Purse and Scrip

April 13, 2004 | 20 comments
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The early apostles were commanded to go preach the gospel, carrying neither purse nor scrip. Early missionaries in the restored church were similarly commanded:

And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip.

Somewhere along the line, missionaries began taking purse and scrip. We now pay almost $400 a month to serve a mission. The missionaries in the field receive their stipend each month, and pay their rent, food costs, clothing costs, and such.

I recognize that this change is probably a bureaucratic necessity. (It also dovetails better with today’s emphasis on financial responsibility — how responsible is it to eschew purse and scrip?). And yet I wonder sometimes if something has been lost. Today’s missionaries may have greater certainty about where their next meal is coming from, but they have less of an opportunity to exercise faith that their needs will be met. And I wonder sometimes if it wouldn’t be best for missionaries to continue to leave behind purse and scrip.

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20 Responses to Purse and Scrip

  1. clarkgoble on April 13, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    I think the social changes the last 100 years or so are such that if they went without purse or script they’d be hanging out solely in homeless shelters and would be completely out of luck outside of big cities.

  2. Lyle on April 13, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    Kaimi: interesting thought. However, it might be more practical if the members could be counted upon to help provide for the missionaries: i.e. from earlier T&S posts, it seems that most posters here feed them regularly. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the lack of support is more common than not.

    This probably proves your point to a certain extent…since they have money, maybe members assume they dont’ really ‘need’ to be fed &/or don’t want to be motivated to do more missionary work during the course of the meal. However, this seems attitude seems like the logical converse of those that say “it’s ok to steal from the MNC because they are dishonest & I’m not hurting the little guy.”

    Sum: Maybe the Church bureaucracy does take away faith promoting opportunities for missionaries. However, one practical application, among many that individual Saints can take is to exercise your own personal/family faith & feed them hungry Sisters & Elders.

  3. William Morris on April 13, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    To follow up on Clark’s comments — I don’t think that finding persons to feed you would be a huge problem. Especially in many areas of the world, and even of the U.S. That standard of hospitality has dimmed somewhat but still persists.

    But what has changed significantly, I think, is the concept of allowing peeople to stay in your home or to help put them up at a boarding house.

    There are any number of factors of why this practice is virtually non-existent these days — quicker, private forms of transportation, for example, that make overnight stays less necessary and led to the rise of hotels/motels as the major option for travelers — but it does seem that the modern version of hospitality doesn’t include providing lodging to those you don’t know [or have recently met], or even those you do know. It seems to be a symptom of modernism.

  4. Bob Caswell on April 13, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    My personal opinion is that missionaries are already exercising quite a bit of faith as it is. Can one be put into a position where the exercising of faith is almost excessive? Missionaries have other things to do here… you know, like baptize the world (which in itself requires quite a bit of faith to be exercised).

    I think reverting back to the olden days [in this particular context] would be more of a distraction than a help.

  5. Jim F. on April 13, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    As a missionary in Korea in the 60s, a time of almost universal and deep poverty there, I would have found it difficult to ask the members to support me as a missionary. Perhaps I shouldn’t have felt that way, but when recent converts feed my companion and me, often spending what was obviously a HUGE proportion of their incomes on one meal, I was both deeply touched and rather embarrassed.

    I remember my first such experience quite vividly. My companion and I baptized a family who lived on one of the many mountains in Seoul in a paper shack. They had to take turns going to church services because the cheap bus cost them about five cents each way and they didn’t have enough money for all to make the trip. After their baptism, they fed us a huge meal, consisting mostly of small frittatas of egg and zucchini, fried in rancid fish oil. As the food appeared, my companion told me that if I didn’t eat those frittatas and enjoy them he would kill me. I don’t think he was exaggerating.

    We ate the meal and it remains an important spiritual experience for me, an experience of what gratitude and sacrifice means. But I don’t know that I could have continually asked that family and others like it for their financial support.

    When much missionary work today consists of those from developed countries teaching in less developed countries, perhaps the time for going without purse or scrip is past.

  6. William Morris on April 13, 2004 at 4:09 pm

    Jim:

    Ironically, as your story and my experience in Romanina points to, I think that it’s in those countries where going without purse or scrip would be most possible.

    I know that while lodging may have been difficult (but not impossible) to obtain in Romania for free, I’m pretty sure that had my funds been cut off, I would never have starved too death and indeed would perhaps even have gained weight.

  7. Jim F. on April 13, 2004 at 4:16 pm

    William, I agree. I would have been lodged and fed, but I’m glad I didn’t have to ask people to do that for me.

  8. Matt J on April 13, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    How’s this for a third-hand anecdote?

    My brother knows a man who is probably 65 or so. When this man was going on his mission years ago, he was impressed by the same instruction to go without purse or scrip. Soon before he arrived in the mission field, his mission president changed the way things worked so that the missionaries did need to depend on members or those they teach or others for their food and shelter and clothes. After this elder went home the policy reverted back.

    Sound a bit urban-legendary? Yeah, now that I’ve gone and re-told this story I’ll try to find out more about the where and when.

  9. Adam Greenwood on April 13, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    For what it’s worth, Christ changed that policy at one time too.

    “When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.

    Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”

    Luke 22:35-36 (http://scriptures.lds.org/luke/22)

  10. clarkgoble on April 13, 2004 at 4:48 pm

    I think it varies from mission to mission. I often went months without a dinner appointment in Louisiana. However once we had to leave our apartment for a week due to utilities being cut off. The Ward Mission Leader put us up and it was fine.

    But, I think in general that the sense of wanting people to stay over like that just doesn’t exist in the first world. As I said, the culture has changed significantly.

    Personally I think the issues in missionary work are that we aren’t making use of the changes, instead being largely locked into the way of doing things that made sense in the 1960′s – 1980′s. Some of those analyzing the recent morose growth of the church have noted that some Protestant groups have made a lot of changes to how they do missionary work.

  11. Aaron Brown on April 13, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    What Jim said.

    Personally, I’ve seen one too many missionaries spend money frivolously, while simultaneously chastizing poor members for not feeding them more often. In the third world — where I served my mission — I often felt like the missionaries ought to be feeding the members. (Not that I ever did anything about it, mind you, but I did think about it).

    As a WML, I should probably get on the members’ cases about feeding the missionaries more often. But I come from a ward with many poor members, many of whom probably can’t afford to give much. Perhaps by not drumming up more free dinners, I’m “depriving the members of blessings.” Then again, the blessings they could really use are better employment, so they don’t have to work on Sunday and miss Church. And besides, the elders are all getting fat anyway. :)

    Aaron B

  12. Kaimi on April 13, 2004 at 5:34 pm

    Aaron, Jim, et al,

    I agree that it would be very hard for members to care for missionaries in poor countries. It would require missionaries to impose on wealthier members. It would result in missionaries not being fed, at least once in a while.

    But maybe that would be best. I’m just thinking of the lack of gratitude I too often often had for my food and housing on my mission; the complaints missionaries made about areas that had worse houses, and so on. If we were required to exercise faith, and gratitude, in order to eat and be housed, it might cause missionaries to appreciate these things more.

  13. Jim F. on April 13, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    Kaimi, what about cases, like the one I was in, in which there were no wealthier members on whom to impose? Not everyone was living on a bare subsistence income, but even those who weren’t were very poor. As a missionary with a much larger income than anyone in the ward, I did not live in luxury. I distinctly remember waking one morning and seeing the snow piled up outside the house through a large crack in the wall. We didn’t have good heating and we were often ill. I don’t think we needed to impose on the members to appreciate housing, food, health, etc. more.

  14. William Morris on April 13, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    I like the idea, Kaimi. But wonder if it would just lead to more complaining and no real appreciation. After all, most missionaries find themselves in circumstances that are if not more humble at least are *less* than what they had at home.

    And yet the vary in how they react to these situations.

    My time in Romania would be an interesting case in point. I served 92-93. It was a time when some import goods were available, but not a ton. Because of the rampant inflation and the uncertainty over true cost of living, etc., our monthly allowance was a little more than it should have been.

    Or at least that’s the way I felt. I never spent all my money for the month. And I didn’t live the life of an ascetic either. My companion and I would eat out 1-3 times a week. We’d take a taxi or two a week. I bought an overcoat, a pair of boots, and had suit made. I even bought a couple of books [a Luther translation of the Bible printed, oddly enough, in Cleveland; a leather-bound edition of Byron's complete works for my grandfather; the history of romanian literature]

    Other missionaries [a few -- most, I think, were the same as me] somehow found a way to blow all their money every month — and even had their parents send money or foodstuffs or clothers. Or borrowed money from their companion.

    I couldn’t understand it. While I didn’t feel guilty about having more than many of the Romanians I met, I did try to be modest in my spending and in the way I dressed. And I paid a generous fast offering — actually most of us missionaries did. We probably provided the bulk of the fast funds that were dispersed.

    And when I was served very small bitter olives, or dry, crusty mamaliga (polenta), or pig skin with some of the hair still on it or a plate full of honey, I ate it and didn’t complain and blessed the homes I was in. Other [not many, but some] missionaries lived in fear of eating things they didn’t like.

    This is not to set myself up as a shining example. I was a rather mediocre missionary. And most of my fellow Elders and Sisters were sensitive to the situation.

    But there were those who weren’t. I let the experience teach me some important lessons about consumerism and how to maintain dignity in the face of poverty. Some missionaries approached the experience like they were rude, tunnel-visioned American tourists.

    This is all to say that while conditions can help lead to appreciation — they don’t necessarily do that.

    —-
    I think the one of the most humbling experiences I had was visiting a young couple who lived on the outskirst of Bucharest. They weren’t serious investigators. They didn’t have the focus for that because they had a 5 or 6 year old son with AIDS. They lived in a two room home with dirt floors and no plumbing. The man of the house insisted on serving my companion and I mulled wine. He knew that we didn’t drink alcohol, but claimed that all the alcohol had been boild out.

    In other circumstances I might have declined. But I didn’t. How could I? The very little comfort we could give this family wasn’t even close to what they needed — barely impacted their despair. The thought of offering a priesthood blessing entered my mind — but it didn’t feel right. We prayed. We showed up. Perhaps that meant something.

    The parents… Well, the adjective that perhaps best describes how they looked and spoke is shell-shocked. In their desperation, they were trying to raise money for a trip to Turkey. They had heard that there was a man there who could cure their son.

    So I drank the wine from a small plastic cup. He was probably right — it was so thick that I’m sure it contained little alcohol. It was like drinking bittersweet grape skins.

    It was all dregs.

    It was a gift I still don’t know what to do with.

  15. Mardell on April 13, 2004 at 7:02 pm

    About the missionaries always having enough to eat. In our mission in New York we use to feed the sisters every Sunday night (until Kaimi started working crazy hours). We became really good friends with a sister who was in our ward for 15 months, almost her whole mission. One sunday she comment one how much better the meal was than the ramen she had been eating all week. She said that their food budget seldom lasted all month and that they did not get many dinner appointments. So I always sent them home with leftovers from dinner, and a couple of dinners they could make, from stuff out my pantry.
    I have also know that my brothers were not getting enought to eat on their missions so my parents alway sent them extra money. I places where the church is not well establish like Utah, Arizona, and Idaho I know the missionaries are not always getting as much as they need. The money that they get each month for their expenses is not alway enough so they still so depend on others to help them out. So in some small way it is like it was in the early church.

  16. Gary Cooper on April 13, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    One reason, in addition to those already shared here, why I believe the missionaries are no longer required to go without purse and scrip may have to do with the average age of the elders. In the early days of the church, married men in their 30′s and 40′s made up the bulk of the missionaries called. As such, they already had a great deal of maturity and experience with sacrifice. Today’s 19-year old young men do not have that same level of maturity, yet.

  17. Matt J on April 13, 2004 at 7:26 pm

    Just to add another data point to Mardell’s comment. On my mission in Germany (’90-’92) I averaged less than 1 member-meal per week, so my companion and I were always making our own food. I would say that I ate quite well with every companion, and we typically shared the grocery bill. We even had enough money to regularly eat out in cafes, or occassionally buy ice cream and pastries, or (more rarely) go to gourmet grocery stores for things like maple syrup and peanut butter.

  18. Greg Call on April 13, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    I guess I’ll add another data point since it is so different than the others. I served in Southern California (mostly the Bakersfield area and the Ventura/Oxnard area) and I don’t think a day went by that I *didn’t* eat at a member’s home. We were usually booked solid for dinner at least a month out. Members would try to schedule breakfasts or lunches just to get on our schedule.

    (ducks as as the rotten eggs come flying from the Romanian and Korean missionaries)

    In any event, we were expected to be frugal with our allowance and to turn over the excess when we left the field. I think most did so.

  19. lyle on April 13, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    the 4 elders & 2 sisters in my branch concur with all: while it would provide faith building experiences for members & givers/providers both…it would distract from the teaching effort. However, they thought it would be easier for that to happen here in the U.S. (i.e. no purse nor script) than in the Third World because members could afford this better.

    To that I reply: It sounds too much like the Bishop telling Joseph F. Smith’s mom not to pay her tithing. Sure, it sux to see the people with so little…but surely it would bless their lives more if we allowed them to give their “widows mite,”…not for us, but for their blessing.

  20. Catherine on April 14, 2004 at 3:40 am

    Woah! Hold on a minute!! With all the lawyers on this site, no one has said the obvious. It’s not legal to send people from all over the world to different countries all over the world without making sure they’re provided for financially! Fat chance getting a visa for a Nigerian or Nicaraguan or (the list goes on…) to serve a mission in the USA unless you can show that the lodging & food will be totally covered during the mission. And I’ll bet every other country in the world is going to exclude a missionary who shows up at their embassy saying he’s not even planning on taking a suitcase with him. No, the days of going without “purse and scrip” are gone forever, barring the complete disintegration of governments as we know them.