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Where Does the Money Go?

January 29, 2013

Money is such a touchy subject.  Support raising in Congo would go like this: I need this much money, and you have some, so you must give it to me.  Then it would be over.  Alas, in the Western society, we have much more complicated social and monetary rules.  Though, you might argue that it is because of those rules that we have a more financially stable culture.  Well, in some ways…

$7600 per month is a lot of money.  We’re not gonna lie.  It seems more than the average wage, and far more than most people make in Congo, so why so much?  How much gets “skimmed” off the top before it gets to us?  These are great questions and I think they deserve a thorough answer.  Thankfully, we have those answers, because Mission Aviation Fellowship is amazing at making sure everything is clear, both for their missionaries and the teams that support them.

When we were short term (our one year contract, which concludes at the end of March), the finances worked a little differently.  We only raised the money to support ourselves, based on the country to which we were going, and our family size.  Career staff with MAF use a pooled system, so that everyone can raise the same amount, but counting fluctuations from month to month, all salaries and benefits can remain constant, and staff-related ministry expenses can be covered.  One important thing to note is that MAF raises their own, separate support for administrative costs, for the airplanes and their maintenance, and most of the home office staff are also missionaries, who have a team of people who support them financially.  Additionally, each program and location also has their own support team, so that base maintenance and costs acquired by the individual program, such as hiring local staff, are covered by a separate income.  So, you can rest assured that your money to support our ministry, simply goes to us.

The number, currently $7600, is the average monthly cost of keeping a missionary on the field, regardless of the country where they serve.  The consistent number helps to avoid confusion with family size, geographic location, or need of each missionary family based on size.  The salaries and housing costs that come out of that number do vary based on those facts, but how much we need to raise does not.

This pie graph is MAF’s breakdown of the monthly support goal.  It is an average of all of the worldwide programs, so the actual numbers may vary.

Support Breakdown Graphic

The following explains each of the categories.  This was written by MAF, who also provided the pie chart, and it was too good not to copy and paste.  I have highlighted a few of my favorite points that are unique to us and our ministry.

Salary:

– MAF compensates our missionary staff at a moderate level based on the “national mean annual income for all occupations” from the US Department of Labor.

– People wonder why a missionary’s salary is “high” even though they live in a country where the cost of living is “low.” Simply stated, an American missionary is still an American who incurs many American costs of living and inevitably pays more than nationals for the same goods and services.  (It should be noted that the cost of living here in Kinshasa is actually 92% higher than in the US, and the living standard of the average Congolese person is very different than you or I can imagine.)

– Although nationals survive on very little, this usually does not take into account such things as housing or basic home appliances. The missionary, however, needs these basics as well as computers and communication tools in order to be effective in ministry.

– Although the missionary’s residence is in a foreign country, their citizenship is in America, their children will eventually go to school in America, they will most likely retire in America, etc.

Medical:

– MAF missionaries are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health care plan including medical, dental, and life insurance. Some health benefits are entirely paid by MAF, others are shared by the missionary.

– Sometimes the medical treatment needed may not be available in the ministry location and may require travel to a different location, including returning to North America.

– For life-threatening medical emergencies, overseas MAF missionaries are covered by a third-party international emergency medevac service.

Housing:

– This cost is a worldwide average for MAF missionaries. Housing in most overseas cities today costs as much or more than many places in the US, even if the surrounding areas are impoverished.

Workers Compensation:

– Because MAF is headquartered in America, we are required to carry Workers Compensation insurance on all missionaries.

– Insurance for pilots is one of the highest risk categories. In addition, working in foreign countries is equally considered high risk.

COL Adjustment (cost-of-living):

– MAF’s goal is to achieve equity/parity with our compensation philosophy. This adjustment provides MAF missionaries a subsidy when living in places with very high costs of living. 

– The COL is based on an internationally recognized standard used by many mission agencies.

Taxes:

– Because MAF is a US based mission and its missionaries are American citizens, most US payroll taxes apply.

– Some foreign countries levy income taxes on resident missionaries. 

Travel and Field Expenses:

– Missionaries have expenses unique to overseas life and work, including passports, visas, licenses, work permits, and immunizations. They also have the expense of travel to and from the field for furloughs, and furlough shipping.

Children’s Education:

– Unlike the USA, free public education does not exist in most overseas ministry locations.

– A missionary child’s education needs to provide a foundation for children to eventually attend school in America. MAF is committed to providing a quality level of education to all missionary children from kindergarten through high school.

– Children’s education costs may include tuition, boarding school fees, homeschool curriculum, travel expense, etc.

Retirement:

– Some missionaries [with other organizations] do not have retirement plans and may still need support once retired. MAF has chosen a different approach and cares for its missionaries in similar ways to that of many businesses in our society.

– Missionaries have the option to contribute to their own 401(k). In addition, MAF has established a matching contribution program.

Ministry Partnership:

– MAF missionaries do not serve alone, but have a team of individuals, churches, and groups that partner with them in ministry through prayer and financial support. “Ministry Partnership” covers the costs of missionary fund-raising and communications with this team.

– To help missionaries connect and communicate regularly and effectively with their ministry teams, MAF provides training, accountability, and resources which include services to print and mail prayer letters, and funding for travel for face-to-face meeting 

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