Living as a Beggar

ImageMany who have considered being a missionary will hear it at some point from family, ‘we didn’t raise you to be a beggar!’  This is especially the case for working class families.  It is also true for many new middle class Africans who consider the call to missions. Those who’ve worked incredibly hard to move out of an unsure position, perhaps one of real need to one of self-sustenance and don’t want to see their children intentionally taking the economic ladder down to need, and uncertainty, let alone see them make a career out of asking others for help.  It’s a matter of pride that families who have not been force into needing others to help them, may not fully understand.

But of course can anyone not relate to that to some degree?  Who wants to ask those they know for help for everything?  Taxes, school fees, travel, salary, retirement, administration, work expenses and on an on.  As career missionaries this isn’t some temporary once and done thing. This isn’t for a life – enriching experience for a couple of weeks during spring break or an alternative summer vacation, but an ongoing, never ending need for support, from those who’ve known us and been apart of our lives over the years.  You also won’t ever be able to pay the people who support you back.  Is right? Is it a legitimate way to live?

I can’t imagine a missionary who raises all their own support, not asking this question at some point in their life.  Of course we go to the bible to look for some answers, and in bible there is the story of how at one point God’s people were all slaves in ancient Egypt. After God freed them in a great exodus and finally allowed them to settle in the promised land, each family was given a plot of land to farm.  How significant that must have been for them to finally have a the right to a place of their own and the security that would provide to them and their descendants.  However one family (or tribe) the children of Levi was given no land of their own. This family was to be dedicated to the work of God which included taking care of the poor, and facilitating (repairing, building, leading..) the worship of God at the temple.  In a society where everyone was sustained in some part by farming, this class of people had no place of their own but God commanded His people to give out of what they had so these people could do His work.

We believe we are called to be the spiritual heirs of the Levi’s. Paul tells the church in Corinth “do not muzzle the ox while it plows.. it is right for the for those who preach the gospel to make a living by it.”  Should not those who do the work of God be paid? How will they be paid?  Well we don’t live in the time of the Old Testament, in a nation with laws, which say we must give 10% of our income to those who will use that fund to help the poor, the widow, and the orphan, live off it and facilitate the worship of God. However, the principle we now live under is that of grace.  Out of what we’ve been given we freely give.  Now the work of God is not limited to one nation and only 10% of our income, but it is limited only by the generosity of God’s people.

We’ve learned a lot about giving in the past year here (as much as we have about receiving).  Of course being massive recipients of grace through many who give, it changes the way we look at requests frequently made to us.  We are generally healthy, and do what we can to keep our family healthy, and we make sure they eat.  We make sure our kids get a good education, and we live in a house that is safe and secure and also able to house those besides ourselves.  While we don’t live in luxury, this puts us a head of the vast majority of people we live with in this nation where people live on the brink of existence, not always knowing when the next meal they have will come. We are keenly aware that all we have is not our own, and God calls us to share it with those around us.  So we help several others live, and provide funds for others education so they will be in a better situation one day to help there families.  We simply can not imagine how anyone who raises all their support could have a “just say no” policy to the overwhelming needs around them!

When we came overseas, we sold all we had, our house (and all the furniture and things in that house), our van, and we put ourselves in a situation with a growing family that wouldn’t make sense to a lot of people.  However we did those things because we believe that God’s heart is not just for those who can take care of themselves, those who already have his blessing, but for those who need to know his love, his healing and his grace.  We like the Levi’s of old are for this time without a home, without a ‘job’ that promises a secure income from month to month.  We rely on God, and His provision through those who give out of what they have believing with us, that the work of God, is worth our investment here.

Because we are ultimately beggars, so that others my be rich in Christ.  We will gladly take the strange looks, because we are able to be here to show others a new way to live in God.

But I reject the notion that we are beggars, if that means God’s work is not real work or any hint that investing in peoples spiritual lives, and there everlasting souls is not as valuable as teaching Math in a community of folks who can afford good taxes or private school fees, or driving a truck or anything else.  I reject it if it is somehow embarrassing to ask people to partner with us in seeing lives changed, pastor’s trained, churches renewed and villages transformed by following God’s word.   Lives like ‘Claude’, who after four years of study has a wife who says he’s become a man who no longer beats her, who helps around the house.  A man who has found peace with Jesus, and learned the way to live by His word, and to preach His word so that other men in his village my know the healing, forgiving and love of God for themselves, and see their lives and their villages transformed.  Or women like ‘Claudine’, who use to come to the group Kristy works with of sex workers, with razors in her purse, trusting no one and ready to fight, but who now sees this group as her family, her church.  Who trusts the other women with her kids, is learning to read and write, learning the word of God, and living righteously, being supported by the work of her hands and in the power of the Lord, not under bondage of sin and the abuse of selfish men.

“But I reject the notion that we are beggars, if that means God’s work is not real work”

But I will accept the name as much as it was given to Jesus and his followers.  Who told his disciples that the son of man had no place to lay down his head.  Who sent them out, telling them to look for worthy people who would allow them into their homes, and feed them while they preached the gospel and healed the sick in their villages.  I will accept the title when it refers to the reality that all who are called Christians are not people who have something to offer, something earned to share with others, something done that somehow made them worthy or better than anyone else, but instead in fact are like blind beggars, who have found the bread of life, and who go to others who are hurting, blind and lost, and take them by the arm and lead them to Jesus, the great physician of our souls.

So I want to encourage you to give, to someone, something, and I want to encourage you to ask.  For as Paul the great missionary and apostle of the Lord said, how will they be saved unless they hear, and how will they hear the gospel unless someone is sent.  So below is some advice for those who are perhaps a bit timid to be ‘beggars for the Lord’, but know that God ultimately has called them to go, and are willing to do what they have to to obey Him.

Some practical tips for future missionary’s who raise their own support.

  1. Keep your focus on God, not on the people you approach for funds.  Its easy to understand in some metaphysical way that whatever you receive is what God led people to give, but when it comes down to it, you can get pretty discouraged when you are in need and you send out a request and you don’t see any response or the response you had hoped for.  You have to live with the fact that you really have no right to any particular persons funds, no matter how much they have, no matter what your history is with them.  So stay humble, be thankful for every gift you receive, and look not to wrestle with man at all, but wrestle with God alone, and be a woman or a man of prayer.  If God has sent you out to be a missionary than go and you beg God alone to provide for you, and you will move him by living righteously and in his will, not by manipulating others.  [I do not personally believe in high pressure tactics in raising funds.  Such as calling someone or meeting with someone and trying to squeeze as much as possible from them.. For example “Say would you give $1000?  How about $750. and etc..”]Just let people know your needs, share your story and the vision God has given you and invite them to partner, and let God compel them.  It is helpful to read the history of those whom really understood that we need to go to God before anyone else to provide our needs.  The biography of George Mueller whom God helped provide for numbers of missionaries and thousands of Orphans in England is a good start.
  2. Work hard at it.  On the other hand living by faith doesn’t mean you just circle the number you are told by your mission you should raise, and than just wait to see who will give.  God uses agency, God uses our effort. So spend lots of hours each week, writing, calling, informing, praying and fasting. Set the number of hours you should work at it, and than have a friend check in with you that you are keeping to your commitment.  Especially before you go on the field, you work is to build up partnerships so that you can go.  If you are called somewhere in my mind, you are not going to have an attitude where you spend just a few hours a month at it, get discouraged, and than chalk it up to not knowing enough people or a bad economy and just give up.Will being delayed a year cause you to give up?  Will running out of contacts cause you to give up?  Are you unwilling to save any of your own money for the mission, sell your stuff to go on the mission?  You are probably not suppose to be a missionary than, look for another life.  The mission field is a lot harder than raising money.  You’ve got to be confident, this is going to happen, God is going to make it happen and you’ve got to be willing to work very hard to make it happen.
  3. Get help and seek good advice.  Find others who raise support (especially their own personal support) and get concrete ideas, read books, and as I said before set goals and than get someone to help you really follow through with it. Set goals like I will make appointments to meet with 3 groups of interested people, and follow up with 10 people on the phone or in person who showed interest in partnering by next Thursday..  Goals for what you will do, how many contacts you will try to make, or follow up with is good.  I don’t know how helpful it is to have goals that say, I will raise half the support I need by this month.  (from our experience and the people I know God seems to bring funds in on all kinds of timetables, and it always seems to highlight that He alone is in charge not us)  But of course the need for 100% that many mission boards have before you go will be a big help for you, and it will help the contacts you have to decide in the end if they will or will not support you.  So clear communication that you need your pledges by the time you are suppose to is helpful, and if you don’t have a date like that, you ought to work with your church or whoever you are going with and set a realistic one up.Another way to get help is to find friends who will introduce you to others they know who have a heart for the work you are doing, and those who though they don’t know you may be willing to support you as well.  Of course pray your brains out, God cares for us.  He will give you enough, or He will teach you that what He has given you IS enough.
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