Hannah and Colleen talk about the blessings and challenges of living on support and what that is. How do we deal with fear, trust, and other people’s perceptions? How do we thrive in community as part of the body of Christ and what is the holy handshake? This episode is a personal look at many years of living through the provision and care of God through the generosity of others.
Below is a Rough Transcript!
Hannah: Hey Colleen.
Colleen: Hey Hannah.
Hannah: So this is “Between Iraq and a Hard Place”. Although it kind of looks like a storage closet.
Colleen: Seriously, we are here to talk about life in Iraq.
Hannah: Right. Let’s talk about money, Colleen.
Colleen: That’s our favorite topic, Hannah. WHY?
Hannah: Everybody loves to talk about money. And I think it is something that we have to deal with and confront because both of us are support funded and I feel like I need to explain what that is.
Colleen: Yeah. Because that’s not something that most people do.
Hannah: It’s true. So we’re not living off the government. That’s not what it means.
Hannah: But what it means is that for both of us and for pretty much everyone that we work with, including our teams in Iraq we all have to raise money to be able to pay the salaries that we get paid. So we’re not raising money for SGI as an organization. We’re raising it for ourselves to be able to pay our bills. Some organizations use the word deputation because it sounds more like becoming a sheriff’s officer.
Hannah: Yeah I don’t know. But that’s what it is called.
Hannah: A lot of times so yes. So we are asking people and churches to give money to us through a nonprofit organization and then that organization uses those funds to pay us a salary so that we can do our jobs. And most organizations will take administrative fee and that covers the cost of like our office space and helping pay for the software that’s needed to run the salaries and pay the tax and taxes and all of those things. SGI takes a really small administrative fee. It’s a little bit shocking that it’s so small. So most of the money that we raise comes to us. It doesn’t go to programs or building funds. And it’s different than if you just like hand somebody 20 bucks because we’re asking people to give ongoing, not just once.
Colleen: And be a part of a long term support team so that we can continue to do our jobs.
Hannah: Yeah. So why would anyone choose to live like that?
Colleen: Some of us have jobs that don’t create products that you can sell or services that people can pay for. I mean a lot of the ladies that attend our English classes, for example, cannot pay for English classes or can’t even pay for transportation to English classes. So it’s a service that’s needed but it’s not something that’s going to generate funding of its own.
Hannah: And even living in Iraq our teachers, our staff there now, does get paid by the school. It is almost enough to cover living expenses. So the schools are also operating on a smaller budget and they are more self-sustaining now. But when you and I both first went we were volunteers at the school.
Hannah: So we weren’t getting paid at all. So we needed that money because we couldn’t get a job because we already had a job. So we needed people in the US to help us pay our bills so that we could serve in the schools there.
Hannah: And that’s still true. Most of our staff still need the support for things like insurance and plane tickets, housing setup costs or anything extra.
Colleen: Anything extra they might have like paying off school loans or that kind of stuff.
Hannah: An emergency cash fund for if things go south and they need to get out of the country. It helps to have cash on hand. So that’s kind of why most people do support raising or fundraising is because they have a job that no one will pay them to do.
Colleen: But it’s still something that’s valuable and that needs done. And I know we’re both of us it’s something that we really care about.
Hannah: Yeah. And so most people do that through an organization. I will say if you have somebody just come and ask you to give them directly money on a monthly basis that’s probably a scam. So maybe don’t do that.
Colleen: It’s good to have all the you know correct legal channels taking care of.
Hannah: Yeah, it’s important.
Colleen: And then it’s tax exempt like a tax receipt…
Hannah: You get a tax break. We could get into all that but that’s not our department.
Colleen: That’s not really what we’re talking about today either.
Hannah: That’s kind of what support is. And we want to talk about the good things and the bad things. And we want to be honest but I think we also want to recognize that like we couldn’t do what we do without the people that support us regularly.
Hannah: And we’re super grateful for that. Raising support can be hard.
Colleen: You have to talk to people and approach them and ask them to give you money, which is not something that we do regularly in the US like money is definitely kind of a taboo subject. And so to go around asking for it can be awkward or outside of cultural norms.
Hannah: And it just it takes a lot of time and now a lot of organizations tell people it’s going to take two to five years for their deputation fundraising period before they can even leave the country. It didn’t take us nearly as long.
Hannah: SGI does not require as much money to be raised for one thing, but because you need to connect with people and a lot of people won’t give unless they have some personal connection to you. They want to visit you they want you to come to their house or to their church and give a presentation or talk to them personally. All of which are good and reasonable things.
Colleen: And those people on the positive side of it end up being people who are really on board with what you’re doing and they support you not just monetarily but through prayer and encouragement and all of that is super valuable.
Hannah: It’s a lot of visiting and establishing personal relationships, which if you’re an introvert can be hard. Even if you’re an extrovert I imagine that it takes a lot of energy and time. That’s why a lot of people dedicate so much time to doing it.
Colleen: And even you know outside of that time that’s dedicated on the front end there is the ongoing time to keep up with those people because you don’t want to be like, great you’ve given me money, now we’re done. Because you still need those people to be invested and you need to care for them and let them know how grateful you are and reciprocate that relationship because that relationship is valuable.
Hannah: And let them know how their giving has impacted your life and the life of the people that you’re reaching. So it’s not just like great I moved into Iraq and then 20 years of silence. To send out an email update occasionally. I think both of us knew that this podcast was coming. We sat down to plan it and we’re both like, oh no we need to write newsletters! And so both of us with this last week have written them.
Colleen: I mean when I started I was writing a newsletter, I think, every week. And then it got to every month. And then when I moved to the States they got to me every other month. And now I feel good if I get one out every three months.
Hannah: Yeah. And so some people do newsletters. Some people I did for a while a closed Facebook group that was invitation only. That probably got updated more because it was easier for me to just get on there and write one little thing. Some people do physical newsletters. I think we try to do a physical newsletter once or twice a year. Because people communicate differently. And then there’s there’s those visits when you come back to the US. You have to make the personal to face connection with the supporters.
Colleen: Those ongoing communications also provide a lot of accountability.
Hannah: Oh yeah!
Colleen: So that you know that you’re heading in the right direction, you know from their feedback that you are actually doing the things that you have told them you were going to do because they’re going to ask you. So, you asked for prayer for this thing like how did it go? and that kind of thing and that accountability is really valuable.
Hannah: I think one of the best experiences I ever had with that was a really small church that I have been sending updates to. I never really heard from them. They would occasionally send financial support but I was just kind of like, I mean I know like one person in this church I don’t really expect them to care about me personally all that much. And so when I was back for a summer I went and visited them. Every single person in that church knew my name and they asked about specific situations that I had asked for prayer about throughout the year.
Hannah: And I was like I don’t know any of you people and like not only are you asking very good specific questions, but like when you tell me we’ve been praying for you, I believe it because I see the list that gets handed out every week that you then split up into groups and pray over and my name’s on that list.
Hannah: With like details how to pray for me and made me feel like, wow, people do actually care. Even people who I don’t see or they’re not necessarily communicating with me that they’re praying. They are. They’re there. I was just hugely encouraging to me. It’s there’s something beautiful about strangers praying for you.
Colleen: The downside of that though can be that you can worry about what those people will think about what happens in your life especially with the age of social media. You know you also are accountable in some sense to them for the funds that they have given to your support and you need to not use those things frivolously which I think is a good thing. But I know sometimes and I’ve heard other people talk about this like sometimes they will have something really nice that they’ve gotten either as a gift or they got it really cheap somewhere, they’re not being unwise with funds, but they don’t feel like they can share that because people will think that they are spending their money frivolously and spending the money that other people have given to them frivolously. So we recently went to see Hamilton. And I mean tickets to Hamilton are very expensive and not something we would normally spend what the three hundred dollars apiece on the tickets we ended up with that those would cost.
Hannah: We did not spend three hundred dollars!
Colleen: But we didn’t spend three hundred dollars on tickets. Hannah won those tickets. But I know that both of us when we post about it have to make sure that we say we won these tickets not we just went because we do worry that our supporters might think that we are spending money in ways that aren’t wise.
Hannah: And honestly if someone I was giving support to was like I just spent three hundred dollars to go see a Broadway show that is immensely popular. I would be like, What? I know I can have anxiety even when like someone gives me a Starbucks gift card and I go to Starbucks and get a drink and you know that the typical basic white girl – take a picture of her starbucks cup and posted on Instagram – like part of the reason I don’t do that is people who will be like she going to Starbucks all the time and spend four dollars every day on a coffee? She should be saving that money where it’s like I almost never go to Starbucks unless someone gives me a gift card or I’m having like a really terrible day.
Colleen: It’s a rare thing! Or even if those are the things that we wanted to spend some of our money on that maybe aren’t the most thrifty thing that we could possibly come up with that it’s also OK for us not to worry about it… I mean worry is never the right course. So, there’s a balance there and there’s a combination of you know, correct concern over that accountability and also it can easily go too far.
Hannah: And the majority of people that support you do know you and do trust you. And that is why they are giving you money. So for the most part they’re going to be like yeah, that’s cool. Yeah but it’s when you’re like oh this church supports me and I don’t know everyone. I’m not sure how everyone’s going to react to that. You can like it’s really easy to overthink.
Colleen: Right. Yeah.
Hannah: And we we did talk about having people pray for you and how that’s a big part of life support raising too. We’re not just asking people for money we’re asking them for the spiritual and sometimes emotional support of praying for us, staying in touch with us.
Colleen: Being part of that team.
Hannah: It’s almost like asking someone to stand up with you on your wedding day and being like I’m choosing you because I know that you’re going to continue to support this.
Colleen: It can also be hard. Yes. I mean keep bouncing back and forth between the more positive or pleasant aspects and the harder things along with that people can often expect results when you don’t have results to share. You know they ask I prayed for this thing, this event how did it go. And you’re like well it kind of went badly or it went okay. But you know this test went OK. But. Most of my students didn’t actually pass. That can be discouraging or sometimes you pray for things and you don’t have answers, you’re like I haven’t heard back yet. I don’t know what’s going on with this yet. Keep praying.
Hannah: And it’s an easy thing to to think. I have to make something happen and I think we recognize that that’s not your job. It’s not necessarily your job to make things happen.
Colleen: And so you just have to trust God for those things which is the same thing you have to do with the finances. I feel like that’s a big part of what I’ve learned in the process of support raising is to trust God and to realize that all money is a gift from God. Even if I had a job that money is still God’s method of providing. Either way I have to trust him for my income.
Hannah: I think the tenuous downside of that is that it can make your life feel really unstable and unpredictable and it is a huge exercise of faith. And so sometimes it’s also easy to be like, oh, I have sinned. Therefore God will no longer provide for me. Which is not how God works, but it is easy to get into that that kind of mindset trap too of like feeling like a burden to other people too as part of that. Where you’re like I am having faith in God, but I can also see how people would look at my life and be like, You’re just a drain on society. Like, Get a real job make real money.
Colleen: But I mean I mean that’s part of where you also learn humility. Like, not everybody is going to approve of your life choices and you don’t have all of the answers and sure, you may not have the fanciest looking position or the highest paying job or whatever. If God has called you to this role in this nonprofit or you need to raise support then you need to be willing to take both the positive aspects of that in the eyes of society as well as the negative.
Hannah: And it can be hard for people to look at you and be like you don’t have any of the markers of success that I see in like average life, normal life. We don’t get promoted.
Hannah: That’s not really a thing that happens.
Colleen: I mean even if you get more responsibilities it doesn’t come with like a pay hike.
Hannah: Right. You know like get better benefits the longer that we’re in ministry. Like I feel like career-wise there are things that it’s like if you do ABC and D you get to move up to the next level. This may be a misconception. Having never had a career. It it seems like there are like predictable steps you can take where when you’re living on support it’s more unpredictable because some months you will get lots of support and some months you won’t get any. And then you’re kind of like, Did I do something terribly wrong? But it really doesn’t have anything to do with you in a lot of ways.
Colleen: Nope, it’s just a random fluke. I think one of the best aspects of support raising is getting to see God provide. And that’s in a lot of ways the balance to that uncertainty. And now having raised support for many many years I have many times I can look back on and see how God has provided. It may not always be in the form of money and that can be the hard part. You’re like, Oh, I can’t plan out my next year’s budget or I can’t plan out some of the things that you know people normally plan out which I’m not really sure always what they are. Again, having lived most of my adult life raising support. But like our house it’s not something that was provided for us because we have a ton of money, but we have a really nice house. And it was provided through generous and kind people, both who our landlord is amazing and gives it to us for a lower rent than he probably could rent that house out for. And also you know the people who support us so that we have a salary so that we can pay that rent. It’s not all because we get more money. It’s not that we got to pick a nice house because we had a high income.
Hannah: We got a nice house because God provided it for us through his people. And that’s a beautiful like, I think, for both of us, that is the thing that we can constantly point to and be like, God is good. And he is taking care of us, because we did nothing to get this house, other than trust. And it’s good to have those things to hold on to because it can be rough.
Colleen: When the uncertainty hits then you have things that are like, no, God has continued to always provide, not always through money. Sometimes there are other things. Sometimes through Hamilton tickets. Sometimes through a really sweet person who takes you out for dinner, or sometimes through someone who has a good connection on a lead for a car or it comes in so many different ways. Sometimes it’s through a friend who will let you use her vacation rental for free for a week. And so that you can have a vacation that normally would be outside of your price range.
Hannah: Yeah. And I think part of that too is you get to connect with people that you wouldn’t normally have connected with. Like I think that’s that’s part of the support base is not only do those people support you but they can also connect you with other people who want to be helpful that you wouldn’t have otherwise met. And I can think of that in many circumstances where it’s like, Hey I’m traveling to this place and one of my supporters will be like, Oh I have a really good friend that’s there you could probably stay with them. And it’s like cool! Like now we don’t have to pay for a hotel room or when I moved here and had my car one of my big concerns was like, How am I going to maintain my car. I don’t know anything about Nashville. And having people in my life that could be like, Oh you know, here’s the mechanic that you need to go to and here’s the tire place you need to go to. And we notice that your headlights are looking kind of dingy lets get you new ones. Or like things like that, that are just like you said it’s not necessarily monetary support but they’re also connecting me with people that I wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. I have one supporter and she just emailed me yesterday. I’ve never met her in my life. We should not know each other at all, aside from someone that supports me knows her and was talking to her about me and she asked if she could be on my mailing list and I hear from her fairly regularly. This is cool! Like I’m connected with the body of Christ in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise be.
Colleen: The one difficulty is then you end up with friends all over the world..
Hannah: For real!
Colleen: …and you can’t actually see them all as much as you would like. Which is a beautiful thing to have but also occasionally difficult.
Hannah: The more space there is the harder it is to maintain those relationships. But you want to because you have that connection.
Colleen: Because so many people are so cool.
Colleen: Are you wondering what to do with your life? We’ve got some ideas. Come check them out at www.ServantGroup.org/Iraq.
Hannah: I also really like the holy handshake.
Colleen: You’re the only person I’ve ever heard call it this when you explain this story I was like this happened to me but I’ve never heard it call that.
Hannah: I don’t know if this is just like a Southern church thing. I mean I’m sure it happens in other places but like it inevitably happens to me when I go to the church that I grew up in that you know you will greet someone and now shake your hand and in the palm of their hand will be like a check or cash or something that like they want to give to you but they don’t want to make it a big deal that they’re giving it to you and maybe they don’t want to put it in the church offering basket because they want it to come directly to you. And so we always call them holy handshakes and it’s usually a two hand thing because they want to like squeeze your hand so that you know that like that thing that piece of paper they have given you is for you. It’s all very spy-like and clandestine. And then you know you have to stand there and hold it, and as a woman I’m usually wearing a dress and dresses famously do not have pockets which was a great oversight. And so you have to like stand there and hold it in your hand and be like, What do I do if someone else wants to shake my hand. Yeah, but those are always really sweet and encouraging too, because it’s like this person like wants to make this very obviously personal and not just like it came through channels and channels and channels which I mean both are good. But I do like a holy handshake. It always makes smile. It also makes me feel awkward.
Colleen: It is a little awkward sometimes. I think one of the best things about support raising is being able to invite other people into what God is doing. I think a lot of people can get nervous about fundraising and what that looks like, but seeing it that way. It’s like God has called me to this thing and it is exciting and it is incredible and it is something obviously I’m very passionate about because I’m putting all of my life into this. You get to take others in to see that and be like be a part of that when they may not otherwise have access to what’s going on in the lives of people in Iraq.
Hannah: It’s really great when it works that way. Too often people will see that you are doing support raising and they’ll go, Oh, well if you need money. Here is a job that you could do. Or here’s a some multi-level marketing special potions that you can sell or don’t want to be too specific because I don’t want to call anyone out on the carpet.
Colleen: But you just use the word potions.
Hannah: Yes I did. If if you’re personally offended by that well then check your own conscience.
Colleen: But yes here’s a thing that you could sell and everybody has this idea that you know you could do that sales in a small amount of time on this on the side and that that would support you so that you could do your ministry full time. It’s not how any of those actually work.
Hannah: Right. And it’s not that we don’t have money because we don’t have jobs. We have jobs that are full time that take all of our attention and we just happen to not get paid for them in the traditional way. So it’s not like I need one more thing to take up my time that will give me money.
Colleen: It’s that I have a lot that I’m already doing. I have a lot that I want to do more. I have a lot I’m continuing to do.
Hannah: And both of us have two jobs like we do live on the support that we raise but we do also have another job that does pay us. But yeah it’s part time because we need all of our focus to be on our primary work.
Colleen: I keep having to give that job a little bit less time a little bit less time because I’m so busy!
Hannah: Right and when part of the full time work that I do is to leave and be in another country for a month or go out of town for a week to do recruiting. I can’t have a normal 9 to 5 job. Even a telecommuting job doesn’t work when you don’t have the internet. That does happen. Most of those people again are not people who are like regular supporters. They’re people who have like just met you and they’re like, Boy, do I have a way for you to get money.
Colleen: Money is the problem. Really the question isn’t money. The question is people and people supporting people and the church being the body.
Hannah: And inviting them to join in on that. And I think that’s why a lot of people are nervous to do support raising to live a life that way. They’re afraid of what people will think or say. There’s that fear of, I don’t want to seem like I’m a drain on society by asking people for money. I don’t want to seem like I need people.
Hannah: But you do!
Colleen: We really need people. We need other people whether it’s financially or not. We are absolutely dependent on other people. And this is something American culture definitely tries to teach you, You know I don’t need anyone but that’s not how the church is supposed to work. It’s not how we’re as humans designed to work.
Hannah: It’s not biblical functioning of the community of Christ. If you want to get theological and churchy about it.
Colleen: There you go. I think the other part of it is also with that fear of what other people will think. That pride, that I’m too good for that I’m too smart for that. I get the phrase sometimes when we’ve invited people on trips and talked about, Oh yeah, you’d need to raise support for this trip. Oh, I could never raise support you’re like, Because it’s….??? And there’s this sense of like, Oh, it’s beneath me or only people who can’t get a real job would do that.
Hannah: I’m going to use the money that I have been saving from my real job. Or it is humiliating and not necessarily in a bad way to go to people hat in hand and say God has called me to this I can’t do it.
Colleen: Well anytime you have to express your own insufficiency is humbling because you can’t do it on your own and you’re not enough. That’s why you need the Church and Jesus.
Hannah: Again, that is biblical.
Colleen: There is one category of people though who are not willing to raise support that I do think it’s the right reason not to raise support is if you’re not sure of your calling. Like if you don’t know that God’s calling you to this thing then you shouldn’t be raising support to do it because you should be doing what God wants you to do. And so if you are approached with a trip and it requires support raising and you don’t feel like you’re sure that you should go then by all means don’t go and don’t raise support for it but don’t make the support raising itself the excuse to not do something that God is calling you to do.
Hannah: I think there is an element of, I know that I am called to do what I am doing because God continues to provide for it. And you know I have kind of this on going dialogue between me and God. Like if this is ever a thing that you’re like, Nope, I don’t want you to be a part of this anymore, make it not financially possible for me.
Colleen: That’s a brave prayer, my friend.
Hannah: It is a brave prayer. But it always works.
Colleen: I’d rather he tell me some other way.
Hannah: It always works though because inevitably there comes a point where I’m like I don’t have the money to continue to live this way. So if you don’t want me to continue to live this way. Okay. And then I’ll try something else and I’ll be like, oh look the money showed up or God provided in some other way that it’s just like I didn’t expect that at all. So OK this is what you want me to do I’m going to keep doing it. It can be really reassuring. It is a little bit terrifying though. It’s not a low stress..
Colleen: It’s a good terrifying way to live because it’s that take you back to trusting God and being humble. And it’s a kind of a continuous cycle.
Hannah: Right. And not being independent.
Colleen: Not being able to plan it or take care of everything by yourself. I mean which changes how you also look at your future like so much of what our modern society talks about is planning for your future so that you can take care of yourself in your future. And it’s sometimes possible and sometimes partially possible and sometimes not at all possible when you’re living on support. But again you have to trust God for the future to provide to continue to provide for you the way He always has.
Hannah: And inevitably there will be someone listening to this who will be like, You guys crazy. Like this is a foolish foolish way to live.
Hannah: To which the answer is, God calls us to live foolishly in one way or another. Maybe not all based on not everyone can live on support.
Hannah: Not everyone is called to do that. If you are not called, please don’t do it. But please do find someone who you believe in what they’re doing and give to them, support them, not just financially but stay in touch with them. Communicate with them; know what’s going on in their lives, even if you think this is a crazy thing to do. But obviously it is what God has called them to do. Again both of us are extremely grateful for the people who have the faith that God has called us to what we were called to.
Colleen: I have people who have supported me since my first international trip in 2003 and that’s a long time ago.
Hannah: Ever since I had my first overseas trip was to Venezuela in 2002, 2001 and a lot of those people still support me now. It’s amazing. That’s decades nearly of faithful support. It’s beautiful.
Colleen: Yeah I’m so grateful for them.
Hannah: So be that person for someone else. Like maybe you’re not called to live on support. Maybe you have a great paying job and you love it and it’s wonderful and you are ministering to the people in your lives. Awesome. Find someone that needs your help and help them be involved in ministry that way.
Colleen: And if you already are supporting someone send them a note, a text, an email, even a short, Hey I’m really glad for what you’re doing and I’m praying for you this way. It can really be encouraging and bless you know the person that you’re supporting to know that you’re behind them not just with funds but with your prayers and your encouragement.
Hannah: We are created for community and that is more than money, it’s emotional and spiritual support as well. So pray, reach out, and give.
Colleen: You can find us at Servant Group International on Facebook or Instagram or on our Web site at servantgroup.org.
Hannah: Yeah and if you have a question that we haven’t answered yet, send us an email or Facebook message. We’d love to hear you. Thanks for listening.
Hannah: It was amazing!