More than a decade ago, my family and I were privileged to serve as church planters in southern Italy. We were Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers seconded to what is now Virginia Mennonite Mission, and were financially supported by many friends, family members and our home congregation, Community Mennonite Fellowship in Drayton, Ont.
One instance comes to mind when I felt like my church “claimed” the mission work my wife and I were doing. During one of our Canadian visits, I attended the visitation of a church member’s father-in-law and was introduced, “This is Jason Martin. He’s one of our missionaries.”
My heart was so warmed by being affectionately claimed as “one of ‘our’ missionaries.” This feeling I experienced as a young mission worker more than a decade ago articulates well the intention of why MC Canada is transitioning to a more “relational” funding model. The nationwide church wants to see its congregations and individual members more fully engaged in its International Witness ministry.
For many years, Canadian Mennonite congregations have given generously to support the nationwide ministry and also the International Witness ministry. Historically, our funding model has been that churches gave designated and non-designated funds out of which international and national programming was supported.
“[T]his is a challenging time,” noted John Longhurst in his Jan. 16, 2017, Canadian Mennonite article, “Staying afloat in a sea of change.” He cited numerous challenges facing Mennonites and many denominations seeking financial support for their programming: “aging and shrinking donor base, waning denominational loyalty, changing attendance patterns, increased competition for donor dollars and growing secularism,” among others.
Given these challenges, MC Canada is inviting congregations to continue generous support of both its nationwide and International Witness ministries. A significant change in how our international workers will be supported going forward is that they will each be required to raise a minimum of 50 percent of their budget. The remaining will be provided through general budget giving.
This funding model is not new for MC Canada. A form of relational funding is already happening through Witness partnerships when congregations designate funds for their Witness partner. Workers currently receive designated donations by their partner congregations; that funding is considered part of the 50 percent “relational funding” goal that the workers are being asked to raise.
My wife and I had to raise 100 percent of our support and were helped so much by our mission support team that consisted of fellow church members. We shared our call to serve God with former co-workers, friends, family and local churches, and invited their prayerful and financial support. It was not easy to personally ask for funding, but we did it and were not alone.
This year, Witness workers have already begun to share stories from their international ministry contexts with churches and individuals, inviting relational support. Will you and your church partner with one of these workers?
Jason Martin is director of Mennonite Church Canada’s International Witness program.