Your Missionary Employment Questions Answered
As missionaries, we often receive questions like “Who pays you to do this?”, “What do you live on?”, “Are missionaries employed?” I hope today's post will clear up some of those questions.
In the world of Independent Baptist Missions it is customary for the missionary couple or family to do deputation and raise their own support to serve on the mission field for which God has burdened them.
Churches, families, and individuals pledge (as the Lord leads them) to support the missionary through prayer and through voluntary giving. These people then become active partners in the ministry that the missionary has/will have on the field.
That giving then becomes the missionaries support (income), the money which allows him and his family to live and minister on their field.
Depending on the missionary's circumstances the monies (donations) may be sent as tax-deductible donations through his mission board, his home church, or an independent clearinghouse organization. In the majority of cases the missionary is considered self-employed, though sometimes he is considered an employee of his mission board. And for those donors don't care about the tax-deduction, it is also possible to give to the missionary directly as a personal gift (tax-free to the missionary).
We are considered self-employed missionaries, and pay self-employment taxes in the US for our annual income. Most donations we receive are funneled through Central Missionary Clearinghouse which issues tax-deductible receipts to our supporters. We also have a Paypal account for those who wish to donate directly to our ministry.
Note:** Our ministry is not the point of today's post, but if you'd like more information about what we're doing in Mexico, you can visit our ministry website here.
Here are some of the other financial questions we get:
Q: Can't the church there (on the field) support you?
A: Often the missionary is starting a church from scratch, so there is no one initially to give, as in the case of American churches. It also takes a long time in some cultures for the people to learn how to give/tithe, and often even then, the church could not afford to support the missionary because of the economy.
Q: Why is a missionaries budget/cost of living often higher than those whom he serves?
A: Missionaries have many expenses that people don't often see/think about, and that the people he serves may not have. Things like furlough expenses, and travel/airfare. Ministry travel. International health/auto insurance. Homeschooling costs. Shipping expenses. Visas and government paperwork. Ministry materials and expenses. Often the missionary self-sustains the work in it's entirety during the first few years as the people are trained to care for and give to the work. Not to mention higher cost of food and utilities in some countries. (We were surprised to find that in our area of Mexico the only thing really cheaper than in the US is fresh fruits and vegetables. At least in our area, electricity, foods, clothing, furniture, appliances, auto expenses etc. are sometimes comparable but usually higher than the US. Gasoline and medicines/medical care used to be cheaper but has increased in the last couple of years.)
Q: Can't you work there and earn part of what you need to live on?
A: The answer to this depends largely on your field. In some countries you are not allowed in as a missionary and can only come in on a work visa. However, a full time salary in his field may not be sufficient to cover all of the missionary's expenses. In other countries a missionary/minister visa does not permit you to work for money. (We came to Mexico on tourist visas and were not allowed to work. We currently have temporary residency, which does give permission to work.)
You also must take into account the working wage of your country. For instance in our area a 50 hour work week only earns $110USD (approx), so even if one worked every day of the month in a secular job here, it would only earn about $440 USD. Doesn't help much when the support received this month was $1600 under budget. And if one is working all the time to meet his family's needs, when does he have time for ministry?
Q: Why is your support not consistent each month?
A: Most supporters pledge (or promise, or set a goal) to give a certain amount monthly, and do. However there are a few who prefer to give every other month, every quarter, etc. And then there are those whose donations do not reach the office in time for this month's accounting. Leaving the missionary short this month, and letting him find a double gift from that donor included in next month. For us this is both good and bad. It is good because the Lord usually arranges things so that higher amounts come in the months there is a special need to be met. And when there isn't a large immediate need, we can put some of the extra aside for lower months. But it is bad in that we cannot count on a consistent income each month, making planning, saving and budgeting a constant juggling act and exercise of faith.
Q: What do you do when you don't receive the needed amount each month?
A: Like most missionaries we live one month at a time. We pay the big bills first, cut out the non-essentials, and pray for the Lord to meet the rest of the needs. We don't often have a surplus, but we have never gone hungry. It's amazing how God has provided unexpectedly for big needs through the years. Sometimes he shows us that it should be met through our own personal savings, and sometimes he provides through unexpected monetary or physical gifts. He never forsakes his own.
Q: How often do you get “paid”?
A: This answer will depend on the organization handling the missionary's funds. We get our funds once a month. Central Missionary Clearinghouse processes donations received from the 25th to the 25th of each month. So anything received from June 25 to July 25 will be processed and deposited to our account on July 31, the last business day of the month. And that will be what we use to live on and minister with during the month of August.
Q: Does the Clearinghouse charge you fees for processing your donations?
A: Yes. Most who offer this service to missionaries charge some sort of fee. We pay Central Missionary Clearinghouse $2.00 for each donation/check processed. This is a very minimal fee in comparison to other services/mission boards, and we are happy to pay it. Obviously if we get several small checks it adds up to a larger percentage of our support for the month, but all in all it averages out to only about 1-2% of our current monthly budget.
Have we answered your questions?
What are your other questions concerning how missionaries live and function financially? Please leave them in the comments and we'll do our best to answer them for you.