Fundraising (MPD), Advocacy, and Shame

I was Cru’s first AAPI fundraising director, and as such, I coached most of our ministry’s staff in fundraising, from newbies to veterans. Serving in that role, a couple things became exceedingly clear.

  • 1) Spirituality and soul care were in inextricable part of the fundraising process, especially for the long-haul. Specifically, I noticed a lot of shame, from parents to their missionary adult kids, and among the missionaries themselves. Fundraising seasons often fueled this shame, but it was rarely named, and there was no pathway offered to break the cycle.
  • 2) Existing fundraising models assumed privileges that were not accessible to many of the BIPOC staff I was coaching, AND there was no space to provide alternate models. E.g. the models leaned towards a white-collar support base, but those I was serving increasingly came from blue-collar backgrounds.  For the sake of those I was serving, I made it my mission to help fill these gaps. 

Thankfully, my then Leadership Development team saw the same things. In fact, one of our members documented the experiences many of us faced by, years later, writing one of the top leadership books, a wildly popular book (at least in my circles) called “A Minority Experience.” The book narrated the thresholds and threats that ethnic minorities faced in white-dominant spaces, but the book accomplished this with gentleness and honor for those who inadvertently fueled such white-dominant structures. I.e., that book mirrored the template for our team; we were making space for our BIPOC staff amidst a system that was  inadvertently propagating white privilege. 

Specifically as the fundraising director, I began creating policy and tools for our diversifying staff. The reception was split along racial lines. The mostly AAPI staff I serve received it with excitement. The new policies gave them “air space” to work their way out of “probation” status, which most of them would be under had I enforced the traditional metrics; they did not have enough funds coming in, partly because the traditional fundraising tools and metrics did not fit their context. E.g. traditional metrics measured dollars more than effort; these antiquated metrics were blind to our staff’s increasing diversity, ethnic, socioeconomic, and more.  Many of the staff I served had parents that felt a sense of shame that their children were in ministry…even parents that were Christian. After I created policy to create buffer space and protection, I created tools that better fit their context. Doing both concurrently was imperative. These helped lift most of our staff out of probation, gave voice to the thresholds they were facing, centered their experience, and stabilized our organization. These tools were created from a framework that imagined Jesus and his Kingdom from an Asian lens, a lens that valued family and honor and harmony. 

I was excited creating these new tools, new metrics, new ways to share vision and our story. But whenever I shared these tools to organizational leaders, I was told our tools were not needed, that the existing tools and approach were “biblical” and thus needed no adjustment to account for direct ethnicities. Clearly, we were reading the same biblical text through different lenses.

Case in point, I created this video to share my fundraising story. It included elements of my family’s immigration story, and how I navigated the shame they felt when I left my engineering career. This kind of storytelling, naming the stress and the obstacles from an immigrant perspective was unprecedented. National leadership was quick to tell me that the video was not appropriate because it named obstacles, something I was told that should never be mentioned in any of our training. I went ahead with the video anyway, and those who opposed it when they saw the finished product, gave it a thumbs up. Ironically, the video has been turned into a “recruiting” video and played thousands of times since.

In my time as fundraising director, this was the general pattern. I saw the needs of our staff. I noticed how the existing training did not fit their context. I created new tools, field tested them, and sharpened them by presenting the tools to fundraising leaders across organizations. But my immediate leadership disapproved of my new tools so I went underground with the tools. But on the field, staff now had the policy and tools to come out of “probation.”  Eventually, immediate leadership approved of some our initiatives; they could not deny the positive results. It was a bumpy ride at best. But at the end of the day, our staff were in a much better place financially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and professionally.

Fast forward TWELVE YEARS, a dozen years since I left my fundraising director role – I received a call from Cru requesting me to update the tools I had created years ago by writing a new book. They told me the tools I had created a decade ago continued to be used, has spawned similar initiatives among BIPOC staff, and that younger staff had no more tolerance for the existing “white-dominant” fundraising training. Cru was at a critical juncture and envisioned my new book to help catalyze this pivot. I finished the book during the pandemic and it has been in use within Cru. But because it’s “not for sale” yet the only volume of its kind, it’s been bootlegged across organizations and the world. I know because I’ve been asked to give book talks in different organizations for staff serving around the world.

Looking back, I believe part of the book’s impact is the fact that it speaks to one of the most vulnerable seasons of a missionary’s life. If you know someone or have had to fundraise for the long-haul, you might be able to relate to a process where your very livelihood and success depends on the endeavor. Raising support is a vulnerable season, and it’s in that season the Spirit can move. 

“He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance” Acts 10:10

Such was the case with Peter in Acts 10. Prior to this episode, he would have nothing to do with Gentiles; he could not imagine being joined to them. God was about to change that. In the words of biblical scholar Willie Jennings, “hunger and prayer…will be the pillars on which God will build the future of the creature.” Hunger is where one knows oneself. Hunger needs prayer. This is where we find Peter. And this is where we find missionaries who are fundraising; it’s a place of hunger, a place of prayer, both needing each other, both forming pillars to reimagine and build the future. And that’s why the book has bite; I’m writing to those who find themselves in solidarity with Peter in Acts 10, a vulnerable place that opens souls for God to speak and renew their hearts.

The “new book” is now several years old. Since then, we’ve worked to get the rights back so that the book can been freely sold; I already have a “waiting list!” To kick off the rewrite, I asked author and researcher Kristin Caynor to write the central chapter to address shame, loneliness, and violence to self I’ve observed during fundraising. But it applies to everyone! Here’s an excerpt towards the end of the chapter:

“Shame is about the core of who we are. It touches on identity, belonging, family, work, and even things like physical appearance and abilities. 

For those who are in any way a minority in the spaces where we live, work, and worship, establishing a sense of belonging, identity, and worth can be particularly challenging. It can also be easy to think we have more to prove, both to those we work with, and to our communities of origin. 

It’s also likely that we won’t always see things the same way as those around us. Having dissenting views, or feeling differently than others can make it harder to open up, and to know who we can trust with our most vulnerable selves. Coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds can also create feelings of shame and exclusion compared to others.

To a certain extent, this reality never goes away. We may never feel entirely “home” in our ministry contexts, or the fundraising journey. 

A couple years ago, I met the Lord on this issue of “home.” I was in a church environment where I thought I would finally have solidarity, acceptance, belonging, and “home.” But that was proving to be far from the case, and I was struggling. 

Then I looked at what Jesus said about home:

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28–31, ESV)

Jesus doesn’t offer many guarantees for this life, except that we will have trouble! But here, he makes a promise for “now in this time.” While I didn’t have a choice in some of the “giving up,” the promise still applied to me. As I continue to embrace my identity in him above fitting in with others (which meant squeezing myself into their boxes,) I have found many moments of true “home” in strange places. 

I also realized that I wasn’t exceptional in having to leave “home.” In reality, every Christian is called to “leave” the places and identities they turn to for security. One way or another, all who follow Jesus will have to walk this path, and to accept the challenges of being a minority, a distinct people, poor, and sojourners with no lasting city here. It’s just that some of us are born a bit further along because of our status “in the world.” But many who are first will be last, and the last first. 

It’s also possible to go overseas, and still never embrace Jesus’ way of homelessness, of surrendering the lesser identities we turn to. The “glory” our community assigns to going overseas can, in itself, become a false refuge from shame and anxiety about our own value. It can become a means of suppressing grief and shame in ways that destroy us from within. Many overseas workers also tend to be “take the hill” personalities who think they can do it all and conquer any obstacle. If you’re like me in this way, you may not find it easy to slow down and recognize your limits. 

Wherever you are in terms of social location or ministry, prioritizing your own healing is vital for your walk as a disciple, and for whatever God may call you to. If you find yourself caught in a shame cycle, see if you can identify at least one safe person to begin opening up to. Don’t be afraid to hit “pause” and to Sabbath in order to pursue the healing of the One who has rest for your soul.”

You can read and hear and learn about Kristin’s upcoming book by clicking here. I’m hoping to finish the rest of the book this summer. If you subscribe to this blog, I’ll let you know when it’s done.

This post was about advocating for new pathways from within a white-dominant organization. Let me summarize the keys to the work I highlighted here. First is honor, especially honoring those we disagree with. I would not have written the book AND have readership if it were not for this pursuit. Leadership knows I did not agree with them, but I honored them…as much as I could. Secondly, proximity, to our staff, and to non-empire lenses. e.g. I chose to study and center people who are persecuted for their faith as my lens; this seems closer to the lens of the biblical authors who mostly wrote from a colonized perspective. Lastly, head and heart education, specifically education that unearths the assumptions made in the West. These ALL go hand in hand. e.g. evangelical seminaries cover “non-empire” lenses, but the fact that, e.g., honor-shame entries rarely make it into systematic theological texts suggests that the editors have lenses that are more empire or tradition-based…but it’s masked as “biblical” because of the subject matter. I don’t fault them; this is the default shaped across generations. But the jury is out; indices reflect the lens of the West more than Biblical weight. The best counterexample to this is the commentary on Acts by Willie Jennings. At the end of the day, advocacy seeks the peace of people in the most concrete ways for the long haul. That’s what I’ve sought with this new book. May this book rewrite continue to call people to make space for all people WITHOUT needing to go through another culture, and may this book help name and break the cycle of shame ubiquitous in ALL cultures.

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