I’m about to share the secrets to staying on the mission field. Actually, they’re not really secrets, but do them and your chances of staying will increase!
Communication with Supporters.
Communication with your supporters is extremely important, it can make or break your time on the mission field. Supporters are not only people that give you money, but also people that pray for you, help out with logistics, and are just generally there for you when you need them. Sometimes the greatest support you can have is someone who’s just being a friend.
As a Missions Pastor, I expect our supported missionaries to send an official newsletter once a quarter, at least. In reality, I like to be much more involved than that. I follow them on twitter, facebook, I read their blogs, we email back and forth, I want to see them when they’re in town, and I even want to go visit them in the field.
When a missionary doesn’t communicate, they get dropped. I’m understanding, but communication is essential. Don’t communicate and I will drop you.
Newsletters. I think a newsletter once a quarter or every other month is fine. Follow the 3 C’s, clear, concise, correct. There are companies that you can outsource to but if you’re starting off, I wouldn’t recommend it. Do it yourself, learning how to communicate appropriately is a useful skill to have! I receive a lot of physical newsletters, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the cost anymore. My preference is to receive newsletters via email, that’s not the case for many churches though, know your supporters!
Social Media. Social Media is a great way to stay in touch, further invest in your supporters, and even gain new supporters. Blogs, twitter, facebook, instagram, they’re all great. However, if you’re not careful, you can spend all your time perfecting your blog instead of ministering. Also, you can inadvertently make everything into a “photo-op.” Your supporters want to see pictures but you’re called to do ministry, not run a website or be a photographer.
Also be mindful of the people you’re serving to, some of them are likely to have internet access and may not appreciate being labeled as “poor” or “needy.” Respect your ministry, your city, and the people you’re ministering to.
Immigration Law and Missionaries
Visas. As American citizens, you may not need visas to travel to most places, but to live there, you’ll need some kind of government permission. For some countries this is very easy to get, most of Latin America is easy to live in. For other countries, it can get really complicated.
In the Middle East, you’re likely get a tourist visa for 3 months, then you have to leave the country for a few days, when you come back you’ll get another 3 months. There are missionaries who spend years doing this, eventually, they get deported. I don’t recommend that. However, if you don’t plan on being there long term, go for it, just don’t endanger any of the long term missionaries!
Work permits. A better way is to obtain a work or volunteer visa. It gives you legal permission for being in the country and gives you something to do. These are still difficult to get, but possible. Generally, the more educated you are, the easier they are to get. Teachers will often have no problem obtaining a work visa and can sometimes make a good living overseas. I know executives, basketball players, entrepreneurs, and teachers who use their expertise in order to immigrate and serve the Lord.
Citizenship. If you’re an American citizen then you will have that for the rest of your life, it doesn’t matter how many years you stay abroad. If you’re a permanent resident, then your time is limited. I recommend becoming an American citizen before going overseas. Sometimes (very infrequently) it’s possible to obtain foreign citizenship or residency, this is great! Whenever possible, I highly recommend it!
Taxes. I have bad news, American citizens are required to pay taxes when they make over a certain amount while working overseas. I have good news, you’ll probably never make that amount. When I last saw it, it was $93,000/year. Anything under that amount you don’t have to pay income taxes on, but you still have to pay medicaid, medicare, FICA, all that good stuff. That’s what’s so good about a missions agency, they withhold that amount every month so you don’t have to worry about it in April!
W-2 or 1099? Sometimes, sending churches put you on as a 1099 employee, this means that you’re a contract employee, liable for your own taxes. Being paid on a W-2 means that you’re a regular, salaried employee. W-2 is always better, you can participate in the employee health plan and your taxes get withheld for you. Health insurance is always cheaper when it’s done with W-2 employees!
We’ve all seen missionaries who bring pictures of kids so that we can adopt a child. The money doesn’t actually go to the the kids directly, it goes to the program and is allotted to the kids. People love this, so I love this. Sponsoring an individual is a great way to put a face on an organization/program/cause. Go for it. You’ll raise tons of money, and if you can put people on an automatic deduction, you’ll have nonstop money. I know of an American missionary in a Latin American country who raised over $5,000/month doing this. Best of all, he hadn’t even been to the mission field yet, it was his first time!
Monthly church support. The reality is, once you get to the mission field, your monthly church support will not go up. That’s one of the reasons missionaries come back and visit every year or so, financial support dwindles so they need to raise it up again. A couple years ago we actually raised our support to some of our missionaries and they freaked out, they couldn’t believe it!
You need to constantly grow the network of churches that you communicate and visit. Also, the more you can concentrate your network, the better, so when you visit, you don’t have to go to many different states!
What advice would you give to missionaries?