Apples and Oranges, Part 1 (Finances)

While at a mission conference on deputation I listened to a guest speaker preach about the lack of faith among many missionaries of today. At one point in the message he said that if a missionary truly had faith he would go to the field on far less than his projected budget, even if it was 30% of his support, and trust God for his “daily bread”. Among other things, I remember thinking: “30% of what?”

Comparing missionaries and mission fields is like comparing apples to oranges – there are as many differences as things in common, including financial needs. If a missionary is going to a field that has a positive currency exchange rate in his favor and a low cost of living and yet is raising a sum higher than needed for the culture in which he will minister then 30% of that sum is much more manageable than the missionary who goes to a field with a negative exchange rate and a high cost of living (like those of us in Europe). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When asked by new missionaries with what percentage of support they should go to the field, I reply: “Did you research and pray about the amount God would have you raise? If so, go at or nearly 100% of that amount.” In order to create a budget it is my opinion that a new missionary should contact several missionaries on his particular field as well as various mission agencies to determine an appropriate budget. One can also research the Internet to determine the cost of apartments (the most expensive part of the budget), gas prices, food prices, etc. After solid research, discussions with his wife, and counsel from others, the missionary should spend time in prayer to determine the will of God for his budget. If you have peace from God about the amount why would you feel led to go at 70 or 80% of that amount? I recommend nearly 100% because generally there will be a few churches that will begin support after the missionary makes it to the field. One should also consider, however, that there will likely be several churches that will drop support due to financial constraints, pastoral changes, etc. so the amount received should not be too far below the set budget.

For a new missionary, there are a few things to consider when determining a budget:

  • Is the cost of living uniform throughout the country? In Italy, for example, the cost of living in the north is higher than that of the south.
  • Will the missionary be living in a city? The cost of living is much higher in a city compared to the surrounding countryside. We live within the city-limits of Verona, a tourist city, and the cost of an apartment is higher than in other cities of our region.
  • Are there upfront costs associated with renting an apartment? In Rome, we had to make a deposit of 2 months rent plus pay the realtor a fee valued at 1 month rent (realtors are a necessity). In Verona we had to make a deposit of 3 months rent plus pay the realtor a fee valued at 1 month rent.
  • How many dependent children do you have at home and can they share a bedroom? We have a son and a daughter so they do not share a bedroom therefore we needed a three-bedroom apartment. The cost for a three-bed room is significantly higher than that of a single or even a two-bed room apartment in Italy, not to mention more difficult to find.
  • Are there annual fees, like permits to stay, visas, etc., that need to be considered? In Italy, at the age of 14 children are required to be processed separately for their permits so starting this year our total fee was more expensive after Isaiah’s birthday.
  • Will there be health-care expenses? We are required by Italian law to have American health insurance in order to have permits to stay in the country. In Rome, we could use our insurance a limited amount for doctor’s visits (twice per year) and then we had to pay cash for additional visits. In Verona, a doctor will only treat us and prescribe medicine if we are a part of their healthcare system, which, for a religious workers visa, is nearly $400 per person per year. In short, we have to pay for both American insurance and Italian health care.
  • There are always unexpected expenses. For example, we didn’t realize how expensive it would be for me to get an Italian driver license. The process was quite rigorous and included driving school, exams, and various processing fees. I had to pay nearly $1,000.
  • How much is language school? How long will you be attending? The free schools offered by countries are generally not very effective, i.e. you get what you pay for.
  • Are there costs associated with public school education for your kids (if you choose not to home-school)? We pay several hundred dollars a year for our kids’ Italian public school fee as well as several hundred dollars more for the home-school material Sandy uses to teach them English grammar, a Bible curriculum and English reading books. In addition, we pay nearly $400 for Isaiah’s Italian school-books and will pay the same amount for Pearl when she enters middle school.

For pastors who are considering the difficult decision to drop a missionary, I would hope you would consider the following:

  • Is the exchange rate of the country positive or negative? If it is negative the loss of your support can greatly affect the missionary’s livelihood.
  • Many veteran missionaries are living on far below what they originally budgeted due to inflation, loss of support, increased ministry expenses, etc. One should also consider that it is rare a supporting church gives their missionaries a raise to their monthly support but the cost of living continues to increase.
  • If you stop financially supporting a missionary will you take them back on for support when your church’s financial situation improves? Have you communicated that to the missionary?
  • Not every missionary can take furlough at regular intervals to regain lost support or to raise new support to stay up with inflation.
  • Not every country allows the missionary to work in order to supplement any loss of income. We are not permitted to have a job in Italy with our religious workers visa.
  • Is there another area of your budget that could be changed in order not to drop the support? One would rightly be critical of a government that sends soldiers to war only to cut-off their line of supplies. In the same sense, I think a supporting church should make it a matter of intense prayer before cutting-off the supply to a missionary on the “front-lines.” Sometimes loss of support can be so disheartening and make other difficulties in the ministry seem so much greater that the missionary gives up due to discouragement.

Years ago as I listened to the guest preacher continue to preach on faith and trusting God on 30%, a supporting pastor sitting in the next pew reached behind and handed me a note that read: “Don’t you follow his advice!” Unfortunately, with eagerness to get to the field (and to be finished with deputation) many missionaries leave the States prematurely and have difficulties throughout their ministry and in some case have to leave the field all together due to poor planning. In the end, a missionary must make a decision that is best for his family and ministry based upon the leading of God and sound research, not on peer-pressure or to impress others by their “faith”.

*I used masculine pronouns while writing but I am fully aware that there are many single ladies called to the mission field as well.

  • Amber O'Neal ,

    Thanks for posting this! VERY informative. Also noted, we do not think that it should be looked down upon for a missionary to save a predetermined amount (based on what they’ve prayed about, talked about with their pastor, etc) for retirement. I know that’s only a dream to some, but we saw a print out of a missionaries “budget” and right there for $200 a month was retirement. Will he be wealthy, no? But they felt that’s what God would have them do. I know that’s only a dream to some, and others think that is not trusting God for your future and you should never retire from being a missionary–(which is true–our missionfield is wherever we are)–Just sayin’ in a VERY long winded way that missionaries are normal people too, and as a person living life, one should be able to give to God first, meet the families’ needs, meet ministry needs and then save–ALL without judgements from others that assumes a lack of faith in preparing for the future…God bless you and the sacrifices you have made!

    • Donna Petree ,

      My name is Donna Petree and I researched your site to give a report of how Italy was being reached for our Lord. My ladies group were so interested in what you do and how you do it. At our next meeting I will report what I have learned from this. We have been praying for you and your family since my report. We pray collectively and separately for you. God bless you as you continue to serve the Lord. Our group is in Wausau, Wisconsin and we will continue to pray for you.

      • Mark Holmes ,

        According to the guest preacher’s logic, if it were truly faith, we would go at 0%, but the reason that most leave for the field under-supported has very little to do with faith. It is usually driven by a frustration of deputation, a weariness of traveling, and a giddiness towards a new place (which often fades away quickly). Good post!

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