Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Davis Interview: Living intentionally

by Paul Nielsen

This issue’s interview is with Chester and Amy Davis. I’ve known them both for more than ten years now. They presently live with their four young children in Lincoln, Nebraska while Chester works on a mechanical engineering degree.

They present some ideas here that are challenging and outside of the norm; I was hoping for this when I emailed them about doing an interview. In their own words, they are living intentionally. Their intention: To serve God in the area of missions that uses their gifts and fills a need. They are as dedicated as anyone I’ve personally known in living out this desire. While not everyone will agree with all of their observations or exhortations, the sacrifices they’ve made along the way are something every aspiring missionary needs to seriously consider.

This will be the first in a two-part series.

Propel: You’ve expressed concern about the amount of support required of missionaries by some mission organizations. Can you elaborate on this concern?

Chester: For some reason we, here in America, have bought into certain aspects of the “health and wealth” gospel, and it shows up in support raising. It’s simply un-Biblical to require that God provide exactly how we dictate in order for a person to be in full-time ministry. Secondly, it is outrageous to require that if God wants to use me in ministry that He must provide an income greater than that which be paid a worker in the most wealthy country in the universe.

Amy: It’s interesting to me that people in some vocations can make a lot more being a missionary than they could in the area of their training. For example, a degree in English or history or speech doesn’t generate high pay. But a missionary is paid not for his training or according to his skills, but what is considered a “reasonable living.” This seems (to me) to support a lifestyle roughly equivalent to $60-$70K USD annually. Also, a missionary’s wages increase with the number of dependants. What other field does this? 

This is my main complaint, that missions is so lucrative. It doesn’t seem right to me to make a missionary raise so much, especially when it prevents some from serving where they feel God has called them. To say “God will provide” is true, but to say “God will provide enough for me to live a middle-class American lifestyle” is almost a “Name-it, claim-it” type doctrine. It’s not biblically supported. Also, many missions don’t allow alternative approaches to living — like living on less finances, or working part time. This seems silly to me. Paul worked. Why should God be in a smaller box now?

Propel: This reminds me of something you conveyed in conversation some years back about a missionary family in Africa. As I recall, the wife required certain Western amenities in order to survive on the field, such as a modern home with modern furniture. My impression at the time was that you understood her point of view, that you were sympathetic to it. Is this, in your opinion, a valid way to go about missions, or should people planning to serve cross-culturally and overseas be ready and willing to sacrifice, basically, everything? 

Amy: Good memory!

For sanity’s sake, I don’t think it’s a good idea to sacrifice everything. [That missionary] points out that they began by doing just this; they lived in a shipping crate with no electricity, no water, with their three kids for a few years. And even then, they weren’t considered on par with the culture because they could leave if they chose to and return to a rich life, and even what they had was much nicer than African’s could ever have. His old worn out leather boots with holes in them consistently got awed and envious looks from the Africans. That coupled with the way we’ve been brought up (Western) really does make it impossible for us to live like them. I don’t think the Bible requires us to; it’s almost trusting in our own strength rather than God to win them.

That said, in my mind this is really a question of stewardship. Did that missionary family, for example, need to spend hundreds of dollars buying a Western couch here in the states, then hundreds more shipping it to Africa? Most other missionaries there spent about $15 to pay someone to make them a wood-frame couch with really nice comfy cushions. Basically, decide what’s important to you for sanity, and be creative in problem solving.  Don’t just do the first or most natural thing (which, in most cases, is buy something), but intentionally be a good steward of God’s money that He’s entrusted to you.

Propel: Is the established model in America, where 70% of missionaries raise support to cover their salary (which usually includes insurance, retirement, taxes and a paycheck), furlough costs and the agency’s administrative expenses a viable long-term funding model, or should we begin exploring different options to cover the cost of missions? If so, what other options are there?

Amy: God is bigger than this model. Even if it is viable, it’s narrow minded.

How do normal people, not middle or upper class, survive? They work. If one job doesn’t pay the bills, they work a second part-time job, or they find ways to live more cheaply. Would it diminish the value of the gospel if, like in most closed countries, missionaries had a viable business model too? I can think of several missionaries who follow this idea, and enhance their ministry by working alongside people of their country.

Propel: Do you think serving part-time in a support role and working another job part-time is a sustainable model for people in stateside service? Why or why not?

Chester: I think that the part-time model is ideal for all stateside ministry, and certainly there is no reason why it cannot be an acceptable option for ministry outside the U.S.A. I realize that for many the part-time option is not possible as they would require training in a marketable skill. However, we will gladly spend two years raising support, why not spend a couple years raising skills? Why, because the model we are using is junk and not Biblically founded; we have to start some place and returning to the tent-making model is a good first step.

Amy: We see that stateside missionaries in particular are encouraged to be wasteful. We have friends in campus ministry who are single, have their housing and meals provided for free, and who have to raise more money than I make (which easily supports six-plus people including housing and food). They end up eating every meal out, it’s considered a part of their ministry, so they don’t take advantage of the free food at their host-parent’s all that often. But it still seems wasteful to me.

Propel: You’re living, in essence, a wartime lifestyle in order to finish necessary schooling and get to the mission field. Do you think this is something more Christians need to consider in order to go and to give?

Amy: Yes, but I wouldn’t call this a wartime lifestyle. It’s living intentionally (i.e., having goals), and staying within our means. We wish everyone did these too.

Chester: Honestly, we are only making choices that others are unwilling to make. When I look at what we are doing, I realize that there remain many things in which I would be a more effective steward of the time and resources God has provided. I am willing to make great sacrifice in order to hear the praise of God (“well done good and faithful servant”), including not going out to eat.

Propel: How do you think we can bring this to the attention of the people in the pews in a way that actually changes priorities and behavior?

Chester: The real issue here, I think, is not trying to push for the actions of the disciple, but going back to teaching the basics: A believer is one who is saved by grace through faith plus nothing, and rewards are for disciples who are faithful. A disciple is a believer who learns and follows the perspective of Christ. These foundational elements allow a person to give up soda for a few weeks, or such other wartime choices. If we want to see transformation we need to return to the foundational elements of our faith.

Amy: Vision cast, help people dream and set goals, take trips to the rest of the world where real people die of starvation and five pastors share one bible. And read The Tightwad Gazette; it’s good for a frugal mindset and pursuing dreams.

M-DAT helps people make it to the mission field. Explore our websites:

About M-DAT | Help People Make it to the Mission Field | Donate