A Guide To International Covering: Covering People Overseas
More often than not, when people “hang out” a ministry shingle, the first people they hear from are those who are overseas. This is especially prevalent as the internet has made international ministry a tangible facet to ministry life. Initially it seems exciting and complimentary to be contacted by foreign ministries. Over time, it becomes more commonplace, especially as more and more foreign ministries contact with very specific desires in mind. Initial communications seem reticent and receiving…then start the requests for this, that and something else: money, Bibles, equipment, etc. Maybe they want to be “your ministry representative” in their country. If the minister meets these requests…in come more…and more. If the minister denies a request, communications become scarce. Then the cycle begins again with another foreign ministry, also desiring similar, if not the same things…and so on…and so forth…in what can feel like a frustrating and unsuccessful cycle.
Covering internationally is difficult for one reason: because you can’t immediately jet off to that country and see the situation of the ministry. You may not be able to communicate via telephone on a regular basis due to high calling costs. You don’t know what is true from what is not true, and much of what goes on goes on by trust. There can be communication difficulties if that person does not speak English. People in other countries may need a different type of Christian education than those in the United States, if for no other reason than they have been exposed to ‘mixed’ systems of belief that incorporate Christian and pagan ideas.
Covering internationally takes God’s grace and extensive planning. It is different than covering others in the United States (which is where I am from, so that is the platform I am writing this from). In order to successfully cover those you can’t jump in the car and see in a few hours, here are a few keys to bringing forth solid covering AND instruction that can help people all over the world.
Before I begin, I want to say the following: I am certainly not implying that EVERY minister overseas lies about their circumstance or is somehow untrustworthy. I know many ministers who work internationally and are awesome men and women of God. They are trustworthy, capable, and powerful in the Word. Let’s not forget one thing, however: they aren’t soliciting ministers in the United States for things. We cannot ignore the fact that scams DO exist. They exist in the United States as much as they do anywhere else. The difference, however, is that because we live in the United States, it is easier to figure out when something is wrong because we are here. When dealing internationally, we have to be more careful. That having been said, let’s look at our points.
Investigate, investigate, investigate! – Just because you get an email telling you a long story about dire conditions, orphans, widows, and poverty doesn’t mean those conditions actually exist. People exaggerate – they know how to tell a great story to illicit a certain response. This is especially true when it comes to Christians. Poverty, injustice, and mistreatment all tug at our heartstrings so we start paying attention with our emotions rather than our sound judgment and God’s Spirit witnessing within. Don’t just trust everything you are told. Investigate into foreign ministries. Check them out online, do a search on the email address they send emails from, look in the ‘to’ box on the email and see just how many other ministries they hit up, investigate into websites, do searches for the ministry name, and more. Check into the region they claim they are from and the conditions that exist there. Be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.
Know the countries that contact you – It’s easy to think you know about India, Nigeria, Pakistan, or Egypt based on stereotypes and concepts you’ve heard from various sources. It’s a lot harder to step back in discernment and truly discover the situations that exist in those nations. Not everyone in Nigeria is a “scammer.” Not everyone in India lives in poverty. Not everyone in Pakistan lives under intense persecution. Simple research can introduce you to economics, politics, languages, and more that can help your interaction with someone in a certain country, what they may indeed be facing, and give better discernment when it comes to things they may come and tell you which may or may not be true. If you are called to interact with a certain nation by God’s command, consider learning one of the native languages to that nation. For example, I know I am called to the European continent, the Middle East, and Latin America – so I am learning various languages that can help me communicate with people in the nations found in those areas. Doing so shows respect, and also helps clarify potential language barriers.
Ask for paperwork – In the United States, we have a non-profit process known as 501 (c)(3) tax exemption. This means that, according to the Internal Revenue Service, a ministry organization is considered “charitable” and people can give to that organization without the money being taxed. Even though they don’t call it “non-profit,” most countries worldwide have a system by which a ministry organization is considered “charitable” and, therefore, legally allowed to collect donations. Do ask for copies of their filed paperwork and legal tax exemptions/charitable status. If they don’t have this status, ask why. Odds are good that if they don’t have it, the organization has somehow been considered ‘subversive’ for reasons other than religion. Don’t accept the answer that they are being persecuted because they are Christian – because this is most likely untrue on a governmental level.
Have guidelines they must abide by – and show forth in signature – It’s essential that, when covering people, we have guidelines for them to follow. These guidelines should reflect Bible leadership and plain, old-fashioned common sense. It is especially important that those who are covered internationally have guidelines are required to follow – and that those requirements be upheld. They aren’t a forum for “Let’s Make A Deal.” If the guidelines require tithing, then they have to tithe – it doesn’t matter how poor they think they are, they are still required to give. If they want to be covered but don’t want to tithe, then they can’t be covered. If they want to be covered but don’t want to participate in the regular meetings, then they can’t be covered. If they want to be covered but don’t want to write the monthly reports, then they can’t be covered. It needs to be that simple. Giving in on guidelines they just don’t feel they can or want to meet shows that you, as their leader, can be manipulated and pushed around if they play the right buttons. This needs to be avoided – most certainly – especially given the next point.
Foreigners may have very fixed concepts about things that may need changing – I’ll never forget the day a man from Pakistan sent me a message on FB: “You come to MY country!” My response? “Oh no, I NOT come to YOUR country!” This is an example of a difference in cultural approach between nations. Other countries are not the United States – especially those in non-western nations. They have different social interactions, different concepts about men and women, different ideas about money, about ways money should be distributed, about giving, and about doctrinal concepts. The point on ‘doctrinal concepts’ is extremely important when covering. On initial examination, many of them sound Christian – they seem to know how to use the Bible and they seem to understand basics of doctrine and talk of Jesus. Upon closer examination, however, other issues may come to light that will need address. They may be mixing different Christian beliefs with ancestral worship, paganism, or occult practices, engaged with secret societies, or taking in so-called Biblical teaching from any number of sources accessible to them (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.). If you are to correct their incorrect understandings, it is essential that they understand your role in their life. They need to understand about the five-fold ministry and what you, as an apostle, prophet, etc., do in their life and ministry. They need to realize that you are an authority to them – and that they must speak with you in a certain manner, holding forth respect and courtesy, and do not have the right to undermine you or lie to you. If they do not feel that they can handle this system of respect, they should politely be informed that they would be better served elsewhere.
Don’t be bullied – Many ministries overseas that are seeking American covering are interested in what the American ministry can do for them. This means they can be demanding with time, impatient with the minister at hand, expect instant responses, and expect hours and hours of instruction, free materials, and yes, even money – all at the drop of a hat. This spirit needs to be checked with a foreign minister just as much as we would check it with an American counterpart. Foreign ministers need to realize they are not the only people covered by that person, that they are not mind-readers and don’t know when a situation is up if they are not told as such, and that respect, decency, and order are all essential in their interaction with you, as their leader.
Do not agree to sponsor anything – not schooling, education, etc. through direct or alternative sources – We have covering all wrong. It is NOT the job of a covering to financially sponsor everyone they cover. When covering, you are giving your time, your teaching, your materials, your instruction, etc. to them – and it is their job to give tithes and offerings to you. That’s God’s system, not the other way around. When it comes to foreigners, many foreigners are professional beggars – they know how to sound pathetic to get money. This pattern of begging needs to end in covering. A covering is not meant to meet every need an organization has, that’s not a covering, it’s a sponsor – and, while we are at it, a covering is under no obligation to meet personal financial needs, such as schooling or education. This is also a well-known international scam by which Americans have lost thousands upon millions of dollars. Make it explicitly clear that you are NOT covering them in their financial needs. DO NOT become a bank.
Expect them to make tithes and offerings – Everyone in the Kingdom is required to bring forth tithes and offerings into God’s house. Many foreigners believe that because they help widows or orphans, they don’t have to tithe. Some believe they don’t have to tithe or give offerings because they themselves feel they are too poor to give – and, therefore, feel somebody should be giving to them. Then there are those who still believe that tithing means giving to orphans and widows, because they have never had anyone properly explain Malachi 3 to them. Foreigners – especially those who feel they are too poor to give or believe they are “needy” need to understand about giving. NOBODY is exempt from giving to God and bringing forth tithes and offerings to leaders. Teach them about giving, tithing, offerings, and the importance of giving – not just receiving.
They have more money than they indicate – Did you ever wonder why all those emails you receive from overseas are always the same? It’s because foreign ministers pay top dollar to “professional letter writers” to write those letters for them. All of them have computer access, cell phones, and most have vehicles. Do not believe the stereotyped lies that tell us all foreigners are poor, walking around, riding donkeys and camels. Yes, there are some who are “that poor,” but they aren’t soliciting you on the internet because they have no electricity, no access to internet cafes, and can’t afford a professional letter-writer. Putting stuff together in this way helps keep us from being deceived in a big way later on.
Send no money, books, bibles, items, etc. to people directly WITHOUT proper evidence that there is a material issue to be solved – An email or written request isn’t enough evidence. Known scams exist by which people solicit Americans for free Bibles and then take those Bibles they receive for free and sell them on the black market – therefore using your free Bible to extort a seeking believer. There are many ministries overseas that lie about financial situations and take the money and profit off it for personal gain. If you truly feel led to give overseas, you don’t have to give to an individual. Many organizations, such as Heifer International, Samaritan’s Purse, and the International Bible Society work to provide Bibles, education, and goods to people in need in other nations. There is no need to provide personal transactions. If you are going on a mission trip to one of these nations, and you can personally distribute the items yourself, that’s also a great way to get materials into the hands of those who need them. If someone insists they need materials in the meantime, tell them to contact the Bible Society in their respective nation or download some information for free materials in their countries online.
Do not allow poverty concepts to interfere with principles – Let me say something that may sound cold, but I truly just mean it to be honest: being poor isn’t new. People in foreign countries who cry poverty aren’t experiencing something that hasn’t been felt since the beginning of time. Is it something that is fun or fair, no, it’s not – but it’s not new and innovative, either. They should not be marketing themselves as such for that reason, like poverty is something that changes basic Gospel and Christian principle. Teach them how to rise above poverty – by sowing into the Kingdom and learning how to handle their money – not by giving them a handout. You can send them money and in another month they will want more money because they haven’t learned God’s principles of sowing and reaping. Instead of being drawn in by poverty claims, make sure they learn Biblical principles that pertain to finances.
Require them to communicate with you on a regular basis – This is perhaps one of the most powerful ways international coverings falter: at first, you hear from the ministry you are covering all the time. They are solicitous and charming, and seem to be in constant contact. Then, as time goes on…you hear from them less and less. The communication fades because the foreign minister either has gotten what they want or has figured out they aren’t getting it. Just as we require communication with American ministers, so too foreign ministers must be held to regular communication with their leader. Do not allow expense to be an excuse to get out of the meetings. Schedule regular times to talk and discuss ministry matters. Skype, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, even Facebook IM are all free and accessible to foreign ministries – so non-communication is never an option.
Require their presence at meeting times – Group meetings by which everyone international (and even possibly national) are called upon to gather for a conference call or Skypecast are essential. If time is a problem, have “regional” or “time zone” meeting for each group, timed so they can all be online. These meetings should be teaching or instructionally-based and should serve to get people together for instructional purposes – not social or recreational ones. Encourage the people on the conference to pray for one another, meet together, and share in joys and concerns.
Do not allow them to become extensions or “representatives” of your ministry – You are covering their ministry, not absorbing them into yours. The reason foreign ministries always seem so eager to do this is because they believe having an American name or claiming to be a representative of an American ministry will further their own career in their country. In these instances, most of these ministers take the certificate issued and name of your ministry – not to mention your name – and run with them. Make it clear that being in ministry means they are developing the vision God has given to them – and that you are here to help them develop that vision. Also make clear that the needs and circumstances which exist where they are are different from where you are, which means they need to rise to address the educational, spiritual, and practical needs which exist there. They need to have their own ministry identity, ministry paperwork, and ministry name.
Don’t allow them to be covered by more than one ministry – Once upon a time, a ministry came to me for covering, which I agreed to do on the spot, because I didn’t handle things with a lot of discernment in those days. I learned a few days after the fact that, despite my acceptance of them, they went to a friend of mine for covering as well. Foreign ministries will go from person to person, ministry to ministry, gleaning what they want here and there, to try and get money, acceptance, extension, etc. from whoever will give it. If someone wants to be covered by your ministry, make it clear they may not be covered by another ministry, nor may they receive money from another ministry via solicitation.
Do not go to their country for free, and do not sponsor or pay for them to come over here – If God calls you on missions, mozel tov. Go wherever God sends you. Do not go overseas because someone wants you to, and do not put up the money or sponsorship to bring someone over here – especially if you don’t know them very well. This is just good, plain common sense. God doesn’t ask us to “rescue” people from the difficulties of this life – He encourages us to teach and edify them in His Kingdom principles so they can experience a better life no matter where they may be.
Don’t overlook the basics of Christian doctrine in instruction – Don’t assume that because a minister from another country claims to be in ministry or claims to have gone to a foreign Bible college or ministry school that they know everything there is to know about ministry. Don’t overlook the basics of Christian doctrine, including the five-fold ministry, nature of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, baptism in the Spirit, spiritual gifts, baptism in water, communion, salvation, atonement, sanctification, holiness, order, church and Kingdom government, etc. Do your job as a leader and make sure they have a sure foundation to grow upon for ministry.
(c) 2012 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.