Paul opened his epistle to the Philippians by letting them know he prayed and thanked God for them and their participation with him in the ongoing work. God of course was first, but the epistle takes a clear turn as the apostle also thanks the church in Philippi for their financial support.
While Paul’s reaction towards the church at Philippi’s support of the work is more descriptive than prescriptive, it is still clear modern missionaries can learn from his attitude of gratitude towards God and those who supported him.
The clearest example comes in Phil 4:10-20 where there are at least four points related to missionary communication and giving thanks which modern missionaries can learn from.
- Paul rejoiced primarily in the relationship with his friends in Philippi and not in the byproduct of financial support (Phil 4:10).
- Paul spoke freely without veiled or overly spiritual language regarding financial support. He simply, transparently and honestly thanked them for helping in his troubles (Phil 4:14,16).
- Paul provided a sense of accountability for the delivery of the financial gifts (Phil 4:18).
- Paul was satisfied in God providing for him personally, but his greater joy came in letting the donors know God was aware of their gift (Phil 4:17-19).
From the moment of the first donation, missionaries should ask the mission organization or home church to send a monthly donor list. As a practical need, the monthly donor list allows tracking of new donors, and updating of the missionary communication list. More importantly, the donor list becomes a prayer list.
Prayer for supporters becomes ministry back to them, and unites the missionary and supporters together in the work of reaching the people God has brought them together for.
One missionary family created a box filled with index cards with the names of their supporters, sometimes prayer points were added to the cards. Every evening at dinner the children would pull a card and they would pray as a family for one of their financial partners. Another missionary family hung pictures of their supporters in their hallway as a way to remind themselves to pray. One missionary places supporter pictures on his refrigerator similar to missionary refrigerator magnets. There is no end to the creative ways to systematically pray for financial supporters, but finding an individual pattern will be best.
Paul was not satisfied to only pray for his financial supporters, but he desired to thank them. It may seem old fashioned, but taking the time to write a simple thank you note or card for every donation is good stewardship and deepens the tethers of connection between the missionary and supporters.
Paul compared what donors give to a sacrifice (Phil 4:18), so giving thanks for that sacrifice with a simple and individual note is the right attitude. If writing a thank you seems difficult or overwhelming, consider simply using this three-sentence structure.
- Open with giving thanks.
- Continue with a brief update on the work they are part of.
- Finish with a prayer request.
A good missionary donor list will be broad and wide, so it may be tempting to simply copy the same thank you note. It will be better to copy the simple pattern of thanks, update and prayer request than the actual words.
Ed Compean, along with his family, served as missionaries in Kenya and Mexico for more than 12-years. He is now engaged in church relations and communications at Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators.