Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Giving without creating dependency

I subscribed to another blog where the owner recently raised the question how one should give in missions. You can read his viewpoint here. This connects to a certain extent to my first entry about Short-term outreaches which you can read by clicking on here.

I think that there is always a fear in missions (rightly so) that giving may eventually create dependency, which is not a good thing. But what does one do in a world where there is such a huge disparity between the rich and the poor and where the poor are literally dying of hunger or because of alack of other essential needs? We have examples in the Bible where certain, richer churches assisted churches who were struggling financially and they were commended for it. See 2 Cor 9.

The answer is not easy. In my opinion and with my experience, I would say the short answer lies in building relationships if and when you give. Obviously it is not as simple as that, but I have a number of stories that I would like to share about this.

But I would like to hear what you think. Is it possible at all to give without creating dependency? Do you have an experience about this (positive or negative) that you can share? I would really like to hear about it.


Monday, April 9, 2007 - Posted by | Giving, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland


  1. Dear Arnau Van Wyngaard,

    I am so very delighted to have found you and your blog. I enthusiastically look forward to interaction with you regarding the very important issue of how to stop creating dependency. There is a burning passion in me about this issue after 32 years of full time engagement raising billions of dollars to fund “God’s Work”.

    I was called to resource development for the Lord’s work 32 years ago when I heard Him speak to me during prayer. I was asking Him for direction to expand a small Christian literature and music corporation that was growing rather well. It was somewhat of a shock to here the Lord Say raise funds for His work when I was asking Him how to raise funds for my work.

    In any case, I followed His call and now after 32 years I am retiring, deeply grateful for this awesome journey and want to focus on this very issue of how to stop creating dependency. I wish to write a book for donors and lay people challenging their mission premises.

    In the last 32 years I have traveled the world. I have raised millions to save starving Africans, built hospitals and health clinics in Cambodia, Africa and many countries, increased farm yields in the highlands of Peru, Latin America, developed bible curriculum for eastern European Christians, etc.,etc. However, living in Ethiopia in 1985 during that terrible famine under the reign of Mengistu and the butcher of Gondar was the watershed of my life.

    Last August I was in Ethiopia reconnecting with an Ethiopian gentleman who was my assistant during 1985. In 1989 he and his wife began assisting Ethiopian orphans and have continued to do so to this day. They have become a legal indigenous NGO in Ethiopia employing many people. I was proud to tears when I saw Kassaye in August. I asked him how he was motivated to do this wonderful work. He said he was motivated by my mentoring him and our love for his family.

    My heart and mind says that more indigenous staffed and based NGO’s are needed all over Africa. The western world has been trying and failing for at least the last 300 years too focused on short term fixes that are not sustainable and business deals that should not have happened.

    My observations and learning’s tell me that avoiding the result of creating dependency by indigenous or foreign based NGO’s requires hard careful objective baseline research to establish the actual measurable conditions of the community, nation and region one is serving before doing much of anything apart from short term humanitarian relief.

    Once objective baselines are established which likely ebb and flow for better or worse over time one has to engage with the natural, political and religious leadership to inspire and empower those who respond (including children)to envision their preferred future. Then one must come alongside them and help them attain their vision no matter how elementary it may seem. Without this direct engagement with the beneficiaries and leadership to dream their futures many interventions fail and/or create more dependency.

    I must say here from a Christian viewpoint that the above is always impacted by the existing evil structures in the communities and regions. Being wise as serpents, gentle as doves and strong as lions are prerequisites to advance Christ’s call to serve the “least ones” He calls His own nurturing their dignity to become transformed into productive interdependent self reliant human beings.

    Speaking from an American USA church viewpoint I think too much of what we do is what I call “feel good” mission work. The focus of “Faith in Action” is more focused on let me “do” something that makes me feel good so I can go home and testify to what I did rather than the hard, somewhat boring work of helping people to help themselves. Mission work has been too often contrived to become what I call “romantic ministry.”

    Once I was touring projects in Kenya with a Presbyterian pastor who had left a pastorate to become a foundation director. During our travels he began to criticize an NGO group who he thought were not incarnational enough. I asked him, what do you mean not incarnational enough?

    He responded with, “Well, look at the vehicles they use. They are expensive and rather new. We support a missionary here who drives an old Packard. It has holes in the floorboard and gets stuck in the mud a lot. That missionary is incarnational.”

    Having a long time established relationship with him I forged ahead rebuking his ridiculous remarks. Saying his name I said, “You are romanticizing ministry. For the love of God why don’t you buy the missionary a new vehicle so he can get more work done? You are living in a romanticized version of Christianity.”

    Obviously, He was somewhat shocked so I continued. Saying his name again, I asked, “Do you think we should be incarnational as well? He said, yes, of course. I said, well, then when you return to your home on the lovely coast of California move into your garage, call your extended Christian family and invite them to live with you in your garage because that is the way a large part of the world lives if you think being incarnational from that measurement is realistic.”

    Romancing ministry is a foolish thing and too many churches follow that pattern. We need to invest time and treasure in mission work that produce results that are sustainable by the beneficiaries transforming them into replicable models looked up to in their own communities

    I think I’ve said enough for now.

    God Bless You, Friend!

    Comment by William "Bill" L. Gary | Thursday, April 26, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hi Bill,

    Thanks so much for contacting me on this issue. I really hope that we can keep this discussion going and that more people would take part in this. The truth is obviously that many mistakes have been made in the past in the way that help had been given in missions. I can give a whole bunch of examples of experiences we have had in the 22 years that I have been serving as missionary in Swaziland. And yes, I also made many of the mistakes. Is the right thing to do to withdraw all help from outside? If you can live with your conscience afterwards, then that would probably be an option. But I consider this an over-reaction.

    I enjoyed your story on the visit of your friend to Kenya. You also gave the right response. But there is another side to the story which I have often seen, where teams move into mission fields with equipment, vehicles and such stuff that would make most Western people green with envy. “Only the best for the Lord” seems to be their viewpoint. But very often the best is not necessary to do the work efficiently. No, a broken-down Packard is also not efficient. But one should be able to find a compromise.

    A story from my own personal experience: I have often found that 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 preacher’s 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?

    This type of giving creates dependency, because the team will have to return each year to make sure that the pump and the shower is working. Eventually they give up and feel angry because the local pastor did not want to take responsibility. But where did the problem start?

    I have a number of positive stories to share as well. I will only be able to do it after 1 May when I will be back at home, but you can respond in the meantime.


    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, April 27, 2007 | Reply

  3. […] posts on this topic and you have only recently started reading this blog, then you can find them here and here. This story is more recent. Through what I cannot describe as anything else than divine […]

    Pingback by Giving without creating dependency (3) « Mission Issues | Friday, June 15, 2007 | Reply

  4. I do fundraising in the US and have recently been overwhelmed with the burden of how to reverse dependency cause by US giving. I work with a ministry in the Middle East and am saddened by the dependency I have become a part of. How can we teach the rest of the world to give back to God? I am unable make much change in the ministry I work with. 98% of the funding comes from the US and Sweden. We pay for leaders to come to training seminars and ask nothing of them. I was asked to send $2500 for snack breaks at the last conference. About half of the women that came were local. I suggested that they bring snacks, but I was told that would not be nice enough. I work with an indigenous ministry that has developed a western mindset. What can I do to bring change? There always seems to be someone to sweep in and pay for the conferences. People seem to love to pay for special projects like this. Unfortunately no one seems to concerned with paying the air time bill, it is an ongoing work and is difficult to quantify Any thoughts?

    Comment by Kate P | Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | Reply

  5. Kate, thanks for responding. I can sense your frustration about this issue. If you read the previous comments, you would see that I’m also struggling to find the answer. Can you give me some more information on the conferences? Where are they being held? In America or another country? Fow how long are they held? What is the topic? How many people attend? How was the $2500 intended to be used? I would like to understand the issue better before I make comments.

    The secret, I think, is to give generously without creating dependency. But I will respond once I hear from you.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | Reply

  6. Thanks, The conferences are held where ever it is safe to have 30 – 120 Christian women leaders attend. They are held in the Middle East or North Africa. The $2500 was just for coffee breaks with cookies. The conference already was costing about $30K for 40 women attending. We hold one or two such conference a year. We also have smaller seminars on the local level each year. They last one week and are held to teach topics that help women grow in their marriage or community, as leaders and wives and mothers. The attendees pay nothing. I feel that they are deprived of the joy off giving, or asking people in their communities to help them attend. My passion is for the radio show that is broadcast across the 22 Arab countries and discusses women’s issues. We always have trouble paying our radio bill. But keep holding conferences and seminars. The ministry leader prefers the one on one approach. I raise funding in the US and it is given thru Christar. I started with the ministry long after the dependency was created. I am torn because we in the US have so much to give and the need is so great. There are 330 million Arab women that need to know love and hope.

    Comment by Kate P | Thursday, January 1, 2009 | Reply

  7. PS, I am just a lay person who began praying for this Arab ministry 5 years before I got involved. I support several missionaries. One of which I have not met, and the others I have known as friends or was introduced to by a friend. I was given the gift of giving. I prefer to give to missionaries that I have some kind of relationship with. I prefer to give what God leads me to give. If I receive a special request I am driven by guilt into giving that amount. I do appreciate newsletters and pictures from the ministry. I believe in building relationships with all missionaries I support. I don’t want to just send my money, I want to know how to pray for them. I just read your Nov 9 blog.

    Comment by Kate P | Thursday, January 1, 2009 | Reply

  8. Hi Kate. May I wish you a blessed 2009. Thanks for the feedback you gave me. I don’t have much experience working in Arab countries. I spent one day last year at a Bible School in the desert in an Arab country, teaching some students, which was great fun and I’m still hoping that I may be able to go again this year. But my experience is mostly within Southern Africa and Russia. This whole issue is so extremely difficult. Do a search on my blog under “dependency” (or you can just click under “categories”) and you will see some of the difficulties I’ve experienced with this. You should definitely also read the reviews I wrote about Glenn Schwartz’s book, which you can find here: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/2007/08/23/when-charity-destroys-dignity-glenn-schwartz-1/ and here: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/2007/08/24/when-charity-destroys-dignity-glenn-schwartz-2/ and you should also read the review on Rowell’s book: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/2007/09/10/to-give-or-not-to-give-john-rowell/
    Looking at what you wrote about the conference: I often find when people have conferences in Africa, that they want to do things in the same way as it is done in the USA or in Europe. I attended the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek in August and the experience was mind boggling. But there is absolutely no way in which I would try and duplicate this in Swaziland, where I’m working. If people don’t have food to eat, then you don’t present a conference to them costing thousands of dollars. Now, I’m not saying that this is what is being done at the conferences you are involved in, but I have a feeling, when I look at the figures you mentioned, that this may indeed be what is happening. In our ministry (focussed on HIV and AIDS) we regularly train home-based caregivers. The number is usually somewhere between 30 and 40 and the training goes on for a week. People sleep at their homes (which means me don’t have to give them breakfast or dinner and we don’t have to pay for accommodation). Food for the whole week (two tea breaks and lunch) will cost us at the most $250 – mainly because we ask local people to prepare the food and to do it in the way in which they normally eat. $2500 for coffee and cookies! Wow!
    On the one hand the conferences you present are necessary and we can’t expect most local people to pay for it. What I usually say is that we will bear the cost of the training and they bear the cost of travelling to the venue. In our country this is already a large sacrifice. Furthermore, we ask that they arrange local people to cook. I don’t buy the food. I give the leader or coordinator the cash and tell them that they need to buy the food themselves and work out the budget for themselves. They are mostly woman who are used to cook at their homes, using a very small budget. Overhead costs are cut to the absolute minimum. We use whyteboards or paper stuck up on the walls if they need to remember things. Obviously, this won’t work in our Western culture where we are used to multimedia, but in Africa whyteboards are luxury items!
    If I hear you correctly, then you are concerned about the high cost of these conferences. And if they keep on presenting these expensive conferences, then it will never happen that the local people take responsibility, because they will never be able to do it on the same level. However, if the conferences are presented in a way which adapts to the local culture and the normal way of doing things, then you may find that huge amounts are saved (which could be used for other needs) and that the local people may start taking ownership of the conferences.
    I’m still just shooting from the hip, but I have a feeling that I may not be far off the mark. But please let me know what you think.
    Have you ever read my Swaziland newsletters? You can read the latest one by clicking on this link: http://tinyurl.com/55n93a and if you want to subscribe to my newsletter, you can go to http://bulkmail.contactnow.co.za/RWCode/subscribe.asp?SiteID=25466&SID=0&HitID=1210864600000 and make sure that you click on the Swaziland (English) box at the bottom.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, January 1, 2009 | Reply

  9. Hi again Arnau, I just read your newsletter and will read it again. I have a T3 group (Time-Talent-Treasures) We pool some giving money to work with missionaries on small budgets. Now all 7 of us have become involved with ministries we have supported. That is how I became part of AWT. I will pass your newsletter and this blogsite to my group. Funny enough I just read first Swartz, then Rowell’s books. Trans World Radio is using Swartz’s book to rethink their organization. A friend who works there is in my T3 Group. I came upon your blog looking for more views other than Swartz on the dependency issue. Parts of his book spoke to me and others made me disagree. I really appreciate your comments about the conference and will use your logic to discuss future venues for the conference. We pay all the travel/hotel and conf costs. I would just like to see the participants asked to give what they can toward the conf. The usually have nicer cameras than me. Airfare is the biggest expense. We fly women from all over MENA. If they gave $20 I would be happy, simply because they would be part of God’s giving plan. I meet women at the conf
    who tell me that they went back to their church and taught the information from the last Conference. Some women will do it anyway, but we are not giving showing them the skills to take the conf anywhere on their level. We are always asking them to move outside the church walls, but we don’t exemplify that. The conferences are held in nice places. If we saved money on the conf we could pay our radio bills, or buy shoes for Iraqi women that come to a seminar on forgiveness, in winter with no shoes. I may be too passionate about the radio and I do appreciate your reminder that the conferences are important too. May God Bless you and your ministry as you grow His Kingdom.

    Comment by Kate P | Friday, January 2, 2009 | Reply

  10. Kate, I’m glad to hear that you have also read both books. I think Schwartz does have an important message, but I also think that if we only read his book, that this will become a way for people in the “rich” West to find an excuse to keep on spending money on themselves instead of giving it where God intended. Rowell helps us to understand our responsibility much better.

    What I would suggest, concerning the conferences, would be to sit down with the local people and ask them how they would organise a conference like this, in the light of the huge costs involved. If they understand that this is not a way of trying to get out of responsibilities and commitments but an honest search for God’s will and spending money in a more responsible way, they may come up with new innovative ideas.

    One thing which I also do nowadays when we train caregivers is to get the community involved. Instead of giving $250 for the food, we gave them about $100 and then ask the community, who would ultimately be those who benefit from the work of the caregivers, to contribute towards feeding the trainees (either in kind or in cash) during the training. This may not have worked well when we trained the first few groups, but, because we have now established a name for ourselves and the people of the community realise the advantage which the caregivers have for them, they do this without any problem, in spite of their poverty.

    Two other documents which you may also want to read is about the problem of affluent missionaries. I have links to them on my blogsite under “Other Interesting Links”: Affluence: A Western Missionary Problem (1) & (2).

    I’ve taken the liberty of putting your Hotmail address on my mailing list for my newsletter. Keep contact. I would like to know how things are working out for you.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, January 2, 2009 | Reply

  11. Sir,

    I have read your articles with much interest. I am an “older” student (67) in my final year at Liberty University and must write a paper on dependency and its implications on world missions. Would you tell me where I can access your written essays, etc. regarding this subject.

    Thank you for Any consideration.


    Ed finch

    Comment by Ed Finch | Monday, August 30, 2010 | Reply

  12. Hi Ed, I haven’t published any articles on this topic other than on this blog. But you are more than welcome to use whatever you find here. Do a search on the topic. And thanks for your interest in my blog.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, August 31, 2010 | Reply

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