The syndrome is very real. It may not be universal, but I think it needs to be addressed. I don’t have the answer or the cure, though I do know I suffer from its symptoms.
- Condition blending guilt and gratitude, attributed to a life dependent on charitable giving, and often characterized by self-accusation, fear of judgment and calculated communication. It stems from good, but can lead to harm.
- Missionary to Sweden uses boxes as furniture for a decade while living in the land of affordable Ikea.
- Missionary to Switzerland, while interacting with his supporting church, avoids speaking of the recent purchase of expensive editing software, though much of his ministry relies on mass media.
- Missionaries to Italy decide, as a family, to return the gift of nice clothing a supporter has given them and use the refund to purchase fewer “fancy” clothes at a cheaper store and donate the rest to ministry.
Missionary to Germany relinquishes the old, beat-up Mercedes he was given (for free) by members of his local church and invests his own funds in buying a less “brand-y” car to avoid looking ostentatious.racked with pangs of a ministry-related syndrome called guiltitude.
These people suffer from a seldom-diagnosed, mission-related disease called Guiltitute.
CONFESSIONS OF A GUILTITUDER:
Since moving into my new digs in the States, I’ve found my elation over God’s provision of this townhouse tempered by strong feelings of guilt.
Though I can document every miracle that paved the way to this new home, I still sometimes wonder if I can tolerate the guilt of “having” when I live in the ministry-universe of “sacrificing.”
I wonder if visitors will see my flea-market European antiques, bought for $50 but worth hundreds in this country, and question whether they’re appropriate for a missionary’s home. I find myself wanting to explain things by saying “This was given to me by a friend” and “I bought this for next-to-nothing at a charity store” as I give tours of my two-story miracle.
As I look around this home and see the items contributed by the outrageous generosity of friends in this area, I am assailed again by that uncomfortable combination of paralyzing guilt and galvanizing gratitude.
I live in the land of Guiltitude.
Guiltitude is not a uniquely Phoenix notion either. Though it doesn’t afflict all missionaries, it impacts enough of them to warrant this post. I vividly remember talking with a friend in Germany who had, for a year, lived with virtually no furniture in her home. I asked her if she planned on getting a couch and kitchen table, and she said, “My supporters send me money for ministry. Getting furniture isn’t ministry!”
I’ve heard others relate the discomfort they’ve felt when supporters have come to visit and seen the beauty of their environment or when they’ve gone on a family vacation to places that are accessible where they live but appear exotic to American donors.
What might seem to be missionary paranoia is often rooted in something called donor demand.
There’s an old-school component to it:
We like our missionaries to look deprived and to live without. It adds a certain nobility to the minister’s status and to the giver’s sacrifice.
You might be sadly amazed at the rigid (and sometimes irrelevant) standards by which the validity of a missionary’s work is judged. Owning a Mercedes and living in an affluent location are just two of the numerous reasons devoted financial partners have been known to rethink (and sometimes cancel) their crucial donations. As a result there’s:
- fear of having (because true ministers, by some accounts, must live in squalor)
- fear of doing (because some activities may be misunderstood as frivolous)
- fear of full reporting (because some supporters may misunderstand the value and purpose of what is owned and done)
I’ve seen all three reach irrational levels in MKs who grew up in an environment where financial guilt of some sort prevailed. Their adult relationship to money and ownership is often irreversibly skewed.
[Note: it goes without saying that there are instances in which missionaries truly have lived in excessive or dishonorable ways and been rightfully removed from their ministry positions.]
Thankfully, the “-itude” part of the syndrome is much more pervasive in my life than the guilt. Gratitude. Thankfulness. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know how central it is to my daily existence!
Oh, how grateful I am for all these years in ministry, for the provision of every practical, physical and spiritual need, and for the donors whose gifts have kept me serving for so long. My supporters have given ceaselessly, sacrificially and joyfully–and I am blessed!
Gratitude pushes me each day be worthy of their sacrifice…but also contributes to the guilt. Why should I invest the funds I receive in a thrift store buffet when others can make do with cardboard furniture?
I’m afraid I don’t know what the treatment for Guiltitude is—or perhaps I’m too deep into the affliction to be able to consider it rationally right now. Something tells me the cure must come from both sides: from those who give and those who serve.
I’d love for you, whether you’re the missionary or the donor, to contribute to the cure. What do you think is the solution to Guiltitude?
Would you consider leaving your comment in the space below or, if it’s easier, dropping me a note on Facebook or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)? I’ll cut-and-paste as needed.