Please give generously!

moneyGiving is not unique to Christmas.  Many other cultures give generously to others at the times of their major festivals, but of course what is unique for Christians is our message that God gave first – “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son…” (John 3:16).

Just as people give reciprocal gifts at Christmas, God’s generosity inspires us to give back to him – not out of obligation, or a misplaced desire to repay the debt, but out of sheer gratitude for the exuberance of his own generosity.  We can never repay this generosity and one popular prayer acknowledges this: “All things come from you, and of your own we do give you”, referencing 1 Chronicles 29:14.

At this time of year much of this generosity rightly overflows to those who have little: the residents of refugee camps; the homeless and destitute in our major urban centres; those fleeing from natural disasters; the elderly who may often be alone.  This year there is another group joining them – the overseas mission worker.

Not that they’re actually homeless (yet), but financial challenges in major donor countries over the last decade have reduced giving to mission workers significantly.  Rising unemployment has cut giving.  Financial uncertainty has cut giving.  Lower returns on pension yields have cut giving.  People in the west feel that they are not as wealthy as they were, and are worried about their future, so there is a tendency for them to cut back on giving, rather than “giving beyond their ability, despite their [perceived] deep poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).

This year the situation has worsened because of the fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit referendum.  Since this affects every penny sent by UK churches to mission workers overseas, each mission worker might have seen their income fall by over 10% in six months, depending on where they live.  This could be the difference between continuing in mission and returning home.  For a mission worker on an allowance, say, of £18,000 a year, that’s £150/month wiped out.

“Where is their faith?” you may ask.  It’s in your pockets (see our blog Was Hudson Taylor Wrong?)  So please give generously this Christmas to mission workers – and keep on giving generously throughout the year.

 

Who will lend?

to letNot so long ago Syzygy was contacted by a mission worker who had spent several decades overseas in ministry.  With little remaining support from his ageing friends, and a regular contribution from a church he had been part of a long time previously, he had been able to survive in the field on his small income.  But now forced by ill health to return to the UK, he found himself homeless.  He couldn’t afford the rent on a flat until he qualified for benefits, and had no remaining money to buy somewhere.

There are many people in similar situations, whose time serving abroad has cost them everything, and with no remaining support are unable to find a home once they come ‘home’.  So somebody (probably Myles Wilson but I can’t find the quote in writing) has observed that:

The single best thing a mission worker can do to plan for their retirement is to buy a house before they go abroad.

Simple!  Buy a property, let it out, and use the rent to pay off the mortgage.  If you stay abroad for the 25 year life of the mortgage, you have a free home when you get back.  If you come back sooner, at least you have somewhere to stay while you get settled.

But letting is not without its challenges, and anyone considering it should read our Briefing Paper which looks at the pitfalls as well as the benefits.  One of the greatest challenges is actually getting a mortgage.  These days, banks are so risk averse that overseas mission workers, with no regular salary and no fixed UK abode, may find it hard to qualify for one.

So we’re delighted to be able to tell you about Kingdom Bank, run by Christians who understand the situation of mission workers.  Because of their knowledge of the missions world, they’re willing to be a little more flexible than other banks in considering how they secure the value of their investment in your property.  And they are actually keen to support you in your ministry by helping you get the right buy-to-let mortgage terms that work for you.

If you are interested in exploring this option, you can contact Kingdom Bank on 0115 921 7250, visit their website or email them at info@kingdombank.co.uk

Please remember the value of your investment can go down as well as up!

Disclaimer: please note that Syzygy is not recommending Kingdom Bank, merely pointing our readers in the direction of this service which may or may not be right for them.  Please take financial advice from a qualified advisor.

Was Hudson Taylor wrong?

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

“God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”

This quote from Hudson Taylor (1832-1905, missionary to China, founder of the China Inland Mission, now OMF International) is highly likely to be quoted in any discussion about raising funds for mission, and is usually used to trump any other argument.

It is generally taken to mean that if you’re doing what God wants, the money will appear.  But even worse than its overuse and misapplication is the fact that this striking quote is never challenged.  It is given the status of a verse from the gospels.  Hudson Taylor said it, so it must be true.

But is it really true?  It certainly doesn’t feel true to the many thousands of mission workers worldwide struggling to pay living expenses.  So if we believe this verse, we are then forced to conclude that either we don’t have enough faith to believe God for his provision, or that we’re getting something wrong.  This can inspire us to review our calling, our methods and our attitudes towards fundraising, or it can propel us into a spiral of self-doubt, lack of confidence and a crisis of faith leading to our unnecessary departure from the mission field.

If our funding isn’t coming in, perhaps we do need to question our calling.  When was the last time you sat down and really prayed over what God wants you to do with your life?  When did you last discuss this seriously with your church or mission leadership?  Are you conscious of a sense of calling to what you’re doing now?

It’s also worth reviewing how much money you really need.  Perhaps the funding is not coming in because our agency is asking us to live a Western-standard lifestyle where we could easily make do with less.  For example, we may not have enough money to buy an air-conditioned 4×4 to get us through the Cairo traffic in comfort, but we may be able to pay for a bus ticket where we can share the journey with crowds of people we can start to build relationships with.  But then of course we have to offset the stress of travel against our ability to survive in a foreign culture.  What would Hudson Taylor do?

In many circles today it is tantamount to heresy to question the aphorisms of the great Hudson Taylor.  But despite his phenomenal role in the world of missions he was still a flawed human who made mistakes.  Perhaps, as with many giants of the faith, he assumed that what applied to him in his relationship with God, also applied to others.  There is no disputing that he had an incredible gift of faith to believe for and pray in God’s funding.  But not all of us have that gift.  It is good to be inspired to faith by his example, but not to be crushed by failing to live up to it.

We should never forget that while God is theoretically able to provide for all our needs, he keeps all his money in other people’s pockets, which severely compromises his cashflow.  If the people looking after his money are not obedient to him in emptying their pockets for world mission, many faithful mission workers may not experience the fullness of his provision.

Taylor famously made a point of never asking for money.  But D L Moody, also a giant of the faith, was explicit in asking people to empty their pockets, and he is seldom quoted on the matter of fundraising despite his notable success.  Perhaps we should take him as a role model instead of Taylor, and take the liberty to qualify Taylor’s famous quote: as long as his people give faithfully.”

“Orphaned” mission workers

backpackerSyzygy has recently come across several cases of ‘orphaned’ mission workers, which reminds us how tough life in the mission field can get for some people.

These are mission workers who suddenly find themselves in the field without adequate support, and they are often desperate and tragic cases where people are unable to support themselves.  They frequently have a deep conviction that God has called them to serve in a certain place but are then unable to sustain themselves in ministry.  Such situations can come about for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • a supporting church closes, leaving mission workers with no funding
  • mission workers choose to go independently without proper support and cannot maintain themselves in the field
  • an agency withdraws from a particular region but the mission worker, feeling a strong sense of calling to the local people, declines to leave and stays on as an independent
  • mission workers fail to maintain good relationships with their supporters and over time gradually lose support, or are even dropped by their church because there is no communication

Such people sometimes come to Syzygy for help.  While we can debrief them and provide advice, we cannot do for them what they really should have done in the first place: build and maintain strong relationships which give them lasting support and accountability.  Sadly many mission workers go independently of churches, agencies and even their families because they are strong independent types, and in many ways they can be just what is needed for pioneering situations.  But it can make them reluctant to collaborate and listen to others.

Our advice to such mission workers is to return to your sending country (wherever possible) and spend time rebuilding the foundations that should already have been in place.  Advice for those thinking of going independently, and those who need to return and rebuild their support base, can be found in our Guide to Going It Alone.

Some of these ‘orphans’ are indeed so alone that they do not even have the funds to get themselves back to their sending country.  Sadly Syzygy does not have sufficient money to help them, though a visit to their national embassy may help them at least get a flight ‘home’.  Mission workers should always have an exit strategy before even going, and the question

What do we do if this all goes badly wrong?

should always be part of the pre-departure planning.  Sadly many people only start to plan for disaster once it’s already happened.

We recommend that a relative, church or agency always holds sufficient money in a designated account to pay for flights back for the whole family, and ideally enough to help with ongoing support costs through the transition too.  Setting aside such a large sum before going may seem impossible to mission workers on a tight budget, but it should be factored into the set-up costs.  Some may think that is not trusting God to provide, but we think it’s just trusting God to provide up front so that we have one less thing to trust God for when things all go belly-up in the field.

Middle-aged mission workers in crisis?

Souce: www.sxc.hu

Souce: www.sxc.hu

50 can be a challenging age for anybody.  On reaching half a century, we have to start coming to terms with ageing, knowing that most of us are now over halfway through our lives.

Perhaps we are no longer able to play 5-a-side with the teenagers, or we are starting to have to make regular nocturnal visits to the toilet or coming to terms with the fact that our body tells us we can’t have children.  We may need varifocal lenses or hearing aids.  At the same time, we may be dealing with the drama of our children leaving home, or confronting the tragedy that we might never get married, and dealing with the pain of caring for elderly parents.  So there is a lot for us to take on board.

At the same time, we are rising to the peak of our professional responsibility.  We may be in senior management positions, elders in a church, pillars of our community, trustees of various organisations.  We are expected to mentor younger people, act as consultants and advisors, and start ‘paying something back’ into the community.  People expect our behaviour to be better than when we were teenagers (“You’re old enough to know better!”) and there is less tolerance of our mistakes as we are assumed to be more mature.  But there’s also that nagging doubt that we’ve built on shifting sand.  Will our life’s work last?  Have we devoted our lives to something worthwhile?  Will our children thrive?  Or in others words:

The pressure of responsibility and expectation on us rises, just as our energy levels are starting to fall. 

50s crisisA simple graph can demonstrate this.  The red line indicates the rising burden on us; the blue line the declining energy levels.  And the point where they cross is where disaster is waiting.

The crisis can take a number of forms: a stress-related health incident, ministry burnout and resignation, moral failure, crisis of faith, divorce – and all these hazards lurk out there waiting to trip up the unwary mission worker.  For no obvious reason an apparently exemplary worker will suddenly crack under pressure and fall to pieces, injuring many others with the fallout.  Lives are damaged, churches shattered, faith rocked.  Broken and hurting people return to their sending countries haunted by words like failure and defeat.

So how can we prevent this happening?

Mission workers can:

  • Ensure you maintain a vibrant relationship with God, taking time off work if necessary to devote time to God.
  • Remember to say no to additional responsibilities if you do not feel called to take them on.
  • Take time to reflect regularly on your identity.  Are you a Martha or a Mary?  Which way round is your dynamic triangle flowing?
  • Have a frank relationship with an accountability partner or mentor.
  • If you’re married, make sure you take regular steps to invest in your relationship.  If you’re not married, make sure you learn to thrive in your singleness.
  • Learn to delegate effectively so that you don’t have to cope with excessive busyness as well as excessive responsibility.
  • Rejoice that though we are physically decaying we are growing more godly (2 Corinthians 4:16)
  • Take a break at the first sign of stress-related illness.

Churches and agencies can:

  • Take active steps to ensure their mission workers are not overworked and take regular holidays and study leave
  • Use regular appraisals to ask challenging questions about spiritual, emotional and physical well-being
  • Encourage mentoring
  • Organise training to help mission workers understand what makes them tick and why they may be tempted to overwork.
  • Ensure mission workers are sufficiently well-funded to be able to take holidays.
  • Have a good member care team in place
  • Send out family and friends to support and encourage.
  • Ensure that mission workers take regular and sufficient home assignment and have regular healthchecks
  • Recognise that cross-cultural living can take its toll on people’s health and spirituality
  • Provide practical support to help reduce the pressure on mission workers
  • PRAY!!!

Praying creatively for your mission workers

Here’s a simple yet creative idea for a mission prayer meeting.  Don’t just do the same old boring thing of praying through each paragraph of a newsletter.  Do something a bit more original.  Take a selection of common items you’d find about the house.  Ask yourself what they represent, and if it might look different from your mission worker’s perspective.  Pray into it.  Here are some simple examples you could use.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Mobile phone – this represents their ability to communicate.  Whether writing or phoning home, communicating with locals in their language or dealing with colleagues in a third language, mission workers often have difficulty in understanding and making themselves understood.

Toilet roll – we don’t need to go into details but life in a country your immune system didn’t grow up in can be full of nasty diseases.

Car keys – in many parts of the world roads are even worse than Devon’s!  Vehicles may not be up to safety standards and there are no working time directives limiting the hours professional drivers spend behind the wheel.  Travelling, whether by car, bus, motorbike or cycle can be hazardous.

Bottle of water – we take utilities for granted but many mission workers live in parts of the world where the power can go off for days at a time, or there is no running water.

Family photograph – many mission workers are separated from loved ones.  Children may be at boarding school, or elderly parents may be left behind at home.

IMG_0715Chillies – the food is often very different from back home, and can take a lot of getting used to.  Some people may have allergies to particular types of local food, or may be unable to get food they need such as gluten-free.

Fan – many mission workers live where the weather is extreme, and for some seasons of the year almost unbearable.

Bible – the reality of life on the mission field is that mission workers can become spiritually dry.  They may be engaged in spiritual battles and face great opposition, or the spiritual dynamic of the dominant religion may have an impact on them.

Wedding ring – marriages come under great strain on the mission field, as one partner may have a vision for being there, and the other is tagging along, or perhaps one does better with the language with the other lagging behind.  Conversely, there are also pressures of a different kind on singles in the mission field.

Bowl – in many countries beggars are everywhere, and foreigners can stand out as targets.  It can be easy to get compassion fatigues, or to be worn down by the constant high profile.

Dictionary – mission workers usually need to learn a second language, and sometimes a third.  This can be time-consuming and daunting for those who are not naturally gifted at it.

(Source: www.sxc.hu)

Source: www.sxc.hu

Passport – paperwork is a continual problem.  Visas, work permits, driving licences, residence permits all have to be obtained (without resorting to corrupt expedients) and periodically renewed.  This can be emotionally demanding, with many repeat visits to crowded government offices where you can queue for hours to find that the person you need to talk to is not there.

Credit card – money is frequently a source of stress for mission workers.  Most of us rely on the divinely-inspired generosity of a small group of supporters to provide for the often quite substantial ministry costs we have.  Sometimes we have to leave the mission field for financial reasons alone.

Book – many mission workers use their professional skills as theologians, medics or educationalists, and need to keep their knowledge and qualifications up to date.  Yet finding time to read academic journals, let alone take CPD courses in the midst of a demanding role can be very difficult.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Toy – children can suffer in the mission field, and that has a huge impact on the parents.  Without support, children can easily become the mission worker’s Achilles heel.

DVD – mission workers need to relax too!  Yet often they find they have too much work, or feel guilty if they stop to enjoy themselves.

Office ID card – for many mission workers, the single biggest source of stress is their colleagues.  Often coming from a variety of cultures, with a common language that they aren’t all gifted in, and with a variety of church backgrounds and missiological viewpoints, it can be extremely hard to form a team in which everyone gets on well.  Arguments and even personal disputes can become commonplace.

Please use this information to pray into the situations of the mission workers you support.  The advantage of this method is that you can use it to pray anywhere, anytime, for your mission workers.  For example, if you’re waiting for a bus, look around you and seek inspiration.  What do you see?  Cars – pray for your mission worker’s safe travel in a world where roads and transportation may not be as good as ours.  A dog – pray for safety from being bitten by rapid dogs, or mosquitos, or lions.  A pillar box – pray for their good communication with family, church and friends back home.

Try this way of praying for mission workers and your prayer life may never quite be the same again!

National Insurance Contributions

images (1)An interesting case came my way recently: a mission worker returning to the UK is unable to work due to ill health, and has been denied full Employment and Support Allowance due to not having maintained enough National Insurance Contributions (NICs) while serving abroad.  This person commented to me:

Right now I’m feeling somewhat miffed that I wasn’t warned of this possible complication on my return should I need benefits.

The sadness of this case is that the mission worker had been paying NICs, but not the right class, and it would have been easy to make up the difference had this person realised.  Which raises the point that churches, sending agencies and mission workers need to be aware that there are implications for failing to pay not only the correct amount of NICs, but also the right class, since there are four different types of NICs.

A quick recap: National Insurance Contributions were designed to be the method by which British citizens contribute towards the cost of a variety of forms of social security (e.g. state pension, the National Health Service, and financial support for the sick and unemployed).  Failure to pay NICs can compromise or limit a citizen’s right to receive these services.  Below is a table (copied from the HMRC website) indicating the different classes of NICs and what they entitle the contributor to:

Benefit Class 1 – paid by employees Class 2 – paid by self-employed people Class 3 – paid by people who want to top up their contributions
Basic State Pension Yes Yes Yes
Additional State Pension Yes No No
Contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance Yes No (except for volunteer development workers employed abroad) No
Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance Yes Yes No
Maternity Allowance Yes Yes No
Bereavement benefits Yes Yes Yes

(Class 4 National Insurance Contributions – paid by some self-employed people – don’t count towards any state benefits.)

1354359_fifty_pounds_2NICs are notoriously complicated and we can give no more than an overview here, while encouraging everyone to make sure they are paying the right amount and the right classes.  We strongly suggest that everyone who has worked abroad should check exactly what your current entitlement to state pension is and what you need to do to preserve your pension rights.  To do this you should arrange a pensions forecast.  You can only do this while in the UK and you can find out about a pensions forecast here.  If there is a shortfall in the contributions you have made to date, you can top them up.

With any other queries about your NICs and entitlement to benefits you should contact HMRC who have a specific unit for people working overseas.  Click here for further details.

If you are fortunate enough to be involved in humanitarian or development work, and your sending agency or church has registered with HMRC, you may be entitled to make Voluntary Development Worker contributions, which are levied at a lower rate.  Click here for further details.

It will also be useful to have your residency status resolved as this can also affect rights to benefits.  Many mission workers are keen to be classed as non-resident, but this is one situation in which it may be helpful to be resident!

More information is available on the HMRC website and a particular clear overview is given by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Financial dependence

1354359_fifty_pounds_2Financial independence is the goal for many people in the West.  It is a state of existence when the assets we have built up through hard work, scrupulous saving and wise investing can yield sufficient income for us to live without having to work.  It acquires significant meaning when thinking about saving for a secure retirement, and many investment strategists encourage us to invest 10, 15 or even 25% of our monthly income in our future security.

Such an approach may seem sensible, but it is frequently beyond the financial means of mission workers.  We often struggle to raise the income we need for our current needs, let alone future ones.

Financial independence may be part of the mantra of western individualism, but a much healthier goal for Christians is the complete opposite – financial dependence.  This is a state which is familiar to most of us who raise our financial support, a state in which our daily needs are met by others in our community on whom we are dependent.  This may be a humbling reality for many of us, but is much less of an issue for many of the cultures among which we work, where the community cares for its own, and actually feels it is an honour to be able to support family members, friends and others in their community who for various reasons are unable to support themselves.

78855_for_pam_There is also Biblical precedent for financial dependence.  The Levites, for example, were not given land like the other tribes of Israel.  They were supposed to minister full time to the Lord and his people in the temple, and because they would have no time to earn a living they were supported out of the offerings that were brought to the Lord (Numbers 18:21-24).  Jesus, once he started his ministry, seems not to have ‘worked’ but been supported by the donations of his followers (Luke 8:1-3).  When he sent his followers out on a ministry trip, he told them to expect others to provide for them (Matthew 10:5-11).  Paul, although he did fall back on working at times, took the opportunity to devote himself to preaching the gospel full time whenever he received a financial gift (Acts 18:1-5, cf Philippians 4:15).  And many of today’s church leaders are supported by the giving of their flock, even though we may lose sight of this direct relationship as we give into church funds, which in turn are used to pay the minister’s salary.

Mission workers, as part of our ongoing ministry, gather around us a group of supporters who contribute to our ministry through prayer, advice, encouragement, practical support and finance.  Sadly, the ones who provide finance are often too few, which can lead us to start recruiting donors for their finance alone.  We can feel under pressure to produce results so that we can demonstrate that supporting us is a good ‘investment’.  We frequently feel that our need for money complicates our relationships with friends.

Yet focussing on our material needs, and on the people on whom we are dependent to meet them can obscure from us the real basis of our financial dependence – God.  It is he who sends us, and an important part of the testing of our calling is to see God provide for our needs.  Jesus taught that we shouldn’t worry about what we eat or what we wear, as God will look after us (Matthew 6:25-34).

So why do so many of us struggle for finances?  God is not short of wealth, he says he will provide for us, and yet we don’t see it.  Part of the reason may be that our expectations are too high.  God may be giving us enough for the basics, but not enough to support a western materialistic lifestyle.  Perhaps, alongside of Paul, we need to learn to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

912758_hand-holding_1The other reason why we don’t always see full provision for our needs is that God doesn’t have his own bank account – he keeps his money in other people’s pockets!  God likes to share around the blessing of giving and allows us all to take part, yet I am convinced that many people today are not giving to world mission because they are not hearing God’s heart to pass on the money he has blessed them with.  They focus on their own needs rather than the Kingdom’s, despite the exhortation of Jesus to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’  (Matthew 6:33).  The temptation to seek first our own financial independence may resemble that of a rich farmer who hoarded his assets instead of giving them to the poor (Luke 12:16-21).  Jesus called him a fool.

We might be tempted to think that we are not wealthy enough to be supporting mission workers, but the Philippians were commended for giving generously even though they were poor.  And to them (not the financially independent) Paul gave an amazing promise: ‘My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).

If you wish to support mission workers, you can do it effectively through your church, direct to their agency if they have one, or through Stewardship.  If you are trying to raise your own support, our friends at Oscar have some helpful resources, and there are some very helpful day courses run by Stewardship.  You can also find excellent factsheets on their website.

However you seek to raise your funding, and whether you are giving or receiving, follow the advice of the man of faith Hudson Taylor: ‘Have faith in God’.

Letting out property

to letWhen planning to serve God abroad, one of the decisions we have to make is what to do with our houses.  Many of us let them out, either commercially or to friends, and the principal advantage of this is that we have somewhere to come back to, when (and if) we retire.  It can also double as a source of income, and somewhere to keep our furniture and other personal belongings.  However, there are also plenty of drawbacks to letting out our homes.  Lengthy periods without a tenant, or tenants who fail to pay the rent or abuse the property are some of the most obvious, but there are many other pitfalls.

We have discovered that most sending agencies and churches decline to give advice about letting one’s house out, since they are reluctant to be seen to be giving financial advice.  So we have produced this blog as a guide to some of the challenges involved in letting out property while you are abroad.  It is important to stress that this is not advice on what decisions to make, and you should consult professional advisers where appropriate.  A fuller version of this blog can be found as one of our Briefing Papers.

Issues concerning tenants: you may need to think about the type of tenants you want to attract.  Do you want long- or short-term tenants?  Professionals?  Students?  Do you let the house furnished, in which case your furniture can be damaged – I heard of a tenant who threw away a mission worker’s dining table because she didn’t like it, and left the sofa in the garden!  If you let it unfurnished, where do you store your furniture?

Financial issues: one challenge may be getting a mortgage, particularly as you may not have a regular stream of income so lenders may be reluctant to take on your risk.  A buy-to-let mortgage may solve this, but may be more expensive.  An Independent Financial Advisor can help you with this.  If you already have a mortgage, you should check that by letting you’re not invalidating the terms of your mortgage.  You also need to recognise that part of the risk of renting is having periods when you have no tenant.


Agent issues
: if you engage a professional agent to administer your letting for you, be aware that a commission of 10-17% of the rent may actually cream off all your profits.  They may also charge you high fees for sending out plumbers or decorators.  But they do have insurance, and knowledge of the legal situation which can be a minefield.  Leaving this responsibility to a busy sibling or elderly parent may be a heavy burden.

Maintenance issues:  looking after your property becomes harder when you are overseas.  Little repairs which you would normally do yourself will have your tenants calling out a professional who may charge you a significant fee.  How are you going to maintain the garden?  Expect the tenants to do it?  Pay for a professional gardener?  Replace it with low maintenance shrubs?

Tax issues: You will be liable to pay tax on the rental income you get, although you can claim your legitimate expenses as tax deductible.  Under HMRC’s Non-Resident Landlord Scheme, agents are normally required to pass on rent net of basic rate income tax, but if you are living abroad with little likelihood of having to pay UK tax, then you may apply for your rent to be passed on gross.  A qualified accountant can help you with this.

Legal issues:  Lessors are responsible for health & safety compliance, and failure to do so is a criminal offence which can result in a prison sentence and/or a substantial fine.  And that’s only for non-compliance.

And finally: Don’t become emotionally involved with your property; no one will look after it as well as their own home; so don’t be upset with the state of the property at the end of the tenancy.

In conclusion: when letting your house out, our recommendations are that you should consider:

  • consulting an Independent Financial Advisor for help getting the right mortgage.  You can find a list of IFAs here
  • engaging a reputable agent and having a formal tenancy agreement with your tenant
  • using a chartered accountant to prepare your tax return
  • having a solicitor briefed to help you in an emergency
  • opening a savings account with 6 months mortgage payments
  • checking out various ‘moving house’ related services at Oscar

 

Syzygy would like to acknowledge the help of Mike Frith of Oscar and letting agent Chris Scupham in producing this paper.  For more specific information please contact us at info@syzygy.org.uk.

Giving sacrificially to world mission

Some years ago, when I was accepted to be a member of a major UK sending agency, a number of people within that agency commented that I would have significant difficulty raising my support funding for homeside service in the middle of an economic crisis. Although their logic was impeccable, I thought it ironic that the successors of the great man of faith who had founded the mission should focus on the practical challenge rather than the greatness of the God for whom we work. Surely, I reasoned, if God wants me to serve him in this way, he will provide the funding. Surely a mere economic crisis is nothing to our God, or to those who serve him in faith.

Yet four years into the economic crisis, the evidence shows that the economic crisis is in fact hitting mission hard. Most mission agencies report reduced general giving, and reduced financial support for mission workers. Nearly all agencies have been forced to reconsider their priorities and reduce their spending commitments. Some have merged, and others have been teetering on the brink of financial collapse. Many potential mission workers are stranded at home, unable to raise the funding they so badly need before they are allowed to go.

So is this economic crisis really bigger than God? Although this situation can easily be understood in financial terms, why should a miracle-working God be limited by the laws of economics?   The problem is not that God’s funding is limited, it is all to do with where God keeps his money. Not in failing banks, or worthless government bonds, but in the pockets and wallets of his people.  he gives us the privilege of partnering with him in his mission, and provides us with the funds to complete the mission.  Yet faced with economic uncertainty, and for many of us redundancy, unemployment or reductions in state benefits, our natural response has been to curtail our giving in order to maintain our own standards of living, or at least to put some funding aside for the future. This might have a small financial benefit to us but has huge negative consequences on those whose ministry depends on our generosity.

How might we review our own economic situations in this light? First we need to remind ourselves that God is in control, and cares for us. God provides, even when we are unemployed. I spent five years living on sickness benefit, and never lacked anything I needed. Needed, not wanted.

And that brings me to my second point: we need to evaluate our own lifestyles and make a distinction between that which is a necessity, and that which isn’t. During the years of prosperity we came to accept certain things which might previously have been luxuries as essential to our standard of living. Perhaps some of those things need to be relegated again to being desirable but not absolutely necessary.

The resulting funds can be released for mission. I recently reviewed my own situation and realised that by doing without certain things that I enjoy, I was able to release several hundred pounds into mission. Yes, it was a sacrifice, but as Neal Pirolo writes in his book Serving as Senders:

Christians with a renewed lifestyle can free up thousands – even millions- of creative dollars

for cross-cultural ministry. Living more with less is an exciting, viable option.

So, as a new-year resolution, would you join with me in reviewing how much money we really need, and release more to support those working in mission? When we consider how many millions of people have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ, surely it is a small sacrifice to help send more workers into the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).

Why do overseas mission workers need support anyway?

This question might seem to many of us to have a perfectly clear answer, but it is evident from the number of mission workers who are (or feel) unsupported, particularly by their home church, that there is a significant problem.

Paradoxically, the problem often results from the success of local mission.  Many churches are active in their surrounding communities with a whole range of outreach and care programmes about which they are so enthusiastic that they genuinely can’t see why people would want to go off and ‘do their own thing’ while there is so much work to do here.

Add to that situation the success in recent years of getting people to understand that we are all mission workers, that everyone in the church has a part to play in reaching out to their family, friends and workmates, and you create a context in which overseas mission workers are not different or special (which is true), they’re just doing the same work as everyone else, but in a different context.  My friend Terry was quite rightly aggrieved when his church got him up the front to pray for him when he went off to do short-term mission in Thailand, but completely ignored him when he got a job at a spare-parts shop which he saw as an opportunity to reach out to non-Christians.

Terry saw no difference between his two missional roles, and if that is true, there is no need for different support levels.  But the difference in context is crucial: the overseas workers have deliberately moved away from their normal support mechanisms (church, friends, family and familiar culture) into a role which may be emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging, and which probably does not attract a salary.  So they have increased need for support, but less access to it.  This is a recipe for disaster.

To understand how need for support increases, let’s look at a scale of cross-cultural mission which clearly demonstrates why certain roles require more support.  It recognises that all Christians are called to mission, but shows how the context can vary.

1)      Christian has normal job in home town and uses existing family and workplace connections missionally

2)      Christian deliberately selects a job in a company with little Christian representation, OR moves into a different part of town with a view to being an active witness

3)      Christian moves to a completely different part of their home country, OR deliberately changes career in order to be an active witness

4)      Christian moves abroad to be an active witness.

It can be seen that in each progressive stage of mission the Christian is intentionally moving away from his/her natural comfort zone and support network, and therefore requires people to support them in the struggles their new home and/or vocation presents.  Becoming an overseas mission worker not only means setting up a new home in an alien culture and often using a foreign language, but doing all that together with learning a new vocation and being far away from the comforts of friends, family and familiar surroundings.  They may be experiencing significant stress when they are farthest away from those able to alleviate it.  That is why they need more support.  Failure to deliver it can lead to stress, burnout and attrition.

Churches, family and friends need to provide this support in the following ways:

Emotional – caring about the loneliness and isolation of living in a foreign country and taking active steps to help mitigate it and provide comfort

Spiritual – supporting mission workers in prayer, and particularly being aware that they may lack access to books, teaching and worship in their own language

Financial – mission workers may not only be forgoing a salary, they may have increased financial needs which they need help with

Practical – leaving elderly parents behind, renting out property and managing their practical affairs are all simple tasks mission workers need help with.

By ensuring good quality support for overseas mission workers, we are investing in the effectiveness and longevity of their mission.  With our coordinated and focussed help, they will achieve more and be less liable to burnout, which in the long-term is also making life easier for those church leaders who would otherwise have to pick up the pieces.

FYI: personal pension plans

Earlier this year we considered state pensions.  While it’s important for every UK citizen to protect their right to the state pension, we are all aware that despite significant recent increases, it is still not very much, which is why it’s called a basic pension.  The current basic state pension is just £107.45 a week, so to be able to have a realistic income on retirement, we need to explore ways of boosting it.  Realistically, this may be hard for many of us who face financial challenges anyway, but we need to recognise that our daily living expenses may well increase on returning to the UK, and our support giving may drop once we are no longer serving abroad.

If you are deemed as employed by a sending agency, they should already have made you aware of their pension arrangements.  Any UK organisation which employs more than 5 people is required to provide a pension plan.  You don’t have to take this up, but if you don’t, you could also be missing out on the money that your employer will put into YOUR pot.  It may not be much, but you’re entitled to it.  Ask your finance manager for information.

Another alternative is to investigate paying into your own pension plan.  You don’t need to be employed to have one of these, and they have an advantage that for every £1 you pay in, the government will contribute a further 25p.  Yes!  Money for nothing from the government!  This is because pensions are regarded as tax-deductible, and you may be eligible for the government’s contribution even if you don’t pay tax!  This makes a pension one of the most effective ways of saving money, as long as you are prepared to lock it away till you retire.  If you live abroad there may be further complications though – some pension plans retire you to return regularly to the UK.

All this may be a bit confusing and you may want to know where to go for help.  Any UK bank or building society will be able to provide products for you from their own (limited) range of pension products, and some other companies are well known.  The best way to seek advice is to find an independent financial advisor.  They are able to provide you with a wide range of products from different suppliers, and are obliged to declare to you what they’re earning in commission so that you are aware whether they’re pushing products with higher commissions.  You can also decide how you pay them – whether by a set fee or by agreeing to them taking a commission.  Our friends at Oscar have a list of Christian organisations willing to give financial advice – click here.

The government has a very helpful website with simple explanations of pensions, and further information can be found from the Pensions Advisory Service, an independent organisation which has a lot of useful information on its website.

A pension plan can be a very effective way to save for your retirement simply because of the tax breaks.  But be careful – the benefits can be eaten away by high charges and poor management so make sure you keep track of performance.  Because of the way pension funds grow, they are most effective when you start investing at a young age.  If you’re within 10 years of retirement, the set up costs can mean it would be better to leave your funds in a building society.

Planning your UK state pension

For British citizens, a national state pension has been considered a basic right for a number of decades and helps people who have retired to be able to make ends meet without working for a living.  Protecting your entitlement to the state pension is important, and people don’t always realise that their lifestyle choices may affect the amount of money they get once they retire.  Like all pensions, you are required to make regular contributions to build up a pension fund, and if you don’t, you could lose out when you retire.  The entitlement to a full state pension will depend on whether you have built up sufficient credits and you can read the basic details here.

This can become even more complicated for people living and working abroad because you may not be making regular payments.  We recommend that next time you’re in the UK you check exactly what your current entitlement is and what you need to do to preserve your pension rights.  To do this you contact the Charity, Assets and Residence (CAR) Centre run by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).  Click here for further details.

They can also give you a forecast of what your retirement pension is likely to be.  If there is a shortfall in the contributions you have made to date, you can top them up.  Find out about a pensions forecast here.

Normally, state pension contributions are deducted from your UK salary by your employer, but many people working overseas won’t have an employer, or even a salary.  This does not mean you are excluded from the state pensions system.  You can protect your pension rights by making voluntary contributions.  This is usually done by sending a cheque to CAR once a year.  Further details are available here.

If you are fortunate enough to be involved in humanitarian or development work, and your sending agency or church has registered with CAR, you may be entitled to make Voluntary Development Worker contributions, which are levied at a lower rate.  Check here for further details.

You can’t take your state pension until you reach retirement age.  This age is different for men and women, and also will be different depending on when you were born as the government incrementally raises the age at which you can claim it.  Check your retirement age here.  But you don’t have to claim it when you reach that age – you can defer it until you feel you really need it, and if you do, you can get a higher pension or a lump sum.  Read more about this here.

You should also be aware that though the UK pension is increased every year to help pensioners cope with the rising cost of living, but if you chose to live abroad once you’ve claimed it, you may forfeit the right to the annual increase as it only applies to residents of certain countries.  Read more about this here.

Sadly, many people ignore their state pension contribution while they’re working abroad in the mistaken belief that the government will take care of them in their old age.  The government will (under current arrangements) pay you something, but not necessarily your full entitlement.  We believe that in general, making a state pension contribution could be the investment of a small sum to get a big benefit.

 

 

 

Eurozone crisis part 2

With the tedious inevitability of a long-lasting B-movie franchise, another episode of the Eurozone Crisis is shortly to be released, this time with some new lead characters.  Since we reported on the temporary resolution of the Eurozone crisis six months ago, things have proceeded fairly smoothly. The Germans have continued to impose rigorous financial efficiency on the rest of the zone, by requiring the vulnerable countries (notably Greece, Italy and Spain) to make swathing cuts in government expenditure with the intention of balancing their budgets. To an extent, this seems to have worked, as the interest rates on their debt have fallen. The citizens of these countries, however, are significantly disgruntled at the poverty these cuts are imposing.

There is a fairly compelling argument that balancing the books will not in itself bring the Eurozone out of recession, since some amount of government spending is necessary to stimulate the economy back into growth. The Germans of course, who face the bill for keeping the fragile economies going, are reluctant to countenance any increase in government spending, and of course don’t need to do this at home since their own manufacturing sector is doing very nicely.

Francois Hollande

Two events occurred last Sunday which will significantly threaten the fragile consensus over the German approach to Eurozone stabilisation. Francois Hollande, who was elected President of France last Sunday – the first Socialist President since Francois Mitterand left office in 1995 – believes in government stimulation of the economy.  ‘Austerity can no longer be the only option,’ he said. This means that the ‘Merkozy’ consensus which saw France and Germany together working to control government debt is now likely to be shattered, with France moving to a position challenging the Germans. Both sides recognise the danger of this and are keen to appear conciliatory.  Mrs Merkel, the German Chancellor, was the first leader to phone and congratulate Mr Hollande, who in turn will visit Germany for talks immediately after his investiture on 15th May.

Nevertheless, the argument seems to be swinging against the Germans as the Eurozone economy bumps along the bottom, and many people are realising that the German approach has not delivered recovery. The Eurozone may be about to change course. Hollande has a powerful ally – Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, who recently told the European Parliament ‘We have had a fiscal compact. Right now, what is in my mind is to have a growth compact.’

Greek voters

The second major event was the result of the Greek general election, which took place on the same day as the French presidential one. Many Greeks are extremely unhappy with the austerity imposed by last year’s EU-IMF bailout of the Greek economy, and disgruntled voters deserted the main political parties en masse. The protest vote was garnered by radical parties of the left and the right.  The second largest party, Syriza, firmly rejects the terms of the EU bailout, which means it cannot ally with the two other largest parties, who are pro-austerity, to form a government. There may have to have another election, which could well see Syriza improve its position.

This means that the government which eventually emerges is far more likely to reject the extreme measures which have been imposed on it in exchange for the bailout of its economy. This will lead either to the exit of Greece from the Euro – something which is already being discussed, albeit in reasonably guarded terms – or a renegotiation of the terms, which will not go down well in Germany, where voters are already unhappy at working long hours and retiring late in order to support the ‘lazy’ Greeks. Mrs Merkel faces a general election next year and after suffering recently in local elections she will be keen to avoid upsetting her voters. Germany has warned Greece that there will be no more money if it fails to keep to the agreed terms.

The ongoing uncertainty will ensure that the value of the Euro on international markets will remain depressed, and European mission workers will continue to find it hard to raise funds for their ministry.

I don’t want to feel guilty every time I have an ice cream!

The young woman who said this to me wasn’t talking about dieting.  She was talking about being a mission worker.  And some of us know only too well what she means.

We were exploring together the possibility that God was calling her to serve him abroad, and during the conversation, the issue of finance arose.  She was willing to save up to pay her way, but was hugely reluctant to ask friends to support her.  I don’t want to feel guilty every time I have an ice cream,’ she said.  She clearly felt that by taking other people’s hard-earned money to support her in mission, she had an obligation to use every penny of it on her vocation.

Such a burden of accountability, coupled with a consequently spartan lifestyle utterly devoid of treats, is a recipe for increased levels of stress and may possibly lead to burnout.  Yet so many of us, albeit subconsciously, have attitudes that demonstrate our tacit agreement with this woman.  Is it really wrong to eat ice cream bought with your support gifts?

No, it isn’t.  The people who support us expect to have small treats like ice cream, going out for coffee, or going to the cinema, as part of their normal lives, and they would be genuinely surprised if we didn’t do the same given the opportunity.  They go on holiday, and won’t begrudge us to do so too.  And we need to give ourselves these occasional treats to help us unwind and cope with the demanding life we have been called to.  In fact failure to treat ourselves would even be irresponsible if it results in us becoming unable to work efficiently, or having to take extended sick leave in order to recover.

But this is not just about the money.  It’s about a misplaced sense of accountability.  There’s nothing wrong with accountability: it focuses our activities if we have to report back to our senders on our use of time, finance and resources and the outcomes from them.  But to feel that we have to account scrupulously for every penny is coming uncomfortably close to having to fill in forms detailing how many people have given their lives to Jesus in the last month – it reveals a legalistic mindset that is overly concerned about results.

Jesus did not call us to that.  In fact, if his treatment of the dispute between Mary and Martha is anything to go by, Jesus want us to take time out rather than run around being busy and stressed.

So go ahead and treat yourself to an ice cream!

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing

I know the title of this week’s blog is not particularly inspiring, but for British people working abroad, this is actually quite a big issue.  There’s a lot of confusion about what rights and obligations we have, and how we go about making sure we don’t pay tax we don’t need to.  Recently I’ve had a number of enquiries from people needing advice, so I thought it would be sensible to get this issue out into the open.  In following months we’ll also have a look at National Insurance, pension contributions, renting out property, and Gift Aid on donations.

First, the usual disclaimers.  Each situation is different, based on your own personal circumstances, where you’re working, and which sending agency you work with, if any.  Don’t base any case you have with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on the information you find here, which is for guidance only.  If you can’t find the information you need online, contact HMRC direct or seek guidance from a professional adviser.

The standard position on UK income tax is that the British government taxes its residents on their global income, but nonresidents on their UK income only.  So residency is a key issue and there are three definitions.  They are: residence (where you think of as ‘home’), ordinary residence (where you usually live) and domicile (where you originate from or have settled permanently).  They may all be the same country, or three different ones!  This is a complex issue and you can read more about it at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/international/residence.htm.  Generally, it is worth working out what your residency and domicile status is, as it affects the way in which you pay tax.

As a rule of thumb, you will be eligible to be considered non-resident in Britain by HMRC if: 

  • you have left the UK for continuous full-time employment abroad, and you expect this to last for at least one UK tax year;
  • or, in any other case, if you have been or expect to be living abroad for more than three years and spend fewer than 91 nights in the UK in each year.
With effect from 6th April 2013, this situation has been made more complicated by the introduction of the Statutory Residence Test, particularly if you return to the UK regularly or come for periods of several months.  Rather than explain this here, we’ve done a completely new blog about it – click here for more information.

Becoming officially non-resident doesn’t happen automatically: you have to inform HMRC that you are non-resident by completing form P85.   Completing this form is good house-keeping and as a general rule it is always worth keeping HMRC aware of changes in your address or forwarding address.  Non-residence does not exempt you from UK tax, as many people wrongly believe; it simply means that you don’t pay tax on any income you receive abroad.  If you receive income from a house in the UK you rent out, for example, this may still be liable to UK tax.  Though you might not end up paying over any tax as you will still be eligible for the personal tax-exempt earnings allowance (£7475 in 2011/12 going up to £8105 in 2012/13).  You should still, however, file a tax return.

Whether your income is UK income or overseas income may also be a cause of confusion.  In reality, whether you are subject to income tax on your earnings depends on where you do your job, and how much of it (if any) you do in the UK. It doesn’t really matter where your earnings are paid and there is nothing to fear from having salary paid into the UK if that makes life easier for you.

It should also be mentioned that UK mission workers are usually liable to tax on the income they receive for the purpose of carrying out their vocation, whether it is a donation or not.  However gifts that are specifically donated for a project (e.g. for building work), personal gifts for medical treatment or wedding gifts, and personal gifts from family or friends for birthdays etc are not taxable as they are not considered income (for more information see http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/bimmanual/BIM62101.htm).

Another mistake British citizens abroad often make is to assume that they’re exempt from local tax.  Other countries tax their residents in the same way as UK does – if you live there, you pay for the services the government provides, whether you’re a national or not.  This can leave mission workers vulnerable to quite high tax bills, as their income is frequently higher than that of the nationals they work with.  While some countries may waive tax on people they see as bringing foreign money into the country, like development workers, when times are tough, they may change their minds and claim several years’ back tax from you at a higher percentage than you would have paid in the UK, so make sure you know what the local tax arrangements are.  One way of avoiding this is to work in a country which has a Double Taxation Agreement with the UK, which means that income taxed in one country is not taxed in the other.  See http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/international/dta-intro.htm#7 for more details.

And don’t forget, you will probably need to complete a UK tax return, which you can now do online.  There are increasingly harsh penalties for failing to file this on time and for paying your tax late, so make sure you do it well ahead of the deadlines as the HMRC website can occasionally crash under the weight of traffic caused by people doing it at the eleventh hour!

Syzygy would like to acknowledge the help of our resident tax expert, Martin, in creating this blog.