How do you think your supporters would react if you told them in your next newsletter that you have a pool in your back yard? Or what about taking a week’s working holiday at a tropical resort? Or that you have to pay school fees of twice their house payment for your children to attend an English language school? You really must consider their reaction.
Some of you have supporters who have come to visit you and know how you live, but most of you don’t. How do your parents or supporters, or even your sending organization think you live?
It is one thing if your parents don’t understand. They may picture you in the remotest island with people living in tree houses. No matter how many times you try to explain and show them pictures, even videos of your life in a teaming city with all the comforts of home, they just don’t get it. When you describe your work, their eyes glass over and they ask the same questions again in different words. They are sure you misunderstood the question because you don’t answer the way they expect. This is frustrating, but really doesn’t do too much damage.
Maybe your friends picture you in a town just like your own home town. They like to receive your newsletters, but they think it is strange that you always choose pictures for your newsletters so different from your neighborhood back home. Many of them have never traveled farther than a couple hundred miles from home and have met very few people very different from themselves. Again, this can be frustrating, but doesn’t really hurt anything.
When your home church or sending agency does not know what your living situation is on the field, that can cause big problems. If they think the economy in your adopted home is just like theirs, they may never increase your support, while your expenses double every year on the field. They may send you care packages of soap and popcorn and warm socks when you can buy these easily if you want them. Any increase in your monthly support would help so much more.
When sending organizations don’t bother to ask your current needs, they may be crippling your work on the field. You may live in a comfortable home, but have no support network. There may be no one you can call when you have a misunderstanding with your local church or need help filling our immigration forms correctly. You may have marriage or parenting problems that need urgent attention. Counseling at the right time could make it possible for you to continue on the field. Lacking that help, you may end up a failure statistic.
Friends of ours actually did have a swimming pool in their backyard. Because security was such a necessity for expatriates living in that city, most houses not only had electric gates and automatic lights and 24 hour security guards, but swimming pools so the family did not need to leave safety for exercise.
Our condo complex has two pools, tennis courts, badminton courts and gardens. It sounds luxurious and we do thank God every day for such a nice place to live. But it is a lot cheaper than rent back home and virtually everyone in our city who lives in an apartment or condo has the same amenities. We are living on a par with the people we work with.
Another couple actually rent three dwellings to do their work. One is in a village on the outskirts of a major city. They have two tiny apartments in a remote area. They must come back to the city to shop for necessities, so they keep the village house. The apartments in the remote area are so tiny that they live in one and meet people they are serving in the other one.
They really were afraid to tell their supporters. Yet the combined rent is cheaper than rent in their home town in the US, and they are definitely living below the average in their adopted country. It was their assigned overseer who didn’t understand their need for the city/village house. He had never visited them on their field, so he had no context for his opinion. They tried to explain their needs to him, to no avail. They may leave the field because of all the misunderstanding- a great loss for those they serve.
Some of us live in very rural places and work with the poorest of the poor. Our families and supporters may fret about our health and safety. We may be afraid to tell them what we really do for fear they will require us to come home and get another assignment. River travel may be the safest and quickest, but it can sound so frightening to folks back home who picture crocodiles snatching you out of the boat.
Whether our family, friends, and supporters will understand our living conditions overseas, the question of what to tell them comes to mind. We depend on our supporters month-by-month to send offerings, and we depend on our agency to bank in and make those funds available to us. If they become frightened for us or misunderstand and think we really don’t need what they send, we could be seriously lacking funds some month. If our agency is not consistent about their banking procedures or don’t make the deposit until they understand some line in our monthly report, we could really suffer for that misunderstanding. It has happened.
So whether you tell them about your lovely surroundings or your primitive location will depend on how well you believe folks back home understand you and your calling. Much more important than whether they know about your swimming pool or the hot and cold running geckos is that they know and trust your character. Do they know you as a hard-working, self-motivated, God-fearing servant? Have they heard about your choices and reasons for those choices in the past? Do they know that you are accountable to someone they can call on for clarification?
So if you are new on the field, try to find some seasoned workers who can give you good counsel and wouldn’t mind answering questions from supporters or your agency if necessary. Try to build a history with your supporters so they don’t misunderstand some line in a newsletter you send in the future.
If you have questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to share them in an up-coming newsletter.