CWN.org - The falling dollar is literally hurting the spread of the Gospel around the world. Now, thousands of American missionaries overseas are cutting personal and ministry expenses.
Rising food and gas prices are also eating into the budgets of U.S.-based ministries.
Trimming the Fat
Missionary Curt Kregness edits training materials for seminary students and pastors in Brazil. But these days, he's trying to trim his own budget - and there's not much room left.
"We're buying less things for ourselves and sticking to the basics like groceries," he said.
Since 2003, the U.S. dollar is worth 50 percent less in Brazil - resulting in a real-life pay cut for Kregness and his family.
Kregness's newly purchased car is 14 years old. He and his wife have cut their retirement savings, and they're using personal funds now to pay for many ministry expenses.
David Steverson manages a $300 million missions budget for the Southern Baptists. He says missionaries around the world are feeling the pain of the weakened dollar.
"The value of the dollar has a tremendous impact on what we're able to do," Steverson said. "All of our budgets, all of our contributions come in U.S. dollars."
The Impact of the Euro
The value of the dollar has been spiraling downward for seven years.
In recent months, it's begun to level off and some market-watchers believe we may have hit bottom - at least for a while. But for missionaries whose budgets have already been decimated, the road to recovery is all uphill.
The Euro has had perhaps the biggest impact on missionaries. That's because the currencies of many countries in Africa, the Middle East and of course Europe are tied to it.
From 2000 to 2008, the dollar lost nearly half its value against the Euro. So many missionaries have found their purchasing power cut almost in half.
John Brady oversees Southern Baptist Missionaries in North Africa and the Middle East.
"There's a lot of disruption that has come into people's lives as they've had to face the fact that 'Hey - money has changed," Brady said.
Since 2003, his missionaries have lost 35 percent of their buying power. For about half, that means looking for cheaper housing.
"Just the time to move and get reset means that that's what you're doing," Brady explained. "You're not doing the other things that you're normally doing. So it cuts into your time, it cuts into your emotional energy and it just disrupts a lot of the activities that you've been about."
Giving to missions in recent years has risen, despite the U.S. economic slowdown - but not enough to offset missionaries' increased costs.
For instance, Southern Baptists gave an extra $300,000 to the 2008 Lottie Moon Offering, their biggest missions fundraiser. But they needed $18 million more just to keep pace.
U.S. ministries sending food and aid around the world are also facing a major challenge.
The humanitarian group World Vision may even have to stop delivering help to 1.5 million people this year. Its biggest worry is hungry kids.
"When they don't get enough to eat, one of the biggest problems is stunting in growth. You might see a child who looks like they're 5 and they're 10," said World Vision's Bob Zachritz.
World Vision estimates the pricing crisis will take at least two years to stabilize, threatening both lives and livelihoods.
Another pocketbook issue is rising fuel prices. In the case of Operation Blessing, that means an extra $1 million in expenses this year, in order to deliver food to needy communities.
So What's The Answer?
For many missionaries, the solution is a literal pay cut so the focus has been on trimming their personal budget. Some must also turn to ministry expenses.
"Folks on the field pay their rent but that leaves fewer dollars then that they can transfer into local currency to buy Bibles, buy tracts," Steverson said.
A positive has emerged from these money problems. Many missionaries say their spiritual life is growing in ways they couldn't have imagined, helping to put financial needs in perspective.
"I think probably more than anything else, it's just pushed our thoughts back to the Lord saying we have to depend on Him day by day," Brady said.
Kregness observed, "He's shown us that money isn't the most important thing in ministry and that He can provide for all of our needs."
*Original broadcast July 13, 2008.