catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 14 :: 2013.07.05 — 2013.07.18


Fundraising for missions

An imperfect act

When I was a little girl, my parents decided to become missionaries. We moved to a new city, they enrolled in seminary, and four years later, we had plane tickets to Bangkok, Thailand. About three months before our departure date, my dad quit his pastorate to embark on “deputation.” Though the denomination was going to provide my parents with salaries, we had to raise money for a car on the mission field. For three months, we visited a different church each Sunday, dragging a slide projector and a screen with us. At each church, my dad preached and sang and we showed borrowed slides of a country that we had never been to. And then we asked people to give us money.

We had to repeat this process every time we came home on furlough, each time raising money for something needed on the mission field. Our longest furlough was an entire year, so my mom, brother and I usually stayed home while my dad traveled all over the country. That year we had a slide show with real pictures that we had taken and with a real background track narrated by the four of us and my dad singing Thai Christian music. Again, we showed them the pictures of the golden Buddhist temples and the poor hill tribe convert and the church we planted, and then asked them to give us money.  

Part of me questions this method of fundraising for missions. First, it seems a little like exploitation and manipulation. You know, in a “let’s flash a picture of starving African children to make them feel guilty” way. Or in a “let’s flash a picture of a new Christian to make them feel like they helped save him from hell” way. My parents could certainly tell stories of converts we won, then lost, of people we reached out to who never believed, and even of ministers who made grave mistakes. But those aren’t the stories that raise money.

Second, missionaries work tirelessly on the mission field for their faith, yet when they get the chance to come home and reconnect with family, they are expected to spend their time fundraising. It was even harder for missionaries we knew who had to raise their own salaries or monthly support from individual churches. Sadly, people who are expected to be spiritual leaders rarely get the chance to for personal spiritual rest and renewal.

But this is what makes people give: seeing what their money goes to, seeing the faces of converts, hearing the stories of new churches, tallying the number of baptisms.  It is very difficult for us to give without expecting something in return. Even if it’s just a photograph or a thank you note, it makes us feel like our financial sacrifice was useful and appreciated. I try to imagine a world in which people give without expecting anything, not even an emotional response like joy or self-satisfaction. Would that be better than the world we live in now, where emotion is intricately connected to money and possessions? Maybe the fact that we feel something is a good thing. Maybe it’s good for us to be compelled by compassion. And maybe it’s good for us to experience that tension between selfishness and generosity as we write that check and hand it over.  Maybe that reminder that we are imperfect and human is exactly what connects us to other needy, imperfect humans in the world. 

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