early church “sharing all things in common,” find it difficult to truly share with their foreign brothers without feeding dependency and false expectation. This clash of need and “perceived excess” produces an invisible wall as it becomes impossible to escape the well rehearsed script of “Needy Local Meets Foreign Benefactor.” This is a role that the majority of missionaries that I know find themselves constantly struggling to escape. Little do they know, sometimes it’s their relative wealth that makes them a target.

    As in all things, Christ is the standard. He left heaven rich and came to earth poor. If he had been born in a golden manger, suckled on the breast of a cherub, and rode on a unicorn instead of a donkey, we may have had a case for holding on to comparative living standards, but the incarnation of Christ is proof of the greatest need of any missionary: the ability to relate. Christ became human that he might know our sufferings and intercede from a place of understanding.

    I’m not against planning for basic needs and having a little luxury here and there… but everything that you have in excess of your neighbors robs you of an experience that could help you to better relate to them. And being able to relate is much more important than being able to go to the beach weekends and having 24/7 electricity in a 4 bedroom home with the best modern furnishings. Sometimes choosing the mission really must mean rejecting “the good life.” Just saying…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Joseph, thanks for your well thought out insights.

      I think there have been some misconceptions as to some of the points of my article. We support our personal needs through our labors in our own business. This article is not about my desires, but about the struggles we see many of the missionaries we work with face. The Lord has chosen to provide for our needs through a business He has blessed us with, rather than the sacrificial giving of others. This does not in any way change our responsibility to be faithful stewards of our resources. It also does not make the issues you bring up any less important. The interesting thing is, that I have found people are much less judgmental and see these issues you speak of as much less important, when they find out you are paying for things out of your our pocket rather than with money from supporters. It has given us a freedom to order our lives and our ministry in the most efficient and impactful way, rather than wondering who will be second guessing and judging our every purchase like they do with many of the missionaries we work with.

      The main point of the article and the comparison to the cost of living in San Diego was to help people understand that things are not cheaper overseas. There is a common misconception among the majority of Americans that things are expensive in the US, and cheaper in less developed countries. The majority of Americans literally think that they could live the exact same way they do now for about 1/3 as much in the developing world. Most also do not think about all the other things missionaries need to pay for. (health ins, payroll taxes, visas, relocation and travel expenses ect.) My hope was that by providing concrete comparisons it would help illustrate that a missionary that raises $80,000 in support has the lifestyle of a person in the US making $40,000 a year, not the lifestyle of a person making $160,000 as many assume.

      The other thing I see is people confusing tools to be effective and efficient, with comfort. Many challenge the need for a missionary to have a vehicle. Of course there are some situations where a missionary might not need a vehicle, but for most it would be impractical and inefficient. From your response I would impute that you have a grasp on the big picture, and assume you probably have your own vehicle or regular access to one in the name of your ministry in Haiti. Even with the relatively low wages here in El Salvador, I still found it very inefficient to have my local assistant trying to accomplish things using the bus system. I bought a truck for him to use because it was the tool he needed to get things done most efficiently, not because I wanted to make sure he was comfortable. It is also the same reason I pay the bill for his smart phone. The fact that he can get directions to places he needs to go, send pictures back and forth when we are working on projects, and email me documents while on the road are well worth the monthly cost. If I did not provide him with these tools, I would be the servant who buried the talent in the ground, not the one who returned two fold. I would assume that you also use a smart phone to help you conduct your ministry.

      I would be surprised if the standard of living that I am advocating for is not very similar to how you are living. We are a family of 4 living in 850 square foot simple cement block home equal to what I would advocate for other missionaries. This would be the equivalent of a couple like you living in a 425 square foot home.(I assume from your comments that you don’t have kids) Here is an example of what I am suggesting https://sansalvadorcity.olx.com.sv/alquilo-apartamento-con-linea-blanca-en-san-benito-iid-862121445
      This is the 4 bedroom house that I think you are describing which is definitely not what I am advocating for https://antiguocuscatlan.olx.com.sv/alquilo-casa-en-portal-la-palma-iid-862080051. Also not advocating for nice furniture (our is primarily plastic) but do think that it is wise to have things like a washing machine. Yes most of the local population washes clothes by hand, but things like this are also the reason productivity is so low here. Once again I don’t see things like this as being life style choices, but as deciding how to best steward your time.

      I can understand how the patronage culture would make some of these issues a little more difficult in Haiti. The economy in Haiti is unique in the fact that it has become so dominated and distorted by foreign aid and NGO’s that many understandably equate foreigners with economic opportunity. Of course I am not blind to the impact economic status can have on personal relationships, but I have not seen it be any more of a barrier here in El Salvador than it is in the US. In fact, it has been my experience that most here are more eager to share what they have, than to seek something from you. I would say that the one exception to this would be local pastors, who often see relationships with foreigners as a pathway to material support for both their church and their personal needs. However, they generally see the local missionary as a conduit with the ability to connect them with wealthy churches and individuals in the US, not as somebody that will contribute to them directly. It is assumed that as an American you probably have those connections regardless of how you are living.

      It is clear that even in the early church issues arose due to economic disparities. We are always called to bear one another’s burdens and to minister to the widow and the fatherless, yet it is a self imposed yoke to feel the need to make sure everyone lives at an equal level. When Paul corrects the early church in these matters it is not to tell them they all needed to live at the same level, but to make sure that there was no favoritism to the wealthy within the church, or activities that would cause those with less to feel that they were not an equal part of the body. There was never a command in Acts that the people needed to hold everything in common, but it was a beautiful example of Christ’s love for that period of time. Whether that movement came from a moving of the Holy Spirit, or an incorrect understanding that Christ’s return would be in days not centuries, is up for debate. However there is clearly no command for all to live in this manner. Yes Christ was born in a manger, but he also lived in a manner that was contrasted to the austerity of John the Baptist ‘For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34″The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ The fact that His feet and head were anointed with perfume that was as inaccessible to the common person as your unicorn, did not keep him from understanding suffering. I have yet to meet a missionary that does not understand suffering.

      The missionaries in El Salvador are light years away from being the rich 1%. They are considered middle class by Salvadoran standards; (granted the middle class only makes up about 17% or the population here) They live in Salvadoran neighborhoods not embassy ghettos, shop in the same stores as the locals and drive average looking cars, not Land Cruisers. They do not live in a bubble that makes is difficult to relate with those they serve.

      I would agree with you that choosing the mission means rejecting the “good life”. In fact I would argue that it is not only missionaries who make that decision but all those who give their lives to Christ, for we know we “cannot serve two masters”. I do think we think we are called to be wise stewards of the resources and opportunities that we are entrusted with and that we should not purposely hobble our missionaries that we send out. I honestly would be surprised if we were nearly as far apart on these things as you think we are. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As a missionary working in Japan bringing in less than $3,000 a month. and only receiving in salary $2,200 after admin and ministry expenses I think this article is a joke.

    You are focusing on worldly ideals, this is pretty obvious because you have no Biblical support for your position. You just use a lot of circumstantial stuff that you think is relevant. The Bible calls us to live sacrificially. Not just missionaries of course, but all believers. Paul taught in his letters that receiving a salary for doing God’s work is fine, but what you are talking about is comfortable living as a focal point.

    If anything your post makes me want to decrease the salary of the pastor who qualms about a missionary receiving almost as much as him.

    And your picture shows pretty wrong headed priorities too. If you are trying to reduplicate your life back in your home country than you don’t belong in a second country. It is fine to enjoy the occasional comfort food, but Corinthians talks about becoming all things to all people so that by all means we might save some.

    I gladly accept that missionaries should make slightly more than average than the local populace because of the legal fees (and in some countries bribes) required to live in a foreign country, and also because of the fact that they are expected to return to their home country every year or two to report (which is a Biblical practice Acts 14) but this article I think totally misses the point of why we go and that is to make disciples. When Jesus made disciples He became like them, like us. We need to do the same thing.

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    1. KJ

      I guess I did not do a great job of conveying that by budget is for a family of 4. Your blog states that you are single, so your $3000 a month supports you . The budget I show supports 4 people. 4 people x $3000 = $12,000 x 12 months = $144,000 a year. I know some of yours is for ministry expense (our budget also includes admin expense). You can double check my math, but I think you and I are on the same page and talking about similar budgets.

      A kid on the mission field is just as expensive as an adult. Some of their expenses are higher and some are lower, but all in it is about equal.

      Less expensive areas – Cell Phones, Retirement- They don’t need either of those things. Health insurance is a little cheaper per person on a family plan

      More expensive- Schooling- This is one of the biggest components of the budget and obviously is just for the kids

      Same expense level Housing- They may be a little smaller, but they effectively need just as much room. A house for a family of 4 is just as suitable for 4 roommates. This goes for all the utilities also. Car- Though kids do not drive themselves they need to be driven a lot of places including school every day. Without kids a couple would probably only need one car. If you are single in a city with good public transport you minght not need a car at all. Food and dinning out- kids usually eat as much if not more than their parents. Entertainment, Misc, emergency savings, plane tickets, visa expense are all also just as expensive for a child. Payroll tax, org overhead, and tithe are all percentage based, so they also are just as expensive for a child.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. First off you are wrong on the math here. If I have get married then then living expenses don’t double. Rent (which is the biggest single expense I have) stays the same. Even if I were to move into a larger place it wouldn’t come close to doubling. A very large number of things have a shared price.

        Secondly, your response includes no Biblical support. Your arguments are all math and no Scripture. The Bible does not indicate lives of comfort for missionaries. I very disappointed by the image that you are putting out there since there are so many people that do think missionaries are always just after money.

        I am not just a critique, according to my own organization I am an underfunded missionary eleven months of the year and would potentially have huge personal benefit if I tried to advance your message. But you shouldn’t be sharing this kind of stuff as blanket statements about missionaries. If you want to justify really high prices for a specific ministry that is fine. But God can do more than we can imagine with far less than we have. And perspective new missionaries shouldn’t be scared away from the field because someone is throwing around numbers that living the American dream outside of America instead of being able to live alongside people and becoming like them so that you may win them.

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      2. Kj I feel for I brother. I read a few of your posts. You are by your own admission struggling to live on the funding you have. You also are desiring a wife and kids. I promise you are underestimating the costs of family life. As a single you can suck it up and live cheaply but as a man with a wife and kids their well being is paramount because if they aren’t healthy emotionally and mentally the work cannot continue. You also live in one of the safest places in the world therefore safety concerns aren’t that important. I could be wrong but attacking the author biblically is not healthy as I see this through your eyes of hurt because of your own struggles fund raising. I hope you become fully funded so your focus can be on the gospel not on gain more support. Your claims that this isn’t Biblical are really interesting due to the Bible never staying how much a believer should receive. Check your motives before attacking people especially when claiming biblical authority.

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      3. Still no Biblical support. You said “You could be wrong” You are wrong. First off there is a difference between attack and rebuke. Secondly, The Bible is the only grounds on which we can stand for rebuking someone. 2 Tim 3:16 says All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
        I am trying to call to attention the gap between Matt 6:19-20, Mark 10:25, Luke 9:23 And the American Dream. An individual family might in their individual situation need to raise a large amount of money. But the kind of information in this post has has stopped people from going into missions. I know people who were discouraged because of exaggerated financial numbers.
        I know families that left one organization to join others because the first organization had financial requirements that were to high.

        We should not in missions to get rich, live a comfortable life, afford sending kids to expensive international schools, have an experience. We need to be in it for the sake of discipling the nations.

        Since no one has used the Bible so far to support their claims I have decided not to read any more responses or reply anymore.

        I sincerely hope that your ministries are blessed with much fruit. To a much lesser degree I hope that you stop sharing this information as a blanket rational for all missionaries.

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      4. KJ,

        Brother, lets have this discussion in love as fellow followers of Christ. It seems like you are dealing with a lot of hurt right now, but we are brothers trying to come along side you in love and encourage you.

        I do not lay claim that this is the budget, that the bible says is appropriate for a family of 4 on the mission field. Like many aspects of life, the bible provides us principles to use not absolute instructions. As an example the bible does not tell us if we should wash our clothes, and if we do, how we should do it. I believe we are to be good stewards of our financial resources. Thus though the Bible does not specify it, I would say being a good steward means we should care for our clothing by washing them. We have to decide, do we wash it by hand or use a washing machine. Now we have to also look at the stewardship of our time (because time spent washing clothes by hand means you have less time available for ministry). If the cost of doing a load of clothes is $1 (with utilities and the fractional cost of the machine), and it saves you 2 hours, than using biblical principles I would say it would be wise to pay to use a washer. If your only option beside washing by hand is a luxury laundry service that is going to charge you $500, than I would say my understanding of how God calls us to live and steward our resources would point towards hand washing. I know that might seem like a silly example but I am trying to explain how biblical constructs inform the way we make decisions. Thinking through all these issues guided by Biblical principles is how I constructed the budget I presented.

        I claim to use biblical principles in setting a budget, I never claim biblical authority because the bible does not get into specifics. The bible does not give us the specifics for a missionary budget, when you infer that it does, it difficult to have a constructive conversation.

        Since it appears that you believe your budget is the one God commands missionaries to live by, I decided to accept your view as the right one for the sake of finding common ground. I clearly explained and showed what your budget for one would look like for a family of four. All that I have heard back from you is that your future wife could live in the place you live now and that it is ridiculous to send kids to an accredited school. Either you are paying for more housing than you need now or you are unrealistic about what you will need when there are two of you living there. I do not think it is ridiculous to want your kids to have a passable education but that is my opinion no verse to back it up.

        You keep saying I have no biblical grounds for the budget while insinuating that you do even though it is higher per person than mine. You keep railing against a purportedly outrageous budget when it is lower than your budget which you view as Godly and austeer

        Since you are single and are used to viewing the world through that lens maybe it will be easier if I lay out what I feel would be a reasonable budget for a single male missionary in El Salvador.

        $275-$400 a month for a furnished bedroom including kitchen and laundry privileges and utilities. I will use $400 at the high end so that you have your own room. You could make it on less if you are willing to have a roommate.

        $300 for transportation. This would be to share a car with another single.

        So this is what a reasonable budget for a single in El Salvador would look like. It sounds like it is cheaper than what you face and I am definitely not judging you for that.

        $400 Total housing costs including furnishings and utilities
        $300 transportation (all costs 1/2 use of shared car)
        $80 cell phone (smart phone)
        $200 groceries
        $25 eating out
        $30 household items
        $25 entertainment
        $65 misc
        $200 retirement
        $50 emergency savings

        1375.00 subtotal
        137.50 tithe

        $1512.50
        $19,475 yearly
        $1000 furlough expenses
        $125 visa expenses
        $3000 health insurance

        23,600 per year compared to your $26,400. ($2200 per month) My crazy comfort budget for a single is $1966.66 per month compared to the $2200 that is your Godly budget. (this strips out org overhead and payroll taxes since your number does also)

        The only real cost difference between 4 single missionaries living together and a family of four living together is that the single missionaries do not have to attend school. I am sorry if you think your future wife and kids will not increase what you need to live on the mission field, this will be something you will have to experience for yourself. I am not advocating for a the American Dream and life of comfort, anymore than your budget provides you with this.

        I am not afraid what I am saying will delay underfunded prospective missionaries from arriving on the field, I actually pray that it does. I know people are in a hurry to get into the field. Yes, tragically some jump to the sending agency with the lowest requirements, rather than diligently finishing their fund raising. Nobody likes fundraising, and it is tempting to look for shortcut. The truth is nothing makes Christianity seem like it is all about money more than an underfunded missionary. They cannot help but see every person they meet as possibly the one who can make up for the large hole in their budget. They are the missionaries people try to avoid because they feel like they are seen them as a $. A lot of these underfunded missionaries are the most selfless, loving people, who could do amazing things for the gospel if properly equipped. Instead they are often hobbled by the fact that they are always asking for money to pay an urgent bill or expense. I have seen too many of them leave the mission field in debt and embittered, with collateral damage in their wake. So yes I want people to count the cost and not go to the mission field with an unrealistic budget.

        Since you keep asking, I will leave you with a couple of verses that guide my thinking on proper budgeting

        The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty. Prov. 21:5
        “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Luke 14:28

        KJ we are brothers in the Lord, and though I have never met you I feel a sense of burden for you. I pray for your ministry and Japan, and that God will bring you a wife with the same calling. I pray that you can let go of your hurt and rest in the Lord.

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  5. KJ

    I would think if the place you are renting now is big enough for 2 people it would probably be wise to get a roommate to cut your costs in half. That is what I did when I was young and single, 4 guys living in a 2 bedroom place Now I am in a 2 bedroom place with my wife and 2 kids. It literally would cost me 1/4 as much if I was single and had 3 roommates. Furthermore when your “roommates” are a woman and young kids many times the cheaper areas of town that you would consider as a single man, you would not consider living in with your family. I know this is probably not a major concern in Japan but it is in countries like El Salvador

    I apologize If you were told that there would be no math. If I could produce a budget using something else it would be a lot more fun. It would be a lot easier and more productive if you can point out certain line items in the budget that you find so crazy, let’s discuss them. You keep asking me for biblical support. We are commanded to be faithful servants which means ordering our ministries in the wisest most effective way.

    Since you seemed to infer that you were doing it the way the bible says it should be done, I just used your budget and worked backward. I have spent time as a single missionary and as a missionary with a family of 4. My costs as a family of 4 are 4x as much. I love your heart and your motivation so please don’t take my respose the wrong way. We are on the same team eager to see the gospel reach the nations.

    I would humbly submit that it is possible that a young single guy might have some blind spots when it comes to the expenses of a family on the mission field. The fact that you are up in arms about a budget, that on a per person basis is lower than your own, is really perplexing to me. I know the final numbers can be off putting to some, so as I mentioned earlier maybe it would be more helpful for you if I address concerns you have on certain line items in the budget. I appreciate your time and passionate responses

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  6. What a fascinating and instructive dialogue. It just costs a lot of money in most places of the world to move the Gospel forward through missions, doesn’t it. On the other hand it takes a lot of expenditure for business to do business cross-culturally as well.

    I’ve also seen many times where lack of adequate funding eschews a person’s perspective on a lot of issues like, attending staff conferences, unity within a mission team, cross-cultural jealousies, etc. I don’t believe you can get away without running the numbers, at least for mission orgs operating in the western cultures. Here’s a Biblical principle on that from Pro 14:15, “The inexperienced one believes anything, but the sensible one watches his steps.” (Holman Bible)

    Once the numbers have been crunched and we know what money it will take to be out there effectively without financial stress, we can focus on the other end of the spectrum — Fundraising! Raise more money to fund the budget.

    We’ve learned through Life Impact (www.LifeImpactMinistries.net) that it’s quite detrimental to send someone out underfunded (unless that’s what their faith — and not lack of their fundraising success dictates). Unfortunately the numbers are black and white, and compromising on them brings more stress into the life of the missionary being sent once the euphoria of getting to the field is over and the costs start climbing.

    One more issue I’m working on in Fund The Ministry, is how money is raised in other cultures and if similar methodologies work. If you have any thoughts on that, please write me at fundtheministry@gmail.com.

    Thanks for the good stimulation all around!
    Dave Grissen

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  7. Hello, I have had your blog open for several days now and thinking of whether or not I should respond with my two cents. I am in a unique situation because I am serving in South Africa, and I am married to a South African who spent 7 years working with Western missionaries. We are completely unsupported as I intended to enter the field with money provided from my online fitness business, and that just didn’t work out as we planned.

    My husband and I have spent the past two years living without- since my business lost steam and he had left his job to do full time ministry as we both felt led by the Lord. We do not have a car, do not have fancy cell phones, and on several occasions even went without food. We are currently living with a church family so we were not left on the street with our now 9 month old daughter. What I will say first is that God is totally to be glorified in our circumstances because He has provided in ways I could have never imagined through random sponsors, to a basket of plenty from church, to people caring for us like their own. As an American I am unable to work but in recent months I’ve been able to volunteer at a Bible college where we both attend seminary and they provide “love donations” to help us out ( I have an MBA so if it was legal for me to work on my visa we’d be more than comfortable!;)) and my husband has entered back into the working field to earn money but again, a local salary is less than $300 dollars a month and now being married with a daughter that wouldn’t even cover food costs. Yes- locals are severely underpaid. In spite of our financial trouble I see how God has used our circumstances to completely eliminate barriers with the locals we serve alongside as so many commenters mentioned. We hand wash our clothes-and minister to people as we do it. I walk 8kms to work every day with my daughter in a carrier on my back and I have made amazing friendships with the people doing road works or on the local bus line. We have been blessed by not having our finances be a stumbling block to whom we minister to, because they’re taking us out for coffee or having us in for tea! In a country with high racial issues a black man marrying a white American could have created a ton of issues in his culture, but due to our humble living instead it’s united us in a way I never imagined. Thank you LORD.

    My husband has had extensive experience with western missionaries and he will say there is a HUGE gap caused by the quality of life most missionaries wish to obtain in THIS foreign country in particular. They shop at different grocery stores which alone sets them apart to where locals don’t feel relatable to them. It’s incredibly challenging when you know they’ve been asked to raise $1500 in monthly support for a single but out here the higher earning local is earning less than $800 (my spouse brings home $220-full time work). I understand that there are different needs and things to make people more effective, and I am just thankful for my husband’s truthfulness to ensure I don’t become a stumbling block as a foreigner. (He personally feels missionaries should live just like the locals and we’ve fortunately found a nice compromise). Most locals say missionaries are here on vacation (living in nicer homes or driving nicer cars than they would’ve had back home. If it’s true it’s a shame, but I see why they assume this.

    ALL that is to say I LOVE that you outlined this budget. If we had a car we do feel we could do more with our ministry. If we were more comfortable we now know the difference between wants and needs and would be amazing stewards of our things and our time to glorify God. So despite us making the best of our story, we don’t wish it upon anyone else. I love that I know the people I serve alongside, intimately, because I am in their same struggle-but I still desire better for my family now especially after having a child.

    My thoughts on your blog is that you did a great job. I hope that this humbly outlines true needs and that it doesn’t impact anyone’s ministry. I can say from a local’s opinion that is a very fine line to walk. If you have truthful and honest relationships with locals-you will learn whether or not they view missionaries as a dollar sign or a genuine relationship. Regardless if your heart is right- GOD WILL USE YOU FOR HIS GLORY. That’s a good moral to the story. He wants us to be servants, and sacrifice is always relative. God knows how best to use you and if He wants you to be with the poorest of the poor I trust He will make that happen, likewise if He knows He can use you in the wealthiest of the kingdoms then He will. The beauty of a sovereign God. Praying for your amazing family! Continue serving in love ❤ xxoo

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    1. Hi Krystal,

      I love hearing your story. I was thinking today about Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12-13 “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance I have the learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

      It sounds like passage has been made real to you over the past couple of years. I grew up in a family that went through some financially challenging times similar to the one you are facing. Probably the most challenging was when our water was cut off and we had to haul water in barrels from a friends house for 3 months before my parents could pay the bill. Looking back I can honestly say that those challenging periods of my childhood were some of the richest spiritually. God truly knows what we need, and while He will allow us to endure trials we are always safe in his loving hands. I am confident that as you said, God is using the current financial struggles you are facing to provide opportunities for you to share the gospel and impact lives. I pray that he gives you the strength to continue to endure.

      I would agree that one’s standard of living can’t become a stumbling block in relating to people. It is clear that this was at times something that contributed to divisions in the early church. I can also see how this would be an extra sensitive issue in South Africa, where apartheid era racial segregation usually also meant economic segregation. Considering the unique history I can understand how not even shopping in the same stores could make relating difficult. My experience has been that it is not the standard of living that causes relational issues, but the fact that people can fall into the trap of considering themselves of more value than those of lesser means. That is why we must always focus on the provider of everything we have, not the level at which in has been entrusted to us. I have seen those who make 20 times the local wages live in humility that allows them to connect deeply, while at the same time I have seen those provided with slightly more than the local wage lord it over those they are working with. I have the privilege of sitting on the board of a Paradigm Shift https://shiftingparadigms.org/ a South African ministry that connects successful businessmen in South African churches with budding entrepreneurs from the poorest townships. What I love is seeing that when people are committed to loving their neighbor (remember Christ’s very vast definition of who your neighbor is) and showing Christ’s love, all differences fade into the background.

      In El Salvador where we live I don’t see the kind of dynamics among the missionaries that your husband describes. Unlike South Africa there are no racial divisions or foreign enclaves so you see people at all economic levels in the same markets. The missionaries we work with may have more meat and vegetables in their basket than some, but I have not seen this cause an inability to relate. I definitely would not say any of the missionaries we work with are here on vacation. I am not saying that there are not missionaries that act like this, but it would make sense that those looking for a vacation would probably be more likely to want to serve in Cape Town than San Salvador.

      Your unique situation of being married to a local gives you some great advantages. We have seen that missionaries married to a local benefit greatly from the local knowledge and support network that the marriage provides. Peopls to watch your kids, borrow things from, and call in an emergency. Raising a family becomes much less of a strain when your kids do not have to struggle with language or to adapting to a foreign land. For many missionaries the biggest struggle they face is helping their kids to adjust, especially in they are in their school age years. Even with this advantage, as your daughter gets older you will face more of the difficult choices as you seek wisdom in discerning how many of the sacrifices of the mission field your daughter should be expected to bear.

      I will be praying for you and Desmond, that the funds needed to get visas and tickets back to the US will come through quickly (If anybody reading this feels led to support a missionary in a tangible way https://www.gofundme.com/hanganafam ) Once you get all your visa issues resolved and can return to South Africa I pray that God will give you wisdom in how to structure your ministry to be the best stewards of your gifts. With an MBA and a connection with the local people that most missionaries will never have, I sense that God will use you guys to do amazing things in South Africa. Maybe it is His design for you to continue to minister on the ground level in a similar fashion as you are now, or maybe your current situation is laying the foundation for your future ministry. While you are in the US I would challenge you to pray about the future and to consider the opportunity cost of not having a vehicle, data capable phone or other tools that can aid in the impact of your ministry when you return. Thank you for being so open and honest with your well thought out and kindly worded comments.

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      1. Michael I wrote that response and my computer crashed so I had no idea if it even posted. I felt relief having at least processed the response out loud. Later I told my husband I had replied after a lot of prayer and he was shy because he knows our story in writing sound more hopeless than we truly are, and you are absolutely right we are in the richest spiritual moments of our lives so far and if anything we are so grateful. Thank you SO much for your response and regarding the economic differences causing a divide… you are very correct that the affluent missionaries would choose cape Town over El Salvador haha. Your example of food prices and everything is still very relevant to inflation and the weak currency we have over here though, so costs of a lower income person are still comparable to American middle class. The article does argue a healthy support for westerners even in south Africa. Ultimately though what matters is your heart. If you have a servant heart and you desire to be a missionary God can make it work at any amount as we’ve both been privy to it seems 😉 We are definitely going to be reevaluating our lifestyle choices if we get the opportunity to go back to America and spend a few months working because as you said, living in complete poverty is not the most effective way to do ministry in nearly all circumstances. Hopefully we can become better stewards of our time and resources if we get a second chance at reentering the field. Honestly I know your focus of this article was to help with preparation and it does exactly that! I’ll share this with the prayer that it does reach a lot of people because you have to be diligent and equipped before going in to the field. We will definitely benefit from a second chance. I am glad I shared my husband’s perspective too because his honesty is rare and it would be a shame to ignore that those divides can happen. You my friend are making a difference for the kingdom and the scripture you shared has been our anthem for the past few months. Your support brought me to tears when I got an email notification for our site. Thank you truly for being such an awesome resource. God is so good ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I am an American missionary who has been living in India for going on 7 years. I married a native and we have three kids now. When I first came to India, the only income I got was my US army medical retirement pension, which was $640/month at the time. My wife and I and our first child lived on only that support for about three years (and we had money left over for ministry). We lived in utter poverty in a dangerous slum and our rent was literally only $12 a month (my wife hails from a small remote village and is accustomed to hardship — all part of the plan 🙂 ). We lived for those first three years without running water, a western toilet (or TP for that matter), air conditioning, internet, a stove, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a motor vehicle, and very erratic electricity. I gathered wood in the nearby forest so my wife could heat us water if we wanted a hot bath or to cook our rice. We still don’t have medical insurance to this day and all three of my children were born in India (the hospital fees for delivering a baby was about $100 — with absolutely no medical insurance again).

    That being said, I almost died from typhoid fever and my wife was in poor health for most of the time. I have also been repeatedly beaten up for preaching the Gospel in the open-air here (one time I was knocked unconscious by a blow to the face with an iron tool by an angry mob — I have lots of videos on YouTube you can see).

    Now, by God’s grace, we are getting support from churches and friends which enables me to provide health and safety for my wife and children besides have more for the the poor that surround us and to purchase New Testaments for free distribution.

    I say all that to say this — I have almost cracked up many times out here in India. Even in the Army soldiers deployed to combat zones receive hazardous duty pay above and beyond their normal pay. Make sure you properly care for your missionaries!

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  9. If a missionary in the field has all the wants and needs of the western lifestyle they left behind , then maybe it wasn’t God who called them to be missionaries in the first place.

    There are too many missionaries in the field who seem to have a problem letting go of their western lifestyles when serving in developing nations and their failure to do this becomes a stumbling block in reaching the poor with the message of Jesus Christ. I mean think about it, how can someone who is living the lifestyle of the top 10% in a given country reach those who live in the bottom percentile? Shouldn’t all missionaries follow the example of Paul? After all, “To reach the weak he became weak”. Does Jesus expect his servants to focus so much on their “wants”? It certainly wasn’t a concern in the early Church (see the book of Acts).

    “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” (Luke 9:57-59)

    I am not saying a missionary has to live in poverty when serving in developing countries, but they should at the very least deny themselves of their “wants” in order to reach the poorest of the poor. Do you think a person that a missionary is trying to serve living in the slums or on the street will feel a connection to Christ if they see that missionary regularly eating at expensive restaurants and drinking their coffee at Starbucks? Or if that missionary lives a significant distance away from the people they are there to serve? Lives in a larger than average home and driving away in a late model car or SUV at the end of the day to get there? Wears branded clothing and top dollar shoes? These are just a few examples, but I could go on and on.

    If a missionary can’t live on the same level as the average person in the country they are serving, then maybe they should pray about what it is God really wants from them. Maybe it is not to be a missionary in some far away exotic place after all. Maybe they need to be serving God in their own backyard instead.

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    1. Hi Joseph,

      Thank you for sharing your insights and opinions. I love seeing Christians with such a heart for the poor and marginalized. Let me respond to some of your thoughts.
      I often find that people confuse responsible planning, prudent safety precautions, and the utilization of tools that allow you to minister more effectively, with the “the wants and needs of a western lifestyle”. This can especially come into play when we are talking about a missionary family vs a single missionary.
      I also have found that some missionaries can see themselves as living like the local people when in reality their budget is 10x what the local person survives on. Interestingly I have seen missionaries living on 10x the average local salary criticize another missionaries living on 15x what a local lives on, remarking that his high lifestyle is going to make it hard to relate to the local people. That is kind of like a person in the US who lives on $500,000 a year telling a person who spends $750,000 a year that if he would be more like him, he would be able to better relate to the average person.
      I am not sure why people feel that once we leave the US, economic disparities become a huge wall to relationships. I have never heard a high income earner in the US be told not to bother reaching out to the poor because it would be fruitless. In fact in my own sending church I saw those in the top 10% and those in the lower percentiles, fellowship and bear one another’s burdens on a weekly basis. My business in the US would have put me in the top 10% while many of my employees were in the bottom percentiles. Guess where I saw some of my most fruitful ministry? Economic status in not the end-all- be-all in being able to relate. In most of the world, whether or not you like to play Futball (soccer), will allow a wealthy foreigner to connect much better than simply also being relatively poor.
      Putting all this aside let’s look at the practical implications of the missionary lifestyle I advocate for, in the terms of relative wealth and lifestyle that you speak of. Since it seems it is the barrier of lifestyle you are concerned about, not absolute cost, we will take out non-lifestyle expenses. After taking org overhead, furlough expense, health insurance, social security taxes, tithe, school tuition, and retirement contributions ,my budget for a family of 4 is $4286 per month or $1071.5 per person. So we can have a baseline for levels of wealth between those we serve, I will use GDP per person as the constant. In El Salvador the GDP per person is $329 per month so at $1071 per person the lifestyle items in my budget are about 3.25x the local GDP level per person. The GDP per person in the Philippines where you serve is 242 per month per person. Since the Badjao people that you work with are some of the poorest members of Philippine society, I am guessing that they probably live at a level that is about 50% below average so that would put them at $121 per month. That would mean that if you spend $393 (3.25 x 121) per month on rent, electricity, water, food, household items, transportation, phone, internet and computer needs, meals out, clothes, laundry, all other misc. and any emergencies that arise you would be living at the same relative standard of living that I was advocating for. Maybe you live on significantly less than $400 per month, and if so, your lifestyle might be closer than the lifestyle I advocate for. I think it would be helpful for us to understand what you spend on each of the above items per month. It will help us understand if you are speaking of a situation that truly looks as vastly different as you seem to think it does. If you could give a quick reply with your budget it would really help this conversation.
      As far as the Biblical references I think it is very important to not pick out verses to try to prove points but to consider the entire spirit of the passages. That being said, let us take a look at the passages you mention. You mention about Paul “To reach the weak, he became weak” which comes from 1 Corinthians 9:22. Paul is speaking of choosing to not exercise his freedoms in Christ when he felt they might cause a weaker person who did not understand those freedoms to stumble. An example would have been the consumption of meat that some would have associated with sacrifices to other gods. While Biblical scholars have some differing opinions on the exact situation Paul was speaking to none have ever put forth a theory that he was speaking to economic standing. Paul makes clear that there were times he had much, and times where he had little and was always content. He never connects this to his ability to evangelize and never suggests that we need to become poor to reach the poor.
      The passage in Luke 9:57-59 was Christ inviting his disciples to count the cost of choosing to follow Him. They would be laying down their worldly ambitions, and have to make sacrifices. This is something that all missionaries (and in fact all Christians) need to consider before making the commitment. That being said, we never get the impression that Christ lived a lifestyle significantly below those of his countrymen. We are given the impression that some, like John the Baptist, did live lives of austerity but we are told Christ came eating and drinking. We are given the impression that the Pharisees were critical of what they considered His lavish lifestyle. While Christ had a heart for the poor he also had no problem being bathed in perfume worth more than a year’s wage. It appears He Himself did not see relative standard of living as the issue, but was focused on issues of the heart.
      I love your heart for the poor and love that you are seeking to minister in a way that brings you closer to the poor. I don’t think what I am speaking of is as different from your own heart as you think it is. I definitely am not talking about expensive dinners and daily Starbucks. The allotment for meals out in my budget is $.84 per day per person. This allows a family to grab the occasional fast food in the middle of a busy day of ministry, and occasionally splurge for ice cream. A budget of $.84 a day hardly means they will be dining on T-bones on the weekends and sipping expensive Lattes on weekday mornings.
      It sounds like there may be some specific missionaries whose lifestyle you are struggling with. Rather than cast dispersion on missionaries in general, I would challenge you to go to them in love and ask them to explain to you why they live in the manner that they do. God might use you to challenge them to rethink some things. He might use them to help you see some of your own blind spots. Often times we make assumptions and projections that cause us to judge others, sometimes more information helps us see that the view from our angle was a very limited one. I pray that God continues to bless your ministry and provide for it’s financial needs. Remember we serve a Big God with unlimited resources and what others receive has absolutely no impact of what is available for Him to entrust you with. I am so very thankful that God has chosen to send you to reach the Badjao. I am excited to be able to worship with them (and you) for our promised eternity

      Like

      1. Sorry for the late reply. To be honest I had forgotten that I had left a comment on this blog until today. Ironically what reminded me of this blog was the subject that was recently discussed at a pastoral conference I attended here in Davao. That subject being missionaries. I will not go into much detail due to the time it would involve, but missionaries and their lifestyles have frustrated many Filipino ministers here. Some of these ministers are pastors of churches that were planted by the very missionaries they were criticizing. If you do not think that the lifestyle a missionary chooses to lived does not have an affect on the people they serve, you are sadly mistaken.

        As for my ministry, I will be the first to admit that I could not live at the level of the people I work with. While I do spend most of my time with them. (60-80 hrs per week) I can not take up full time residence in their community at this time. The main reason is the lack of sanitary facilities. I can live without electricity, but the lack of running water and waste disposal is a major hindrance.

        The Badjao are without question among the poorest in the Philippines. Your estimation on income was a bit off the mark as the average Badjao family lives on around $50 per month. Some of these families can be quite large with the average consisting of five members. So that comes to about $10 per family member per month.

        As for using the GDP per person, it is really not a fair assessment. The GDP is determined by taking the total amount produced by a country and dividing it by the number of people. While this may sound sensible, the majority of people do not earn this amount. So what Is the average income per person In The Philippines? That is really hard to determine. For example, While the GDP per person may be $242, seventy percent of the families in the Philippines live on less than $340 per month. Thirty percent of those families live on $130 per month or less. So assuming that you have two people working per household, that would put the monthly incomes of seventy percent of the population at $170 per person or less, with thirty percent of individuals earning $65 per month or less.

        As for my budget, I have already stated that I can not live at the level of the Badjao, and after doing the calculations above, I find that I am currently living well above the standards of the average Filipino. But even without doing the math, common sense tells me that based on my personal observations.

        Below is a breakdown of my Monthly Budget:

        Rent (170 square foot studio apt) P3,500 ($76)
        Furnishings (Bed, table and chairs included in rent)
        Water P120 ($3)
        Electric P1,200 ($26)
        Internet P999 ($22)
        Cell phone P500 ($11)

        Total House and Utility $138

        Food P3,600 ($78)
        Household Items(Soap, shampoo, etc) P900 ($20)
        Transportation P1,800 ($39)
        Entertainment P600 ($13)
        Visa P1,595 ($35)
        Health Insurance P1,675 ($36)
        Misc. P900 ($20)

        Total Monthly Budget: $379 (less visa and insurance $308)

        As can be seen my lifestyle is above that of the average Filipino using the GDP (1.56x) and even more so if using actual income. It is of course well above that of the Badjao (7.58x).

        As for the missionaries I have met here in the Philippines over the past five years, all but three live what I would call a western lifestyle. By western lifestyle, I am speaking of the example you have given here. In the Philippines the average income of the top 1% is $3,591. The threshold to be considered “rich” and fall into the top 10% is much lower than that with an average monthly income of just $1,166. Do you really believe that a missionary living at the highest percentile of income earners does not create a barrier between the themselves and the people they are serving?

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    2. Hi Joseph – I see you said live at the level of the average person of the country, not the poorest. I think that’s right. There were Filipinos who thought the place where I lived was really nice and there were others Filipinos who lived far better than I did.. Where do you stay? (Just curious as I came back to the states this year after ten plus years in Davao.) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love to return but ironically finances are a current problem. I’m dealing with some debt. I hope you guys get rain soon. I know electricity and water are a current issue. I’m glad the Apo fire was put out…

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      1. Hey Darrell,

        I know you are being supportive, and I know it is easy to react defensively (trust me). Lets remember that Joseph is a brother serving sacrificially and focus on constructive conversation. I myself do not know any missionaries living high on the hog, but then again if that was you objective you would not choose to go to El Salvador. Like with anything I am sure there are abuses sometimes. I just want to make sure people do not use those isolated cases as a reasoning to set the 99% who are serving sacrificially up for failure by underfunding them. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and for your support

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  10. Thank you for writing this article. My husband and I can relate to this article pretty well. We worked for an organization in Botswana that gave us a partial salary. We had to raise an additional monthly amount to make up the deficiency. Fortunately, we did not have any negative feedback from our supporting churches, but we did know others who had struggles.
    I don’t think that the American churches realize how stressful a financially tight situation is in a foreign country. It’s not the same as being in the States. It’s 10 times worse!
    We went through most of the struggles you mentioned at the beginning and I am so grateful that we had a small cushion to fall back on in those tough times, which happened several times a month!
    We will not be able to fully understand every situation in our lives because we can never experience every situation in life. That means we need to trust those who have insight into those situations and not question them in such a judgemental fashion. Listen to your missionaries. They know best.

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  11. LOL !
    please, dont be such a lyer.
    Im from El Salvador, $75 just for water? thats crazy, i pay $3 to $5 dollars + “agua cristal” bottled water (8$ per month) . Just dont lie.

    Like

    1. Hi Alex,

      I have spoken with a lot of people about how much they pay for water. There really is no normal. We have two different homes that our ministry uses. One has a fixed (non metered) $10 charge a month. The other is metered and runs from $100 to over $200 a month. Here is one I found from August. It was on the low end since it is middle of wet season. https://imgur.com/a/uyh4b

      Here is some of the comments from the Expats in El Salvador facebook page where they were talking about how expensive their water bill are

      Carol Simonson Hi Ale. I don’t know where exactly you can go, but here is the tarifario from ANDA which states how much you will be charged depending on how much you use. According to this, if you use between 45 and 50 m3, you will be charged a rate of $1.65 per m3. Which, if you are using 48 m3, would come out to your total of $80. I recommend you check for leaks and try to reduce your water use as much as possible. May I ask how many people are in your house? http://www.anda.gob.sv/plie…/pliego-tarifario-residencial/
      Like · Reply · 2 · March 8 at 7:25pm
      Ale de Pineda
      Ale de Pineda Thank you very much I didn’t know this !!! We are 3 adults and 2 kids
      Like · Reply · 1 · March 8 at 7:32pm
      Carol Simonson
      Carol Simonson Happy to help Ale! Try to convince everyone to take three minute showers – hopefully that helps a little bit! wink emoticon
      Like · Reply · March 8 at 7:35pm
      View more replies
      Michael Peterson

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      Kelly Montes
      Kelly Montes Our water bill is normally between $2.00 and $9.00. However we live in an apartment in upper Escalon. I remember living in a house and paying up to $400 a month. time to move.
      Like · Reply · 1 · March 8 at 7:40pm
      Britney Gragg Hibbs
      Britney Gragg Hibbs Our water bill has skyrocketed from $24 a month to $107 last month and then $77 this month. There are only 3 of us. I have this problem on occasion and always go in and ask them to come out in do an inspection and then in the end they tell me that the…See More
      Like · Reply · 4 · March 8 at 7:45pm · Edited
      Richard Herrington
      Richard Herrington they really dont give a
      Like · Reply · 1 · March 8 at 8:00pm
      Michael Peterson

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      Richard Herrington
      Richard Herrington same here. my bill in escalon was 11 dollars .. we moved to santa elena and our bill averages 100.0 … same number of people in the house.. anda says it is our water tank.
      Like · Reply · 2 · March 8 at 7:54pm
      BenJoe Markland
      BenJoe Markland Last October they announced a 200% increase in water starting this year.
      Like · Reply · 2 · March 8 at 7:55pm · Edited
      Richard Herrington
      Richard Herrington all the folks that work with me with bigger families have 15 to 20 dollar water bills.
      Like · Reply · 2 · March 8 at 7:58pm
      Cognac Rais
      Cognac Rais We did and we got 45 dollars off our bill! You have to ask for an inspection in the office at Galerias, and they will lead you through the process. It took us a couple if months though!

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    1. I don’t mind having a discussion about the topic but not sure how claiming I am a liar is beneficial or constructive. Have you actually tried to get that deal you sent in the link. I am guessing it is a classic bait and switch with a bunch of restrictions and conditions. I know there are cheaper plans if you want to load minutes every day and play all of their games but who has time for that. Here is a copy of my cell phone bill for 2 phones. https://imgur.com/a/ocLeO It was a higher because I had to buy extra data that month but the normal bill is $160. I hope this helps. Let me know if you need clarification on anything else.

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  12. Nice article on what it really costs. I like the numbers and have to say they are pretty much true and your perspective is very much based even on your location. I personally have been to Latin America a number of times in my youth and have found the ease of integration into local culture much easier than I find it in Africa.

    My experience is more like Kristal and not quite as bad as Daniel of India although I may be getting close. In my part of Africa, tribalism is prominent in everyone’s mind. In the local mind, Indians who are here are good for X. The Kenyans are good for Y. The Western people are good for Z…and my Lord you don’t want to know what all Z entails. I have never felt so used and pillaged in my life and I’m not even trying to be a missionary here but I am actually being forced into that category. The established stereotypes have developed over the years from real local encounters with Western people–you can’t necessarily blame them. The stereotype is so strong that even if a local breaks into your kitchen and sees only 3 terrible sauce pans and one hoe and a few potatoes and a local cooker, he will not think “oh, these white people live like us” because what he has found is what he has also. He will steal the hoe and say “These strange white people don’t have anything in their kitchen, I wonder where they are hiding the real stuff. These ones are really sly, I know they are loaded, they just don’t keep it here.” There is nothing that can convince him and an attempted friendship is 5 years in the future for that local that thinks that way, even then they will not trust you because you are here to provide Z for him and you have refused.

    So I see where well meaning Western people existing here with a large economic disparity has complicated the ability to be either economically effective and spiritually also in many ways. I don’t think it is as stark as that in El Salvador. I’ve begun to ask what else can we do to be effective? Because traditional western missionary in this country has created so many problems and inefficiencies. Currently, I would be willing to support any principled Latino to be an evangelist or a church planter here–Why? Clean slate. He creates the reputation for the people of his own kind and he is not in the same danger that a white person is. Likely, he will be familiar with local life as it is and it won’t be a hardship. As for ministering to the economic poverty here–absolutely never give out money, never even buy street children shoes. Instead, send Godly, principled businessmen to set up businesses–send so many of those businessmen so that everyone in the country is employed.

    So, I’m looking around and I found one “ministry” that is effective–ingenious actually–to western people it is a ministry that collects funds from the western world. But to the locals who are employed there it is industry because each department is a business that generates funds to a bigger or lesser degree.

    Why are we thinking that our concept of missionary works? Maybe it doesn’t in some places. Maybe it is inefficient. Maybe we are doing it because we have good hearts and a passion for another people group but this is the closest existing structure which will support that passion.

    I’m still processing but those are some initial ideas…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I don‘t begrudge anyone with a family taking good care of them. (I Tim. 5:8). But my experience (widowed and no longer supporting the adult kids) since I retired and hit the road is that it IS less expensive to live in most of the world. My Spanish health insurance is €33/month. BUT that doesn’t include hospitalization because if it ever comes to that, my traveler’s insurance will return me to USA where the Veteran’s Administration will apply their unique level of malpractice. Vehicles? I walk, bike, and ride buses and trains. Food? Yes, American food is more expensive, but if I had to have American food, I wouldn’t have left America. Rent? Currently €400 per month, already furnished, and with an empty bedroom for the relatives who have not yet come to visit. (And it would be FAR less in Huaycán, Peru or Monterrey, Mexico or Van, Turkey or even other parts of Spain.) So, while I think your critics are overreacting, I also think your argument is exaggerated.

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    1. Hi Wes, Thanks for your comments. I agree that it can be cheaper to retire outside of the US but keep in mind that is because you can do without a lot of the things you need to be productive (full time work)

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    1. Definitely being in Europe is an advantage in that regard. We have known missionaries with local insurance who have been diagnosed with cancer and other major issues that they could not get proper treatment for and had to pay out of pocket (tens of thousands of dollars) for treatment in the US. With the changes in the health care laws this is less of a challenge that it used to be. On the other hand many missionaries have to pay the penalty for not having US health care because they do not qualify for the exemption

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  14. Wow what a good article. We work in Rwanda a very poor country but very expensive. Your comparison for a teacher is for one person not two. So when a couple goes they are treated a one. But if both husband and wife are teachers then they would make double. Many are afraid to pay a missionary much but they think they can have a big house and 4 cars and a boat and , and the list goes on. I meet people who work for the government and big companies and they are there for the extra money. Sometimes Christians amaze me.

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