Money and Missionaries: How much?

Should missionaries be given a ‘local wage’ or should they be paid the same as a minister at home?

What do you think?

We are in a slightly unusual position in that we will be sent directly from our denomination which Tom is ordained in (Westminster Presbyterian Church), to the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu.

There are some great advantages in this, such as the fact that we don’t have to raise the money that goes to administration costs.  However one problem with it is that we have no organisation to set the amount of “support” we need to raise.  So the question we are being asked is: ‘how much?’

On one hand, missionaries are…

  • … serving Jesus Christ, for the love of his kingdom, focused on treasures in heaven
  • …  often living in foreign countries using different currency and
  • … often living much like local people (although that doesn’t work if your mission field is Japan)

On the other hand, missionaries…

  • … often have children to look after who will grow up go to university and get married
  • … need to be responsible about planning for old age
  • … have flights, medical insurance, and children’s education to pay for

We would love to hear what you think.


Tom and Margaret

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About Tom Richards

I am an Australian pastor serving with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. I currently teach at Talua Theological Training Institute on Santo and formerly taught at Enefa on Tanna. Mi wan man Ostrelia be mi stap long Vanuatu we me wan pasta wetem PCV we me stap tij long Talua Theological Training Institute long Santo. Bifo me wok long ples ia be bin tij long Enefa long Tanna.

15 thoughts on “Money and Missionaries: How much?

  1. We think it is not helpful when those who are “labouring amongst us” in full time ministry live more extravagantly than their congregation members. I doubt this would ever be an issue for you here in Oz, however it could be a huge ask in Vanuatu!
    But simple living there does not mean you would need a smaller wage than here, as so much finance is needed for transport costs, a house/unit in Oz to live in when you return on breaks and eventually retire, costly medical insurance, flights home (and back) for a family and of course children’s education, possibly boarding a some distance from parents for secondary and tertiary.
    Pieter & Belinda

    • It is a good point that you make about a minister living more extravagantly than those they re ministering to. This is certainly a concern for us in Vanuatu. It causes us to think very carefully about what kind of house we will live in and what things we will take. Maybe in our situation this is more important than some other situations because we will be ministering to members and former members of cargo cults. We are really hoping that people won’t send us heaps of stuff.

  2. When we worked in Vanuatu we were paid the an Australian Stipend that other ministers would receive in Australia. However it was not all paid to us directly. The amount that would be the same as what other ni Van lecturers at the college were being paid was sent by APWM (as it was then) to the College and we would be paid the same (in local currency) as a ni Van lecturer. This meant we knew when others were being paid, how little others had to live on, had access to local currency etc.

    The balance was paid into an Australian Account by APWM. This we could then use or save as required for additional trips home (we had small children and though the mission paid for a return trip every two years once we added an additional trip for the benefit of grandparents) and other things we would need on our return to Australia. If we needed to access the Australian based money from Vanuatu we could.

    We found this a good system.

    • Thank you for sharing that is certainly very helpful. It shows that our initial remarks in the post are really a false choice. Both can happen at the same time.
      Would you say that there are ways to bless those around you (e.g. help people out with medical expenses) if you have some money available, or is that kind of thinking more unhelpful?

      • As you said above you would need to be very careful seeing you are ministering to people who have come from that cargo cult expectation. Gently gently. We would just take things from our cupboard because it is just sharing what we have just like they shared with us. There was an expectation that plates would be returned with something on them etc.

  3. This is a difficult question, Tom. I often think “if people would accept the gospel when I come with nothing but the word I would be very well pleased”. But I don’t come with “nothing but the word” and the power of “cargo” speaks silently and strongly. I can speak the word of truth but live the word of money without even realizing it. That is, people accept the message I speak not because they believe in it but because they want what I have; the road to life becomes the road to wealth.

    Here are some thoughts.

    What-ever you end up choosing, it needs to be sustainable.

    Some ex-patriots can live very simply in Vanuatu and other people end up replicating the life-style of “home”. People from either style can still have a very effective witness and ministry and bring great glory to Christ. People from either style can have a very damaging impact and bring shame upon Christ.

    It is also not as simple as saying “we’ll live like the locals” quite simply because we don’t know how (not to be rude or anything). We don’t think like they do; we haven’t grown up in the culture; we don’t have the skills required to do so.

    Can you grow food for your family? Do you know when to plant yam? How to plant kumara? Do you know which tree’s bark to strip to make rope? Can you thatch a roof? Can you build a house from what you find in the bush? Can you hunt, kill and prepare a pig for a feast? I know you’ve spent time in Vanuatu before, so you may well be able to do all these things; I partly write these questions for the benefit of your other readers. It is a big task to learn and live another culture. You have spent 17+ years getting your education. They have spent those years learning other things.

    If it’s a big ask to completely adopt a local lifestyle; it’s a bigger one for your wife. Life is hard in Vanuatu for women. If you do decide to live a more local lifestyle, then let me recommend that your wife NOT TRY TO DO IT ALONE. That is a western way of thinking. Here, women get a younger female relative (or two) to come and help with looking after a baby, or young children. It would be perfectly appropriate culturally (though not always welcomed by our home culture as it appears ‘colonial’) to have one or two women come and work in the house. Perhaps one to cook (especially if it’s on a fire) and wash (especially if it’s by hand) and another to look after children. Or perhaps a man to work in the garden. Local people tend to have younger relatives do this work; ex-patriots are expected to pay. This is fair enough; and it is a service to the community to provide employment.

    Here is another thing to think about. Technically as an ex-patriot, you are only allowed to work (this is a requirement for your work permit which you ought to start working on now by the way) in the country if you can contribute a service that a local person cannot. That is, if you would live completely like a local person, you might not be allowed to work here! And that would be no good at all! (I know there’s faults in my logic there, but it’s interesting to think about.)

    There’s also an increasingly wide range of what the “local” lifestyle looks like now. It can still be very traditional in places (especially places like Tanna) and very modern in others. You probably won’t have a choice about accommodation if staff accommodation is already built and provided.

    We try to live simply but with the resources we need to do our job well. We try to be generous and hospitable. We think we could live in more local style accommodation, but the school here has a policy of discouraging local style accommodation. There are reasons for this; westerners need to careful not to overly romanticise “local-style”.

    This is something that often weighs on my mind. If I were to live in a village I would definitely live in a local house. Here at the school where other staff have similar accommodation I am happy (most of the time) to live in this house. It is a good lesson in being content in all things; being content in poverty and content in wealth. One thing in one country; another in the other!


    • Thanks Rachel for your comment, lots of food for thought there.
      What you say about work and work permits is a great point. The other, side of the same coin is the amount of time it would actually take up to live local a local person. Subsistence farming is not a hobby! We have been invited to Tanna to teach, and we need to make sure that we are doing that to the best of our ability. Certainly being involved in farming is learning about the culture and a way of spending quality time with people, but to spend all our time that way doesn’t seem wise. At least not at this distance.
      At SIBC at the moment everyone (staff and students) eats together as a community. They cook together, and divide the labour of cutting firewood, going to the gardens etc according to rosters. This will be helpful for us for a start as it gives us a system to come into with others and so be supported. We will just have to feel our way in terms of figuring out how it will be appropriate for us to contribute.
      Thanks for your advice about how it works with help in the home and gardens, we will take that on board.
      We are in a position where there is no house for us yet at the college, in fact the college is in desperate need of accommodation. The students are cramped into a few huts, the principal and his wife are camping in one of the classrooms (his house was destroyed in Feb cyclone).
      We will have to have a house built for us, which we hope to raise money for here. The local people will contribute local materials. We will build a concrete block house as that is in accordance with the development plan of the college. Local style houses are not desirable due to the nature of the site (high wind – and Tanna has inferior thatching material compared to Santo), and as you know more permanent building raise the prestige of the college and help to establish its reputation.
      The principal is taking the matter to the next Presbytery meeting, and hopefully we can see more new buildings at SIBC. Next year we will need to use both classrooms (so he will need a new house), and Ps. Chris, we hope, is coming and so he will need a house. This is a matter to be kept in prayer.

    • Rachael has given some really wise advice here Tom and Margaret. I made a conscious decision pretty early on to use local ingredients as much as I could but cook in a western style (ie using a bottled gas powered stove! Why? Several reasons. 1 Cooking on the fires is time consuming to learn and for people to teach me. I had access to a bush kitchen but it wasn’t shared so if I was going to ask people to help me learn it actually drew them away from their work and study. They already had enough on their plate without me taking their time in that way. I might of made a different choice if there had been several women sharing the kitchen so that they could have helped without too much effort on their part. 2 It is time consuming to do every day! 3 I didn’t want to be locked away for hours on my own – too lonely for me. So I would go chat to the mammas while they cooked. I could help with some things – like grating coconut etc. But just spending time with them was a better use of time than locking myself away in the bush kitchen.

      Obviously if you are more isolated you may have trouble getting access to gas bottles so may have more limited choice. We had Wycliffe friends living on an island off the coast and it was more important for them to be totally self sufficient in those ways so she spent the time learning how to make cooking fires etc. Different decisions for different situations. There isn’t really one right answer on this – it is often more to do with our attitude and generosity than which options we choose! Margaret

  4. Hi Tom – good discussion. My personal reaction is it would be nice to pay you a bit more, like stipend plus 10% because mission work appears real hard with lots of hidden costs, and the loss of free benefits we get here. But then I hope that you will live humbly as you can so this money wouldn’t be seen necessarily so as to not distract from the work. Glen and Rachel seem to walk the line well from what I’ve observed.

    • Hi Wayne, Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think living humbly is the key, and certainly the way we intend to live. I suspect that actually doing that every day will be the hard thing. Not hard as in ‘doing without,’ but more the series of choices and dilemmas that it involves. As soon as we get a vehicle (necessary for our work) there is wealth involved, as soon as we take a photo (to communicate with home churches) there is wealth involved. Thinking out loud (well in typing), I wonder if living generously is important as well as living humbly. Yes, we need a vehicle, but that can be used to benefit the college, even a camera can be used for other peoples benefit. In fact at the moment I am making up a calendar for SIBC with photos of the students as a fundraiser. And yes, lots to learn from Glen and Rachel.

      • The very fact that you are thinking it all through will help in living it out! But you are right, it is the day to day decisions and choices that aren’t always easy. Generosity & humility tied together are important. Praying for you all in the midst of the preparation!!
        God Bless – Margaret

  5. Mi mi wan misonari blong bifo. Sharing is very important, So is hospitality, inviting people to meals or a cuppa. And you won’t have time to teach and prepare for teaching if you also want to get most of your food from a native-style garden of your own. We found people would bring us yam, etc, and were very happy to get some Aussie items, like a tin of fruit or meat or fish, in exchange.

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