I’ve recently been reading Jamie The Very Worst Missionary‘s blog for about a year or maybe longer. I almost never regret reading a post, despite the fact that when I share some of her posts on social media, people tell me they don’t appreciate the language she uses. That’s understandable, but neither here nor there for me.
I think one reason I appreciate her blog is because she’s got bigger balls than I do. I don’t write any of my posts intentionally trying to ruffle feathers, but I do seldom care if it happens. I realize that taking on certain subjects can bite the hand that feeds me in a way, but at the same time… I like feeling like if I need to say something, I should just say it and not tip toe and hope I don’t offend.
My post today probably won’t offend though.
Some Mistakes I’ve Grown Out Of
There are a few reasons I’m stirred up to write some thoughts and “confessions” today. First off, let me admit this post may not be as cohesive as you’re used to if you follow my blog as I’m reacting and reflecting after reading these other two blog posts. But often times when I’m back in Canada or in the USA, some people automatically assume my life is like a tale out of Travel The Road or I minister in certain situations mostly because of the impressions and expectations they have of missionaries. This may not necessarily be my own fault or even be a fair assumption of people to have, but it still happens nonetheless.
To further exemplify the false set of expectations I’ve encountered: I’ve helped host mission teams who’ve come down to Peru, and even Holland when I lived there as a missionary, and some have had the impression that my life during the week or two of their intense and planned-months-in-advance mission trip is the same all year long. Other teams have come and genuinely had no idea how much work hosting a team is, but actually think they’re giving our team a vacation by showing up.
Sometimes we’ve needed a vacation to relax after a team has left! I’ve had people eat all my food and expect me to pay for all their taxi rides (using my monthly support and donations) and not give me a penny in return. Sometimes, I’ve dreaded when people wanted to come as a result. Other times, my life has changed and developed deeper relationships.
Thankfully this aloof rock star treatment expectation of visitors doesn’t happen often, but has happened to me more than once. In the future I will write a post or series of posts of what to expect if you’re going to join an established team for a short term or internship (10/13 edit: I wound up writing that follow up for Relevant magazine instead of posting it here on my blog).
No Guts, No Glory, No Newsletter Story
Jamie covered some very important stuff that needs to be exposed in her post Deciphering Missions, and The Sexiest Missionary Wins. In her first post she used examples of people exaggerating in their newsletters to look like they’re doing more than they really are so as to impress supporters. I’ve read the newsletters and Facebook posts of people after being on trips with them or having hosted teams and wanted to call people out for their exaggerations and lies but never fully knew what the proper protocol for this was1. I think Jamie hit the nail on the head with her posts without calling individuals out.
I used to fear that if I didn’t communicate often and with enough “awesome testimonies”, that my support would dry up. Fortunately I’ve got a decent work ethic and can’t stand to go very long with little productivity or no fruit but still, I’ve written newsletters using coded language.
Guilty as charged.
However, I’m proud to say it’s been at least 3 years since you’ve been able to see an example of that in my newsletters. I now take the approach of just documenting what I’ve been doing in the last month and indicating any upcoming needs (extra trips, wedding planning last month, etc…).
Others may do their newsletter writing differently, but I feel like since I already blog a lot I can preach and motivate here on the internet and not write 10 page newsletters. As such, my newsletters are then specifically for updating people who pray for me as well as those who support me but aren’t on the internet.
The main takeaway for me from the blog posts, especially the first one, is that there is a good deal of “missionary code” that takes place that in some cases can be a matter of just covering up vagueness or lack of actually doing anything. I remember when I lived in Holland — and granted the majority of our team were in our twenties at the time, fresh out of Bible college — the majority of what we did was actually “hanging out” with Dutch students and adolescents. I may not have used the vocabulary of “making disciples” but there was a lot of one-on-one/life-on-life happening that I never experienced again since those days until I joined Oikos here in Peru early last year.
Granted, when you drop nearly half a dozen single twenty-somethings off in a European country who are able to fund themselves and are on fire for seeing revival burn through the Netherlands, you will see a mess.
You will see mistakes.
You will experience immaturity.
I say that in part of my personal defence but also because I look back and cringe when I realize my life had so very little structure. I wasted a lot of my time. Granted, a lot of blogging and writing and eventually learning to podcast came out of that vacuum of not knowing how to use my time well and seeking to find a way to produce something that would last. Digital content, as I now refer to it.
But I also watched entire seasons of TV shows on DVD with other team members and Dutch friends. I justified it to myself by comparing my schedule to that of other missionaries who played video games hours and hours per day — and night. I’ve then read these same people’s newsletters online and scratched my head wondering what their supporters would think if they came and spent a week on the field with us.
For more of my thoughts, see Missionary or Glorified Tourist? & Do You Know What Your Missionaries Are Actually Doing?
Trying To Fish Supporters From The Same Pond
I’ll never be able to forget, around 2006/07 when I lived in The Netherlands just how many times people asked me why didn’t I live in Africa if I was a missionary. Or, if I wanted to raise more money for my mission, why didn’t I switch to a “real” mission field like Africa. I had steep personal expenses due to living in a culture where the exchange rate caused the amount of support I had to shrink. Nor was the cost of living cheap in Europe, either! But I was where God wanted me for that season of my life — which I truly did believe at the time would be maybe 5 years longer than it lasted. I don’t want to diminish how important a ministry rescuing people out of the sex trade is, but it does seem to me like that human trafficking is trendy and the new Africa.
I think one thing that had the biggest impact on my desire to become more entrepreneurial (or, as I call it a missionpreneur) is the struggle I’ve always had to try sensationalizing what I do so as to impress people to support me. I’ve never been good at it. I’m not implying that all other missionaries are doing this themselves, but it does happen more than you might think. I stopped playing that game years ago, but sometimes that crucified desire to impress others tries to exact revenge on me for putting it to death.
Some experiences that were off putting to me with regard to “fund raising”
When I used to be a part of an American missions agency that held a missions conference every year, I constantly encountered some of the
backstabbing competition some missionaries would do to with each other to try making a bigger impression on new potential supporters. One time I asked a missionary if I could place my newsletters on their display table in the foyer of the church, since they were using photos of mine in their display, after all. They turned me down because “my mission wasn’t related their ministry”, even though they’d ripped off my pictures from my blog and I could prove it if I felt like calling them out on it.
But “our ministries were unrelated”.
Then, later that same week, a missionary who is not even a missionary to the same country as I was had pictures in their powerpoint presentation of a prayer march around an abortion clinic that they didn’t even personally attend themselves but had gotten from me earlier in the year on a trip we both went on.
I admit the picture was a powerful one, and would illicit a great response — that I intended on using during my own presentation, but at least I felt honest about using it since it was, you know, my own photo. This person did not even do any abortion outreach themselves, and since the language on the signs and T-shirts of the people in the photo was clearly in Dutch and not the language spoken in this missionaries’ field, it should have been a dead give away as to their not belonging in this missionary’s presentation.
I realize not many in the audience would have realized that.
But it was several photos, not just one.
At any rate, a picture says a thousand words, so if you need to steal someone else’s for effect, why not do it, eh?
More Tricks of The Trade
Also, one time while back in Canada I went for coffee with an older “seasoned” man of God who had spent decades on the mission field asking me how I functioned, and how I raised my support. He seemed surprised that I only raised funds for living expenses and not “special projects”. In those days I had no big projects and all of my expenses were living expenses (rent, food, internet, clothing).
He looked me in the eye and said “Steve, you’ll never raise any money if you don’t say it’s for special projects.”
I asked him what that meant and he encouraged me to tell my supporters and write in my newsletters that the money was for special projects, but then take a percentage for my living expenses. But the kicker was to just not tell anybody what the percentage was. So, in this man’s eyes, saying it was a special project and using it mostly for personal expenses was more ethical than somehow just admitting it’s for personal living expenses in the first place!
And this was a man who had spent decades on the mission field practicing what he preached, presumably.
I’ve also been with other seasoned missionaries in settings in Peru who have had as much a keen eye for good photo ops as I’d expect of any politician. One time, a missionary pointed out to me a deaf child and told me “Steve, take a picture of that kid and put him in your newsletter — people love giving money when they see deprived children“.
I remember when transitioning into full on missional community another advisor in my life warning me that “people don’t like giving money to organic disciple making, they want to see a church or school built or a feeding program“.
So, of course, that’s one of my motivating factors for writing my Kindle books to sell and making websites for pay has come into play — to be able to supplement my support with some old fashion income, and directly finance myself so I can be more focused on pouring myself into disciples who will make disciples and spread the fire in our missional community.
I’ve not been very good at the sly and dishonest things some are comfortable doing to raise money, all in the name of spreading the Gospel — if you can believe that!
Most people back in my home country have encouraged me that being bi-vocational is perfectly commendable. Meanwhile a few have told me if I need to work then it’s “evidence” God doesn’t want me here or he’d shower the money on me through supporters.
At any rate, it took me years to reach my own conviction and understanding about how to fund myself properly on the mission field, and now I’m running forward and it’s quite exciting.
Want to know how you can help out without writing me a single check?
One method is when you go to Amazon.com to buy something, do it from my affiliate link stevebremner.com/Amazon and you’ll be giving me 4-6% of the sale as an affiliate. This comes in handy especially the larger items you buy. Mind you, I don’t pay my rent with it, but it does help me not to have to pay for Kindle books I buy as a result of just using the funds I make as an affiliate when you do that.
See, just little things like this add up and help me and my new wife Lili out. A lot.
I warned you at the outset that this would be a bit of a ramble of confessions and thought responses to those two articles. I really could go on with more things that I’ve learned as missionary when it comes to fund raising. But I’ve also learned a few things to do to finance myself and develop a bit more of a passive income and have some work to go do so I need to end this post for today.
I’m happy that I don’t need to be dishonest or portray myself a certain way to do it either.
Blessings on your head!
- March 2015 edit: I have since written this post: Do You know What Your Missionaries Are Actually Doing? [↩]