When Stewardship surveyed the financial wellbeing of Christian mission workers this year, the results were astonishing. A staggering 99 per cent did not have enough money to cover their living costs.
Its study found that may full-time volunteers in Christian ministry are even sacrificing some of their basic needs to keep up their commitments.
For many, it is a case of “getting by”, but when bigger problems occur – like an unexpected health emergency or a car breaking down – the expenses can be harder to meet.
Stewardship decided to do something about the findings and after a successful charity appeal, managed to raise over £120,000 for Christian workers to give them an extra helping hand this Christmas.
Caroline Burns, Christian Worker Lead at Stewardship, and Cally Magalhães, a full-time Christian worker currently in Brazil, speak to Christian Today about the struggle to make ends meet and how every little bit really does help.
CT: Cally, what’s it like being a Christian worker? It must be demanding?
Cally: Being a Christian worker is nothing like a normal job where you clock on and clock off! The work I do here in the youth prisons, adult prisons and with the families is very challenging, There is always someone needing help or someone in a crisis, so I feel like a doctor on call sometimes.
I wouldn’t use the word ‘demanding’ as I feel the most amazing privilege in having been called to do this work, and I can honestly say I feel like I was born to do what I do.
I find it extremely fulfilling to see people’s lives turned around. I work with those whom society have thrown away and locked up in a prison with no hope for the future. It is really hard to hear their stories of violence and abuse, but I just love to see them being transformed as they work through their anger and hatred and are able to forgive, and find different ways of reacting and behaving.
CT: Cally, what sacrifices do you find yourself making to keep doing what you’re doing, be that financial or otherwise?
Cally: I think living in another culture is a real challenge and I have to make sacrifices that I wouldn’t have to if I was living in the UK. I would really like to buy a home here so I can stop paying rent but being a Christian worker means I can’t do that as I don’t have a conventional way of proving my income to get a mortgage.
It is especially difficult living in a huge city like São Paulo. I live close to my son’s school so that he doesn’t have to travel, but that means I have to drive long distances to get to work and spend hours in rush hour traffic. I rarely spend money on clothes or holidays as I don’t have any spare money for that, especially now as I am paying for my son to go to university in the UK.
I also do some extra work like teaching English and making cupcakes to help pay the bills. However, I had to think really hard about this question as I don’t really see the above as sacrifices. This is the life I have chosen in order to serve God, and I gain so much more than I give up.
CT: Caroline, why are so many Christian workers finding it hard to make ends meet?
Caroline: Raising your own support can be a real challenge as well as a privilege. Many Christian workers have never had the necessary training or coaching to help them understand the biblical basis for support raising, and the principles and practicalities to build a team of supporters who partner with them in their work through prayer, encouragement and financial support. While we offer this training, which many find to be a game changer, the process of raising enough support takes time.
From our experience and from those who attend the training, there are a mix of reasons Christian workers find it hard to make ends meet and to raise sufficient support. Many find it daunting to ask other people to support them. Some feel they should live on just enough or scrape by if their income comes from other people. Some struggle with the concept of saving when they see so many immediate needs around them.
This particular community of people are so passionate about the work they are called to and make many personal sacrifices to do so. They often put the calling and others first, putting themselves further down the chain; focusing on the needs of others rather than their own. They are naturally givers and inclined to pour out to others. They sometimes haven’t been given clear advice with regard to how much they should raise and save, and why it’s important to do so.
At Stewardship we calculate the amount each individual Christian worker registered with us should receive based on factors such as role, location, marital status, dependents, ministry expenses and other income they receive. That gives them a target to raise which includes pensions and savings, and gives them permission to prioritise these elements.
Cally: I think finances are my biggest challenge as a full-time Christian worker. I receive almost all my support from the UK so when the pound is strong I have enough to pay my bills, and when the pound is weak I don’t! I have never had enough money to pay into a pension plan so am not sure if I will ever retire! However, it is absolutely amazing to see the way God provides miraculously on a daily basis. I pray for money for certain needs and God sends the money, sometimes in really creative ways that I’m not expecting. He is so faithful!
CT: Christmas can be an especially tough time financially. Caroline, tell me about Stewardship’s Christmas appeal to help Christian workers at this time?
Caroline: We wanted to invite people to make a one-off gift to Stewardship, large or small, to contribute to an additional donation of £200 to Christian workers who partner with us. We have given £200 to around 2,200 Christian workers who partner with Stewardship. The donations will go towards their normal living costs and expenses which, as is the case for most, are higher at this time of year.
This was not only to bless them financially, but also to encourage them in their work and show that what they do and all they sacrifice is appreciated and doesn’t go unnoticed. We wanted to let them know they aren’t forgotten or alone, and to encourage them as they come to the end of 2019 and continue into 2020. We also wanted to help them by shining a spotlight on what they do, the sacrifices they make and the fact they do need support by the church body because what they are doing is a family task.
CT: What impact do you think this extra support will have on the Christian workers’ morale?
Cally: Stewardship is amazing, and I am really happy that the campaign is going to bless so many missionaries. I have to spend more in December with buying presents and food for Christmas etc. However, my Christmas is really simple and I don’t get caught up in all the materialism and extravagance, and I am really careful with using my credit card!
Caroline: I’ve already had several Christian workers who have heard about the appeal say what an amazing difference it would make and have expressed their thanks for running the appeal on their behalf. Similarly many givers have commented on what a worthy cause it is. As Christian workers make a little go a long way, £200 will make a big difference and it will show them they aren’t alone or forgotten; that their work and all they do is valued and appreciated by the wider church family. I hope knowing hundreds of people have come together to support and encourage them will be uplifting.
The email went out last night to let the Christian workers know the donation is on its way to them. We have already been flooded with responses of gratitude for the donation and messages of appreciation to all who have given. Many have shared stories of how it impacted them and come just at the right time, expressing the needs it will help them with. Here are some things they have said:
“Thank you thank you thank you…… This gift will help me as I travel to spend my first Christmas with my elderly parents in the UK for 30 years since we came to the Caribbean on a one way ticket to serve God, standing up for righteousness and serving the rejected and marginalised. More than the money, the encouraging effect of being loved by strangers is really therapeutic!”
“In the very moment that your letter arrived, my husband and I were talking together about our financial situation and I had mentioned that it would be wonderful to receive a sign from the Lord that he wants us to continue here!”
“As I opened my email from you this morning I had no idea what the content would be. Maybe it would be notification of my regular monthly gift, maybe it would be an unexpected one-off gift from one of my existing supporters. Well it was certainly a very unexpected gift, but anonymously from your many supporters. Thank you so much for facilitating this wonderful blessing. As you have mentioned in some of your advertising, Christmas is a challenging time for those of us who are in ministry, especially self-employed ministry. As someone involved in Bible teaching Children’s work, Christmas is a very busy time, but also a time when finances can be stretched for everyone. Trusting God to supply all our needs is biblical but can sometimes be challenging, so thank you again.”
CT: Caroline, other than being financially supportive, what encouragement can the Church give to Christian workers?
Caroline: While this is a one-off appeal, Christian workers rely on consistent regular support by individuals and Churches. If you don’t already give to the support of a Christian worker we would encourage you to join in. You can encourage them by praying for them; ask to join their prayer list or follow them on social media to know what to pray for.
They are passionate about what they do. Ask them about their work and how it’s going. Also ask them about how they and their family are doing. You could send them a birthday card or a gift at Christmas. Share with them about yourself. You might like to invite them over for a meal or go out for coffee. Ask them how their support levels are and encourage others to join their support team.
It can be summed up as friendship and partnership. Just think about what you appreciate from others and it will probably apply!
CT: Cally, you must find it incredibly rewarding to continue your Christian service in spite of the personal cost. What keeps you going?
Cally: Yes, it is extremely rewarding and I absolutely love what I do. What keeps me going is knowing that it is possible to make a difference in people’s lives every day, and even when there are disappointments I remember all those who have been helped. I also receive a lot of encouragement from people here, and in the UK, and that helps a lot too. It is really good when you do something and other people believe in you and support you financially and in prayer.