American Christians' Support of the Gospel in the Philippines
It has been a pleasure and encouragement to meet brethren in the Philippines and have the opportunity to work with them in the spread of the Gospel. Like other American preachers before me, a matter of great concern to me has been the number of Filipino preachers who work with little or no financial support for their labors. Time has not only caused me to appreciate the sacrifices of such men, it has also caused me to view the problem from the opposite standpoint, that of brethren in the U.S. Several preachers in the Philippines are supported by brethren or churches in America, but only a small percentage of faithful Filipino brethren receive such support. Still other Filipino brethren have sought support for their work and have not been successful. They have preached for years while supporting themselves by whatever means available and such men are worthy of our love and respect because of their sacrifices in serving the Lord without complaint.
This situation has led to misunderstandings on the part of brethren both in the Philippines and in America. On the one side, a worthy brother wonders why a U.S. church will not support him. On the other, well-meaning American brethren make decisions regarding the use of a church's or their own personal funds, and they might find their financial limitations make it impossible to help or they might respond to one of the many requests from places somewhere other than the Philippines. Neither Filipinos nor Americans make perfect judgments in seeking and sending support, but each should assume the other is trying to do their best because of our love for God and for each other (1 Cor. 13:4-8). Further, the American news and entertainment media often portray life in America in a way that leads people outside the U.S. to have a wrong view of how Americans live. (I worked for many years as a temporary worker in Eastern Europe. It seemed that many people there thought Americans went to the store and bought anything they wanted. What a false impression!)
The purpose of this article is to both study scriptures and give counsel relevant to our topic. Hopefully, it will lead to better understanding and more caution in some areas.
The Bible Teaches that Gospel Preachers
Whether support comes from churches or individuals, faithful preachers are worthy of support. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul established his right as a preacher to financial support, concluding his argument in verse 14: "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (cp. vs. 1-14). As an apostle, he approved the example of the Philippians for their support of him in his preaching in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:15-16). While preaching at Corinth Paul tells us how he was able to carry on his work for the bulk of the time he worked in that city: "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service" (2 Cor. 11:8-9). Timothy, an evangelist, was told to "abide still at Ephesus" (1 Tim. 1:3). Whether there were elders already at Ephesus at this time or not (Acts 20:17), it is clear Paul envisioned Timothy as working at churches that had elders (1 Tim. 5:17-20). As we put these thoughts together we can see how a man might be supported while working with an established local church or trying to convert the lost in an area where no church existed. In addition to receiving support from other churches, such a man also might receive support from individual Christians (Gal. 6:6-10). Our point is made. It is God's will that faithful preachers should be supported in their work.
Not All Preachers are Supported
Evidences of the truthfulness of the above point can be found both in the first century and today. Paul worked making tents during the early part of his stay in Corinth, along with Aquila, another teacher of the Gospel (Acts 18:1-4, 26ff). This writer has known a number of preachers, both in the U.S. and other countries, who supported themselves by working a secular job. Such men's dedication to the work of preaching is commendable. Further, they free themselves from the fear of having their support cut in the event that erring brethren resist the truthfulness of their message (2 Tim. 4:2-4).
A reason some evangelists do not find support and must work to support themselves is because of the choice of brethren not to have fellowship with them in the Gospel. This writer knows that he is not alone when he says that he has agonized over the plight of some faithful man, who is worthy of support, and yet either unsupported or under supported. However, requests for support come from more places than the Philippines. I have often received support requests from brethren in the U.S. or Europe. Each person who possesses money beyond his actual needs has to decide what to do with that money. Account will be given to God (1 Cor. 4:2; Matt. 25:14-31). The same is true of churches (2 Cor. 8:1-5; Phil. 4:17; Rev. 2-3). As a result, they may choose to not support you or me and support some other worthy man. (Please do not forget that churches in the U.S. are supporting the preaching of the Gospel all over the world. This would include a good number of preachers in Africa, Europe, India, Central and South America.)
Some Filipino preachers might ask, "Why cannot the American preachers I know simply find me support since they are familiar with American brethren?" I believe I am correct in saying that most American preachers who have been to the Philippines have spent some time in trying to help Filipino brethren find support. Further, I would assume that such men have found, as I have, that they do not know enough churches to contact to meet the needs of the vast number of Filipino brethren who are seeking support. Something else that must be considered in this is the responsibilities of American preachers who have visited the Philippines. Beyond the fact that there are preachers in countries all over the world seeking support from U.S. churches, it must be recognized that American preachers are not full-time support seekers or benevolence seekers. This writer spends 4-8 hours of almost every week responding to letters he receives from the Philippines. His responsibilities to both the local church with which he works and efforts to help in other places dictate that he give proper attention to these other duties in addition to the limited time available for correspondence with Filipino brethren.
In light of these facts, some might assume that every faithful man in every country will eventually find support from an American church if he just asks long enough. A few indeed may persevere and find such support, but this view has a basic flaw. It is based on the faulty view of life in the U.S. that many outside of America have. Contrary to the impression the American media creates, Americans do not have unlimited resources. True, there are rich people in the America, but relatively few of them are Christians. Further, there are a good number of Christians in the U.S. who struggle continually to meet their basic financial obligations. In light of these facts the reader will hopefully see that, in many cases where a given brother is without support, it is simply a case of there not being enough money to meet all the needs.
Life in Different Countries
A Filipino brother was once discussing with me the amount of support that he was receiving and asked me, "Could you live on that amount?" I had to answer in the negative. Let us give some thought to this matter. This writer has lived most of the last twenty years in Germany and has spent a lot of time working in countries formerly behind the Soviet Union's "iron curtain." It is amazing to see the comparative standards of living between the east and west. An American who moves to Lithuania, for example, could live much more cheaply than he could in the U.S. To give some Biblical perspective to this, let us remember that, during the time of the collection for needy saints in Jerusalem, there was very obviously a different standard of living existing in Judea as opposed to Corinth (2 Cor. 8:14). Let us explore this matter of different standards of living.
At this point we advance two relevant helpful facts that give some balance to our discussion herein: Cost of living and average wages in various countries around the world. According to statistics, the cost of living for a person living in Manila is about half that of one living New York city. Living in Asuncion, Paraguay, would be only 42% as expensive as living in New York. This means that, were a preacher to work in Asuncion and be paid as if he were living in New York, he would vastly overpaid. Indeed, such a man would be over supported were he receiving such an amount while working in many small towns in America. To look at the other index we mention above, there are vast differences between wages paid to workers in various countries around the world. Germans, some of the highest paid laborers in the world, receive an average of $37,560 a year, though many wages fall far below that level. By contrast, according to figures for the year 2000, wage earners in India received $450 a year, those in Sri Lanka $850, and Thailand $2,000. Of course, many poor people in those countries receive far less and jobs are hard to find in many countries. The relatively high wages earned here in Germany are not paid without reason. Life here is much more expensive than is life in many other countries we might mention. (Germany is the only country in which the Japanese will not build factories because of the expense.)
We must realize that, though we may not understand all of the responsibilities that come with living in any given country, all countries are different. Living in some is so expensive that parents often feel compelled to limit the number of children they have! Except for the relatively few rich people in this world, it is the challenge of people everywhere to learn to live within their own means (1 Tim. 6:8).
Things Hurtful to American Support
This writer has oft solicited support for brethren in the Philippines. It hurts to report what some American brethren have said in reply to those efforts. One reported that the church where he was would send no more support to the Philippines because they were not comfortable with the way they had been treated by the Filipino brethren whom they had helped. Another preacher told me how the church where he had been had been "worn out" by constant, multiple, and seemingly endless requests from brethren in the Philippines and would send no more money there. In other words, instead of gratitude and focus on the work of the Lord, there seemed to be a spirit of bottomless dissatisfaction, always wanting and demanding more money in spite of the U.S. brethren's efforts to do their best. In reply to a recent effort to find benevolent support from a small church here in Germany, the brother to whom I wrote replied back as follows:
In light of my experience in this area, there are most likely other churches in the U.S. that have made decisions similar to those we report above. As you consider these cases, please remember that all these churches still support the preaching of the gospel. However, they obviously have decided to send their support to places other than the Philippines.
All would agree that there are cases when U.S. brethren have made mistakes because of faulty or insufficient information. In such instances they must work to resolve such problems. But we must ask the following question: What about where they have made decisions based on accurate information? What might cause churches to decide not to help preachers in the Philippines or in any other given country?
This writer reserves comment on the churches mentioned under this heading. He is merely reporting facts as he has learned them to be. They underline what all of us know: No one wants to feel he has been robbed, cheated, or taken advantage of especially by those he loves and helps as brethren in Christ. Further, nothing written in this article is meant to imply that all Filipino brethren are guilty of abuses mentioned herein. I have met many who love the Lord with a pure heart and handle the Lord's money honestly.
It is my sincere hope that this article has served to bring a better understanding on a thorny subject. Further, may we all be careful and honest in both reporting our work and seeking support. Let us concentrate on the blessings God has promised the faithful and let nothing deter us from living in such a way as to reach our heavenly home (Col. 3:2; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).