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Ralph wrote the following article for the GOSPEL MESSAGE Nr.3/1982

Life of a Missionary

George gets paid according to his education, experience, position and productivity. Bill’s pay is determined by the cost of living and size of his family. George gets paid by the hour and extra for overtime. He has a paid vacation and Christmas bonus. Bill gets paid the same amount of salary twelve months a year regardless of the number of hours he works. George has one boss and it would never occur to him that he should write his boss a “Thank you” note, but Bill has thirty some employers, all of whom expect an expression of appreciation.

George holds down a job in America and Bill is a foreign missionary.

These are only a few of the myriad differences between the jobs and circumstances of these two men. Bill is accountable to field leadership, mission management, his home church and supporters. He must keep financial and legal records and meet the expectations of two governments. This must all be done in two currencies, two languages and two cultures.

A missionary has frustrations and concerns he seldom talks about. He's not sure people would understand. Consider the "deputation process" for example. That is mission jargon for raising support. One large mission organization has calculated that it takes the average missionary couple 26 months, 40,000 miles and $30,000 to get to the field first time [Remember, this was written in 1982!]. Single women have an especially difficult time. They must travel alone and few pastors want them to speak in the pulpit. A missionary nurse wrote to 50 churches. Three replied, and all just wanted her to give a testimony either on Wednesday night or in Sunday School. It is not unusual for a missionary to have from 50 to70 supporters, some of whom only contribute $10 or 20 per month.

Compared with missionaries who serve in less developed lands, we are well off. There are modern roads, homes, schools and shopping centers that differ little from those in North America. Austria is one of several European countries where the population is about 90% Roman Catholic. Only a small fraction attends church regularly. In spite of general affluence and high cultural standards, high rates of alcoholism and suicide exist. Moral decadence is everywhere evident. Yes, Europe is certainly civilized, but nonetheless a mission field.

People in America would complain a lot more if they had to buy gas for $4.00 or more per gallon [written in 1982!], yet these are normal prices in Europe. Food, clothing, rent and utilities are also generally more expensive. However, prices play only a minor role in the cultural adaptation process.

When we first embarked on our missionary career, we were given a warm send off by our home church. In the eyes of friends, our service and sacrifice to the Lord was great. When we arrived on the mission field, however, the situation was vastly changed. We were viewed as promoters of a foreign religious cult. Our children often received the brunt of verbal persecution and except among co-workers and believing nationals, we are still viewed with distrust and even resentment after three decades of service.

Learning a new language is difficult, but adapting to a different culture is harder yet. One must get accustomed to people's stares and find out what causes them. In some countries it could be the skin color or mode of dress, but not so in Europe. One must learn how to cross legs, gesture with fingers and not to whistle a tune while strolling through the streets. Once a lady (a total stranger) snatched our sleeping baby out of its carriage and proceeded to give a lecture on the dangers of allowing a baby to sleep on its stomach.

Keeping up with dual cultures can become complicated. We have developed many friendships in both countries during our many years of service. This means more birthdays and anniversaries to remember; more weddings, graduations and funerals to attend. Our children have grown up hardly knowing their own grandparents and other close relatives. Although they attended national schools in the lower grades, they had to be sent away to boarding schools later on, in order to become eligible for college admission in North America. These periods of separation from family members due to schooling is not without its tears and extra financial burdens.

Furlough time is always looked forward to, but here too, there are complications. For us, the most difficult part of furlough is leaving our ministry. Finding a replacement is difficult and often impossible. We must decide what to do with our apartment, furnishings and other possessions. Should we attempt to find someone willing to stay in our home during furlough? Or should we cancel the rental contract and put everything into storage? Apartments in Europe are not only unfurnished, but don't even have light fixtures, floor coverings or a kitchen sink in most cases. Will all these things fit in the next apartment? And what about the automobile? We have a lower insurance rate for accident free driving which would be lost if it is cancelled. The last item to take care of before departure is disposing of perishable food items.

Once in our homeland, we have this process to go through again in reverse order; finding an apartment, stocking up on essential food items, getting a serviceable car for deputation. All this takes time and money. Deputation meetings may be a special treat for the supporting churches, but for the missionary family it is often a lot of repetition. The children get tired of seeing the "same old slides" over and over again, yet the churches are anxious to see the entire family. Everyone knows the Harveys quite well. They have been informed through regular newsletters, have been praying regularly for their needs and there is a picture of the family on the missions map in nearly every supporting church. But the missionaries, especially the children, struggle with names and faces. Many have changed or grown up during the past five years. Often there is a new pastor. Repeatedly, the children are asked to "say something in German", or "if they would rather live in America than in Austria?"

As furlough time comes to a conclusion, we must once again sell the car, pack belongings and empty the refrigerator in preparation for our return. Once back on the field, we go through the settling in process again.

Ralph V. Harvey [end of published article]

Ralph wrote the following at a later date:

Missionary Finances

Most employees have a 40 hour work week with paid vacations, social benefits and extra pay for overtime. There is usually only one boss and no need to write a "thank you" letter for the paycheck received. The salary is based upon education, training, experience, ability, productivity and position of responsibility.

Not so with the missionary! In spite of demanding educational requirements, hazards, hardships and long hours invested by both husband and wife, the missionary must generally make ends meet on a smaller income than the majority of his supporters. They are, of course, accountable to the Lord, but also to the mission leadership and to 48 different supporters. They are expected to send regular newsletters and personal letters of thanks for the gifts which make their ministry possible.

The missionary needs money in order to get to the field and also to live when he gets there. Most people are aware of this, but the reason for the missionary's presence in a foreign country is to propagate the Gospel, build the Lord's church and disciple believers. All of this costs money. A missionary without work funds is like a fireman without water or a fisherman without a net. Unlike in American churches, there is seldom anyone other than the missionary to pick up the tab for expenses incurred. When a missionary distributes tracts, shows a video, taxis people to meetings or entertains them in his home, he must somehow juggle the budget to meet these expenses. He must also take good pictures and write regular newsletters (have you ever stopped to consider what printing and postage costs?). Extra gifts are thus always very welcome and significant. In fact, a missionary without ministry funds is not fully supported.

Back in 1984, I was going through an especially difficult time trying to raise money for the Bible Institute. After reading Luke 12:1-31 one morning, I wrote on a slip of paper, “Lord, I don’t have needs! I am over stuffed! It is your kingdom which has needs! When we visit your people, they treat us like royalty. They show us pictures of their expensive vacations and their hobbies and I try to enjoy them, but I can't help thinking about the ministry you've called us to. Lord, please quit taking care of me and tend to your business!” I continued reading and came to verse 32 and 33! “Fear not! It pleases the Father to give you the kingdom! Sell! Make yourselves solid containers that don’t get old - in heaven!" (my paraphrase).

I wrote the following on a scrap of paper that got filed away with other personal papers in 1994:

We have no money, but missionaries don't declare bankruptcy. Supporters would never understand that, for we missionaries have a God who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” and who “supplies our every need.” And He really does!

There are many things which cost money that could be done without. We can stop eating, heating and deprive our offspring of a proper education. We could sell our radio, sewing machine and nine-year-old car. In fact, we could even stop working (that too costs money) and few supporters would notice. Then we would have more time to write letters. Although we would have no work to talk about, we could always write about our kids and the spiritual needs of the country where we live. Our supporters might even honor our faithful communication with enough gifts to get back to work!

Most  “normal” Christians work at a secular job. If they change jobs to earn even more money, no one would consider that as being unspiritual, but it is different with missionaries. Missionaries only quit being missionaries for health reasons, or to retire. They never quit for financial reasons. That would be equivalent to accusing God of failure.

So, if churches and Christians back home don’t give, the missionary's options are: 1) stop eating; 2) sell  possessions; 3) do nothing that costs money; 4) come up with a reason for quitting that supporters might accept, such as the children's education.

But missionaries do NOT declare bankruptcy!

Actually, we are quite well off. We can’t afford to eat out, so we have good home cooking. Because bread is expensive, my wife grinds the wheat and makes flour to bake our own bread. There is nothing healthier or tastier than freshly-baked bread with home-made peanut butter and jam! We are better off not eating candy and ice cream, and doing without a TV is beneficial to both our spiritual and physical well-being! People keep making compliments about my wife’s home-made dresses and the sport jacket I bought in a Salvation Army Store for $2.

Not worrying about the stock market or investment property takes a load off our minds. We have a God who cares and provides and our chronically depleted pocket book keeps us in close contact with him. We do more walking because of the high gasoline prices and demands of the ministry keep us from becoming couch potatoes. All in all, we lead healthy, active and happy lives!

Personal Concerns

As may be the case with any family, some missionary children grow up without committing their lives to the Lord, but with missionaries, this can seriously impair or even jeopardize a ministry. There is a good likelihood that a child may decide to marry a national. We have four wonderful grandchildren in Austria that we seldom get to see now that we are retired.

Even the matter of where to be buried in event of death is not an easy decision for missionaries to make.


People often talk about missionaries being "home on furlough." Do we really know what a furlough is? A missionary from Africa wrote about what furlough was from her standpoint.

A little girl who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, replied that she wanted to be a missionary on furlough. Some of our friends conclude that a furlough is a year of holiday from work!

A furlough is packing, sorting, vaccinations, red tape, filling out endless forms - export forms for luggage, re-entry forms, application for travel currency, to name a few. It is saying “good bye" to those you have learned to love and saying "hello" to friends and relatives in the U.S.A. It is having the joy of meeting many who have given and prayed for the work - especially the children. It is missing some who have passed on since your last furlough and seeing those who were babies when you left, now almost ready for school. It is sleeping in different beds and eating things you haven't had for four years. It is seeing snow again and experiencing temperatures below zero, pulling on overshoes and having a heater in the car. It is being able to attend one's own church, especially the missionary convention. It is meeting the "new" pastor, who was installed three years ago, singing familiar hymns and hearing special musical numbers.

Deputation is an experience that only missionaries will ever truly understand. Deputation is an indefinite period of time for calling, writing and visiting an unknown number of familiar and unfamiliar people, driving on strange roads under unpredictable weather conditions at unearthly hours. It is staying with people you never met, sleeping on uncomfortable pull-out sofas one night and on a too-warm waterbed the next. It is eating food that makes you overweight and sometimes lasagna three days in a row. It is convincing people and churches to pledge support to a missionary they do not know, so you can go to a place they have never been, to do a work they can hardly comprehend in a language they don't understand.

And when you return in five years, you visit many churches with thousands of members. Everyone recognizes you and knows your name. They even recognize your children because your family picture is posted on a bulletin board. They can't understand why you and your children don't know their names or recognize their faces.

Everybody's Lollypop

I wrote the following tongue-in-cheek note in 1986, at a time when I felt exasperated, trying to fulfill expectations in ministry.

He is everybody’s lollypop, he is. He is the supporter’s lollypop, the mission leader’s lollypop, his coworker’s lollypop and the family’s lollypop. The church he serves, the Bible Institute and even lost sheep love the lollypop. Everybody loves the lollypop!

There are different ways to get a lick of the lollypop. You can wait your turn, but there is a long line in front of you. Some lollypop lovers are just plain selfish and ignore others who are waiting for their turn to lick the lollypop. So the others decide that when their turn finally arrives, they had better get their share of the lollypop while they have the chance.

The situation has become pretty bad lately. Many lollypop lovers resort to begging, bargaining, bribing, arguing, cheating, throwing temper tantrums, threatening or even using force. Most are no longer content with just one lick, but take big bites out of the lollypop.

The lollypop is wearing thin and has ragged, razor-sharp edges these days. Lollypop fans are beginning to complain that the lollypop isn’t what he used to be. They can even detect a slight sour taste, but they still come back for more. They would be happy to switch to another lollypop, but good lollypops are in short supply and in big demand.

There isn’t much left of the lollypop. He is so thin that you can see through him and he breaks easily. Before long there will be nothing left but the stick and his admirers will lay him in the dirt with a sad sigh, saying, “He was such a good lollypop!”

It hasn’t gotten that far yet of course, and some of the lollypop’s admirers are now showing concern about the lollypop’s condition and longevity. They are suggesting ways for the lollypop to extend his usefulness. He should refuse to oblige those who bite off big chunks or get too many licks. Mission leaders should get their share first, then coworkers and if any is left, perhaps the lost sheep might get a lick. The wife and kids? They get their share of licks any time they want. After all, they live with the lollypop.

Everyone loves the lollypop and the lollypop loves everyone. Long live the lollypop!

--A tired missionary, 1986

I found this somewhere and saved it in my files:


...a faithful supporter insists that the missionary use his rusty old 1973 Ford Maverick for furlough travel
...the slide tray gets dumped in the middle of a presentation
...after the slide presentation, the pastor suggests using the honorarium to buy a new camera
...the missionary’s four-year-old son bites the two-year-old daughter of the Mission Committee Chairman

...he gets to the airport and realizes that the tickets are still lying on the dresser
...the plane lands in Australia instead of Austria
...and the luggage is in Argentina
...his seat turns out to be just ahead of the smoking section, with two chain smokers behind him
...the stewardess dumps a hot meal on his new suit
...the customs official laughs at his passport photo and shows it to colleagues
...a suitcase pops open in the baggage claim, spilling 40 boxes of Jello 

...the language teacher promises a passing grade if the missionary agrees not to attend any more of his classes
...the missionary tries to explain to a native truck driver that his tail light isn’t working and gets punched in the nose
...his mother asks to be removed from the mailing list
...he pays $30 customs for a package from home, only to discover that it contains used tea bags

...his cheap charter flight was overbooked, so he's offered Business Class seats on a Lufthansa flight
...a new check-in counter is opened just as the missionary arrives at the airport
...all six overweight suitcases are checked through with no extra charges
...the in-flight film is lousy and there are two empty seats next to the missionary
...he finds an unused luggage cart at the baggage claim
...the Pastor and Missions Chairman are not on vacation when he speaks
...after the slide presentation, someone asks if it was done professionally
...and someone else asks how much support he needs
...the Pastor announces that an offering will be taken for the missionary instead of the customary honorarium
...someone shows surprise to discover that the person he had been speaking with was a foreign missionary
...the missionary receives a letter from his supporter’s daughter, saying she wants to become a missionary
...the newspaper reports that the exchange rate for the Dollar has risen 5%
...the apartment for rent already has curtain rods and light fixtures

I am thankful for our faithful supporters and appreciate the sacrifices they make to support our ministry. Through the years, they have gotten to know us well. Some have even visited us on the field. They know from experience that we are attempting to be faithful in our communications, but understand that there may be times when ministry is more urgent. They pray and give and write encouraging letters when we need it most. They write or call us to assure us of their prayers, which we value more than their gifts.

Ralph V. Harvey