U.S.-Based Missions Face Money Trouble

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The falling dollar is literally hurting the spread of the gospel around the world.

Thousands of U.S. missionaries overseas are cutting personal and ministry expenses. Rising food and gas prices are also eating into the budgets of U.S.-based ministries.

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.

That's because the U.S. dollar is worth 50 percent less in Brazil today compared to 2003.

Kregness' 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.

"The value of the dollar has a tremendous impact on what we're able to do," David Steverson explained.

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.

"All of our budgets, all of our contributions come in U.S. Dollars," he said.

The value of the dollar has been spiraling downward for seven years. In recent months, it's began 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 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.

There's a lot of disruption that has come into people's lives as they've had to face the fact that money has changed," John Brady said.

Brady oversees Southern Baptist missionaries in North Africa and the Middle East. Since 2003, his missionaries have lost 35 percent of their buying power. For about half, that means looking for cheaper housing.

"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," he said.

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 group World Vision may even have to stop delivering help to more than one million people this year. And its biggest worry is hungry kids.

"When they don't get enough to eat one of the biggest problems is stunting in growth," said Bob Zachritz of the group. "You might see a child who looks like they're five and they're 10."

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, it's a literal pay cut so the focus has been on cutting 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. "(This has) shown us that money isn't the most important thing in ministry and that He can provide for all of our needs."

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

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