Following are additional comments from Charles Rix, who conducts 'Common Cents' seminars for churches supporting missionaries:
Having worked for Exxon International for many years before entering ministry, I understand the problems of budgets and exchange rate fluctuation. It is a fact of life that churches must recognize. Those developing a missions budget need to take into consideration exchange rate fluctuation history, and make provisions for possible ranges of fluctuations.
It is imperative that missionaries help educate their supporters on this point as many who have never lived or work overseas simply don't understand the principle, nor do they understand the reality that things cost more overseas than at home.
One recommendation for missionaries entering environments in highly volatile situations is to have a line item in the budget for 'foreign exchange rate fluctation contingency.' This helps provide some hedge against additional costs associated with foreign exchange rate fluctuations.
Another tactic some have used is moving more money into the foreign country during times of positive foreign exchange conditions which helps hedge against times when rates are not as favorable. Missionaries have to help congregations understand that foreign exchange (forex, for short) is not the fault of the missionary, but just a reality of life. In some countries forex works in favor of the missionary and sometimes it doesn't.
The following information was provided by Ira Hill, who directs the New Horizons ministry:
Elders and mission committees MUST NOT WAIT for the missionary to cry for help. When currency problems develop, dedicated missionaries often slack off on their own health care, savings for children's education, put off critical maintenence items like fixing the Land Rover, etc., rather than leave some programs short of funds. Overseeing churches should be 'pro-active' in inquiring in detail about the needs of missonaries as it might be impacted by exchange rates. During the 25 years I served as an elder of the Monmouth Church, we inquired yearly both when the dollar weakened and when it strenthened. If something came up mid-budget year in the news, we asked for a review immediately and demanded a full recasting of the budget on that basis.
Exchange rates are not the only story. Not everything a missionary family spends is tied directly and proportionally to the dollar exchange. Some imported items follow very closely, some nationally produced goods and services do also, but many do not. So applying a simple multiplier to the salary is, at best, a Band-Aid solution. What is needed is an analysis of both personal salary and working fund categories. Any church with a member who is a competent accountant can do the analysis.
Annual review allows the salary or working fund to be reduced in some circumstances, increased in other or at least held constant and the benefit to the missionary is acknowledged to be, in effect, 'in leu of an annual raise'.
Annual review need not be small-item-by-small-item, but some large categories need careful thought. For example, petrol (gasoline) is almost always tied to the dollar, but the hourly cost of the mechanic to fix the vehicle might not change at all. Money for benevolence is probably more tied to the internal rate of inflation than the dollar. A cup of dry rice, or beans or cassava, even in a stable dollar situation, might cost twice as much with runaway inflation inside the country even while the country's central bank is propping up their currency against the dollar.
Some portion of the missionary support that ultimately should be going to savings against children's education and old age, can be banked in the US, not transferred overseas. This helps stabilize matters somewhat.
Any church eldership which accepts 'oversight' must step up to the plate when currency rates move sharply. Not just by dipping into their own congregational reserves, but in writing personalized letters to all their missionary's supporters whose funds are typically funneled through the overseeing church. These letters relieve the missionary of appearing self-serving or 'begging', have the benfit of an independent analysis of need and changes, and help educate all supporters to the reality of mission funding. At Monmouth, we always wrote all the supporters of the Fielden Allisons in Kenya when money got tight. And some years we also wrote 'we don't need any increase this year' and told why.
Any church with a large mission budget should consider hosting a session of 'Common Cents for Missionaries' for all the mission-minded congregations in their city! Having it coincide with some missionaries coming in for a typical 'Missions Emphasis Sunday' so that missionary families and teams could join in the seminar would be dynamite. The seminar is very interactive, with role playing, creative problem solving and monetary 'games' to illustrate the concepts taught in the lecture portions.
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