by Paul Nielsen
Casey and Traci Letellier are on a mission to serve with Innovista. For the past four years, Casey — a Minnesota native — has been the graphic designer for a mission organization based in Denver. Traci — born and raised in Arkansas — is a writer and folk musician.
Propel: You are in the midst of fundraising for a term in the United Kingdom. Did you receive any type of training before beginning the funding process?
Letelliers: Yes. It was fairly informal training. Jason Lane, the director of Innovista International, spent a day with us to help strategize a fundraising plan and an initial time table. We’ve also received lots of good advice from our missionary friends and acquaintances along the way — something we really value.
P: How has the support raising process been different than your expectations?
L: We didn’t fully realize how many missionaries were already being sent from this area [northwest Arkansas]. Many of the people traditionally interested in missions work are already giving to their capacity and are unable to help anyone new. Some of our most generous support has actually come from people about our age who are just getting established in their jobs and are interested in missions. But then again, one of our most generous supporters is a World War II veteran.
P: From your experience, what word of advice or encouragement would you offer to others preparing to begin the support raising process?
L: At times we felt the expectation (and have received advice) suggesting that to be effective we needed to approach our support raising as we would a political campaign, and use carefully chosen emotive terms throughout our presentation. One time in particular, we received this kind of advice and went away really discouraged because taking an approach like that would be completely inauthentic to who we are. While the support-raising process is almost certainly going to be stretching, and some serious hard work no matter how you go about it, it seems to us that support raising shouldn’t require you to be people that you’re not. We’re still figuring out how this looks for us. One thing that we have found is that we usually connect better with individuals or small groups, rather than a crowd.
Another thing we would encourage other missionaries to do is to present your vision with excellence and sensitivity to the audience before you. There is an old stereotype that identifies missionaries as a certain hyper-spiritual sub-group of believers who tend to look a certain way and talk with their own insider jargon. This stereotype does a disservice to the Church by pigeon-holing a certain group and alienating Christians who might excel at some mission-related work but just don’t fit the look. Do your part to help do away with this dated missionary stereotype!
Obviously, any missionary raising their own funds would like it to be finished as quickly as possible. We initially hoped to leave for the field in January, so we found places for our stuff and moved out of our home in December. It is now April. We’ve been living out of a suitcase without the privacy of our own home for about four months. This has been hard at times, but we still think it was a good decision. We think it was a clear demonstration to our community of our determination to go as soon as possible. It has also been good to make a clean break from our ‘former’ life and focus on support-raising full time.
Neither of us are big risk-takers by nature, so embracing this time of transition as an adventure has been incredibly helpful. The word “adventure” does such a great job of communicating the feeling of discomfort and occasional peril, but also of joy and occasional triumph. As silly as it may sound, it has really summed up our experience so far.
Finally, as you embark on this adventure, make your plans and set your time-frame — but beyond this, trust God. When things don’t go according to your plan or time-frame, try not to lean on your own understanding or limited perspective. Like we’ve been discovering, you can’t know exactly what God has in store for you. No matter what kind of successes or set-backs come your way, acknowledge that God has not left you to wander aimlessly. He has a purpose for you — even now — even during the times of transition.
P: What has discouraged you the most in the fundraising process?
L: We’ve been discouraged to encounter many people who are just too busy and their schedules too full to even take the time to hear about what we’ll be doing. This is especially discouraging because we’ve pretty much dismantled our former life in order to go. Sometimes we’d just like people to get excited with us about this adventure God has us on, even if that’s as much as they can offer right now.
P: What obstacles have you encountered as you have pursued your interest in world missions?
L: Since our missions focus is Europe, we’ve occasionally encountered a traditional view of missions that doesn’t quite know how to categorize us. Britain is not a third-world country or a tribe without a written language. Our roles will also be professional in nature: graphic design, writing and editing primarily to develop relational evangelism training material and resources geared toward 16-30 year olds. On the surface, our field and focus just aren’t what people think of when they hear the terms “mission” or “missionary.”
P: How have you overcome these obstacles?
L: Once we get the chance to sit down with somebody and explain the nature of our work at Innovista, they usually get it. I think a lot of people enjoy and are even encouraged by having their idea of missions and, even more specifically, their idea of evangelism expanded.
P: How would you like your missions involvement to look ten years from now?
L: Ten years from now we see ourselves on the sending end again — praying for and giving to other missionaries. The whole experience of being one of the sent has been so valuable for us! We’ve discovered just how vital it is to have a team of people who are willing to stay on the home front and do the work of sending others.