Life among the pagodas
I read something the other day, and immediately wished I had the capacity to erase it from the mind of every other unfortunate person who had read it:
“…you should know that I truly despise asking for money. I always have. And now I have to ask for it almost all the time. Even when I’m not asking for it, I’m thinking about asking for it. There are never enough funds to do all the good I’m trying to do, and I live with a nagging feeling that the one person I don’t ask is the one who would have written the big check. So, when I ask for money, know that I do so with fear and trembling.”
A few months ago, I might’ve agreed with this statement. Now when I read it, I perceive a value system that is based on a lie, and a system that has little honor toward those who give. I’m troubled by it because the implied resentment toward fundraising seems to contain a serious fear-of-man problem, as well as the notion that money is unspiritual.
Fundraising and the idea of living on support became real to me as Jim and I started preparing to return to SE Asia. We are planning to serve with an organization that requires each member to raise his/her own support. As we embarked on the financial expedition of doubling our current level of support, I looked at the financial end of things as a necessary evil and expressed a desire to buy some lottery tickets.
“Even if we won the lottery, I’d still want people supporting us,” was Jim’s rejoinder.
I didn’t completely believe him, but shortly after, I read Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising, and it set me on a 180-degree revolution. Where once I dreaded the idea of asking someone to part with some of their funds, I’ve come to realize that fundraising done in a spirit of gratefulness to the Ultimate Donor can be an incredible form of ministry. Not only that, but why embark on the mission field without the excellent primer in trusting God that is fundraising?
Here are a few things I’ve learned from reading Henri Nouwen’s book, as well as from our own fundraising experiences so far.
“We do not need to worry about the money. Rather, we need to worry about whether, through the invitation we offer them and through the relationship we develop with them, they will come closer to God.” -HN
“We love because he loved us,” also translates into, “We go because he went,” and “We give because he gave,” and “We can be generous because he has been generous to us.” When I ask someone to support us in our ministry, the only “fear and trembling” I experience is a sense of how remarkable it is that God can use such simple means as money to help us become like Christ, and that both parties are growing by the relationship, one in the giving and investing, and me in the going, and staying connected to the giver.
Fundraising for us has been by far the most rewarding part of my “almost a missionary” experience. I’ve had the chance to sit in kitchens and hear great stories of faith from the dearest people. The warmth and generosity of people who barely know me and are entrusting me with their resources is empowering and it makes me eager to return soon for another cup of tea, to tell each other more stories and share more wisdom. (The hard part, I find myself loving these new people in my life, and the thought of their empowering me to move so far away is bittersweet.)
“Every time we approach people for money, we must be sure that we are inviting them into this vision of fruitfulness and into a vision that is fruit full. We want them to join us so that together we begin to see what God means when God says, “Be fruitful.” –H.N.
The subject of having to go home to gain more support is often part of the fundraising discussion, and I’ve yet to hear it mentioned in a positive light. It’s been said, “I have to go home now and raise more support,” like a kid who’s been called inside to do more housework; as if the heart condition of the people back home isn’t important to God.
When we raise support, we are doing it out of the conviction that God means for his people to be interested in what is going on in the far away reaches of the kingdom he’s building. Fundraising allows us solidarity; we’re building this thing together, as givers and goers, we’re part of the plan to be fruitful. We’d rather have the “work” of maintaining relationships with dozens of five-dollar-a-month donors who are anxious to see our ministry thrive, than to have it all written off in one easy check.
“If our security is totally in God, then we are free to ask for money. Only when we are free from money can we ask freely for others to give it. This is the conversion to which fundraising as ministry calls us.” – H.N.
“…if fundraising as ministry invites those with money to a new relationship with their wealth, it also calls us to be converted in relation to our needs. If we come back from asking someone for money and we feel exhausted and somehow tainted by unspiritual activity, there is something wrong.” -H.N.
“When we approach fundraising in a spirit of gratitude, we do so knowing that God has already given us what we most need for life in abundance.” -H.N.
“Whether people respond to our fundraising appeal with a yes, a no, or a maybe is less important than the knowledge that we are all gathered as one on the holy ground of God’s generous disposition to us.” – H.N.
To complain about the burden of money is another way of idolizing it. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21)
Fundraising is the path we must take in order to work overseas; to resent the fundraising part of things is to resent what God has called us to do. We’re fooling ourselves if we expect to find joy in the destination God has for us if we can’t find joy en route to that place.
To speak of fundraising and finance as the seedy underbelly of ministry is to forget that the primary thing in all our lives is fellowship with God. The task of raising funds is a forceful reminder: God wants your heart—as a giver or as one who goes—and without your heart, conducting all the “effective” and well-funded ministry in the world is worthless.