by Jim Coonce
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3-6
I shared the passage of scripture above last summer on the first night of leading a week-long mission trip to Guatemala. And now I am going to share with YOU why it is vitally important.
There were 18 of us from central Illinois, and we had just settled into our lodging after a 15-hour journey. This journey included driving, flying, layovers, and then another hour and a half on a school bus (on curvy, bumpy, hilly roads!) to the town of San Raymundo. We were exhausted after the long day of travel, yet energized and eager to start building a house for a Guatemalan family that had been sleeping upon the ground where we were going to build. It was an incredible journey to share the Good News of the Gospel. I want to tell you the story of how we got to that first night in Guatemala.
Short-term mission trips don’t just happen. I claim no specialized knowledge, but I have gone through the daunting process of raising funds for a short-term mission trip. I hope that my experience will be of help to someone considering the possibility of going on one of these life-changing adventures themselves. Maybe that’s you ... ?
One of our goals for this mission trip was that we wanted both youth and adults to go on it together. We intentionally encouraged families to join our team and we set the amount of money for which the individuals were responsible at a reasonably low amount. That way a teenager with limited resources or a family could come without substantial financial responsibility. Our roster started at about 14 and went as high as 24 before it finally settled at 18 people going on the trip.
We were a bit slow on getting going on fundraising. We didn’t start in earnest until late January 2018. We used what we called the GREEN ENVELOPE CAMPAIGN. This method is a process where people could just put donations in envelopes with monetary amounts ($5-$500) printed on them. We served breakfasts during our Sunday School hour for those donations although we also encouraged our team to send out support letters. Initially, we had limited success on all of these. In the long run, the Green Envelope Campaign raised around $4,500, but it took a while to see that success. The same was true for the support letters.
The Green Envelope Campaign is a good method, and it DOES garner some returns, even though experiencing a slow arrival on our fundraising efforts could be discouraging. I’m including this campaign in the list because it absolutely helped begin our base funds to build upon. However, the reality is that we knew that unless we could come up with some ways to raise some significant amounts of money, we might need to postpone or cancel our trip! Subsequently, after much prayer and brainstorming we came up with two more ideas that were absolute game-changers.
The next idea was to hold a VARIETY SHOW DINNER THEATER. Groups from the mission trip team helped with some fun skits and our praise band sang a few songs. We even had a local band that agree to be kind of our "headlining group" at no cost! A few individuals from our team to use their musical talents in the show as we served a simple but nice meal in this dinner theater atmosphere.
We didn't charge admission but took up a love offering for the mission trip. At that event we also sold donated mission trip t-shirts, for $20 each. The result? We raised almost $5,000 through the variety show! We were humbled and amazed at the outpouring of generosity and it really gave our team a much needed boost of encouragement.
Three weeks later another significant shift event took place. The mom of one of the teens that were going on the trip had worked with the local high school swing choir with fundraising so that individual volunteered to ORGANIZE A RUMMAGE SALE. It was massive! We asked for donations for several weeks in advance, and we spent hours sorting, folding, and pricing sale items in preparation for the sale. In our wildest dreams, we thought we might raise $3,000. We would have considered anything over $1,000 a good day. A lot of folks donated some excellent stuff, and we promoted the sale in our community. We also let the community know on site that this was a fundraiser for a mission trip. In the end, we raised almost $6,000!
Being able to announce to the congregation that we had raised $11,000 in three weeks was a massive catalyst for encouraging more people to give toward the trip, and in the end, we were able to increase our needed funds!
Looking back on this journey, I marvel at how God provided for the needs of our trip, just when we needed it. There is no question that our fundraising efforts were hard work. Our team worked tails off to accomplish this, but there is also no question that God was in the middle of it all! I still get goosebumps thinking about how the money came in when we needed it. Logically, we couldn’t know whether we would be able to raise the needed funds. And yet, God met our needs and the needs of the family in Guatemala. Remember them? This family now has a safe home on a concrete slab, clean drinking water and a roof over their heads.
And remember that first night in Guatemala? I read Paul’s words to the Philippians: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion….” Can you imagine our team’s thoughts as I read those words to them? We were part of a story that was and is much bigger than us; that God was using us for his kingdom, to share the Good News of the Gospel. The events of the past several months had brought us to San Raymundo, Guatemala and within just a few hours we would begin the next chapter where we meet the family for whom we were to build the house and an amazing woman of faith that impacted each of us in ways that we could never have imagined. I can’t wait to tell you the rest of the story in a future post.
A MESSAGE FOR YOU:
But for now … if YOU are have any fear about raising funds for missions or wondering if it is ever going to happen, I just want to encourage you with these words: TRUST IN HIM. The Message has a beautiful version of the verse I mentioned and I want you to hear it as I close: “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears."
And He will. In ways that you least expect. Trust him in that, too.