Saturday, February 24, 2007

How Should We Then Give?

I've been perplexed over the past couple of weeks and I figured I would kick my question to the blogosphere to receive some dialogue with people who are far more intelligent/experienced in the area of missions than I am.

Recently, while discussing a few things with a friend of mine we began on the topic of power in missions. Namely, that sometimes, unwittingly, western missionaries will show their "power" over the people that they are working with. They can do this with technology, money and education, to name a few.

Steve Saint in his book, The Great Omission, which I mentioned in an earlier post, tells the story of how he went to Mali to work during a time of severe famine in the area. What was one of his goals? To set up radio communications in the area because there was none. The need was there for radio communication. Steve tells the story of a messenger who road his camel to the nearest road, waited a couple of days for a car to pass by and got a ride to the nearest metropolitan area. There, he informed some aid workers that there was an outbreak of cholera. Before he could return with medicines, over half the people had died. Radio communication would have helped greatly.

Someone had to pay for the radios that were given in Mali. Radios are technology that the people of Mali did not have at the time. So, was this a show of power?

Right now, at least the perception that I have, is that in several missions strategies we are moving away from introducing technologies. We are not providing much for the new churches that are being planted because they need to do it themselves. Part of me agrees. But part of me keeps asking.... "Is pulling out the best way?"

There are churches sitting on thousands of dollars in missionary funds that they use to send their people abroad. But, couldn't they just as well use it to help needs in other countries. I guess the great question is, "How should we then give?" We do not want to create dependency! That is something that I agree with. But, in doing so are we missing one of the great commands of scripture...to help those who are in need (a paraphrase I know)?

Maybe I don't know enough about these things. Am I right in seeing that we are focusing more on the preaching of the gospel than providing for physical needs? Yes, the former is far more important than the latter, but when we live in the lap of luxury and don't give to our brothers in another country who are hungry I feel we are not properly obeying scripture. I feel we may be on the verge of a major misstep, missoilogically speaking. But, I may not understand the subject fully so please give me grace.

What are your thoughts?

Through Christ,
Dougald

19 comments:

Alan Knox said...

Dougald,

I hope you get alot of response from missionaries. I'd love to hear their take on this question. I have heard several people (including professors) suggest that it is a waste of money to send Christians as short-term voluntary missionaries. Instead, they say, the money would be better spent if sent directly to the missionaries in that location. I do not know the answer here. Like I said, I hope you get a good dialog going.

-Alan

Trey Atkins said...

I am a missionary serving in Croatia and can speak only out of that context.

By "dependency" we would mean the paying of normal church expenses such as salaries, building construction, and the maintenance and bills for such buildings. Our team uses "Human Needs" projects through the IMB and other funds as we are able to find them for the purpose of economic development in war devastated areas of our country. We are very thankful to everyone who makes that work possible.

I would not agree with the sentiment that volunteer trips are a waste of money. In fact, they seem to be a tremendous investment both for the countries and teams receiving the volunteers and the volunteers themselves.

The IMB talks about "leading Southern Baptists" to take the gospel to the world. We do not view this as meaning that only missionaries go but rather, that we go together in whatever manner God has directed.

God weaves the tapestry of His call. None of us is capable. Some will go for their whole life, others for shorter periods, many will stay in their own country but accomplish the vitally important work of praying, giving and motivating others to be involved. Every piece is just as important as the other.

Trey Atkins
IMB - Croatia

dwm III said...

Alan,

I hope that I get some dialog as well. I'm just a biblical studies major who took a fair amount of missions classes while I was getting my M.Div. So, sometimes I don't have things as clear as I should.

I would disagree with those proffesors who said such things. Sometimes, its even good for churches to send people just to let the m's know that they are cared for by their local church. Sometimes, that is a big boost for m's.

Trey,

Thanks for posting a comment. That sheds a lot of light on what is meant by not creating dependency. To that extent I agree.

Let me share what I and another on this blog have done. I would love to hear your thoughts:

We have been leading a team every year for two years now to a central asian country. Our goal is actually to live there one day and work alongside our brothers and sisters through mutual discipleship. That is a loaded term and perhaps one day we'll explain what we mean by that on this blog. Currently, we do not work with m's, but with a local church there. They are building a church building which we have not contributed to. We feel this would create dependency. However, while we were there last year we were told about the m's that this church has sent to other Central Asian countries. They had called the m's earlier in the week and they told them that they were praying for bread to eat because they had none. At the end of the trip we had some extra money and we left it with the church, solely to help support their missionaries for a short while. We viewed this as a gift to help our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some would probably disagree with us doing that. And, if they started to expect that we would have to lovingly sit down and talk about it. But, we didn't feel it was right to go home with extra money when we knew a brother and his family were going hungry in another country.

Now, with all that said, I also need to say that we have a different relationship with this church. Our church here in the states actually has had three members who are from the church we work with overseas. So, we kind of have a close tie to them. Just an FYI.

I would love to hear your thoughts and other peoples thoughts as well. Thanks for commenting and we'll be praying for you and your work.

Through Christ,
Dougald

Mark said...

It sounds like what you are asking for, and what others have decided upon, is a sort of template or standard that can be applied, perhaps with exceptions or variations, to all situations. We could reasonably call it a 'rule'.

But wouldn't it be better to be supremely adaptable so that we make the best use of resources in every situation, and wouldn't such adaptability preclude the application of such a rule?

Isn't the purpse of such rules to eliminate our need for constant guidance. Doesn't our desire for such a rule come from our natural and so often subconscious desire to make choices on our own without God?

I expect God will be involved in the spread of the Gospel. As has been said, "none of us is capable". I suspect we will be of most use to God if we seek his guidance and comply with his direction at every turn rather than establish standards that effectively remove God from the process.

dwm III said...

Mark,

I don't know if I'm really looking for a rule (unless by rule you mean what I am about to say). I think I'm just looking for a way of life. I think that we should look at each situation individually. But, we must admit that our previous experiences affect the way that we would react in any given situation. For some, the creation of dependence has been devestating to their work. Namely, because unwittingly they created a dependecy between the people they were working with and the missionaries.

Now, I guess what I'm asking for is a mediating view because these "bad examples" have had a reaction in the missions world. That is, that some would not leave anything, like money, to help the nationals. I am hoping that we would think about each situation individually and maybe think the answer is, "don't give." Maybe the answer is something else.

Now, with that said, there are several places around the world that do it differently. I'm eager to hear what they have to say about it. This is not meant to be an attack on any group. But rather, just a question to generate thoughtful discussion.

Thanks Mark for your comment as always you ask very direct questions, which I like. See you Sunday.

Through Christ,
Dougald

Mark said...

Could it be that these dependency situations came about because missionaries did seek and follow God's direction? Because dependency seems so obviously undesirable, I have to suspect it occurred precisely because they did not act according to God's guidance.

Is the solution to such a situation to come up with a better "way of life" on our own? Wouldn't it be better to daily (or even more frequently) seek and conform to God's will?

dwm III said...

Mark,

Maybe we need to define what the will of God is. Do you agree?

Maybe, that is what I am asking for here. Is it God's will for us to help build a church building? Is there anything wrong with that? Is there one situation that will be different than another? Or, if we are in the exact same situation will we be led by the will of God to do something different?

My point with these questions is that the will of God is more static than I think we contemporary Christians believe. In short, I'm asking what are the biblical principles about the giving of money given in scripture? If I find them, then I'll know the will of God.

So, the following question is this. Do the current trends in missions reflect this?

Thanks for asking questions to get me to clarify. At least with me this clarifies what I'm trying to say, let me know if it muddies the water for you.

Through Christ,
Dougald

Mark said...

There's no question it is an excellent thing to desire to know the "Biblical principles about the giving of money". I want to know, too!

The foundational understanding upon which you asked your original question is precisely what I intended to challenge. I'm glad you articulated it just the way you did because I differ in that I believe God's will is often less static (at least with regard to questions not specifically addressed in scripture) than contemporary Christians generally believe.

It's an important question to ask, but the Bible doesn't give us extensive detail, if any. It shouldn't be a surprise to think we might have to pray for an answer to the question asked on a case-by-case basis, if for no other reason than because we know (from scripture) that we need God's help to find and understand the answer, even if we did find it in scripture with very specific details for application.

I also believe that the variability of circumstances that demand answers to important questions like these and the absence of detail in the Bible are both designed for the purpose of driving us to God for those answers.

dwm III said...

Mark,

I agree to an extent with you. It is good to ask God for wisdom in any given situation. I'm not saying we don't rely on Him for everything. Maybe it is a bit of semantics that we may disagree on. I think for me, what you are saying is what I would call asking for wisdom not seeking God's will. I guess maybe my view is a slight reaction to the things I see where people are in angst because they don't know God's will for their lives on certain things and I'm like, "Its in the word!"

Or, I also have seen some who said they prayed about something and they felt like it was God's will to do something that was contrary to God's word (the example I am thinking of is a woman who divorced her husband).

So, I guess I'm just I like to use those words "God's will" a little bit less because I think it may give the idea that it is something that is not closely tied to God's word.

Thanks for keeping the dialogue going.

Dougald

Mark said...

I used the words 'guidance', 'direction', and 'will' interchangably. I think that demonstrates well what I mean as I have referred to God's 'will'.

If we disagree, it is not about semantics. It is about whether and to what extent we should begin, proceed, and end with dependence on God.

Arnau said...

I have been a missionary in Swaziland for the past 22 years and can speak from some experience. On the one hand I have found that some teams come into Swaziland and in typical Western fashion ignore the people in an attempt to do what they feel should be done. An example: A team once came into Swaziland and identified a need for a shower at a local preachers home. The fact that he had never expressed a desire for a shower made no difference, nor the fact that there was no running water. They built a shower, gave him a petrol pump which would pump the water into a reservoir on top of the roof so that he could shower. Did I mention that the nearest gas station is probably at least 30 miles away? And did I mention that this man had no idea how to service the engine?

On the other hand, there is so much fear from people to create dependency, that they fail to give support where it is really needed. We can write a lot about this topic. Perhaps the main thing to my mind is that giving should always go together with the building of relationships. Once you get to see those you are assisting as people and not merely as mission objects, it may become easier to give assistance without creating dependency.

dwm III said...

Arnau,

Thanks for stopping by and offering your comment. I think that is exactly what I'm trying to say, though you have articulated it a little differently.

I have struggled with a) doing something that the people did not see as a need and b) totally ignoring needs because we did not want to create dependency.

Those things are constantly on my mind as I lead teams in our partnership with a local church overseas. Last summer we gave to help one of their missionaries in another country who had no money for food. It was a need they mentioned to us in passing.

Also, we wouldn't be doing this summer what we are doing had not they suggested it. Namely, going to another village with national believers. It is viewed as a "joint" mission trip. It is just as much ours as it is theirs. Or even, it is going to be more of them leading us.

Anyways, I could ramble about this, but thanks for expressing your thoughts the way you did. They were very helpful. And, feel free at any time just to post a prayer request on here and we'll be happy to lift something up to the Father.

Dougald

Anonymous said...

Dougald,

Thanks for your response. Perhaps I could share something of where I experienced "giving" an a very positive way. About 7 years ago one of our church buildings (made of stick and mud) collapsed during a massive storm. We then met under a tree for our church services. A congregation in South Africa (SA) had at that point been having regular contact with this group of believers and felt the desire to help them to erect a new church building. I then facilitated regular meetings with the local believers. On many Sundays the group from SA just joined us for a church service and after spending some time went back home (building relations). Then they started speaking about the church building. Eventually someone from SA offered to design a building - totally out of the traditional way of building in Swaziland. I eventually suggested that we plan a more simple building and then give the local believers a chance to choose. They preferred the more simple building. When the work started the local believers were requested to help with the physical work while the people from SA would assist with the finances. This project worked in a wonderful way and still remains to me an example of how things could be done.

I have another great story to share if you are interested.

Arnau said...

Sorry about the previous comment that went under "anonymous" - this was Arnau responding

dwm III said...

Arnau,

Thanks for sharing your story. And yes, I would love to hear another story.

I think one of the biggest things that I would empasize, and I think you story does this, is that these things are to always involve the church that we are working with.

I believe it should look like this: I am a memeber at FBC church of Durham. If I want to do work in Durham I might work alongside Summit church. We would work as equals, some shouldering certain responsibilities over others etc., but we would work together. I beleive this is how we should work with the church in Centra Asia that we work with.

In other words, we should always view ourselves as equals and not the great Western Missionaries who have come to save the day.

Now, I've said in this comment string that I wouldn't give for church buildings. However, I would always take it as a case by case basis. We didn't help with our church in Central Asia, because they were doing it on their own just fine. But if they lost that to a fire, what would we do? Well, I'd have to talk to some people about that. But, we would at least offer some help I would think. But always, we would work WITH them.

Thanks for your comment and I hope that we can continue this discussion.

Through Christ,
Dougald

Arnau said...

My second story is more recent. Through what I cannot describe as anything else than divine inspiration, our congregation in Swaziland came to the conviction that we should become more involved in the HIV/AIDS problem. You probably do not know this, but Swaziland is the country in the world with the highest HIV infection rate. If you haven't seen anyone dying because of AIDS, then you will never really understand what it is that we have to cope with. We are involved in home-based caring and presently around 90 volunteers (which should increase to around 130 by the end of the month) are involved in this ministry. The story is really amazing to read. You can download a copy from http://www.swazimission.co.za/Documents/Hands and Feet.pdf or go to http://www.swazimission.co.za/English/aids.htm and click on the link which reads: "On Becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-Ridden community".

A certain congregation in South Africa, about 150 km (90 miles) from us decided to get involved with this project. Their first few visits were aimed at building relations. Then they started collecting clothes and blankets for the patients and delivered it personally in Swaziland. Then they got professional people in their congregation to help with extra training, people such as dieticians, doctors, eye specialists, etc. They have committed themselves to visit Swaziland once every three months.

They realised that they can't do the physical caring part, but through their relations with the caregivers, they now bring something for them on every visit as a way of encouraging them to continue with the task.

Obviously a team from the USA or somewhere in Europe will go about this differently, but the principle described above can work and can make giving in missions something greatly spiritual.

By the way, I have also started my own blog: http://missionissues.wordpress.com/ and kicked off with the issue of short-term outreaches.

I have more stories to share about this home-based caring ministry. I'll do that on another day.

Trey Atkins said...

Thanks for your reponse to my earlier comment. I apologize for the length of time in responding back.

Your situation is very unusual and healthy. If the church you are supporting in Asia is sending its own m's and they do not have enough basic resources, our obligation as brothers and sisters is to give with generosity.

It seems that one of the characteristics of "creating dependency" is that the receiving church or believer does not give generously themselves. We do not want to give in such a way as to take the blessing of sacrificial giving from the local church.

However, if that local group is giving generously, by all means find an appropriate way to jump in and join them.

Trey Atkins
IMB - Croatia

dwm III said...

Trey,

Thanks for the comment. I totally agree with you. Hope everything is going well for you.

Through Christ,

Dougald

Anonymous said...

As a Missionary, I will say that one of the hard things is that I am not with a denominational sending org, so now I find that while many people resonate with our work, we are in a hard place.

We are westerners serving in a part of the world where indigenous is not allowed, but many churches now (including our own :( ) only support indigenous. We also are from a very small area and when I speak with other churches, that may support more than just indigenous, they require a strong pre-existing relationship with their church.

So, having build a strong base of ministry and begun the process of discipleship, we now find that God must now really want us overseas because He created us as western and didn't place us in the right churches. We now must stay off the field so we can begin attending a new church to establish a relationship in hopes that during the years it will take to meet the "relationship" criteria, the church doesn't move to the vision of indigenous only.

I understand the desire for churches to stop support western workers, but what should happen when you cannot have local workers, and since I work with youth and 97% of the world's youth workers are in North America, where else are they going to come from???