“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.

I have never really understood why people blog, but two weeks ago I had some things I wanted to share with the missionaries we work with and it seemed to be the most convenient format so I decided to try this blogging thing.   I did not realize when I sat at down at my computer what I was getting myself into. I was taken aback to see my observations on the obscure topic of missionary support circulate around the world within hours. I thought the visitor stats must be wrong as it racked up 50,000 readers in the first week.

original post https://elsalvadormissionaryfellowship.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/why-the-heck-would-a-missionary-need-so-much-money-to-live-in-a-poor-country/

It has been fascinating to see the range of reactions and emotions that this topic elicits.   I viewed the subject as budgeting 101 based on common sense and dull math computations. I quickly realized that I had stepped into a mine field with some looking to my words as validation of their reality, while others saw my suggestions as a damaging form of American imperialism, advocating comfort and privilege. There were several missionary families thanking me for saying what they couldn’t, lay people and pastors challenging me to rethink assumptions about how a missionary should live, and my favorite, the young single missionaries rebuking me (yes they used the word, rebuke) as a comfort seeking charlatan in it for the money. Even when I emphasized I was advocating for others, that we had nothing personal to gain as we do not raise personal support, they refused to believe it.  What really stood out to me is that when people think about what it should cost to send out a missionary, they generally think in terms of a single person. They take this amount and add another 25-50% if the missionary happened to have a family.

Most of the comments on the blog missed the very point I was writing about. It was to help educate people on how cheap things are in the US compared to the rest of the world. It is hard for people to make decisions or understand missionaries’ budgets if they don’t understand the cost structure missionaries have to contend with. My point of comparing things to the cost in San Diego was not to suggest that missionaries need to replicate their American lifestyle. It was to show that things in most poor countries are even more expensive than San Diego, a city most Americans view as an expensive place to live.

Productivity not Comfort

There are always tradeoffs when it comes to the family budget, but I think it is important to understand the opportunity cost of sending missionaries on a bare bones budget. Even on the tightest budget it is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars a year, so as good stewards we need to make sure that missionaries are equipped to have the greatest impact possible. It makes no sense to cut 20% from their budget if it is going to make them 50% less effective. This is not about comfort, but wise stewardship.

To those who think missionaries should not have cars or smart phones, you need to at least acknowledge the opportunity cost of your recommendation. You are saying we want the missionaries, that need thousands of dollars a month just to be in the country, to waste a lot of time riding a bus and looking for internet cafes. (Internet cafes are going the way of the pay phone, even in the developing world smart phones are everywhere). I bought a truck for my local helper here, not because I am worried about his comfort level, but because I want him to be productive. I also pay the monthly bill for him to have a smart phone so he can send me documents and pictures.  Even though his salary is a fraction of what it takes to send a missionary to the field, it still does not make sense to have him try to manage projects using the bus and not being able to communicate with me.

I was surprised that the strongest rebuke to my advocated budget came from young single missionaries. I quickly realized that their objections were directed more towards the economics of raising a family than they were to the standard of living I was advocating for. I know this because their own budgets that they thought were reasonable and austere, were usually higher on a per person basis than the one I was advocating for. Though many of them were blind to it, the disagreement was not due to deep theological or missiological issues, but the fact that they have never had to provide for a family. I totally understand why they see things so differently.   I spent time working with missionaries throughout the developing world right after I finished college. (http://www.amazon.com/Four-Souls-adventure-purpose-world-wide-ebook/dp/B003X271MW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1455419645&sr=8-2&keywords=four+souls Had to throw in a shameless plug) I know that at that time my views were pretty similar to many of the young single commenters. When I replied to some of them, I felt like I was debating a 22 year old version of myself.

But I was told there would be no math.”

I went through the painstaking process of breaking the budget down for them. Yes, a family of 4 will have the same housing expenses as 4 single missionaries sharing a home. I showed that health care costs and insurance for a family of 4 is about 4x that of a young single missionary.   Kids need to be driven a lot of places, increasing car expenses. It costs just as much for a family of 4 with two cars as it would for 4 single missionaries sharing 2 cars.

I worked my way through the budget showing the impact of additional family members on every line item. Yes, feeding a family of 4 costs almost 4x as much. Yes, it costs 4 times as much to go out to eat. Yes, your emergency savings will be needed 4x as often. There were only 3 real exceptions. Two expenses that kids do not incur, cell phones and retirement contributions combined for $280 per adult in my budget. The third item is school tuition which the adults do not incur at $450 per kid.   For my efforts, I was rebuked for the fact that I was using math in my budget instead of purely using scripture. Though I am guided by scripture there is a biblical basis for the valid use of math. Even Jesus used it.

I am a visual person so I thought it might be helpful to see side by side what a budget that provides a similar standard of living would look like for different size families. That way we can compare apples to apples. If you think my budget is too high for singles and large families, then we can have a productive conversation about it. If you think that the family budget is ridiculous, but think the budget for singles is reasonable then maybe we have found a blind spot. Those of you who read the first blog may notice that the budget below for a family of 4 is about 10% less than the one I advocated for in my original budget. (For those of you who were all geared up to rebuke me don’t worry, it still reaches 6 figures). The below budget reflects the bare minimum required without sacrificing health, effectiveness, and wise long- term planning for most families in El Salvador. The one I previously advocated for, provided for more complete health insurance and a little more flexibility, but since this seemed to distract from the points I was trying to get across, I have cut out all the “luxury”.

 

Keep in mind that these include all costs, as if the missionary had to pay them. If a supporter provides housing and a car when missionaries are on furlough than you know that part of the budget expense is covered. If you plan on being in the field for less than 5 years than you might not need to put away for retirement. If your sending org raises money separately to cover overhead, than you may not have org fees to pay directly. If a supporter buys you a car than they are covering part of that expense directly. The point is to accurately portray what the real costs are so you can make informed decisions about the wisdom of certain actions. Just because somebody pays for an expense, it does not take that out of the calculation of what your family needs to live on.  Too often in ministry we pretend that costs don’t exist if another person or ministry outside our budget is picking up the tab. This causes most missionaries to severely underestimate their true costs and skews proper analysis of the effectiveness and productivity in their ministry. If you would not spend your own budget on something, than you should be just as careful before encouraging somebody else to spend their money on it. This is true not just for projects and personal overhead, but also staff. If you invite a missionary nanny to come down so you can homeschool and she has to raise $14,000 to cover her expense, then the cost to support your family did not go down $10,800 it went up $3,200 (14,000 raised for nanny – $10,800 saved in school tuition). We need to be honest and address the numbers straight on with full disclosure since it is all God’s and He has entrusted us to be good stewards. The downside of this is that when we are completely transparent and honest the numbers can look scary, especially when it comes to sending missionary families. People often react emotionally instead of logically saying things like “that is more than I make”. It is much easier to split off half the expenses into other categories and say it costs $50,000 to send a family than it is to include them all in a transparent way and tell people a missionary needs 6 figures. I am a firm believer that any time you play with the numbers to justify an action, it leads to poorly made decisions.

 

All that said, here are the real numbers and the reason it costs 3-5x as much to send a family of 4 to the field as it does a single. The knee jerk reaction is to say well we just should only send singles. We should always look at all the factors involved, and cost is definitely one of them. We do need to remember that families offer life experience and stability that is often different from what singles bring to the field. These considerations are not much different in the corporate world where it cost several times as much to send an employee with a family than it does a single. Companies usually consider this, but they often still choose to send those with families because they see the value in their experience and stability.

 

 

Transportation Shared Corolla Corolla Pickup truck&Corolla truck&Corolla truck&Corolla truck&Sienna truck&Sienna
Housing Furn Room 200sq ft Studio 400sq ft 1 BR 650sq ft 2 BR 750sq ft 3 BR 850sq ft 3 BR 900sq ft 3 BR 950 sq ft 3 BR 1000sq ft
young single Single 32+ Married 1 kid 2 kids 3 kids 4 kids 5 kids
Rent                              300.00                          400.00                500.00                        600.00                        700.00                        725.00                  750.00                        775.00
Electric included  

40.00

                   75.00                        100.00                        120.00                        130.00                  140.00                        150.00
Gas included                            10.00                    20.00                          30.00                          40.00                          45.00                          55.00                          55.00
Water included                            15.00                    25.00                          35.00  

45.00

                         55.00                          60.00                          65.00
Drinking Water                                    10.00                            10.00                    20.00                          30.00                          40.00                          50.00                          60.00                          70.00
internet included                            40.00                    40.00                          40.00                          40.00  

40.00

                         40.00                          40.00
Furnishings included                            75.00                125.00                        175.00                        200.00                        210.00  

220.00

                       230.00
transportation                                    300.00                          600.00                700.00                1,150.00                1,160.00                1,170.00              1,350.00  

1,360.00

cell phones                                    30.00                            60.00                120.00                        140.00                        150.00                        160.00                  165.00                   170.00
Household non food                                    25.00                            25.00                    50.00                          75.00                        100.00                        120.00                  135.00                   145.00
groceries                                    194.00                          194.00                357.00                        511.00                        649.00                        771.00                  925.00                1,022.00
eating out                                    20.00                            20.00                    40.00                          60.00                          80.00                        100.00                  120.00                        140.00
kids school tuition                                                  –                                  –                                  –                        450.00                        900.00                1,250.00              1,475.00                1,700.00
entertainment                                    20.00                            20.00                    40.00                          60.00                          80.00                        100.00                  120.00                    140.00
misc                                    60.00                            60.00                120.00                        180.00                        240.00                        300.00                  360.00                        420.00
retirement                                                  –                          200.00                400.00                        400.00                        400.00                        400.00                  400.00                        400.00
emergency savings                                    50.00                            50.00                100.00                        150.00                        200.00                        250.00                  300.00                        350.00
Total Monthly Spending                                1,009.00                      1,819.00            2,732.00                4,186.00                5,144.00                5,876.00              6,675.00                7,232.00
tithe                                    100.90                          181.90                273.20                        418.60                        514.40                        587.60                  667.50                        723.20
payroll taxes                                    169.81  

306.14

               459.80                        704.50                        865.74                        988.93              1,123.40                1,217.15
Health care                                    100.00                      200.00                400.00                        550.00                        700.00                        800.00                  850.00                        900.00
furlough                                    85.00                            85.00  

170.00

                       250.00                        325.00                        375.00                  425.00                        475.00
visa expense                                    10.00                            10.00                   20.00                          30.00                          40.00                          50.00                          60.00                          70.00
Total Monthly expenses                                1,474.71                      2,602.04           4,055.00                6,139.10                7,589.14                8,677.53              9,800.90            10,617.35
Org Fee                                    147.47                          260.20                405.50                  613.91                        758.91                        867.75                  980.09                1,061.73
Total Monthly                                1,622.19                      2,862.24            4,460.50                6,753.01              8,348.05                9,545.28            10,780.99            11,679.08
Total Yearly  

19,466.23

 

34,346.90

 

53,525.94

 

81,036.17

 

100,176.58

 

114,543.41

 

129,371.91

 

140,148.96

 

 

               
Total Housing Expenses- “Living the Chinese dream”- I could not find any stats for El Salvador, but in China the average urban home provides 215 square feet per inhabitant. My above budget provides 212 square feet per person (based on family of 4). The average in the US is 828 square feet per person. In homes with more people, shared space can be used effectively which is why a family of 4 does not need twice as much as a couple. Families benefit from this economy of scale, but so do non-family members who chose to live together as roommates. This is why the budget expects that a young single choose the economical option of renting a room from a family. I have allocated a bigger budget to allow an older single to rent their own place. This takes into account that an older single is more likely to remain on the mission field (as a single). Many young singles are trying out missions after they finish school and are much less likely to remain long term. Plus they are at a stage in life where there are a lot of benefits to living with others. We feel it is reasonable to allow older singles the budget to find housing that allows for privacy and, for lack of a better term, the ability to live like an adult. Also note that drinking water has to be purchased, as tap water is not drinkable.   http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/how-big-is-a-house

 

 

Transportation- We assume that a car is the most efficient way to get around, because it is in El Salvador.   There may be some who serve in places with decent public transport and their budget may be less. For reasons similar to our housing explanation we think it is practical for young single missionaries to share a car, but it is reasonable for established singles to have their own vehicle. This is in part because the older singles usually have a lot more ministry responsibilities and less flexibility to coordinate schedules with another person. It would be ideal for a couple to each have a car but it is easier for them to coordinate schedules so most can get by with one. Once you throw kids into the picture, especially if they are going to school, sharing becomes much more inefficient. As families get larger, there are some economies of scale on a per person basis, but they often need to buy larger more expensive vehicles.   Kids at different ages often have different schedules so bigger families drive more miles.

 

Cell Phones- younger singles can probably get by with cheaper prepaid phones as they generally have less ministry responsibility and no family to coordinate things with.   Those with more responsibility generally are more effective if they have smart phones. Larger families mean more things to communicate about.

 

Household nonfood- This means soap, shampoo, deodorant, laundry detergent, light bulbs, paper towels, toilet paper and the list goes on and on. Slight economies of scale in larger families who can buy bulk.

 

Groceries- Since food here in El Salvador is at least as expensive as it is in the US, I budgeted the amount people living in the US on food stamps are allotted. Many of you may have heard of the food stamp challenge (if you have not google it). Yep, we are challenging you to provide for missionaries at this luxurious level. Slight economies of scale for a larger family.

 

Eating out- Studies have shown that an average family of 4 in the US spends $225 a month eating out.   This budget for family of 4 is $80 a month. Keep in mind many times for ministry the family must travel, and grabbing a meal is most practical. Not really any economies of scale when it comes to eating out.

 

Tuition- We feel that missionary kids should be able to get a decent education that is not significantly below what they would receive in the States from a public school. An accredited bilingual school is $450 a month.   Yes, homeschooling works better for some families. We need to keep in mind the opportunity cost; if the wife is homeschooling it will greatly impact her ability to be a part of the ministry. Even if it cuts 15%-20% from the family budget, is it a wise choice if it cuts down on the hours available for ministry by 50%? Most schools give discounts if you have 3 or more students so there are some economies of scale. Obviously this is a huge expense that singles and couples with no kids do not have to contend with.

 

Entertainment- $20 per month per person. No economies of scale.

 

Misc. – This takes care of clothes, shoes, gifts, celebrations (MK’s have birthdays) books, printer paper, etc.

 

Retirement- Only applies to the adults. For young singles who are not going to be on the field long term it is probably ok to wait to start contributing to retirement. I would also say this is optional for people who plan on being on the field less than 5 years. Most people use the equity in their homes when they retire to help with their retirement. Missionaries rarely own their own home and must plan to pay either rent or a mortgage in their retirement. This makes planning ahead even more crucial. If a missionary put away $200 per month over a 30 year period their IRA account would provide them about $437 (in today’s dollars) a month during their retirement years. (Assumes money is invested earning a 7% return and 2% inflation. Withdrawals from the account, using the 4% rule that is the accepted norm among financial advisors). While I personally would suggest that missionaries will need more than that to supplement what they receive from Social Security, the reality is most are putting away nothing, so saving even at this level would be a huge improvement

 

Emergency savings- Bigger family means more emergencies. No real economies of scale.

 

Tithe- No economies of scale, based on income.

 

Payroll taxes (Social Security/ Medicare) – No economies of scale, based on income.

 

Healthcare- Slight economies of scale for families with 3 or more kids.

 

Furlough- Slight economies of scale for living expenses. No economies of scale on plane tickets.

 

Visa expense- Usually per person but some economies of scale for lawyer fees.

 

Org Fee- Based on percentage of total operating budget. No economies of scale unless sending org has a monthly cap in place.

 

 

If you disagree with some of my analysis or projections please specify the particular item and why you think it should be looked at differently. Statements such as “this is obscene” are easy to type but rarely lead to any sort of edifying discussion. I hope that this sheds some light on why families have to raise so much more than singles and that it helps people see that it is not about maintaining an American lifestyle or a life of luxury.  It is about providing a budget that allows a family to function in an efficient and impactful manner.

 

 

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on ““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.

  1. As a blogger and missionary, I understand the work you have put into these posts and this information. Thanks for the hard work and heart to help sending churches/families/friends understand the costs of placing people (singles OR families – as BOTH are necessary) on the field. You tackled a difficult conversation and are continuing the dialogue. Thanks!

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  2. I was a missionary in Kenya and Palau and am a pastor of a small mission minded church in Nowhere, New Mexico…I was raised in a single parent home with 3 kids in central Los Angeles…poor was an understatement. I was also the only Jewish and the only white kid in my school…talk about being in a foreign culture!

    The one thing I would encourage us to remember is that Western culture and Western standards are not wrong, they are just different just as the cultural standards in the foreign countries where we serve are not wrong either…if my Philippine friends enjoy eating whole fish heads…well that is ok even though it is humorously repulsive to me 🙂 If they prefer to rely upon the tribal or clan structure for their retirement, fine and I should not demand they save 10% of their income thereby violating their culture and offending their neighbors.

    But if our culture does not conflict with Scripture, then we need to let people be who God made them to be and that means that Western families get to have Western values that do not contradict Scripture.

    Also, I think it is important to note that it is more often the love between missionary wives and husbands that wins over others to Christ than any preaching or service project. It is the demonstrated love a missionary father has for his children that speaks of the love our Father has for us into the hearts of those who are lost. I don’t know how many times my friends who serve in some of the hardest countries have told me their stories of how their family testimony has been the key to unlocking revival in their communities…

    NOT saying singles should not go to the field, but rather that the “cost” of sending family is often a very worthwhile investment and speaks to some just as the tireless service of a single nurse in Mali makes those who receive her care marvel at the sacrifice she is making.

    Also we should not practice reverse discrimination and demand people of another culture conform to that if their host country…sorry, but I was a white, Jewish kid and no clothing, talking different or conformation to the culture in which I grew up was ever going to allow me to “fit in”. My peers much preferred me being who I was…being “authentic” to steal a contemporary term. Cross cultural missionaries demonstrate love the same way Jesus does…he left Heaven and came to Earth…God Himself left the comforts of His home for a time and came and served…but He still ate, drank and took a vacation once in a while…

    Jesus did not put on the robes of a Pharisee or Sadducee, conform to their culture, live the way they lived, etc…..He was who He was, loved like He was loved and lived the way He had to live to allow Himself to conduct the itinerant ministry to which He was called to serve even to the point of letting a bunch of others fund it…ask the women who traveled with him, Judas who kept the purse and the boy who gave up his sack lunch some that 5,000 men and their families could eat.

    How about we let the Holy Spirit call men, women and families to serve in the manner in which they are called and we let the Holy Spirit determine what is their needs…lets stop judging another man’s servants…

    Good article and very gracious handling of the critique that was received…I think He would appreciate and find you to be His good and faithful servant 🙂

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  3. 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

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      1. This is so very gracious. Love the thorough and thoughtful reply. When I lived in Bolivia as a young single woman, I was very humbled by some of the wrong assumptions I had held about “wealthy” missionaries… I’m not saying that there weren’t areas where some families could have cut back (as there were/are for me, and probably most of us)… but there are a lot of factors that go into a lot of decisions.

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    2. I can’t say that I agree with you. I did short term mission work as a young single female and I am now a very missions minded woman married to a Chilean Immigrant (the country where I ministered). I don’t think the author of the blog was even hinting at living a Western Standard of living in a foreign country. He was merely pointing out that what we would call “basic necessities in the 21st century” cost more in other countries. Nothing on his list we in America would ever deem a luxury.

      As far as “living on the same level as the average person in the country…” is simply impossible because that missionary is not a native. The author of the blog didn’t even mention that the second you are identified as an America overseas, your cost for anything just went up depending on the greed of the seller. This is for fresh food in the market place, to rent, to used household items at a flea market. I’ve experienced it time after time, they look at your skin and you pay $5 more for those tomatoes. Also, the cost of just being allowed to enter and stay in a country when you are a foreigner is nothing a national/native has to deal with. Corrupt governments see USA on your passport and the fee to process that document is now $100 instead of $50. Oh, and now you have to bribe him not to lose it, because those government officials are very forgetful and disorganized sometimes. If you don’t get all your extra “I’m an American” fees and bribes in to the right places your missionaries paperwork never gets processed and they have to go back home to start from scratch. The average person in the country doesn’t deal with this.

      Also, an American abroad is still responsible for things like American taxes, Social Security costs etc in America and as the author mentioned they pay the full amount as if they were self-employed.

      Next. Are you as a hard working, self- sacrificing adult as productive without electricity or running water after 5pm? Now a native has arranged his life accordingly and his native employer also does have these luxuries during the same times. That native is not required to complete work he couldn’t do without light. But, a missionaries’ employers (us, American churches and individuals) don’t know about or account for on field daily difficulties and we expect their productivity to remain the same.

      There are more things that the average american isn’t thinking of but I can’t pretend to know all of it.

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  4. Thank you for your well thought out blog. It was very kind of you to speak up on our (missionaries) behalf. We face a lot of challenges that many people in the U.S. do not realize. We are currently in a famine in Uganda. Food is double the price if you can even find food to buy. We have taken in extra people from the church who’s mud hut was literally falling down, then provided roofing materials for others whose houses could still be repaired. Giving seeds to widows so they can grow food also requires providing pesticides or the seeds won’t produce. I have to watch my husband with his head in his hands (literally) wondering how we can send our children to school next term or how he can afford the bus to the northern part of the country in order to minister.

    We are grieved, not because we can’t buy toilet paper or bread, but because we don’t have more to give to the suffering people around us.

    We have never even thought of retirement or health insurance or a car. We pay Social Security and Medicare tax on top of the percentage for admin cost our mission charges when we are struggling to buy corn.

    What can I say? Anyone who thinks missionaries don’t have monthly support because they don’t have faith, have never really tried to live overseas for years and years. We write to our partners and send them photos and tell them the stories of people here. And thank the Lord, we have 15 very dedicated individuals who give. The other people we know in the U.S. are great Christians and love us dearly but just don’t have any money.

    I can’t say I’m encouraged by some of the comments I’ve read, but wish there were more people like the author of this blog.

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  5. What about stateside missionaries? I know many who raise 400% -500% above federal poverty lines before the age of 25. I understand they have to travel to raise funds, but the occasional airfare, Budget Inn, and McDonalds shouldn’t require that extra 3-4K a month. It doesn’t make sense. Could you do a break down for the expenses a stateside missionary has that the average humble-living church goer wouldn’t have? One example I have seen over and over again is a single missionary raising $4,500-5,000 a month for stateside missions. The locations vary from Florida, Alaska, North Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, etc.

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    1. Hi Emily, It is hard for me to weigh in on this without knowing the particulars. One thing to keep in mind is that the money raised also covers ministry overhead, FICA taxes, and health insurance. They may be raising $5000 a month but only receive $2000 as their actual salary

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