As we discuss issues with the current support raising model and how to address them, it is important for us to remember that we are not talking only in a theoretical sense. I believe solutions will be discovered based on our ability to empathize with everyone affected.
To help us with the process of empathizing with the stories of ethnic minorities who raise support, I’ve invited my friend “L” to share how he has experienced the support raising process. He does not speak for all ethnic minorities, but I wanted you to hear personally from someone affected by the current system. He writes here under his initial in order to protect the identity of the organization with which he is involved. This series is not about one organization, but about an entire system.
I am a Latino man, working in full-time ministry, and this is my experience raising support.
It was 2006, a year after I graduated from college. I had been working but I knew God was directing me to join the Latino student missionary organization that had such a great impact on my own life.
In many ways I had no idea what I was stepping into, but I was motivated by the truth that God will meet our needs. Though many experience discouragement during this season, it’s a time to grow in dependence on God in ways like never before. I do believe that strongly, but culturally MPD was a hard thing to wrap my mind around. Many times I could not get past the barriers in my mind that challenged whether this was right or not. Some of it was communicated by my family.
They would question why I needed to ask for money to do ministry. They would say, “You can still do God’s work if you had a job”. My mom even asked me not to ask the people in the church I grew up in. My network of people consisted of many from different economic and ethnic backgrounds, but for the most part my network was Latino.
Many potential supporters were very encouraged with the vision to reach our Latino community, yet often they had very little to give, if anything at all. Our average gift had been and still is about $25-$30. I’ve even been told by people that they don’t want to meet with me because they don’t want to feel bad that they are unable to give. I had a lot of fear and anxiety going to church, wondering what people thought of me, or if sometimes people were avoiding me. I often felt a lot of guilt and shame from asking others for financial support, and have struggled with wondering if there was something wrong with me. I’ve even doubted my call because my fundraising experience was so challenging and difficult.
Because the personal support raising model has been implemented with such success, I’ve felt that to question it at times said something about my character or God’s calling on my life. More than anything, I’ve felt an anxiety about how my White minister counter-parts, my region, and my leaders perceived me. For example, that I may be lazy or even whether they questioned if I should even be a part of this ministry. Even in light of the fact that so many other Latino staff have expressed the same difficulty and faced the same challenges that I had.
After some time into this journey, leaders from the fundraising department of my organization came along side me, as well as several other Latino staff, to address the challenges we were facing with fundraising. I was grateful for the support and programs implemented to help us get on campus, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the assistance. That being said, it did take me a total of 3 years to finally complete my initial goal.
Though it was an awesome feeling and a great relief to finally be finished with support raising, I could not help feel discouraged to see that many other missionaries from my 2006 missionary training class were taking on positions of leadership and new roles as I was just arriving on campus. I had already missed out on a lot of ministry experience, leadership training, and was behind on the seminary classes required after a certain number of years of joining staff. I was also not able to participate in missions projects during the summer.
Fast forward a few years and once again I’m in the fund raising phase. I got married in 2010 and my wife joined staff with me in ministry in the winter of 2012. Though it has been much easier working alongside my wife, the process has still been challenging. One of the hardest things about that was that we had to pull away from our ministry assignment. I know that under the current fund raising model it is common, but it was hard still, and momentum on campus fizzled out. We have come close to finishing our support raising goal, and we have been on the fund raising trail for 2 years.
I’d like to point out that my wife is White, and because the trend seems that this community is much more used to the culture of parachurch support raising, we both thought it would be easier to reach our goal. But the truth is that it hasn’t, because many already do give to so many places, which is wonderful, and they don’t necessarily connect with the need to be a part of reaching the Latino population because they live in parts of the country where that demographic is small. There’s also the fact that there are parachurch ministries that have been so well established and so successful for so many years, that when we talk to them about one that is relatively new, we are not met with as much enthusiasm. This was also my experience even before getting married.
From 2006 to 2014, I’ve spent a total of 3 years out of 8 years actually ministering on campus. Two years before I got married, then just coming up on one complete year since being married. The other five years I’ve struggled to complete my initial ministry support financial goal. When people say that they don’t think they want to support us because after eight years they only see a handful of students involved and wonder what we’ve been doing with our time, I want to scream! But I don’t even try to justify to them because I don’t think they would actually understand or care to hear my story.
Currently my wife and I are on campus this semester, but we’ve lost a lot of ministry support, so we will spend our summer on the fundraising trail once again. I recognize that if it continues to take us longer than usual to raise $1,000 monthly than most White missionaries would take, we will not be able to do this long-term if we need to constantly go on and off our assignment. I also recognize that though programs like the one I participated in are helpful, it is not realistic to sustain ethnic minority staff long term.
photo credit: Kuba Bożanowski