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It seems that somebody recently found our blog with the search term, “mission agencies that do not require raising support.” We found this amusing, to say the least.  However, I imagine that this reflects the feelings of many people who might be interested in becoming missionaries to Japan but are intimidated by the process, particularly the prospect of support raising. We often wonder how many people out there are interested in serving in Japan but never make it to the field because the road there seems too hard.

From what I have seen and experienced myself, the process of support raising involves prayer, writing hundreds of emails and letters, speaking at churches, scheduling seemingly endless meetings with friends and acquaintances, and eventually asking the big question: “Will you please support me financially?” This process can take a while, even several years, and while it can certainly grow one’s faith by leaps and bounds, it can also be highly stressful and exhausting, especially if the missionary is working to support a family and raising support at the same time.

Support raising involves talking a lot about money, and even Christians have a very hard time doing that – how much we make, how we spend our money, how much we give (or don’t give) to missions, etc. Every missionary will admit that no matter how long you’ve been doing it, it is not easy to ask people to support you financially.  Today I would like to address two questions that prospective missionaries might want to know more about: how much will I have to raise and how expensive is Japan?

I will never forget the moment when I asked, “So, exactly how much do I need to raise?” The person telling me actually laughed when she handed me my figures – “Wait ’til you see this!” In the U.S., I cannot say exactly what figures are being thrown around for Japan in 2012, but I imagine it is extremely high because of the low value of the dollar to the yen. Every agency decides this differently, and there are various levels of flexibility which can allow you to work together with your agency to choose how much to raise. Of course, these figures vary significantly depending on the size of your family, if you are raising support to pay for schooling, whether you live in a house or apartment, if you have a car, etc. Keep in mind many agencies require raising a large sum of one-time support as well as monthly support.

As hard is it can be to ask for support, here’s the other side of the coin: what do supporters think? I cannot speak for anyone but my circle of friends, but I find that many people are truly delighted to support missionaries if they believe in you and trust you. That being said, to many potential supporters, what some mission agencies are asking people to raise to go to Japan is ludicrous, outrageous, and downright shocking (to quote several friends). I have spoken to pastors and supporters who have told me that they are put off by the high amounts that certain agencies are asking missionaries to raise. When I have had the opportunity see the actual figures of what some agencies ask missionaries to raise, I was flabbergasted – I simply could not believe I was seeing such high figures. This begs the question: what is a reasonable amount for Japan?

I cannot give an answer to that question because every missionary’s needs and convictions are so different. There is no one-size-fit-all package or right or wrong amount. Although I cannot answer the question of how much you might have to raise, I would advise you to seek counsel and do all that you can to honor God in the amount of money you raise. Try to work with an agency that allows for some flexibility and be very transparent with your supporters. Never, ever go against your conscience – if you have a gut feeling it’s too high, don’t ignore that.

If you are looking for a few specific numbers, I have worked with two different agencies, both as a tent maker and fully supported missionary. I lived comfortably on $1,500/month as a single person back in 2001 (when the dollar was 135/yen). When I was raising support as a single in 2008, I was told I should raise $3,850/month plus $10,000+ in one-time fees. I felt very uncomfortable hearing such a high figure (actually, I was utterly shocked). I didn’t feel that I needed that much, so I raised support to a certain point that I felt was fair (around $2400/ month) and stopped raising support. My mission agency still allowed me to go to Japan for 18 months! I definitely feel that amount was enough for me to live on quite comfortably in 2009.

Occasionally I hear missionaries subtly implying that because Japan is outrageously expensive, one has to raise a lot of money. Is Japan really that expensive? Yes and no. To give a specific example of how Japan can seem expensive, I have heard American missionaries mention the high cost of milk in Japan. “Milk is $9 a gallon! This is an example of the cost of living issues we face in Japan!” First of all, milk is sold in liters in Japan. Second, this price is not surprising, because the Japanese diet traditionally has few or no dairy products; dairy products are basically foreign foods and therefore quite pricey. So, there is a real temptation to shock people with high prices in Japan without mentioning that Japanese foods can be very affordable (except for fruit and meat). My advice if you are a milk guzzler: perhaps you should consider drinking less milk in Japan!

So, is it expensive or not? If you are the penny-pincher type of person who loves a bargain, you can definitely “live on less,” even in Japan. Just as in any country in the world, if you are willing to live simply in a small place (like most Japanese people), that is not in the city center and you do not eat out very often, you can save a lot of money. If you want to maintain an American lifestyle in Japan, it’s going to cost a whole lot of money.  This is not something I usually hear missionaries mentioning: Japan can be quite affordable. Truly, it all depends how much of the lifestyle of your home country you’re willing to sacrifice and let go of. How many missionaries are willing to live just like an average Japanese person? (Goodbye, big American backyard and hello, tiny Japanese kitchen!)

Just so you know, I don’t have a problem with support raising per se; I am doing this for the third time and each time have enjoyed the process. However, I find the astronomical figures that some mission agencies require missionaries to raise to be rather questionable. Churches, supporters, and missionaries are wrestling with these issues and I hope to hear more dialogue about this subject. I honestly feel that sometimes it’s very hard for potential supporters to talk about these matters with missionaries raising support; it’s often easier to politely decline supporting a missionary than to have a good dialogue about stewardship and cost of living issues. Something I’ve asked myself is if I had to choose between giving $100/month to a missionary to Japan raising $15,000/month in support versus a missionary to Indonesia living on $2,000/ month I wonder if I would choose the missionary to Japan.

If any readers out there have experiences (good or bad) with support raising to go to Japan or would like to share your opinions on this subject, we’d love to hear from you. Also, feel free to email us at info(at)calledtojapan.com with specific questions about the cost of transportation, food, and rent in Japan.

By the way, feel free to check out our previous blog post about support raising.