Ode to TMI: TG before TG was TG

Every so often I run across an organization that I feel like really embraces the principles of Transformational Giving…without having ever heard of Transformational Giving.

Voice of the Martyrs is my paradigmatic example.

I connected with Voice of the Martyrs in 2003, teaming up to do Bibles Unbound (which this month, I’m delighted to report, tallied its millionth Bible sent out by Bible mailing champions! Woo hoo!).

When I connected with them, I discovered they were already operating a champion development program utilizing many of the principles that we teach in Transformational Giving (TG). They had never embraced traditional/transactional fundraising (ttf) to begin with. And they were (and are) active around the world in creating owners of the cause of the persecuted church…so much so that Seoul USA, the organization my wife and I founded, now operate Voice of the Martyrs/Korea. And in 2010, Lord permitting, we’ll be launching Bibles Unbound/Korea.

I have a similarly warm spot deep in my heart for Teen Missions International.

My only interaction with TMI came a decade ago, when my wife enrolled our two eldest children in the program one summer.

I hadn’t thought about TMI since then, until I stumbled across a year-old article about the organization the other day on Christianity Today’s website.

When I read the article, I was struck how TMI had accomplished in our two kids the very kind of transformation we talk about in Transformational Giving.

In fact, it’s hard to read the article’s description of TMI without thinking about Transformational Giving:

At Teen Missions, campers give up virtually their entire summer for evangelism. They spend two weeks in Merritt Island, Florida, learning the work of a missionary before heading into the world in teams of about 25. They are schooled in evangelism, construction, and Bible studies. They don purple construction hats as they work the ground with hoes and wheelbarrows. They practice public speaking and learn to share their faith in ways that transcend linguistic and cultural barriers, such as through puppet shows. After their mission trip, they return to Merritt Island for a few more days to reflect on their experiences before heading home at summer’s end.

Whereas churches often mistake participation in an annual short-term mission trip for maturity in the cause of missions, TMI utilizes short-term mission trips as an opportunity to build into youth not only participation but also engagement and ownership with the cause of missions as a whole, not only with a particular field.

For TMI, what happens before and after the short-term mission trip is as important as the mission trip itself. I know that personally, since Daniel and Christine would write home to us about the obstacle course (designed to build teamwork), the mosquitos and lack of air conditioning (designed not only to equip campers to survive on the field but to give them a taste of how life just is in quite a bit of the world), and how they were required to clean their plate just like at home (an intentional practice in both places designed to help kids comprehend not only hunger and the value of food but also the importance of graciously receiving hospitality wherever you go).

Besides, Daniel and Christine got their first training in sharing their faith and doing public speaking at TMI boot camp.

Daniel’s trip to France and Christine’s trip to Canada were like icing on the cake. But unlike in many short-term missions programs at churches, the trip itself wasn’t mistaken for the cake.

In fact, even the fundraising the child must do to go to TMI is transformational:

Campers also raise their own camp and travel fees, plus enough for another child (from $2,500 to $4,000) that funds 34 international boot camps where, for instance, an African child can train to be a missionary in his or her own country.

The article on TMI is living proof that there’s really nothing new in Transformational Giving. It is truly nothing more or less than an effort to apply biblical principles to discipleship, including giving.

That being said, what’s sad is the degree to which we Christian organizations have clung (and continue to cling) so tenaciously to traditional/transactional fundraising (ttf) strategies such that Transformational Giving seems risky, or novel, or impractical. I praise God for organizations like Teen Missions International and Voice of the Martyrs which were TG before TG was TG, and which remind us of the power of grounding our development efforts deep into the pages of scripture.

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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