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The Strategic Friendship of Financial Supporters

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The first overseas missionary I remember meeting was a single woman who lived in Africa. She stayed in our home for a week and gave me a lovely necklace of polished gray seeds that came from her beloved Angola. In the evenings, she told stories that danced in my young imagination—images of African animals, villages, dusty hospitals, and exuberant worship services. She was the first of many missionaries who became our friends as my parents demonstrated the joy of giving generously, praying consistently, and joining the work of the gospel from afar.

So when I raised support to work with Cru years later, the friendship of my own support team shouldn’t have been a great surprise. But I’ve marveled at it again and again.

The friendships that blossom between a career missionary and the radically generous supporters who hold up her arms is a remarkable thing. Not only do these friendships offer strength to missionaries in difficult valleys; they literally change the world.

It has been so since the beginning of the missionary movement.

Theophilus, a Most Excellent Friend

Consider: If it hadn’t been for Theophilus, our Bibles might not contain Luke or Acts.

We owe nearly a third of the New Testament to a friendship that spilled over from God to Theophilus (“friend of God”), from Theophilus to Luke, and finally on to us.

The friendships that blossom between a career missionary and the radically generous supporters who hold up her arms is a remarkable thing.

We don’t know much about the mystery man to whom both Luke and Acts are addressed. But some scholars speculate that Luke’s writing (and perhaps Paul’s missionary journeys) were financed by him. The Gospel of Luke may have been similar to a modern missionary prayer letter, reporting back “an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3–4).

Luke, as John Rinehart points out, peppered his accounts with unique stories about Jesus and money, from parables about lavish generosity to stories of women who funded Jesus’s traveling ministry. It’s as if the good doctor wanted to connect with his benefactor by showing how Theophilus’s own investment reaped eternal reward.

And just as Luke dedicated his work to the “most excellent Theophilus,” we missionaries and pastors all over the world owe a debt of gratitude to our most excellent friends, the supporters and teammates who are patrons of the gospel.

Sustaining Power of Friendship

The privilege of raising support isn’t always regarded as a great prize. The seemingly endless calls, letters, appointments, and asks (“would you prayerfully consider supporting our ministry?”) are so scary to potential missionaries that many either give up before they begin or head off in search of a paid ministry position.

But the transition from an initially awkward support presentation to a robust, decades-long friendship is extraordinary. By the time most missionaries have assembled a sufficient team to get out onto the field, a high percentage of their partners are people who were recently strangers and are now friends.

Over the years, my husband and I have gone through deep valleys of discouragement and seasons of prolonged spiritual attack. All along the way, our supporters have offered countless words and deeds of kindness. As Proverbs 17:17 puts it, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

This is the kind of love that allows me to call up a distant friend for prayer, only to burst into tears over the phone. My husband and I have been fed a thousand meals, invited to stay in a dozen homes. Three times our car died, and generous supporters replaced it. Once a whole group of supporters flew out to perform an Extreme Makeover on our home (before the TV show existed). We’ve had anonymous gifts arrive with exactly the needed amount of money at exactly the right moment, tangible evidence of the power of prayer.

Exodus 17 offers a great picture of the sustaining power of friendship when Moses sends Joshua to fight the Amalekites:

Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Ex. 17:11–13)

A missionary’s endurance is an answer to the prayers of her friends.

A missionary’s endurance is an answer to the prayers of her friends.

And this friendship is a beautiful two-way street. Over the years, we’ve had the honor of praying for our supporters through bouts of cancer, the death of a spouse, career changes, and crises of faith. We were thrilled when one supporter’s unbelieving husband trusted in Christ, or when another sold his impressive house to go into full-time ministry himself. We have joined our supporters in their own evangelistic efforts and have had the pleasure of sharing bits of our story in their Bible studies and classes.

World-Changing Power

Many of the amazing moments in church history were made possible by generous friends behind the scenes. William Tyndale’s Bible translation, William Carey’s missionary journeys, George Müller’s orphanages, Brother Andrew’s Bible smuggling—all of them were brought about by concentrated friendship born of generosity and openhearted, openhanded faith.

Such is the God we serve that when he wants to build a temple, he doesn’t wave a wand but stirs the hearts of his children to generously, joyfully give. When he wants to reach a nation, he rarely sends a company of glorious angels. Instead he sends a team of fallible humans. And when he wants to use an individual, he rarely chooses the most gifted, but the most ordinary—propped up by the quiet prayers and tangible love of her friends.

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