It’s Christmas time, which means if you are fortunate enough to have a missions assignment that has semester breaks (like ours did) you get to go home for the holidays, see friends and family, and catch up on life back in the old stomping grounds.
But what makes it the best time of the year, the time every missionary looks forward to like a teenaged girl waiting on the next inexplicably-benevolent-vampire movie is the fact that we get to go to church and run into the people who used to support us.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging people for stopping their giving. There are hundreds of perfectly valid reasons to give to other ministries, or to temporarily (or permanently) just stop giving to our ministry. I’m fine with people who give elsewhere.
But none of those valid reasons make it any less awkward to run into somebody in the line for the chicken and dumplings who used to support you, but has stopped.
As a guy who loves awkwardness (I like to mentally roll around in it, and at times will intentionally try to insert awkwardness into conversations or situations), I want to give you some tips on how to really make it over-the-top awkward, on the level of a seventh grade conversation about romance between two opposite gender home-schoolers.
Always mention dollar amounts.
Ease into the conversation with something about having to cut back your kids’ allowances. “Giving’s been down, but Little Ron doesn’t understand why he can’t get the nickel every week that he normally gets.” Also in this category is mentioning things like how much the diapers are costing these days. It is best to try and tailor this directly to the amount that they were giving. If they were supporting you for 100 bucks per month, go ahead and mention that the bus fare for your children to get well rounded meals was exactly $100 each month, but that you’ve had to cut that out as of (insert date they stopped giving).
Ask financially leading questions.
“Oh, so how’s business been? Record profits! Praise the Lord!” This is where to want to circle like a hawk looking for a tasty rodent. You know that mouse is in the bush, it’s just a matter of rousting it out. Safe topics for financial questions include how much they’ve been spending on out-to-eat. Immediately convert that number into how many people could go to a winter conference if they were to give (out-to-eat budget) for 12 months. Recite that number back to them. There’s no shame in using a calculator to hammer this one home. You are a missionary, not an accountant. You don’t have to be good at math.
Underemphasize God’s Sovereignty.
You need to go out of your way to make it seem as though God has left the throne to run to the minimart to grab a 12-pack of Yoo-hoo. You don’t have to use that exact phrase, but you most certainly want to avoid the fact that God has taken care of all of your needs since they stopped giving. I hear that God likes a good Yoo-hoo from time to time, so all you have to do is leave out the fact the he has angels who bring him freshly crafted Yoo-hoo. Also avoid telling them how God has grown and matured you through the process of raising support, even and especially in the lean times. That’s “need to know” information, and they don’t.
Bring people to a point of decision.
Not a point of decision regarding supporting you, I suggest bringing people to a point of decision regarding which exit to use from the conversation. This is all about positioning yourself equidistant from multiple exits. A church with an aisle on both sides means positioning yourself where people have to walk past you to get to either one of them. And be doing something frugal, like knitting beige winter hats (ladies) or hand-carving a toy spaceship (guys). That will communicate how desperate the times are. Mumble something about how the kids always like their homespun crafts, as people walk past. If possible, ask for help from them carting off the wood shavings to the trash can. Feel free to slip in an “it’s the least you could do” where appropriate.
Obviously, I’m aiming for over the top, here. But what else could make the conversation more awkward? Chime in in the comments below!