For those who wonder how and why a servant of the Lord gets in debt, especially for those who have been our faithful supporters, I owe you -
We are blessed that you are concerned enough to check out these few pages.
Years ago, when I was in Bible college in Saskatchewan, I read a book called “Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret”. The mission society that sent him to China began to operate on borrowed funds, and Hudson Taylor felt that was wrong in the light of Romans 13:8 which says “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” I took that piece of advice from that book, and lived by it for many years. I have always resisted the use of credit, and on those occasions where I found myself indebted I have worked hard to pay those debts off promptly. How then did we get into the debt that we are now in?
A number of years ago Mexico began to require us to have a credit card to pass the international line with a vehicle. The only alternative would have been to purchase a very expensive bond for each crossing. They began by charging a fixed fee for each vehicle, but that fee had to be paid by credit card. They would not allow you to pay it in cash, or by a debit card. (after several years they also began to accept debit cards, but still will not accept that payment in cash). We had never had a credit card, or used credit, so we did not qualify for a credit card through most banking institutions. Our second daughter and her husband had an account with a credit union, and through that we were able to establish a credit card with a credit limit of $500.00, by making a $500.00 security deposit.
Getting money from the USA while in Mexico has always been a problem for missionaries in Mexico. The mail has been unreliable, and unless you have a substantial amount of money in the bank, it is very difficult to cash checks in the interior. We discovered that the credit card greatly simplified that problem. A friend or relative here in Bisbee could receive our mail, deposit any checks, pay local bills, and pay the rest to the credit card account, and we could go to an ATM machine in Mexico, and withdraw the money in Mexican cash. That system works very well, and costs very little. But it has a few major disadvantages. We can never know for sure when the account has been completely paid up, or when it is nearly “maxed out”. Never the less, it served us well for a time. And because it was so convenient, we deposited an additional 500 dollars so as to have a credit limit of 1000. Later the credit union voluntarily extended that to 1500, and then on up.
Few people outside the missionary community really understand what it is that we are doing down there. Americans are exposed to the gospel on every hand continually, and can hardly believe that there are people who have no such gospel opportunity. Most vaguely think that we are working to convert Catholics from catholicism, (trying to get people to change from one form of “Christianity” to another). This is very wide of the mark. Others, consider that since there are so many unconverted people right here in the USA, that it’s really foolish to spend any effort or money to try to win Mexican Indians to Christ. Why not win those who are here at hand? This also misses the mark.
The command of the Lord Jesus is to preach the gospel “to every creature”, and “to every nation (Greek: “ethnos”)”. That means that as long as there are individuals and/or ethnic groups that have not heard the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and His great love for us, OUR JOB AS CHRISTIANS IS NOT DONE. That viewpoint means that we must seek them out. Our job is to be sure that they have the opportunity to at least HEAR with the hearing of the ear. If they have heard and rejected, our job is done. It brings great joy to our hearts when they hear and believe, but that is just icing on the cake. Our job description is not to save them, but to tell them. Our work in Mexico grows out of the idea that there are (we are SURE) more individuals and ethnic groups in Mexico among the Indian people who have NOT YET HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO HEAR then there are in the United States. Even if we turn out to be statistically wrong in that, we also feel that there are more Christian in the United States than there are among these tribal groups of Mexico, and since they have the same godly responsibility as we do to reach the unreached, we will still go to the Indian people of Mexico.
My Dad was one of our best supporters, and yet he never understood why we were going to Mexico. He gave us the first motor home and car that we used in Mexico. And the second. And along the way thousands of dollars of support over about ten years. But he almost always when referring to our time in Mexico each year used the term “vacation”. If we talked about the need of the Indian people, in his mind he equated them (because of their poverty) with the hill people of Georgia, or the Appalachians. He never saw the wide difference of GOSPEL OPPORTUNITY between the Indian people of Mexico, and the “American hillbillies” Yet he was our best supporter. When he died a few years back is when our credit card debt began to grow.
To keep things in balance, and understand what this indebtedness means, I want to explain some details. Please don’t think that I say these things to justify myself in this situation. First, our available credit (by credit card) runs much more than $20,000.00. We have cautiously accepted some of these offers. But our actual credit card debt right now is about $9,500.00. That is to say, that our debt bothers us a great deal more than it does the credit card companies. Instead of hounding us to pay them what we owe, they are “hounding” us to get us to borrow more money! The amount we owe is considerably less than the average credit card debt in America. And virtually all of it was incurred because of our desire and practical effort to reach the unreached people from the tribes of Mexico. I know that many times credit card interest can run to much more than 20% APR, but we try to move most of our indebtedness into accounts that charge 0% to 10% per year. When you consider that our vehicles and real estate are completely paid for, and debt free, our indebtedness (compared to most of America) seems pretty small. But then the word of God says: 2Co 10:12 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
We think that any indebtedness in the work of the Lord is too much. We further think that the work that we are involved in is not our work alone, but is the work of all the people of God, because it is the work of God.. But so many of the people of God are so involved with so many things that are not the work of God, that they cannot or will not participate.
A recent letter we received quotes a famous line: “God’s work done in God’s way never lacks God’s support” I am sure that that statement is true. But I rather think that God’s support does not always guarantee financial support. Note the luxurious “tabernacles” and “cathedrals” and lavish lifestyles of the worlds “clergy”. Is there financial success a sign that they are doing “Gods work …God’s way”? If so, then we ought to all be Roman Catholics, (since they have been the practitioners of that sort of religion longer than any of the rest.) Or, what about The heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11? Dare we say that they did not do God’s work God’s way?, and yet they certainly seemed to lack for the support of their compatriots. “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
My wife and I raised six children. I often think that this work of world missions is well illustrated in my children. On one occasion Ella and I went to town shopping, and left all six of our children to clean up the front yard. We did not tell them how to divide the work, but we made the extent of the work very, very clear to all. When we got home, One of our children was still working on cleaning up the yard. The job was far from done. But each had found some excuse for not continuing . Each had decided (despite our instructions) that “he had done his share”, or “couldn’t work with his sister” or “would do it later” or “would do something more important”. Each had gotten sidetracked, except for one. He was still working. Feeling quite alone, and somewhat tearful, and resentful at his brothers and sisters for leaving the work to him, but he was still working. Just so, our Lord has left His people a job to do. But we have been too busy “answering the phone”, or “building a church” or a thousand other excuses. Meanwhile the work goes undone, or those who would do it find that they are facing overwhelming odds, alone.
In Jesus story of the “good Samaritan”, there were at least three (The priest and the levite –religious leaders of their day- and the Samaritan) who should have taken responsibility for that injured man, but only one did. Luke 10:33 “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” And so the Samaritans responsibility became a financial responsibility because of the needs of the “man who fell among thieves”. And then The debt of love (Romans 13:8, and Romans 1:14-16) became a financial debt when the Samaritan promised to pay “whatsoever thou spendest more…”: “And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.”
But the responsibility and the debt should never have been his alone. And if it were properly shared it would never have become a financial debt. As in the parable of Jesus, it was the spiritual leaders irresponsibility that left the Samaritan in debt – so it is today!
I can name many more than one missionary or missionary family that is not now on the field, because of financial difficulties. Meanwhile our land sinks under the weight of the “temples”, “cathedrals”, “tabernacles” etc. upon which the people of God are encouraged to spend their resources, and there is not a single word in the New Testament that gives encouragement or example to that sort of activity. But Him whom we call Lord repeatedly has told us to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, and to every creature. And God has supplied much more than adequate resources for us to do that job. But some of us have found many excuses – just like my children in cleaning the yard – why not to be involved.
I hope my letter has not offended you. I hope that you are among those who have invested not only your finances, but your time and energy in trying to reach those people. As His servants, where we are on this issue, and how did we get here? Like you, my understanding is limited. I would rather not be in debt. But if I must be in debt to reach the people that have not yet heard the gospel, then I see no other way. Certainly there must be many – perhaps you - who care deeply about Jesus command, and our responsibility together to reach the unreached. Perhaps by making these needs more widely known we can find the people who will come and help us. Priests and levites will continue to walk on by, and to build their temples, and towers, but some will hear the Lords command in spite of them. And we are seeking them. And we are finding them. Some of them respond by going themselves to the mission field, and that is great. Many more such are needed. Some respond with further excuses why they need not be involved. And there are some who respond with the question “what can I do?” and then do what they can. What will be your response? Be partakes of our joy, and find a way to be involved in His Great Commission! We appreciate your prayers.
© Dave & Ella McMullen, 2011
July 9, 2011