Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Giving without any strings attached

I’ve often thought about the issue of giving for missions without any strings attached. On the one hand I feel that this is definitely the way in which we should give but on the other hand I would also want to know how my money is used that I give for missions.
Let’s just first look at the issue of giving without any strings attached. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to compare my early years in Swaziland with the situation as we have it now. As regular readers may have noticed by this time, we have a body which channels certain funds from the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa through to us in Swaziland. In my early years in Swaziland everything which was given to Swaziland was calculated to the second decimal and prescribed how it should be used. At the end of the financial year audited reports had to be given to prove that the money had been used in accordance with the way in which it was given.
Some years later we were at a meeting where I suggested that a certain amount of money (mostly used to subsidise full-time workers in the church in Swaziland) should be given to the local church without any strings attached. What I had in mind was that certain responsibilities be given to the local church together with an amount of money and that the church be trusted to use this money wisely. I was very surprised at that time that this suggestion was readily accepted and up to now a certain amount (albeit not a very large amount at this stage) is given to the local church every year to use as they please. This taught the indigenous church to plan, to budget and to use money with much greater responsibility than in the past.
But there is also another side to this. The greater part of our family’s tithe is given to our own church. But we have a few other ministries outside Swaziland that we also support every month. Our policy is that we give without any strings attached. But we do have a certain expectation from those whom we support. The one is that we appreciate some feedback from them to know how things are going – not how the money had been spent, but what God is doing in their ministry. I think this is fair. In fact, I think any missionary has a moral responsibility towards those who support them to keep them posted on their ministry.
But in my experience there is also another sensitive issue. When I support a ministry, then I want to know that I am really making a difference in the kingdom of God. About twenty years ago a man and his wife came to Swaziland as missionaries. We got to knew them well. They were mostly being supported by their own church in South Africa who had sent them to Swaziland. But after some time we realised that they were more often outside Swaziland, visiting their family and friends than inside Swaziland, doing the work which they were supposed to do. Their fuel account must have been enormous, and this mostly for travelling for their own pleasure. When their car’s engine broke, they asked the congregation that had sent them to fit a much more powerful and sporty V6 engine into the car, which was totally unnecessary. Not long afterwards that engine also seized, not far from our home, and at that point they stayed over at our house for about a week. During that time we found out that the man refused to eat anything but the best and most expensive meat! There was no way in which we could afford to buy steaks for every meal (which is what he wanted) and we just decided that he would have to fall in with our way of eating (mostly chicken) which didn’t really satisfy him. When they left, there was a lot of tension in the air. (And he got his home congregation to give him another V6 engine for his car.)
I learnt a valuable lesson at that point. I’m not convinced that God expects missionaries to live on $2 a day (the point which the World Bank describes as extreme poverty.) But I do think missionaries have to be careful that they do not create the impression that they are better off than those who support them. Because if that is the case, why do I need to support them?
But to return to the main topic: When giving for missions, we need to give without any strings attached. Someone once said to me: When you give away something as a gift, then it is no longer yours to control. Then the person to whom you had given it, has the freedom to decide what to do with it.
But obviously, if my gift is not used wisely, then I also have the freedom to decide NOT to give again.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007 - Posted by | Dependency, Giving, Hospitality, Indigenous church, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Tithing

3 Comments »

  1. I agree that when someone donates they should not have strings attached (unless there is a certain fundraising event for a specific need). I work hard to keep all of our supporters apprised of what we are doing in our organization. It lets them know what is happening (of course) and also makes them feel a part of what we are doing. We don’t have that many financial supporters at this time, but there are many people who have come through our program in the past and like to keep in contact and pray for us and our needs.

    I’m aghast at the attitude of the man who only wanted steaks and new engines! I cannot comprehend someone being in ministry and acting like this. What a horrible witness.

    Comment by Maya | Tuesday, October 16, 2007 | Reply

  2. Arnau, sorry I haven’t commented in a while.

    But I think you are on to something. I’ve been researching the Nevius method used in China and Korea at the turn of the 20th century. They were strict when it came to paying locals, but in my research I came across a couple of stations in Korea, among the poorest people, that with the judicious use of funds, and that without strings, the growth of the church increased. Other poor areas without use of foreign money suffered because the people were too poor to support themselves.

    Comment by wlh | Tuesday, October 16, 2007 | Reply

  3. Maya, you have a valid point about giving for a specific need. My wife supports a person who is involved in children’s ministry in Samara (Russia). The money that she gives to this person is given without any strings attached, but it is given with the expectation that it would be used in some way to further the cause of the children’s ministry. If this person stops doing children’s ministry, then she would probably re-think her commitment. So I do think that is a valid argument.

    wlh, I would like to hear from you after you have done you’re research. What is clear from what you are saying is that the argument of it being better not to support someone may not be valid in all cases but that the giving without having strings attached may well have good results. Keep us posted on what you find out.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, October 16, 2007 | Reply


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