Missionaries Don’t Need to Send Support Letters – part 8

If you are going to remote unreached people groups, it is possible that it will be very difficult or impossible to send monthly support letters. If you are going to a country closed to missionaries you should not be sending support letters, especially over the Internet even using encryption. I know several missionaries that were expelled from closed countries for communicating to their churches and people using the Internet. I have talked to them personally. Do not use email when you are in a closed country. Now you might be asking yourself, “How will I communicate with my people back home?” You won’t. Don’t do it. Break your addiction to your social connection. If your supporters see that you are constantly connected to social media or chat, they probably are wondering how much mission work you are actually doing. Cancel your social media accounts and delete your chat profiles. Your people back home will chat with you and the government will intercept those chats. If you have to send a communication, you will have to find a way to have someone back home do it for you. Develop a code and send them a normal letter through the mail. Have them decode the message and distribute it. I am not saying that you should not ever send a support letter or communication, just that you should be careful and that you really do not need to send them. You do not need to send communications for support purposes either. There is no New Testament requirement for sending support letters. It happened in the New Testament, but it is not a requirement.

With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.

(NIV Acts 15:23)

It is interesting that in the New Testament, sending letters is mentioned only 20 times. Half of these are by one apostle. Most are letters to the church about conduct and about Christ. Only two letters mention support of mission work, and pay attention to how support is mentioned:

If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ.

(NIV 1 Corinthians 9:12)

I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you.

(NIV 2 Corinthians 11:8)

Seminaries and mission training centers will teach you that you need to send support letters. You might even get a course on missionary prayer letters. They call them prayer letters, but support-raising is also included in the purpose. You will find entire books written on the subject. This practice of sending support letters has hindered the spread of the Gospel because it takes so much time from the missionaries. What’s worse is that according to the statistics, the supporters are not reading them. If you are a supporter, tell your missionaries to not write them and to just do their work and that you will be faithfully committed to sending their support and praying for them.

A few years ago, I was challenged by a friend to read that book I mentioned on fundraising for missionaries. It is one with the man holding a ball and chain. I read the book, and what it said was that, in order to maintain a high monthly support level, you need to remind the people back home constantly that you are still on the mission field. What is wrong with this idea? Does it seem wrong to you? If you are a missionary on the field, doing the Lord’s work, but are constantly having to write your people updating about what you are doing in order to maintain their support, maybe you need to let them go. Maybe they are not the people the Lord wants to use to support your ministry. If they so easily forget you, maybe they are supporting you as a person and not supporting the work of the Lord. This is no sin, but will God provide without them? I know he will. It is God’s job to provide for you, with or without your supporters. Jesus says take nothing for the journey but never says you are going to starve to death. I sent prayer support letters for several years. After sending all those letters, I’m not sure they did much good. If I include the time it took to write, prepare, and send them, it cost more to send them than the support they generated. I have been a missionary for many years, so this has come after much thought. I do not say these things lightly. I find myself feeling indignant when I hear missionaries talking about how much time they have to spend keeping people up to date. Why does this bother me? Should we missionaries have to remind you, their supporters, every month what your job is?

You supporters should also know what the basic prayer needs are for a missionary: health, safety, doors, spiritual warfare, and disciples. Add Bible translation if your missionary is working in a remote unreached people group. Another thing I have heard many times is that missionaries need to mention normal everyday things in their prayer support letters. Things such as the new restaurant they found, that their baby is crawling, or that the dog had puppies, or that they are reading a book that people in your church would know about. You also are taught to put lots of photos in your communications. This last thing is unbelievable to me: you should keep your letter to one page. How much can I really communicate to my people if I have only one page to do it and a few pictures have to be on it? I wonder why all these things are taught to missionaries? Why is it that you have to mention normal things in your prayer letters? Is it to make people back home feel more connected to you? Is it to make them feel that you are normal people, living normal lives, and to somehow make the people back home feel that they are not so different from you? Should they be so connected to us that they don’t feel the distance or the difference between us? If you are living a normal life on the mission field, one much like the people who sent you, you have not gone far enough. The goal is to take the Gospel to the most remote parts of the world, the remote unreached people groups. If you are not there, you need to go far enough that you cannot send or shouldn’t send support letters.

If you live in a city that has the Gospel, churches, and a Bible in the national language, you probably are living more of a normal life and won’t have much to write home about except restaurants, babies, and puppies. If you are living in the middle of nowhere, you won’t be able to write home. If you are really in the outback, you will not be living a normal life, at least compared to your supporters. You are a normal person, just like everyone else in your country of origin, but your life in a remote unreached people group will be everything but normal. Living in remote people groups would make for really good prayer letters, or should we call them, boasting letters or poor-me-I’m-suffering letters.

Missionary life among remote unreached people groups is nothing normal, but you won’t have time to tweet your latest experience. If you are not a missionary and are supporting people who seem to be living normal lives, you might better look into supporting someone else. Look into those doing discipleship (church planting) and Bible translation in remote unreached people groups. If you have to write prayer letters to keep your people’s attention on you, you are writing for the wrong reasons. I remember that I did not say much in my letters to supporters. I felt that my missionary experiences were personal. I’m sure my support letters were not very good. I have the theory that if you are out there doing cutting-edge missions, you should not let your supporters in on all the details. Let there be some mystery to it. After all, you are out there for the people group, not to compile enough information to make a missionary biography.

Some might criticize this book because it lacks all my exciting missionary stories. Sorry, they are my pearls. They are between me and God. He knows, and that’s all that counts. Your supporters are not the important things here. It is odd to me that some supporters think of themselves as very important and in many cases more important than the missionary they are supporting. I am encountering this more and more. Supporters tend to believe that they are the important ones, sending the financing so that the lowly servants can be out on the mission field getting dirty and sick in all the mud and disease. They are too important to be in the outback with no electricity. They feel that, because they support several missionaries, this somehow has more impact than going. God does not need your money! Money given to missions is not what God needs. He needs people. If money were the answer, the job would have been done long ago. However, the spotlight is not shining on the donors nor is it shining on you the missionary. The spotlight is on the unreached people group you are trying to get the Gospel into. The unreached people group reflects that glory back to God when we do what we are supposed to do and they get saved and worship the Heavenly Father. The glory is not in the taking of the Gospel; it is in the receiving of it.

 You, the missionary, are already saved. Your experiences and what you have to do to be a missionary are not important. In my opinion, they are something personal, between you and God. Read Matthew chapter six. There is no need to blog about it. God is keeping a complete record of your exploits. You don’t need to tweet every little great thing you do. Doing that might cost your people group precious time or cost you your mission work if the government is snooping your tweets. The country you live in may be open right now, and sometime tonight, when you are asleep, all of the sudden it becomes closed. Be careful! Remember that Hugo Chavez came into power and ran out the missionaries from Venezuela. No one would have ever imagined that a Latin American country would become closed to evangelical missionaries. My wife and I were in Algeciras waiting at a friend’s house before a trip into Morocco. He told us that the government expelled him from Morocco because they were retrieving his emails and found out he was doing mission work. This was in the year 2006. Wouldn’t it be terrible to return home to tell your family and supporters that you were kicked out because of sending missionary support and prayer letters to them? Later in 2014, I was at a meeting for missionary agencies listening to another missionary who was expelled from Morocco. He said that two hundred and fifty missionaries were expelled in 2010 because they had been identified by the government and were breaking the law. A friend of his was invited by a government official to the offices where they were monitoring all the missionaries. They were capturing their emails and communications and had cameras on all the places where Christians were discipling people. You should not feel the need to tell all your people back home all the terrible things that happen to you. I hear this from missionaries often, “That will make a good story for your prayer letter.” We have been conditioned to think too much about how we look as missionaries to our supporters. We should not be concerned about how our missionary blogs or missionary prayer letters or social updates will sound. Missionaries are too connected to the people back in the country of origin. Just get out there and do the work of the Lord. Quit updating your social networks; they don’t need it. If they do, get new people who don’t need constant contact.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

(NIV Romans 12:3)

Tell your supporters, “Sorry, I just don’t have time for socials anymore, I need to get busy doing mission work. I am sorry I won’t have time to update you. Please understand and stay faithful to your commitments. We need your prayers and support.” It is no sin to ask for support, and it is no sin to not ask for it. I have heard a few times that most people don’t read missionary newsletters. Only a small percentage opens them. The majority of the people toss them right into the trash. Support-raising books teach that your letter needs to be a half page of text with a full-color photo or people will not read them. If they open a letter with two or three pages of text, they throw them in the trash. After I heard this, I cut back to sending letters two times per year. I thought then and still do now, that there are much better uses of my time and finances. It could be that most people don’t read missionary letters, because it is the same old thing all the time. Maybe they can sense that you are just trying to remind them to give.

It was in 2008 when we stopped sending regular prayer letters, and God has continued to be faithful to us. My wife and I are the most blessed people I know. We lack for nothing, thanks be to the Lord! It might be hard for you to believe that we are on the mission field without sending regular prayer letters, support letters, emails or social updates. I guess this is when you really find out that God is your provider. He does use people to give to us and also provides work when we need it. We still receive support from some people, but we very rarely send support letters. On very rare occasions, I send a handful of letters to our best friends. They are personally written and usually in a Christmas card. Most times, there is no appeal for support. These are very close friends of mine. This seems more natural and reasonable to me. I write them on rare occasions, because they are close friends, and rarely do I ask for help with special projects. My way of looking at support and communicating with my supporters has changed. God is our support. People do give, and God blesses them for it, but they are not my focus. I do not depend on them for my ministry. You might be asking, what about prayer? It is a researched fact that most Christians do not pray for more than a few minutes per day. If your supporters remember you in prayer, they will have to pray by God’s prompting and leading. People who are committed to praying will not forget you. If you have to send a prayer letter to remind people to pray for you, their prayers are probably not be being heard. Faithful people will pray for you; don’t worry. God is in control of that, too. He will remind them about you and your needs. On a handful of occasions I have said, “With all this prayer going up for remote unreached people groups, why are so many still unreached? Either God is not hearing these prayers, or God is not honoring them.” I remember hearing George Verwer preach a sermon at our Bible College. He said, “God will not answer a prayer you are not willing to fulfill yourself.”