Dear Jack, I'm sort of new to this whole missionary thing, and I was wondering how the raising of funds works. I mean, say I choose to serve somewhere and the mission agency does not pay a salary, how do I survive overseas? Do I just garner support before I leave and get people/churches to commit to supporting me (or me and my wife...someday)?
Thanks for your question. I'll approach it from two dimensions:
Agencies: There are several different types of agencies.
Most denominations (like the Presbyterians) provide support for the missionaries they accept.
Some denominations (like the Plymouth Brethren) and some agencies commission accepted missionary candidates and funnel whatever support comes in for them.
Other agencies have "support levels" which missionary candidates must reach before they will send them.
For most missionary candidates, the prospect of raising funds is a daunting and humiliating expectation. Most of us feel uncomfortable asking other people for money. It seems like begging.
I would recommend William P. Dillon's book, People Raising: A Practical Guide to Raising Support. He covers the ground in this easy-to-read, practical exploration of the subject, and approaches the matter from a very positive perspective.
Raising support really is a spiritual issue. Becoming a missionary is expecting God to enable you to communicate a message to people of another culture that will lead them to change their whole worldview. Toby, that's an unreal expectation from a human point of view! Only a miracle can accomplish this end. However, we believe in a God of miracles who reached out to us and is changing us day by day, and we believe He can do this in others' lives as well. By the same token, if this God who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe calls us to serve Him, can He not provide for our needs? Thus, Dillon quotes David Tucker who says about fund raising, "You are about to embark on what can be one of the most maturing and spiritually fulfilling ventures of your life" (p. 3). As the mission we served under told us, "The provision of your financial resources is God's seal on your call to serve Him with us."
Raising support is a maturing process. "In the process of deputation one learns poise, polish, and proficiency and how to use time, tact, and talent to [one's] best advantage" (Bud Taylor cited by Dillon, p. 5).
The process of raising support opens new horizons and contacts. "Missions was and is God's idea, and it is a real privilege to speak to God's people about God's program and to enlist their petitions" (Scott Steele and Tim Frieze cited by Dillon, p. 5).
The great majority of American missionaries today went through the process you have described. However, it is not "just garner support" - it is entering into a partnership with people who will commit themselves to share your vision, opportunities, trials, difficulties, and blessings. As Paul tells the Corinthians, "as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many" (2 Cor 1:11).
I would encourage you to do a careful study of Philippians 4:10-20 with an eye to examine Paul's relationship with one of his supporting churches. Each verse teaches us something on this subject of financial support.
May the Lord guide you as you face both your calling to serve Him and the means He will choose to sustain you. God is faithful. He is able to do far more than all we can ask or even imagine (Eph 3:20).