By Frank Van Dalen: Executive Director of World Witness
North American missionaries are expensive. Although the salaries of married World Witness missionaries are around $35,000 per year (a very reasonable expense), other costs (insurance, retirement, schooling, travel, housing, security, etc.) can easily double that figure.
So why not take a cheaper route and send out “national missionaries?” After all, don’t they understand their local culture, language and needs far better than a foreign missionary? They don’t have to spend two years in language study. They know how the local people think, and of- ten they have already demonstrated an ability to minister to their own people before they come to our attention. So, why not support “national missionaries” instead?
On the face of it, support for national missionaries seems to be a good idea. It even seems to be biblical. The Apostle Paul commends the Philippian church for their partnership as a missionary with him. “No church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again” (Philippians 4:15, 16). Philippian support of Paul was a good thing.
However, I have concerns about the support of “national missionaries.”
No. 1 – Many people who receive this type of support are local pastors, not missionaries. They are not serving cross- culturally among non-Christians, but locally within their own Christian community—the very community which should be supporting them.
Paul writes to Timothy, “… the laborer is worthy of his hire” (1Timothy 5:18). Our support of a local, national pastor robs his congregation of the privilege of providing for him. When a congregation no longer sacrifices to support their pas- tor, that congregation will almost no longer benefit from his service.
No. 2 – The offer of Western financial support almost always leads to a focus on finding ways to increase that support, especially in the developing world. In today’s internet-connected world, many people have quickly learned the “art” of “phishing” for support, sending out multiple copies of the same letter, asking many different parties around the world for help.
Our Western wealth can be a help to poorer nations, but it can also be a huge temptation. In 1Timothy 6:9, he writes, “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
I am not advocating we cut off all support to national missionaries; some of them do an incredible work. However, I would encourage you to work through your mission agencies – those who have foreign missionaries on the field – to screen out those situations in which our giving can do more harm than good. Let us not, out of a desire to support national ministry, again create the dependency mentality.