When I first went overseas, I thought things like medical insurance and retirement planning weren’t too important. Further, as funding for those two items added to the overall budget and that budget needed to be raised through supporters I personally contacted, I felt that these items were excessive. It seemed to me at the time that these items only delayed my matriculation to the field and added to the church’s financial burden in sending me and my family. I reasoned that God would take care of us anyway. Twenty years later, with retirement age nearing, (which won’t necessarily cause me to retire), I am grateful for the foresight of organizational leadership. And with my family members needing multiple previously unforeseen surgeries, I am grateful for the care we have received.
I remember the day I first met my young Chinese friend who held such a deep desire to serve God. We didn’t have a position available for him in our company, but it was OK with him to work for only a volunteer stipend. He wanted the opportunity to work alongside us in caring for the poor, and while doing so, to learn and grow.
As time went by however, financial realities set in. He married. He felt the weight of the needs of a wife and of her parents, as well as his own parents who didn’t yet know the Lord and who expected some kind of monthly support. At the same time as his work on our team became increasingly valuable, his attention to the work with our team became increasingly limited. Where did we go wrong? Was his commitment to serve the Lord inadequate?
Chinese missionaries face similar financial pressures to missionaries everywhere. Although they don’t doubt that God will supply their needs, a significant proportion of the current attrition of Chinese missionaries from the field is ascribed to financial considerations. Those who want to be missionaries, who haven’t yet served, often minimize the importance of financial issues. But for those who have served, field research demonstrates that as time on the field accumulates, financial considerations increase in ascribed importance.
I recently conducted focus groups examining issues related to financial expectations with one particular group of potential missionaries: Chinese Christian physicians. Expectations are high. As an example, one missionary physician with extensive experience in short-term outreach commented that no matter how much a missionary loved the Lord, if the salary a missionary received was lower than average for a Chinese doctor staying in China, enthusiasm for missions might wear thin. This kind of salary, though, is higher than what might be anticipated when considering the current financial realities of presently serving Chinese missionaries. In my article, “Financial Expectations of Prospective Chinese Medical Missionaries: Understanding the Financial Backdrop to Chinese Medical Mission Sending,” I explore these issues in further depth. Understanding expectations gives us a chance to be reflectively creative in proposing models which might facilitate financial sustainability for the Chinese missionary task.