Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Giving without creating dependency (4)

Well, it does seem that this topic will remain important for some time, so let me continue and share what I experienced on Saturday. In Swaziland we became involved in an AIDS ministry about eighteen months ago. I planned fairly small, but somehow this project has exploded into something very big, and as far as we can see, the end is NOT nigh – at least not for this task! I will be writing some more on this in the future but at present we are running a home-based caring project in the southern part of Swaziland with 130 volunteers going out on a daily base, without any salary, to take care of the sick and the dying in the community. In my previous post I mentioned that we would be receiving some visitors to this project on Saturday from a congregation in South Africa. What happened was that not one, but two congregations sent people to come and see us. What was remarkable to me was to see the difference between the two groups. The one group, those who had been involved with our ministry since April 2006, have one of their pastors as leader. He is such a loving and caring person and the people in Swaziland appreciate and love them just for being there once every three months. Although they cannot support the ministry with a lot of money, they always bring a small gift for the volunteers doing the work as an encouragement to help them to continue with the work. I said to these people on Saturday that they will never understand how much this small gesture of interest in the care-givers as people mean to them.
The second group has an engineer as their leader. As an engineer he has a certain group of friends and he motivated them to come along. But at one point on Saturday he was very frustrated. We had spent time during the morning where a dietician had been teaching the care-givers the basics about food and especially how to diagnose and treat malnutrition in children. Then there was a long discussion about breast-feeding. This topic was passed on to my wife who could at least speak from experience (the dietician only married recently). But the engineer couldn’t take all this talking! Eventually he came to me and said: “I can’t take all this talking. I need to DO something.” Well, some of their group started walking around the church building from where this work is coordinated and asked one of the local people: “Where do you get your water from to cook for the orphans that you are feeding?” She told them that they have to go down to the river, more than a mile (around 2 kilometres) from the church. Then they fill a 25 litre container with water, lift it up on their heads and walk all the way back to the church. They have also started a vegetable garden where vegetables are grown and then used for the orphan-feeding program. For this they need four 25 litre containers of water every day, all of which have to be fetched from the river. The engineers started making plans: How to erect a water tank. Practical ways to fill it with water. How to get water to the vegetable garden. How to erect a toilet at the church. What a great experience to see that God uses different people with different personalities to do different things.
Coming back to the topic: Would this type of help create dependency? No, I don’t think so. As long as the help that is given is given in such a way that constant maintenance from professionals is avoided. To explain: Most of the people working in the churches in Swaziland are extremely poor. What I have seen happening is that some Christians come along from South Africa or the USA or some other country. They very quickly realise that the church workers can do their work much more efficiently if they could have transport. This is obviously the truth. They collect money and buy the person a secondhand motor vehicle to enable him to do his work. But now the question arises: Who is going to take care of the car? A car needs to be serviced regularly. Usually the owner does not have money to do this. So there are two options: Do not service the car or alternatively take it to a “bush” mechanic. Both options lead to the same result: Somewhere the car is going to break down. Who will then pay to have it repaired? The only other alternative is for the people who gave the car to take full responsibility to service and repair the car. But this inevitably leads to total dependency.
I think we need a lot of wisdom to give without creating dependency. I will really be grateful if you would share your own experiences about this.


Monday, June 18, 2007 - Posted by | Giving, Partnership, Support teams


  1. I had never thought of this issue (dependency) but it is crucial, isn’t it? I remember hearing a story a long time ago about a village somewhere in Africa where the village had missionaries come to help them. The missionaries thought it was a good idea (and it WAS on the face of it) to pump in water from the river to make life easier for the inhabitants. The people in the village were all for it and everyone was pleased. However, a while after the system was in place and the excitement died down, they found that relationships in the village were deteriorating and fast. No one could figure out why this was happening. To their knowledge it had not been happening prior. As it turns out the women were used to going down to the river to wash their clothes and gather water and this was a time when they talked about their families and worked through different issues. Now that this aspect of their lives was altered, they did not have this social time to work things out and their relationships suffered. So, if this story is true (and I believe it is) not all “progress” benefits the recipient i n these situations.

    Comment by Maya | Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. Maya, thanks for sharing that story. Whether it is true or not is probably irrelevant. The message which comes out clearly is that one needs to sit down with the local people and discuss matters with them before doing things. This is probably one of the advantages of getting involved in an area where a missionary is already active who know and understand the culture (although we can and do still make mistakes!) You sparked something in my mind and I’ll post something later today about it.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | Reply

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