While I am a huge supporter of missions, my perspective has changed recently. No, I haven’t stopped supporting missions. Far from it.
My daughter left July 1 and flew overseas as part of Youth With A Mission. As a mom, it has been interesting to watch my daughter prepare for her trip — to see her trepidation in approaching us to say that she didn’t want to return to college (yet) because she believed God was calling her to do a YWAM DTS.
In our family, kids are expected to attend college once they’ve complete their high school studies. Since we homeschool, not everyone is going to recognize my children’s diplomas. I’ve told them that we therefore require them to earn at least an AA degree from an accredited school that employers will recognize. We are not giving our children all the advantages of a custom-tailored education to then turn around and have them be unemployable.
As a mom, I want my daughter to finish college. However, years ago I read Bruchko, and don’t ever want to be that parent who disowns a child for following God. My whole goal in raising my children is to equip them to do whatever it is that God calls them to do.
DTS – Discipleship Training School. What a great idea. Students spend twelve intense weeks getting to know our heavenly Father even more intimately (classroom time, study, and lots of prayer), followed by three months of outreach where they apply the things they’ve learned as they share the Good News. Many DTSs have a theme (medicine, sports, compassion, music, etc.), and the students get training in their theme, too, so that they are better equipped for the outreach portion.
When my daughter was two years old, I suspected she’d grow up to be a nurse. when she was four, it was apparent that she would also be a missionary. I can’t say that it came as a surprise — now that she’s grown — to hear her express interest in a medical DTS.
Then we discovered the cost. Oh, my. There is the cost of the DTS ($3651), airfare to get there (less than the first estimate, but still $2054), and airfare for the outreach ($2000-$5000 – not yet determined). She needed roughly $10,000!
What we’ve discovered is that there are more costs. We’ve also seen a beautiful demonstration of the fact that when God calls you to do something, He provides what you need to get it done! As people learned what our daughter was planning, they started giving her money. Our church rallied to help her, and raised about half of what she needed. It’s been amazing. God is so good, and has used people not just to bless our daughter in supporting her trip, but to also bless us as parents, demonstrating clearly that He is in this.
As my daughter prepared for her trip, she had all sorts of expenses that I never really thought of missionaries having. Some are obvious once you think about it: she needed a visa ($500), and the government in the country she is in requires special insurance ($300). She needed travel vaccines, which were a lot more expensive than anticipated. Anti-malaria medicine was another $250.
Then there were other expenses. The DTS sent a list of things she was required to pack, some of which she didn’t own and needed to purchase. She shopped around and found great deals, but still spent another $200 on clothing she wouldn’t have needed at home but which is required where she went. (Plus we’ve already been told that they’ll be required to purchase native garb when they get to India.)
And then there are the things that have caused me to change my perspective a little bit. Like a camera. In high school, one of my daughter’s electives was photography. She studied with a professional photographer and worked hard to earn that credit on her transcript. She has a very very nice camera. Unfortunately it is too big for someone who has limited space, and is completely inappropriate to carry on outreach to third-world countries. Be that as it may, when I think of missions, I think of helping the poor and needy, not of buying a camera. I told her that it is not right to take money that people donate for her outreach to buy a new camera, even if it is to get a smaller one that is more suitable for her trip. As parents, we bought her a new camera so that it didn’t come out of donated funds.
But I’ve been thinking, I like seeing pictures from missionaries. The whole “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” saying is repeated so often because it’s true. Honestly, if missionaries asked for funds to get a camera so that they could better share with people back home what they were doing, I would be willing to fund that.
One of the missionary families we support has a (sporadically updated) blog. I like following what’s going on and knowing better how to pray for them. However, updating a blog requires having internet access. One cannot have internet access without a computer. That means that if a missionary wants to use a blog to keep in touch with people back home, that missionary needs a computer. If that missionary is going to be living out of a backpack while working in third-world countries, that computer needs to be a small tablet, not a desktop computer or even a laptop. Would I be okay with a missionary using donated funds to buy a tablet? Now that I think it through, yes, but I don’t know that I would have felt that way before. My perspective has changed.
Then there are living expenses. While food and housing are covered in the DTS fee, apparently laundry is not. The laundry facilities cost $7 per load (which is apparently about half what it would cost if they went to a public Laundromat). On one hand, they have a limited wardrobe since they’re living out of a suitcase, but on the other hand, they need to clean their clothes regularly. Two or three people can combine whites to reduce expenses, but they still end up paying for two or three loads of laundry every week. My best guess is that everyone will spend an extra $200 to do their laundry by the time this 12-week classroom portion is over — plus whatever it costs to buy detergent. Before this, it never would have occurred to me that missionaries might need an extra $14-21 per week to be able to launder their clothes. My perspective has changed.
In closing (if anyone’s still reading), let me tell you about vaccines. Insurance does not cover travel vaccines. Many doctors don’t do travel med. You must go to a special travel medicine clinic (which is over $200, not covered by insurance) for a doctor to provide information that you can find for free on the CDC’s website. The doctor will also (for another fee) provide the travel vaccines you’ll need. To save money, you can sometimes get those vaccines at a pharmacy, but some pharmacies require a prescription from the travel medicine doc, which means you didn’t really save money after all. After some searching, we found a pharmacy that would sell whatever travel vaccines we wanted. We did our research (the CDC’s website is a valuable resource) to see what was needed. My daughter had already had some of the shots when she went to Guatemala, so only needed two. The typhoid vaccine was $117. The Japanese encephalitis vaccine was even more expensive: $330! Per. Dose. Here is the cool part: the pharmacy my daughter got her vaccines at is a small, independently-owned pharmacy, not part of a big chain. In visiting while giving the shots, the pharmacist learned about my daughter’s missions trip, and my daughter learned that the pharmacist is a believer. When my daughter returned for the second dose of her very expensive vaccine, the pharmacist covered the cost for her! God is so good.
There are so many more ways to support missions than I ever realized. Yes, giving cash is still important, but the pharmacist supported my daughter. The people who donated to and worked the rummage sale to raise funds supported my daughter. The people who understand that there are a variety of unusual expenses and are willing to help out are supporting missions. Those who loan a suitcase or backpack or ___ are also supporting missions when they are meeting a very real, very practical need. Most of all, supporting missions means praying. Those who pray are going to follow through — after praying, they’ll meet practical needs in whatever way God instructs. And that is the best way to support missions.