Missionaries in Europe, parts of Africa, and the Middle East are spending their dollars faster than ever. As the dollar declines relative to foreign currencies, many overseas missionaries are finding their buck doesn't go so far as it used to. Many have had to cut back on spending or even return to the U.S. to fundraise. Mission agencies are also finding they need to spend more money to maintain their overseas operations.

"The decline in the dollar is affecting our international development programs, in some cases quite dramatically," says David van Vuuren, vice president of international operations at World Relief.

Over the last two years, the dollar has significantly fallen against the euro. Worth more than 0.91 euros in February 2003, it has fallen to 0.76 euros in February 2005. The end of 2004 was particularly difficult, says Wendy Norvelle, spokeswoman for the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. From August 2004 to January 2005, the dollar fell roughly 0.10 euros, from 0.82 to 0.72 euros against the dollar. Many economists say prolonged government budget deficits and consumer trade deficits have pushed the dollar down.

The dollar's value has decreased almost 30 percent over the last year. Douglas LeRoy, assistant director of Church of God World Missions says that of the denomination's $30 million annually spent on overseas missions more of it is going to Europe in order to maintain missionaries' buying power. The most difficult country for missions to be in is Russia, says LeRoy. The rest of Europe and other countries in the Middle East and Africa, where some economies are tied to European currencies, have also been difficult.

Both the Church of God and IMB adjust missionary salaries so that all their missionaries have the same amount of relative buying power no matter what country they are in. The IMB had to overspend its "field parity supplement" by $1.6 million in 2003, and may have overspent it by $2 million in 2004. "When you have people in the field you have to maintain them, no matter if the dollar loses value, or if the dollar gains value. You have to pay the rent, pay the basic necessities," Norvelle says. IMB's total overseas missionary spending is more than $197 million, according to the Mission Handbook.

Missionaries are "finding out that to have [what used to be] $60,000 buying power is costing them $80,000," LeRoy says. Missionaries have to make difficult choices when they find they don't have enough money to stay in a country. "We try to get them to be in contact with their donor churches to see if they can increase the amount of money that they're giving. In some cases, if it cannot be done by telephone or email or letter writing, they have to return home." Sometimes, one member of the family will return to raise money, while the rest stay in the field.

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Though the most significant decline affects Europe, the dollar has fallen against other currencies as well, says World Relief's van Vuuren. "In Mozambique—a country that has its economy linked almost directly to the South African rand currency—operations funded by our US dollars are caught in a pincer of the declining buying power internationally of the U.S. dollar and the appreciating South African rand."

"The S.A. rand is currently trading around SA R6.00 to US $1.00, whereas 24 months ago it was more like SA R13.00 to US $1.00, a decline in buying power of the dollar of more than 50 percent," van Vuuren says. "The most dramatic effect is felt by our staff living in economies where the cost of living has soared but their salaries are holding steady."

IMB and other missionary agencies say they have not yet had to cut major programs, but they are cutting back on unnecessary costs and shifting their budgets to reflect what economists see as a long-term problem.

Related Elsewhere:

The Church of God World Missions and the IMB have articles describing the effect of the dollar's decline on their budgets.

Yahoo Finance has a graph of the dollar's performance against the euro for the last two years.

Other CT articles about money and overseas missions includes:

The Missions of Business | What can happen when entrepreneurs think they are missionaries first. (April 13, 2004)
Outreach to Despair | Christians minister to the hopeless in Gaza. (July 22, 2004)
Saving Strangers | The journey of one Somali Bantu family in the largest group resettlement of African refugees in U.S. history. (July 02, 2004)
The Secret Shelter | A sliver of hope for Christian women who suffer beatings, rape, and forced conversions to Islam. (June 01, 2004)
Splurging on Missions | Southern Baptists fund hundreds more workers for the field. (May 17, 2004)
After the Coup | Missionaries return to Haiti to begin rebuilding out of the rubble. (April 21, 2004)
Two Missionaries Killed in Uganda | Couple was willing to help anyone, anywhere, anytime. (March 23, 2004)
Blockbuster Evangelism | Millions have been converted after seeing films about Jesus, and Hindu radicals are responding with violence. (Nov. 26, 2003)
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Free the Doctors | Agency pays school debts of medical missionaries (Oct. 07, 2003)
Agencies Announce Short-Term Missions Standards | Similar codes have been established in Great Britain and Canada. (Sept. 30, 2003)
Why Don't They Listen? | John Stott on the most pernicious obstacles to effective world evangelism. (Sept. 05, 2003)
Uncivil War | Missionary tells of horrors in strife-torn Congo. (July 25, 2003)
Baptists Cut Staff, Missionaries | The International Missions Board Lays off 37 and leaves 24 positions open. (July 17, 2003)
The State of Missions | The director of World Inquiry talks about the challenges and priorities of the evangelical missions community. (June 25, 2003)
Brrr-nabas Ministry | Group encourages and counsels Alaska's secluded missionaries. (April 08, 2003)