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.

 

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).

Giving to world missions

Many people want to give generously to world mission, but aren’t sure how to go about it.  Rumours of financial inefficiency, corruption in foreign countries, and vast extravagances generally put people off.  People want to know where their money’s going, and that it’s being used wisely.  At a time when many mission agencies are struggling financially, it’s important that prospective donors feel they are able to commit their funds, so here are some ideas that hopefully should allay your fears.

Who to support?

Support someone you know.  If you have a friend, or someone in your church who’s involved in world mission, support them, or their organisation.  A direct link fosters accountability and ongoing interest.

If you’re in a denominational church, support that denomination’s work.  So if you’re a Baptist, support BMS, for example.

Support something you’re interested in.  If you have an interest in a particular country or activity, find somebody else who’s already involved and support them.  Just type the appropriate phrase into your favourite search engine and see what comes up, or use Christian Vocations to see which organisations work where and do what.

How do I do it?

Preferred ways of funding will vary between organisations, but one thing they all like is regularity.  If you can give the same amount every month, it will help them budget.  If they can count on money coming in, they can plan to spend it.  If it just turns up periodically, it’s nice to have that extra help, but they would rather know it’s coming.

If you are employed, you can give through your payroll to maximise tax efficiency (talk to your employer about this).  Alternatively you can give by direct debit or standing order (set this up online or talk to your bank).  Many agencies now have a facility on their website to set this up online.


Are you a taxpayer?

If you are a UK taxpayer make sure you sign a Gift Aid form so that the agency can turn your  £10 into £12.50 by getting the tax back from HMRC.  This extra boost to funds is a life-saver for some organisations.  If the organisation you’re giving to doesn’t reclaim tax, you can give through the Christian charity Stewardship, or Charities Aid Foundation, Everyclick, Charity Giving or Just Giving.  They will all pass your donation on to your chosen charity, together with the reclaimed Gift Aid, but beware – they will keep a bit back to cover their expenses!

Accountability

This is important.  Many people are scared that their money is going into a black hole, or being spent on things they don’t know about.  So ask.  Any organisation worth its salt will publish its accounts in its newsletter.  They should also be able to tell you how much goes on overheads as opposed to the ‘real’ operation.  Up to 10% is ok – you’ve got to let them spend a little on their UK offices, staff and fundraising, but any more than that and you can start wondering how efficient they are at cost control.  If you’re in any doubt, ring up and ask them.  You should also be able to donate for a specific fund, region or person, and by law they must comply with this.

Tough times

We all know that money is tight at the moment, and we’re having to economise.  Discretionary spending is being cut back hard and giving is part of that.  The result is that many mission agencies are having to make deep cuts to programmes and staffing levels.  There is some good in this, in that it forces them to think about their priorities, ensure they are investing in their core vision, and live out their trust in God as it relates to their finances.  But it also means that many of their activities are being axed and many missionary families are suffering.  Some of them have experienced real reductions of income in the last three years of over 30%, and committed mission workers are starting to leave their field of service for no other reason than they can’t afford to stay there.  So please give generously!