Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

When Charity destroys Dignity – Glenn Schwartz (2)

What did I learn from Schwartz’s book? A few things stand out. He really understands the danger of dependency. And one of the biggest dangers which he mentions is that the supporting body (be it a missionary council, church or an individual) dictate how the work should be done. They decide who should be appointed as leaders, which projects should be supported, etc. And this means that the local people lose the initiative in the work that needs to be done. Furthermore, a church which is kept dependent upon outside sources do reach a point where they lose their dignity. Also true. I therefore fully support Schwarz in his viewpoint that churches should be assisted to become independent (or at least, less dependent).
I also appreciate that he distinguishes between those who are really poor and those who are just less fortunate than others and that he has a heart for those who are really poor (or living in Absolute Poverty as he describes it). By the time I reached chapter 10 of this book, I doubted that he really cared for people who are dying of hunger, but this chapter made me see a new side of him which I liked.
Another chapter which I appreciated was chapter 18 where he writes about maximising the benefits of short-term outreaches. One of the remarks which he makes which I totally agree with is the importance of proper preparation before going on a short-term outreach. (Not that I think that a team who had not undergone proper training are worthless. Our approach in Swaziland is to ensure that a team like that has much more contact with local leaders to guide them during the time that they are on the outreach. Obviously this puts a lot of extra strain on the local leaders but my argument is that we are investing in the lives of the people coming on the short-term outreach as well and that we will never be able to calculate the dividends of such an outreach in their personal lives.) But proper training is the best option.
Schwartz also shares a number of anecdotes where things went wrong on short-term outreaches and where people came with the wrong attitude and once again I agree with him. Some of the things he shares I had experienced myself. (Looking back, I blame myself for many of the things which went wrong with such teams, mainly because I believed that they had to take responsibility for themselves. Today I would probably do things differently and we rarely have serious problems with short-term outreach teams. But the point is that this book does give an important warning of how things could go wrong.)
In one of the last chapters he writes about the problem of AIDS which obviously drew my attention. While I believe that Schwartz still does not realise the full impact of this killer disease (who of us do?) I did appreciate that he realises that this disease calls for abnormal measures to be implemented if we want to start saving lives. One cannot remain a spectator, looking at thousands of people dying (6000 people per day in sub-Saharan Africa!) while hoping that local churches will become financially independent so that they can care for these people.
Much of what is written in this book can be accessed via the internet. Go the homepage of World Mission Associates and click on the Resources button. Most of the articles published there were written by Glenn Schwartz. Had I known beforehand of this site and with hindsight, after reading the book, I doubt whether I would have bought the book.
A final remark: Loving irony, I noticed, when going to the homepage of World Mission Associates that the very first button is marked “DONATE” through which people can give money to support this ministry financially. I could not help wondering about this…. 😉


Friday, August 24, 2007 Posted by | Giving, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment