This is one of the most important questions to ask as you prepare to be a missionary. Even though I have been in Canada and it is my home country, we have been serving for 10 years and now we feel we need further training and a year off from our work.
There are several answers to where a missionary gets money [to live on during time off]; it’s unique to the individual, her sending church and family, supporters, and the missionary’s marketable skills outside of evangelism. First, pray and ask God to bring to mind these financial considerations. Saving, planning, and communicating with others is critical. Consult a financial professional about your career plans.
– Let your support team and family know when you will be returning to your home country and what your need may be.
– Develop other marketable skills other than evangelism. Keep up your own professional designations in your home country.
– Purchase real estate with a family member so that you have some equity when you return and possibly a place to live.
If you are twenty-five, this is VERY DIFFICULT to think about, but when you are thirty-five and have completed years in ministry, you will be grateful to have already started on this.
Answer from Colleen, serving with new immigrants and international students in Canada.
“Ask agencies about policies regarding “home assignment” and retirement.”
Most missionaries raise support that covers not only the time they are on assignment, but the in-between time when they return to their home country for home assignment, if they are returning. This varies by agency, but is one of the questions you should ask. Support needs during a home assignment may vary due to cost of living.
Missionaries who return home after serving, if they retire, are another story. Many missions have provided retirement funds, raised during the career of the missionary, and that, with social security (assuming SS has been paid out of support) give the retiree money to live on. In the past retired missionaries didn’t have this kind of a pension, and churches continued to support them.
Retirement funds are another good question to ask when inquiring with an agency (and setting a budget): “When I retire, and churches/individuals no longer want to support me because they’d like their money going to younger workers, will I have enough to live on?”
Answer from Elizabeth in Michigan, who has served with SEND International in multiple countries in Asia for forty years.
“Depending on the circumstances, you may receive support after leaving the field.”
If a missionary who has raised adequate support returns to the home country during a season of sickness or uncertainty, most agencies make some kind of arrangement to keep that person “on staff” indefinitely or for a period of time, such as six months or a year, and evaluate this as circumstances change. So they will continue to receive income and ask their supporters to continue with support. Expenses are often higher in the home country than on the field, and donors may feel less “needed” or excited about the ministry, so support may drop off somewhat. Do your best to communicate well and transparently about your situation, and that will help.
If you complete a commitment and are resigning from your position and moving on to other things, you may be able to continue receiving support for at least a brief season. Think of it as sort of a “severance” to provide for you while you seek out or prepare for what’s next. But it may be only one month’s salary. So yes, you’ll need to be faithful about looking for and finding a new job if you have bills to pay!
Missionaries who do not have adequate support or who have been overwhelmed by unexpected expenses may continue to ask their supporters for help for another reason: they may find themselves “in debt” to the agency which has been covering for their low support or unexpected costs. So, while the missionary doesn’t continue to receive a salary, he or she continues to raise support to pay back their agency.
All of this reinforces three good practices to keep in mind:
1. Don’t let your bank account or support level drop to the point where you don’t have a buffer to cover for surprise expenses, a low month or two of giving, or a significant change in your ministry that requires you to leave the field.
2. Don’t be a lone-ranger missionary; make sure you have a reliable relationship network, agency, and/or sending church structure. In times of crisis and transition, you’ll be glad you aren’t alone.
3. If you go out with an agency, ask questions about their policies or practices regarding money and missionaries in transition.
Answer from Marti, who has served in ministry for more than twenty years and currently serves with Pioneers. She is also an editor for AskaMissionary.com.