If your image of a missionary is a woman who wears a white dress and sits in church with a group of similarly clad older women on the third Sunday of the month, you might want to take a second look. Being a global missionary today is far more than collecting pennies for foreign fields or spending your entire adult life in some remote corner of the world—unless that corner is a dream location for you.
Global missionaries are engineers who help to bring water to isolated villages, computer specialists who provide towns with access to the internet’s communication resources, and businesspeople who help individuals establish and succeed in micro-economy enterprises. Global mission has a new face and it also needs the faces of more African Americans who have a unique perspective to share with the world.
“The African American voice and story has much to lend to global missions…inspiring and supporting causes that help to bring about justice for people groups around the world,” Leroy Barber, executive director of the Voices Project, says. Barber is the former global executive director of Word Made Flesh, an international organization that works among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor, and author of Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World.
“Our history of struggle, of forming a vibrant culture within a culture, and of sacrificing for justice and freedom, witnesses to the truth that the arc of God’s love leans toward the betterment of all people,” he says. While we might feel a sense of being a minority here, we soon discover that globally, we are not.”
Thabiti Anyabwile and Carl Ellis discuss the rich history of missions in The Black Church.
Global missionaries are not always in the countries where they serve. Depending on the organization that commissioned their service, they are usually in the U.S. every three to five years for a year-long furlough. During this time, they often speak at churches and other venues about what it’s like to be a missionary.
Recently, while home on furlough, career missionary Linda Saunders spoke at a seminary symposium about her experiences abroad. Twelve years ago, she and her husband, Mark, and their three children went to Venezuela to build orphanages and serve homeless children. Linda and Mark were both inspired by missionaries they encountered during their teen years.
“Those missionaries allowed me to see that missionary service wasn’t a spiritual call for other ethnic groups only,” Saunders says. “All people groups are to support and serve in mission, at home, and abroad. It’s not here or abroad, but here and abroad.”
Short-term mission trips – see for yourself
For the past 12 years, the Saunders have hosted nearly 100 individuals at their home in Valencia, Venezuela, giving these guests—many between the ages of 15 and 25—opportunities to explore what it’s like to live with and serve in another culture. Morenci Manning was 22 years old when she spent a summer with the Saunders, telling Bible stories, participating in puppet ministry, singing songs and playing games with the children to whom the Saunders minister. Three years earlier, she had gone to Ghana for one month to help build a home for children.
“Global mission experiences have broadened my horizon,” Manning, who is in her first year of medical school, says. “When you see how people live in other cultures, you learn that there are a lot more ways to think about and do things than you have experienced. It exposes you to more ideas about what you want to do in the future.”
Engage your church in global missions
According to the Pew Research Center, the African American church community has more than 20 million members. If just 1 percent of those members answered the call to global missions, there would be a startling increase in African American participation in reaching the world for Christ.
“The church today is blessed with more means financially, technologically, and theologically for doing global missions than at any other point in history,” Saunders says. “There is no question that we have the resources; the more urgent question is: Will we answer the call?”
Saunders believes that the African American churches’ potential for participating in global missions can be significantly increased by educating, training, and sharing the value of global mission with African American young people. She suggests that one way to promote teens’ and young adults’ interest in global mission is for churches to help teens identify credible organizations that offer global mission training and global mission trips. Or, churches can work with teens to organize their own global mission trips.
“When a church supports global missions, that support gets woven into the fabric of the church’s life,” she continued. “Global missionaries are commissioned during a Sunday morning service, not privately in a pastor’s office.
Prepare to change the world and yourself
Mission service, whether at home or abroad, is transformational. “You’re not just building an orphanage or giving away school supplies, Saunders explains. “That’s community service. The work of global mission continually challenges you to honor and respect all cultures, and to be on the alert against an ethnocentric understanding of life. People may live very differently from the way you do and still love God.”
Whether you participate in a short-term global mission trip or spend a season of your life serving in another country, global mission gives you a perspective that forever informs the way you look at everyone around you. “When we change our priorities, we can change the world,” Saunders concludes.
Kevin and Toni Fisher* welcomed their first child a few weeks ago. When Elliott is old enough to go to college, they’ll still have seven years left on their student loan payments.
A few decades ago, young, urban, professionals like Kevin and Toni Fisher* would have been living their dreams. With their combined low six-figure income, the Fishers would have been funding their retirement plans to the max, upgrading their vehicles every couple of years, and taking exotic vacations to Far East destinations. Instead, the couple is staying put in their 900-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment, wondering if they can save for their son’s college education while paying for their own.
The Fishers are two of the more than 40 million individuals who are paying off Americans’ $1.2 trillion college loan debt. Their combined undergraduate and graduate school loans, totaling more than $210,000, are causing many of their dreams to be deferred.
“We’d love to move to a home in our current neighborhood,” says Kevin, an information technology director for a mid-sized company. “But we can’t get a mortgage to buy anything here; our debt-to-income ratio is too high.” He looked to purchase a home in a less-desirable area, but with student loan debt damaging their credit score – meaning higher mortgage interest rates – and the added requirement of private mortgage insurance, or PMI, even some less-desirable neighborhoods became out of reach. Yet while the family is figuring out their housing options, they know that they are in a better situation than many of their peers.
“I have friends who stopped going to school, because they didn’t want to take out any more loans,” explains Kevin, whose wife is a director at an educational non-profit organization. “But they already had accumulated a lot of debt, didn’t graduate and now they can’t get the job they want. They’re really in a stranglehold, but those are the kind of crazy choices student loan debt is causing some people to make.”
Big decisions; young age
At a time in their lives when they have the least amount of financial knowledge, young people are making a major financial decision for which they don’t really understand the consequences. “There isn’t a high school student anywhere who isn’t told to go to college. … It will help you get a job,” Kevin says. “So we did what we were told, but it came attached to college loans. Many of us took out $100,000 of debt to get a $50,000 a year job. We needed to be better informed about what a career paid before we got into obscene debt for it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense; it’s making life very difficult.”
With college costs spiraling ever upward and the job market still sluggish, many young people are questioning whether a college education is worth it. For certain, college graduates on average make more money than individuals with only a high school degree, but students who come out of college with little or no debt have a huge advantage over graduates with a debt load.
“As far as helping me get a job, I’m not sure college helped me so much with that,” Kevin says. “Learning on the job is what has always helped me get my next job. In my field, companies care whether you can do the job, not where you went to school. They want to know can you keep their systems running and that you know what to do if the system goes down.”
Nearly three years ago, the government began income-based prepayment plans to help make federal student loan payments more manageable. While these plans lower a person’s monthly payment, they also stretch the loan payback out over more years and can significantly increase the amount of interest paid over the life of the loan.
“If it wasn’t for my faith, depression and despair could come in easy,” says the young dad. “I’d love to throw a chunk of cash at my student loans to help knock it down, but it’s just not there right now. My wife and I just keep trusting God and know that He’s going to work it out. That’s what keeps us diligent about paying it off, even though it seems we’re getting nowhere with it.”
As he sits at his desk with his newborn cradled in his arms, Kevin whispers his hard-won wisdom, his words of advice to today’s high school graduates who can’t afford to pay for a four-year college on their own: “Two years at a community college and then find a liberal arts college that’s going to help you out significantly. Don’t get caught in the student loan trap.”
*Not their real names, but a true account of one family’s experience with student loan debt.
If you graduated from college with a degree in one hand and a loan repayment book in the other, get ready for the second half of your education. Finding out how to get out from under this load of debt is just as important as that suitable-for-framing degree that arrived in the mail a few weeks after graduation. Paying off your student loan as quickly as you can opens up financial options that just aren’t there when the debt monkey is on your back. Shortening the amount of time you’re paying on loans helps you get on with saving, investing and managing your financial future. The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Being out of debt gives you freedom to love as God intended and not be burdened with financial constraints. Here are seven steps that can move you toward financial freedom faster.
Knowwhat you owe. This is no time to hide your head in the sand. Ignorance is not bliss; the truth really does set you free. And paying off student loans will call for you to know how much you owe, the interest rate, and any other unsecured loans you have and their interest rates. When you have this information in hand, start working on your debt reduction plan.
Pay off the highest interest rate loans first. If you have other unsecured loans, like credit cards, with a higher interest rate than your student loans, pay them off first. In some situations, interest on student loans is tax-deductible so you can get this savings while you’re paying off your higher interest debt. Once those debts are paid off, take that money and add it to the payment you’ve been making on your student loan. The tax deduction you get on student loans isn’t worth stretching out your payments any longer than you have to.
Downsize and economize. You have to spend less than you earn and throw that extra cash at your loan principal to make a real dent in a student loan. It’s that simple. Making the minimum payment each month can keep you in debt 10, 15 or 20 years or more – years that you could be saving for your children’s education, taking great vacations, or buying a home. Many lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio before approving you for other loans, like a mortgage. So you want to have a low ratio before you go looking to buy a house or other sizable investment. To make your income go farther, consider moving into a smaller apartment or getting a roommate. Get a part-time job and put those dollars on your principal. Use any bonuses, tax refunds, and birthday money you receive to pay down your loan. If anyone asks you what you want for Christmas, tell them a student loan payment.
Ask your employer for help. If you’re looking for job in a profession like finance, nursing, IT or one that requires a special degree, make this part of the salary negotiation. Think of it as a signing bonus or health benefits. It’s another way they can attract top talent – that’s you. If you can get a one-time lump sum payment to your principal, it can shave years off your debt. In return, you might be asked to stay with that company for a certain amount of time so make sure you’re open to that possibility.
Make your loan payment an automatic deductions. Allowing your lender to take your payment directly from your bank account each month can lower your interest rate by about .25 percent. On larger loans, this savings can be meaningful. If your lender doesn’t mention this option, be sure to ask.
Pay twice a month rather than once a month. Ask your lender if you can make split your monthly payment into two payments each month. You’re paying the same amount each month, just in two payments. When your bimonthly payment is applied to your loan immediately, you’ll be decreasing the principal amount faster, saving you significant dollars in interest. This is a good strategy, especially for private loans which often have higher interest rates than federal loans. As mentioned earlier, paying off high interest rate loans first is a good idea.
Work in certain public service professions. If you have certain federal loans, you might qualify to have some of your loan forgiven by working full time for qualifying employers. If you can teach in certain elementary and secondary schools, or offer public service for certain government agencies, you might be able to reduce your loan. Talk with your loan advisor to see how you might qualify for one of these programs.
Once your loan is paid off, celebrate like you did on graduation day! This is just as big an accomplishment as moving your tassel from the right side to the left. You’ve taught yourself a financial discipline that will serve you well throughout life. The sooner you get out of debt, the sooner your life – and your money – truly become yours.
If you had an old-school mom or grandma, you have probably heard her say, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to.” Back in the day, that pearl of wisdom often referred to drinking alcohol, taking drugs or participating in premarital sex. But today, it could just as well include taking out a loan for college.
More than 40 million Americans have a collective $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, higher than America’s credit card indebtedness. This year’s graduating class is the most indebted class ever with the average 2015 graduate who has student loans leaving college with more than $35,000 in debt. That’s enough money to purchase a new car for cash or make a hefty down payment on a home, something many graduates are forced to put off because they’re too loaded down with student loans.
When you look at student loan numbers for African-Americans, it’s even more disturbing. The U.S. student debt load falls disproportionately harder on African-Americans than whites. From 2000 to 2014, half of all African-American graduates left college with more than $25,000 in debt as compared to 34 percent of white graduates. That’s a gap that will impact buying power and the accumulation of wealth for a lifetime. Even though more African-Americans are going to college, we’re also leaving with a financial burden that can follow borrowers for more than 20 years.
The Bible says “the borrower is a slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). So, how do you go to a selective college without taking on a boat-load of debt and becoming a slave? The answer will call for you to start now to develop a strategy that excludes, or at the most, minimizes debt. Don’t let the place that historically has been a path to opportunity and upward mobility become a four-year descent into financial bondage.
Get good grades. Working hard to achieve excellent grades and test scores is your first defense against college debt. In fact, it’s your only leverage, especially if your family doesn’t have a lot of money to put toward college. Colleges want students who they think will succeed in their classrooms. Currently, the only measure of that is the academic success you’ve had in high school. Take the hardest courses in your school and do well. If your school offers Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, take as many as you can and do well. These courses can help you attain the scores you’ll need on tests like the PSAT that gets you considered for the National Merit Scholarship. National Merit Scholars, National Achievement Scholars and National Hispanic Recognition Program award recipients are often offered significant scholarships at state universities and private colleges. Use your knowledge to take College-Level Examinations (CLEP) that can help you earn college credit hours. With the average college credit hour costing $700 and a CLEP test costing $80, you can test out of many college courses, saving yourself time and money in college. Nearly 3,000 colleges and universities accept CLEP credits, so it’s worth identifying a few colleges that do when you’re putting together your list of college choices. Another smart move is to decide right now that you’ll complete college in four years, unless you’ll be in a special program that’s earning you a dual degree or an advanced degree, like doctor of pharmacy. Every additional year will cost additional money—money you might have to borrow. If you really want to cut costs, try finishing college in three and a half years and those CLEP tests can be a help with that.
Know the game changer. As important as academic achievements are, another factor that can help keep your student loan debt low or nonexistent is your school choice. Everyone wants to go to their dream school. But with college costs rising more than 1,100 percent over the past 30 years, your dream needs to include a scene that makes college affordable.
Give yourself options. In the job market, one of the best situations to find yourself in is to have a couple of job offers at the same time. The same can be true about college. Don’t get hooked on one school. Have several schools that would work for you if the price is right. Do your homework, researching not only their curriculum, culture and campus, but also their costs, average loan debt, and work/study programs. Now, let’s say you’re accepted to two or three of these colleges. Look closely at the financial aid packages. If there’s anything there you don’t understand, especially whether something is a loan or a scholarship, call the college’s financial aid office and find out. Then ask yourself, can my family afford that? If not, talk with each college again to see what else they can do. It’s especially important to do this if your family’s financial circumstances have changed since you applied. It’s appropriate to do this if you have different award amounts from comparable colleges. Some colleges will “match” other colleges’ financial packages. Just be sure that what’s being matched or increased is scholarship and grant amounts, not loans. The college that you go to can be the largest funder of your college education when they want to be. Let them want you by your good grades, your examples of extracurricular involvement in high school, and your enthusiasm about attending their school.
Apply for other scholarships. If you still have an annual loan amount after working with the colleges, look for other scholarship and grant sources. You can potentially get scholarships and grants from your church, your high school, and local community and civic clubs. You have a higher probability of receiving financial assistance from these sources than random online scholarship websites. Talk to your high school counselor and people who have gone to college and ask them about additional funding opportunities.
Think about how you can spend your college summers to lower your educational costs. Use those summers to take some basic courses at a community college. There are many community colleges where the courses are well taught and less expensive. Just make sure these credits will be accepted by the college from which you will graduate. Many students choose the community college option for a couple of years and then transfer to a selective school. Just remember, if you plan to do this, you’ll now need to make those ever-important good grades at the community college, have some solid extracurricular activities, and a rationale for wanting to transfer to the new school.
Do everything you possibly can on the front end of your college education to keep the back end from being a financial shackle. Finishing college debt-free will make you one of the wisest students in your graduating class.