Why do missionaries only have time for me when I break up with them?

I received a thank you card in the mail today. Handwritten. First class stamp.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Foley,

Thank you so much for your support of [our ministry]. Through kind donations like yours, we are able to feed children who wouldn’t have healthy food. And we have a chance to teach them about the “Bread of Life” who feeds them so they’ll never hunger! May God bless you.

In Christ,
[Missionary names]

It’s the first personal message I’ve received from these missionaries. It comes three months after I stopped supporting them.

I wouldn’t even mention it to you except it’s the second time it happened.

The first time, we made a difficult, painful decision to stop supporting missionaries whom we had supported for three years. We had received only sporadic support letters from them over the years, in addition to receipts from the mission agency that was processing the support payments we were making. In all of those communications we learned virtually nothing about the field we were seeking to impact, since all of the prayer requests related to the missionaries themselves.

We sent a letter four months before the end of the year, indicating we’d be concluding our support at the end of the year, and sharing our reasons why.

No reply.

So with each of our four remaining gifts that year, including a final year-end gift, we dutifully noted that our support would be coming to an end. We even wrote “SECOND TO LAST DONATION” and “FINAL DONATION” on the last two gifts.

After the year ended, we regularly received monthly “overdue letters” from the mission agency, kindly reminding us to send in our support.

Then we received a phone call from someone in the mission agency’s development department letting us know that the president of the agency was in town and wanted to meet with us to thank us for our faithful support.

Then we received a handwritten note from the couple, thanking us for our faithful support.

Then we received a phone call from the couple. From Central Asia. Thanking us for our faithful support.

Notably, none of these things ever happened to us when we were supporting the missionaries faithfully. No calls from the mission agency. No visits from the president. No handwritten notes. No calls from the missionary.

Missionaries assure me they are “too busy” on the field to do these kinds of things.

Except, it appears, when I break up with them.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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12 Responses to Why do missionaries only have time for me when I break up with them?

  1. This was probably one of my favorite posts! As I was reading it, I thought of that song “Big Yellow Taxi”…”don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone…”

    Definitely a great reminder – not just in the mission world, but in all areas of our lives – to make sure we thank those who bless us or sacrifice for us.

    • EFoley says:

      Great song, Rachel, and definitely appropriate! The quote that comes to mind for me is the one from Archbishop Nichols from yesterday’s post: “But friendship is not a commodity, friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it’s right.” What puzzles me is how formulaic both responses were. It’s as if they were working from a script or checklist. Instead of noting that my support had stopped and asking why, then listening and acting on the information I gave, they simply continued their one-way monologue to the end…and beyond.

  2. John Lee says:

    Excellent post Eric! This is something to which I truly can relate. I’ve also felt missionaries investment in a relationship with me while they needed to get their support team assembled. Yet, once they were on the field, contact drops away. Even when my wife and I have initiated times to connect, often they’ve been rejected. Now, that may be a problem with my wife and me:)- hahaha, but it is interesting how willing to bend over backwards the missionaries were to engage with us when they had need.

    Just a thought. When a partner in ministry has gone through the pain of making the decision to drop support for ANY reason, it makes it doubly painful to have to deal with the issue again. When I decide to drop someone, it is usually a done deal. It was a painstaking decision I came to with good reason. SO, any cards and follow up are WAY too late.

    • EFoley says:

      I agree with you completely, John. The fact that the missionary and the missionary org continued to thank me for my faithfulness had no guilt-inducing effect on me: my wife and I had prayerfully made our decision to end support.

  3. Melissa says:

    Well, you know I was always a fan of the hand-written note. :o)

  4. Jami says:

    Dear Mr. Foley,
    I can’t tell you how it grieves me to read stuff like this. Your post was forwarded to me by my father-in-law because he KNOWS this kind of thing is right up my alley. I am a HUGE proponant of “coaching champions”, as you say, and it annoys me to no end how missionaries look at donors as if they are morally obligated to give missionaries money. Somehow many of my colleagues have forgotten that missions is a TEAM concept that promotes the idea of The Body…not a career path that requires donors to pay their salary. Phew…I could go on and on…what a sad topic. But let me say to you, Mr. Foley, thank you for not allowing these bad experiences to prevent you from joining hundreds of other faithful workers worldwide in their ministries. You are a valuable asset and your perspective and generosity is appreciated, honestly.
    Missionary to East Africa

    • EFoley says:

      Thanks, Jami. And don’t make yourself a stranger on our site here. Many missionaries are regular readers, and together we learn and practice being supporters TO our “supporters”!

  5. BP says:

    I ran across your post while searching for information on dropping missionary support. Its nice to know I’m not alone. There are missionaries I have supported for years and years and get nothing but excuses as to why I hear very little about their ministry. They said it takes time to build relationships, but other missionaries right down the street from them arrived years later and are already flourishing and keeping us up to date. I’m not giving the unproductive missionaries a free ride any longer.

    • EFoley says:

      Thanks for dropping by, BP–do stay and have a look around. There are many good missionaries who write comments and show up in my posts here and there.

  6. It saddens me to read this post. I guess I’m relatively new to the world of being a missionary, and I guess I thought every missionary regularly kept their supporters updated with news from the field. Each time my monthly statement comes, I’m overwhelmed with the generosity and faithfulness of those on my support team – I truly wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing without them.

    But I love your “coaching champions” idea. This is really what we need today!

    • EFoley says:

      Great to have you post up, Jessica! Welcome to the missionary world, and may your zeal for your champions mirror your zeal for those you meet in the field!

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