“Follow a loan repayment plan or include loan payments in your mission budget.”
Debt in my opinion is one of the biggest hindrances for college grads and families wanting to serve in missions. The choices we make in this area can affect whether we get onto the field. I read recently that the average college student graduates over thirty thousand dollars in debt. Two approaches to handling debt are to pay off the debt before leaving for the field or to include loan payments in your mission budget and go now.
If the first plan is best for you (it was for me) a loan amortization computer program can calculate a specific schedule for paying off the loans. This plan can include how much to pay and for how long. Stick to that plan as if your life depends on it. The people I knew from college who had no loan repayment plan never made it overseas. Without a plan, they lost focus when the debt wasn’t easily paid off.
So make a budget that first deducts your tithe, housing, and food, then pay more than your plan calls for each month. Pray for bonuses and raises, and when they come, apply the extra to paying off debt. Finally, stay involved in short-term missions so that you don’t forget what God has led you to do.
If the second plan is best for you, start packing your bags and get moving towards raising support. Don’t be ashamed to add a certain amount of money into your budget to repay student loans, and don’t hide behind a rock when people ask about it.
For most students coming out of college, I recommend this plan. Here’s why. In my experience, many mission-minded people are not able to land jobs that pay enough to kill debt fast (because their degrees are not in demand). While the ideal is a high-paying job, many end up working in a position that pays barely enough to live on. Lest you feel guilty for asking others to pay your school debt, never forget that God wants you to go!
No matter which plan you follow, trust God to take care of it. You never know what will happen as you move in faith into missions.
Answer from Kyle, a missionary with Pioneers, serving in Asia with his wife and two children.
“Obey God’s guidance, and he will provide.”
You must follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in all that you do. When we left our secular careers for Bible school, we had a lot of personal debt. God always met our needs. When we left for the mission field, we had some personal debt again. As we prayed about this, we sensed God’s peace, and while we were on the field we were able to pay off all our debt!
I think the key issue is being sensitive to God’s will for each of us. When we are faithful to do our best to obey, God will provide for our needs.
We learned an important principle: when in doubt, DON’T! If you don’t sense the clear guidance of God in a decision you are making, the best advice is not to act until you know in your spirit what God desires you to do. Don’t get impatient and react on emotion or logic, but rather trust and wait on the Lord.
Answer from Kelly, serving in Southeast Asia.
“Work hard, live frugally, and pay the debt.”
I would say work hard for a couple of years, live very frugally, and pay your debts. Find ways to decrease your expenses and pay down debt as fast as you can. While God has the ability to provide everything immediately, he may well have practical and academic lessons for you to learn.
Some mission agencies, including WEC, are making provision for student loans. If the missionary candidates present to WEC a letter from a supporter (person or church) promising to pay down the student loans for as long as the missionaries are with WEC, then we ignore the debt. This provision applies only to school loans.
Credit-card debt must be paid off before applicants can become candidates. If they have a home mortgage and wants to keep the house, they must find someone to act as their property manager, renting the house at a rate that covers the mortgage, taxes, and other related fees.
Finally, and I saved the best for last, pray. Some who have joined our mission have received gifts of thousands of dollars toward indebtedness. This has been such a blessing for missionary candidates, raising their trust level several points.
Answer from David, director of mobilization with WEC International. David has been a missionary for twenty-five years as a field worker in West Africa and at WEC USA headquarters.
“Ask God to help you get out of debt before you go.”
We had strong convictions to be out of debt before we went on the mission field. Once we arrived, we were so glad that we were out of debt. The families under the most stress and anxiety were the ones who had left debts behind at home. While this may have just been our experience, it was sad to see what some families were going through. Their budgets were tight, much of our fellowship time together was spent on their finances, they were not free to minister as they wanted. Two families had to return home to take care of the bills. Pray that God will quickly provide the finances for you to clear your debts.
When we decided to go overseas, we owed a mortgage on a house in a section of town where property was devaluing quicker then anyone could have expected. We put our house on the market and began praying. Our house sold in one month. We made two thousand dollars on the house. That may not seem much, but the house next to us took two years to sell and the owners lost ten thousand dollars on the sale. Our houses were identical. God does take care of us. During the three years we were overseas, we never lacked for funds. While we did not have abundance, God took care of our every need. He also gave us some of our wants.
Answer from Karin, who served as an English teacher in China for five years.
“Look into income-based repayment.”
Look at the U.S. Department of Education’s student loan repayment programs, including Income-Based Repayment (IBR). Under this plan your payment amount is based on your income level, not the amount of your loan. We particularly recommend you consider IBR if you are planning to leave for the mission field within the next year. If you plan to serve internationally, you may find that under IBR your monthly educational loan payments would be extremely low or even $0. If you repay under IBR for twenty-five years, any remaining loan balance will be cancelled.
Answer from John McVay, who has served in missions mobilization for more than twenty-five years.
“Look into MedSend grants if you will be a medical missionary.”
If you are headed to a career in medical missions, learn about Project MedSend. These educational-loan repayment grants are for qualified applicants who have borrowed carefully, lived a restrained lifestyle, and started repaying at the first opportunity. Project MedSend provides financial counsel and resources that help health professionals in training or pre-health students learn more about Christian financial management.
Answer from David, executive director of MedSend. David served with TEAM in South America for six years.
“Apply for loan repayment with The GO Fund.”
Are you a college graduate who wants to go long-term to the unreached but cannot because of student loans? Take a look at The GO Fund. It can take over your student loans while you are on the field.
Student debt is the greatest enemy to modern missions other than Satan himself. The Educational Loan Repayment Program can help you to get to the field sooner.
Answer from Luke, who works with The GO Fund.