I have a bit of a debate in my head that’s been bothering me for a long while. The case being: Support letters.
If you haven’t grown up in the church and gone on a missions trip this will all be new. But here is the general idea… mission trips are expensive. REALLY expensive. And most of the trips that kids go on are not possible without help of parents, or other relatives helping out. This is not to say that kids in churches do nothing to raise their own money to go on these trips. Many do fund raising activities such as car washes, bake sales and yard sales to raise the money to travel to the country and the world in order to do service projects.
What bothers me, and has always bothered me, is the idea of “support letters.” I don’t know who started this idea but I absolutely HATE it. Whenever adults or teens are going on a trip, they are often encouraged to write a letter to everyone in our family and friend circle asking for ” support”. Usually it’s something like this:
Dear Auntie Marge,
I’m going to Africa this summer with my church. While I’m there, I’m going to do __________, __________, and ___________. This is such a tremendous opportunity and a real blessing.
I’d appreciate your prayers for me during this time. Also, if possible a donation for the trip would be lovely, as the price of airfare is really expensive…
Okay, perhaps not exactly like that, but very similar. Now is it just me or is that really money grubbing? I often wonder, usually when I’m opening letters from kids from my church, why they send them to ME seeing as we’re not close or really even friendly with one another. I also wonder, would the recipient really be satisfied JUST with prayer?
The other thing that really bothers me is that a lot of these kids go on the trip and NEVER send a thank you note. They receive our donation and best wishes and often we don’t get a thank you or even hear how the trip went. (It goes without saying that these kids are never sponsored by us ever again.)
When I was in high school I had the unique privilege to travel to Honduras. I’ll never forget the trip- it changed my life forever. But I’ll never forget everything that went on before hand. The original due dates for money had to be moved back because kids did not have their money in on time. They were frantically writing “The letters”.
I found this all amusing because instead of following my Pastor’s advice, I had refused to send out a single support letter, instead relying on my $6.50 an hour job at the ice cream store and cleaning jobs to pay my way. I worked at all the fundraisers, somehow finding time to balance in work, school and everything else. Since we had to sign up months beforehand, I barely spent money on pleasure items because I was saving for the trip. I was often amazed by how my fellow students had money for CDs and other goodies when I was cutting back. (Actually, I received a little abuse for my “tight fistedness”. I always had spending money growing up, however that stopped once I got my first job. My family is fairly well off, and I admit – unlike many kids I did not have to pay for my first car, or even gas money. However I still rode the bus to school and I only used the car to go to work, which was less than a 5 minute drive away.) Anyway, back to topic, Support Letters were both hoped for and expected from relatives and friends. And in my opinion, kids were far too dependent on them. They seemed to think they were entitled to the money, more so than it being a gift.
On the original day that the money was due, I walked into the pastor’s office and told him that I had the $3000 dollars and that I was prepared to pay him. The pastor was shocked. He asked me if I had received any help from anyone. I think he was concerned because I had been taking some college courses online during my senior year of high school and he didn’t want me to struggle paying for everything. But as I said before, my family is well off, and my parents were generous to me. They told me that paying for my classes was their contribution of helping me go to Honduras). I’d like to add I was the only one, out of 20 people, who worked and paid ENTIRELY their own way. And it took every penny I had. But so worth it.
Last year I went to Mexico, this time all by myself instead of with a church group. I told people I was going and although I never asked for money, some gave me money anyway. I had one couple who said they felt that God was asking them to give me 10 percent of their daily paycheck every two weeks the whole summer. You’d better believe that when I got back, every person who gave me money received a card and a letter with pictures telling them what I did in Mexico, what I used their money for and thanking them for being so kind.I also did a little presentation at the community center and made Mexican food and set up a slide projector to show pictures of what I did.
And if I may be so bold as to add… one lady from the community liked it so much she asked me to go to her church and do the same presentation and explain to the youth that this would be a beautiful thing for them to do when they come back from trips so that the community of people who had supported them could see what they had done during their time away. Unfortunately, the Pastor did not approve of the idea and it never came about. 0301-11
I share your twitchy perspective on letters from individual church members soliciting money to travel for service or missions projects. My squeamishness is based on two things:
1) Typically I barely know them and certainly have not had the privilege of being a prior recipient of their written social pleasantries such as Christmas cards, birthday cards, thank you notes, “how you doing?” or “get well” notes. Therefore solicitation of support letters are often the first written correspondence I’ve ever received from these persons and I find that a little presumptuous upon the meager social connection we do share. I’m not partial to people using God as their justification of financial presumption upon others. The moral of this is, if you couldn’t have been bothered to express yourself cordially and graciously among your acquaintances over the years, it’s probably not a good idea to presume they will happily receive a written solicitation for money.
2) I believe that if a person believes God wants him/her to go to XX and serve there, God will provide the means for that person to go without the need to beg for financial support among the family and friends. Often that “means” is a healthy constitution and time to work to achieve what you believe your goal is with a little sacrifice thrown in. My church sends out yearly service teams to an orphanage in Mexico for medical check ups, construction and repair projects, etc. and sponsors corporate church fundraising such as a huge yard sale, bake sales, car washes, etc to fund it. How much each service worker donates of his/her own time to help at these functions determines how much of the pool of collected money is allotted to them to fund their trip. No work, no money.
One clever way to raise funds was to solicit donation pledges from area businesses for every hour of work a person did at a local charity….in other words, a young person would work three or four hours a weekend volunteering at a local charity cleaning, stacking, organizing, etc and the money they would have earned per hour of work went into their fund for their service project travel. It’s a great bang for the buck, a double whammy of benefit both locally and globally and encourages the mindset that something worth having is worth working for.