Peanut Butter, Privilege, and Provision

The financial pressures of missionary life remind us that all our privileges are grace from the God who promised his presence with us on mission.

Recently, my wife asked me for 10,000 CFA (almost $20) to buy some homemade peanut butter—something not common in West Africa—in bulk from a Togolese friend. She doesn’t usually like to carry a lot of cash, so I took out my wallet and handed her the money like I’d done so many times in our 12-year marriage. I remember doing it without hesitation because, like everyone in our family, I like peanut butter.

Later that day, I realized that we’ve never been in a position where we didn’t have grocery money to spend. I tried to imagine the grief, shame, embarrassment, and perhaps anger I might feel if, with other people watching, it had been revealed that I had no peanut butter money. That’s never happened to me, although it has happened to many people who have, including many fellow Christians.

We’ve never had a large monthly income, but we’ve never missed a payment, bill, or lacked groceries. We’ve endured tight times when we didn’t think we had everything we needed. I remember working through grad school as a security guard for $8 an hour with minimal benefits and a small baby at home. Looking back, I can’t see how we made ends meet. The numbers didn’t seem to add up. Yet God provided.

My wife and I certainly benefited from having godly parents who taught us to be responsible with what little income we made. But our first few years of marriage were a little scary, having no financial safety net, as both of parents were overseas missionaries. We had to make tough decisions. My wife quit a good job after our first child was born because she wanted to stay home with him, and we sold our second vehicle in order to have gas money to drive to Pennsylvania to candidate as missionaries with ABWE.

Privilege Versus Grace

Even when it seemed that we didn’t have enough, we made it. One word that could describe us—which is misused often today—is privileged. We didn’t have to take out student loans in order to graduate from college. We had parents who taught us to save and use money responsibly. We received several valuable gifts on our wedding day. We generally had good health and few medical bills.

But there’s another word for all that, which I think is even more accurate: grace.

God has been gracious to us throughout our entire lives. Our friends and family have been gracious as well. When we first were married and had no money for furniture for our one-bedroom apartment, two families in our church gave us a couch and computer desk. My parents gave us a bed, and my father took me to yard sales where I bought a coffee table, dinner table, and chairs for $25. When we became missionaries, our church was again gracious to us.

We’ve been living off grace our whole lives; it’s just easier to see it when we have fewer worldly possessions.

The problem is that we get hung up on our possessions. We worry about the bills, food, and furniture. As a missionary in Africa, I still find myself occasionally worrying about God’s provision. There have been times when I wasn’t sure if I would have enough money to pay for insurance or to put diesel in my truck to go teach a seminar. We didn’t have the money that we thought we needed, yet somehow the ministry continued to grow. I must be a very slow learner, because God has repeatedly taught me that he always takes care of us.

The Great Commission Promise

When I think about Jesus’ promise to us, the kind of support that he promised to provide, I can’t help but be amazed by the way he states it.

He didn’t say we’d always have all the money we need, or want, or think we need. He didn’t say we’d never suffer or be discouraged by a lack of personnel and resources. He didn’t promise any number of things that we find ourselves worrying about. What he did promise was actually better than all of those things: his presence.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 CSB, emphasis added)

Isn’t that promise better than any guarantee of wealth or resources? The task of making disciples among all the nations will be accomplished, not because he promised we’d have all the money and resources we need, but because he will be with us.

And by his grace, sometimes there’s even leftovers cash for peanut butter.

Andrew Paul Ward

Andrew Paul Ward is an ABWE missionary to Togo, West Africa, sent from Grace Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Andrew is the husband of Mary, father to Emmanuel, Cyrus, and Alethia. He holds a B.S. from Bob Jones University, an M.Div. from Temple Baptist Seminary, and an Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Support Andrew’s ministry.