As a child I would wake up early in Saturday morning, sit in my pajamas with a huge bowl of cereal, and watch cartoons. You name it, I watched it: Superman, X-men, Transformers, GI. Joe, Thundercats. I loved superheroes. Batman was my favorite. For my 6th birthday I asked for a Batman cake, mask, and cape.
I liked him so much because he had two identities. During the day he was Bruce Wayne, a wealthy philanthropist. At night he was a vigilante that fought crime in Gotham city. The same person, but with two jobs; and he did both amazingly well. The guy must have never slept. Reflecting on my current situation as a missionary in some ways I am like Batman in that I am becoming skilled at two focuses and I like to help people.
In 2006 and 2007 we learned a lot. We saw the funding from our partners in the USA diminish drastically. It got so bad that we found ourselves contemplating leaving the missionary life because we simply could not afford to stay. (I shared in detail about this in the blog: ‘We have to do something about these dogs’.) The good thing is we survived those two years. We learned that we had to have other forms of income within Bolivia to supplement our finances. We had to change strategies to become sustainable.
Sustainability is a buzzword in the mission world. In the interest of sustaining the ministry we find creative ways for people to become involved in opportunities which generate more funding. Instead of relying solely on donations directed toward the ministry projects people can designate funds which are used to develop more income. Those businesses in return create an alternate amount of income in order to do more mission work. For many people this strategy is a purposeful choice; we made the choice out of necessity.
For several years now we have been working the idea. You would think it would be a great mix for us because I have a degree in business administration. Yet, to be honest, I am conflicted. Here are some of my reasons why:
The cons: divided focus diminishing effectiveness in both areas, significantly limited time to do ministry, meeting the legal employer requirements imposed upon us by the Bolivian government is stressful and burdensome, at times this doubling of our efforts has confused the donors leading them to wrongly believe we no longer need support.
The pros: not starving, things are tight but doable, the liberty of branching out to find creative solutions to our financial difficulties is freeing, we have connected with groups of people that we may not have had it not been for these sustainability projects so our circle of influence is greater, we have gained a deeper understanding of the Bolivian people and the culture of this nation which gives us more credibility.
We started the businesses was because we need funds. Allow me to clarify that we need both sources of funding: donations to the ministry efforts as well as donations towards the sustainability efforts. Truth be told, if we could simply devote all our energy to missions we would surely do so. We can’t at this time, so we do what we have to for survival.
Might we be moving away from our true calling? You may ask me if my true calling in Bolivia is more maintaining sustainability or ministry in the traditional missionary sense. I would answer: missions. I feel my strongest skill set is that of missions; actually I am not all that good at business. At this time in our life on the mission field we feel it is a necessity that we are involved in business. I look forward to the day when we can dedicate ourselves 100% to missions work. Until then creative sustainability efforts are an answer to some of our funding challenges.
If you are interested in helping with a sustainability project:
Video arcade and internet. For some time I have been working on a project to place a video arcade and internet in a high-traffic area in our city. I have already purchased 10 video games and I am working on the internet.
If you are interested in giving toward this project the total cost for set-up is $4,000.
The wonderful thing about this project is once it is up and running it will produce funds for the orphanage and our family.