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September 15, 2015

Real people with real lives

Written by  Kaylene Derksen

This article appears in the September/October 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

She sat across from me in the small crowded restaurant and spoke softly. “My husband and I have money. We give regularly, but people are always asking for more. When they look at us, they have dollar signs in their eyes. We are unseen. No one ever asks, 'How’s your marriage or how are your children or can I pray for you?'"

I was in my first year of development work and this was one of my first meetings. Her words were like a punch in the gut. All my fundraising training didn’t prepare me for this. I know a little about people caught in the cycle of poverty, but I never knew anything about people caught up in the cycle of wealth. I never knew about the loneliness and isolation that comes with the burden of wealth.

It was the first time that I became aware that my role as a fundraiser was one of being compassionate with donors. I needed to understand that donors are real people with real lives who often have stories of real struggle.

People are precious

I came upon a phrase a few years back that will always be the first thought of every work day as long as I am in the role of Development director — People are precious and money is a tool. Not the other way around.

Everything costs money, even mission. Over the last 100 years, many millions of dollars have been spent to see the good news of Jesus spread around the world. We all understand that this thing of mission and sending is undeniably costly.

However, we are only just beginning to understand the close connection between the cost of mission and the care of those who fund it through their charitable contributions. People who give to EMM are not all wealthy. They are not all upwardly mobile. They are not all married with responsibilities, and they are not all single with less “responsibility.”

In fact, some people who give money to EMM are people who sweat at their work, people who end the day with their heads in their hands, hoping the day’s work was enough. EMM donors are comprised of faces with deep wrinkles formed from years of manifested joy and sorrow and smooth young faces with very little experience and a whole lot of heart.

Stories to tell

Every one of the generous people who gives to EMM has a story to tell; a story of their dreams and visions, a story that includes what they worry about and what keeps them awake at night.

Sometimes I ask people this simple question. “What is one thing you would like to do to make the world a better place?” This question takes time to answer. I have become comfortable with silence, and hopefully the people I am with can use that silence as a space to breathe in.

This morning I sat with a donor who answered my question with, “I would give people understanding. I just want people to be able to understand what is true and what is not.” Sometimes the answer is more tangible like clean water, education, or healthy food for the underserved. Some of the gentlest people I talk to just want to wrap the world in a big hug. How wonderful and how valid are all of these stories! None is a “greater mission” than the others.

I have found two things to be true. One is that when I care enough to ask how another person thinks, or what motivates him, or take the time to pray for her, he or she feels cared for. In return, I am given the gift of their care for me. A friendship has begun or has become stronger.

The second thing I’ve found to be true? Where care is shown to the giver, there is an increase in meaningful giving motivation. Not just because of the money, but also because giving opens the heart to whatever dreams God is dreaming for the giver. 

Kaylene Derksen serves as director of Development. She, along with her husband Jimm and daughter Helena, served in Halle, Germany, from 1999 - 2005.

This article appears in the September/October 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.