Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Spending God’s money in church

I was invited to attend a cell group meeting this evening in order to inform the members about our home-based caring projects in Swaziland. The evening got a bit longer than we planned as questions were asked and I tried to give answers. Eventually the topic also turned to the responsibility of churches to become financially involved in mission. Which made me think of a conversation we had had in our home a few weeks ago with our two youngest children. When our children started receiving pocket money, we also taught them to tithe from their own money. Obviously, as they get older and receive more, their tithe should also grow.
What the exact detail was, I’m not sure, but our youngest child had run out of pocket money for the month and one Sunday my wife noticed that she didn’t have anything to give in church. We realised that this wasn’t a serious issue, but my wife laughingly remarked over lunch to our daughter that cutting back on your tithe is usually not a good way to save money. This led to some discussions about the importance of giving for God’s work.
It seems that churches tend to fall into the same trap. In order for a budget to work out, certain cuts have to be made. And inevitably cuts are made to the money spent outside that church. And in my opinion this is not a very good way to save money. During our gathering this evening someone made the remark that people like to give when they can sense a real need. I have said before that I am not convinced that one’s entire tithe should necessarily go to one congregation. For many years we have been giving part of our tithe to a few missionary organisations over and above what we give to our own congregation. The reason why we do so, is because we could see the need and although we cannot change the circumstances of the organisations, we can at least make a small difference.
The mistake which I see many churches making is that they concentrate almost entirely on the funds (or the lack of funds) coming in. But church members want to know that their money is being spent wisely and that it is making a difference in the world. If I can give $50 and know that the money is going to be spent in such a way that it will make a real difference in people’s lives, then I would much rather do that than throwing my money in a hole, not knowing how deep the hole is nor what the money is going to be used for when taken from the hole.
A week ago a pastor from another church asked to see me. They had received a fairly large donation from a certain individual. This church, however, also believes in tithing. Therefore they had calculated 10% of the amount they had received and decided to give it to be used for food for our home-based caring project in Swaziland. Now, I know that this church cannot afford it. But the very next day after they had given the money to us, they had a harvest festival where they asked people to bring food to church to hand out to the poor. They received so much food (from a very small congregation) that they didn’t know how they were going to distribute everything.
I’ve seen many churches running into financial difficulties and then cutting back on their mission contribution. I want to repeat what my wife said: This is not such a good way t save money: not for a child, not for an adult and also not for a church.


Thursday, February 28, 2008 Posted by | Church, Faith Offerings, Giving, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology, Tithing | 8 Comments

Are Christians above the civil law?

I have some Christian friends who seem to feel that they do not have to obey civil laws. Two of them are known for the speeds at which they travel – usually in excess of 100 mph (160 km/h)! They are always in a hurry to work for the Lord. But there are others who also tend to find ways of getting things done quickly, normally by paying a bribe. My impression is that they follow two Bible verses, the one in Romans 7:6: But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law, and the other in Acts 4:19: Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.
This situation becomes worse when missionaries are living in foreign countries and amongst people of other cultures. For many the calling to preach the gospel is so strong, that they feel that rules and laws may be bent in order for them to accomplish their goal. But is this right?
As with so many of these questions, the answer is not easy. In certain countries there were times when people were not allowed to have Bibles and they were not allowed to pray. It would be fairly easy to conclude that, to disobey the laws of the country in these circumstances, is allowed. During the 1970s Brother Andrew became known for the Bibles which he smuggled into countries where people were not allowed to own Bibles. I remember hearing him speak in Durban in South Africa in 1973 and was amazed at his prayer which he prayed before entering a country, something like: Lord, you who were able to give sight to the blind, make these customs officials blind when they search the car so that they won’t see the Bibles. And it worked!
For almost twenty years I’ve been involved in distributing the Online Computer Bible to literally thousands of people, mostly in Southern Africa. One day a young engineer came to see me as he wanted a copy of the program to take with him. He was working as an engineer for the government in a certain country where Christians are prohibited to evangelise members of the local population and he realised that it would be easier to take a Bible on a disk rather than as a book.
Before a previous visit to this country he had read the story of Brother Andrew, God’s Smuggler, and decided: If he could do it, so can I. Therefore he had taken with him a big pile of Bibles in the language of that country, knowing well that it was not allowed. In contrast to Brother Andrew, he was arrested at the border and put into prison. All his Bibles were also confiscated. The possibility that he could be executed was very real.
Almost like Paul, this man also appealed to the leader of the country, claiming that he was in the service of the government and that the president of this country therefore had to arrange for his release. Eventually he was released and even sent back to his former work. But he was warned: We have released you because you are employed by our government. Therefore we expect you to abide by the rules of this government. This was a great shock to him and also a clear warning that Christians cannot claim that they are above the normal civil laws.
This morning I was reading in the newspaper that the secretary of the Bible Society in China asked Christians to be very careful, should they want to use the Olympic Games as a means of preaching the gospel. He explained Chinese laws which states that Christians are not allowed to hand out literature or Bibles on the streets. However, the law does allow Christians to befriend local people and if the Christians should share his faith with the Chinese person possibly over a meal, then that is acceptable. Within this personal relationship it is also allowed to hand a Bible to this person. (Formerly Bibles were not allowed to be printed in China. Then the government ruled that 500,000 could be printed each year. Currently they are allowed to print 3 million Bibles per year.)
As I read this article I thought back to what that engineer had told me and I also thought about my own work in Swaziland. Yes, there are times when one has to make a choice between God and man, but in my opinion there are few countries in the world where one would be prosecuted today merely for believing in Christ. In most countries, subject to certain restrictions, Christians can even share their faith with others. But we need to do this, as far as humanly possible, without breaking the laws of the country.
I wondered how many thousands of Christians are going to travel to Beijing later this year to attend the Olympic Games and how many of them will proclaim the gospel on the streets, regardless of the laws of the country and, even more importantly, regardless of what local Christians advise them to do. And I also wondered how many long-term missionaries’ work are going to be jeopardised because of the insensitivity of people rushing in and out of China. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warns His disciples: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
This is especially true when we work in other cultures and even more so when we work in cultures where Christianity is not welcomed, but merely tolerated.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Cross-cultural experiences, Evangelism, Indigenous church, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology | 5 Comments

Planting a new church

In a previous post I wrote about the possibility to start with a new church in the area known as Lavumisa in Swaziland. This was due to an invitation by the local member of parliament (MP) in that area from whom we have had tremendous support for our work amongst those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Yesterday Tim Deller (my friend from the USA) and I travelled to Lavumisa for our first meeting. In a recent post David Watson shared his view on finding the person of peace. He bases his convictions on various parts of Scripture (Matthew 10 & Luke 10) where Jesus tells His disciples to enter a city and to find a person of peace. Obviously, this person would not necessarily be a Christian, but it would probably be someone with authority and integrity within the community, who would be able to make it possible for the early disciples to share the gospel in that area. I have found a number of people who believe that this method of evangelisation has a longer-lasting effect than older methods where the gospel was shared at random, hoping that it would fall on fertile ground.
Well, Tim and I discussed this issue at length and decided that we are going to give this a try. Finding the person of peace was not really an issue, because the MP was adamant that we would be gathering at his homestead. To decline his kind offer would have been very insensitive and would have closed doors for us. When we arrived at the homestead (about 100 miles from my home) we found a number of people already waiting for the church to start. Amazingly, at least ten men were present. I immediately realised that they were there, most probably because the MP had invited them to come. Chances are that if I myself had invited them, that they would not have come. Now, Swazis have their own time. Most don’t have wristwatches and I think they work more or less according to the sun! Although Tim and I were there at 11, we stood around, chatting to people and waiting for some people who had promised to come but had not yet turned up. It was closer to 12 when we actually started, and even then quite a number of people joined us later during our gathering. Close to 45 people turned up – about 30 more than I had anticipated.
Instead of starting with the gospel (which most have probably heard at some time or another), I started by telling them about two ideas which people have of God and which are both wrong. One is the concept of God as a grandfather, lovingly smiling at us and patting us on the head, regardless of what we had done (in other words ignoring the wrong as if it never happened.) The other concept is God as a policeman, always on the lookout for anything which we do wrong so that we can be punished. In the Swazi context where people are often filled with fear that the ancestors might punish them in some way and that they therefore need to be appeased on a regular base to avert their anger, this second concept is quite relevant. I then went on to explain, according to Genesis 1 & 2 how great God really is – Who can, with a single word create heavens and earth, Who can, with a single word create light (even though the sun was only created later), Who can, with a single word create animals, fish and birds and Who can, by using some dust, create a human being, with a heart, lungs, a brain, eyes, ears and everything else necessary to survive. This same God can, by using a rib, create a woman to live beside this man. And this God, Who is so huge that He can fit the world in the palm of His hand, knows me by name and He loves me. This God, Who knows everything about me, the good and the bad, Who even knows things that I think and do that nobody else knows about, loves me! He loves me in spite of the things that I do and think and say and don’t do, that nobody else knows about! (Isn’t this incredible?)
Well, I ended off by reminding the older people (the younger ones don’t have to be reminded) how they felt when they first fell in love. With a smile, even the older people acknowledged this. I then told them that the God to Whom I want to introduce them, can have the same effect on us, that our hearts start beating a bit faster and we get a feeling of joy coming all over us when we realise how much He loves us.
For the next few Sundays I won’t be able to attend church at Lavumisa. This coming Sunday Tim will be there to tell them some more about God. Where this is going to lead to, I have no idea, but I’m willing to go with the flow to see what will happen.

Monday, February 25, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hospitality, Indigenous church, Mission, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | 3 Comments

Washing each other’s feet

These past two days I have been plucked entirely out of my comfort zone. I have so often spoken about the importance of leaving your comfort zone in order to become more useful to God and certainly I have been in situations which other people would just turn around and walk away from. But I still have a lot to learn.
In 2006 I attended the graduation of some students at the Africa School of Missions in South Africa. Among the students was a Russian girl, Svetlana Kutusheva, whom I had met in Samara in Russia on previous visits to this country and who had also been in my class while I was teaching there on the topic of eschatology. She decided to come to South Africa for two years to further her studies in theology, to obtain a degree and then to become a missionary in Cambodia. During this graduation function I witnessed a remarkable ceremony. After their degrees had been handed out, each of the potential missionaries lined up before the audience and each then received a towel, symbolic of the fact that they had been called to wash people’s feet. Seldom in my life had I seen anything which spoke so strongly to me and I made the decision that I was going to duplicate this ceremony in Swaziland with the one home-based caring group which we had at that time at Dwaleni. It was close to Christmas and we were already planning something for around 250 orphans living around our church in the area. I decided to combine the two functions and when we handed the orphans a small gift I called all the care-givers forward and presented each one with a towel, explaining to them the symbolic meaning of the towel.
As we trained five extra groups of care-givers during 2007 this became part of the final day of training where I stressed the fact that the greatest leaders in God’s eyes are not those who can manage millions or who make decisions about a country’s future, but that Jesus considered those who serve the most to be the greatest leaders. The handing-out-of-the-towel has always been a very special occasion for me. But during the last week or two I felt that God was trying to convince me of something more. I became increasingly convinced that God was expecting me to set an example on servant leadership. Now, I fully realise that the washing of other people’s feet had become something of a custom among certain Christians. But as I thought about this issue (not without some fear) I also realised that, in our case, this would be much more than a mere symbol. This would mean that I, as a white man, the pastor of the church (held in high esteem in Swaziland), the CEO of Shiselweni Home-Based Care, would have to go on my knees before a Swazi woman to wash her feet. I was not comfortable with this idea. Not at all! I’m not a very “touching” person. A bear-hug is fine (male or female – as long as it’s not too long or too close) and a hand on the shoulder or the upper arm is also acceptable. But washing another person’s feet was just way out of my comfort zone. That’s not me! And yet, I felt convinced that I had to do it.
Then on Wednesday I received a phone call from a recently married woman living in our town. She had been praying to God about greater unity among Christians and churches in the town where we live and she felt that God was telling her to visit each of the pastors in the town and to wash their feet. So she called on Wednesday, told me what she believed God wanted her to do and made an appointment for the Thursday evening. And I didn’t look forward to this. (Refer to my previous paragraph!) The only reason why I consented was because I felt that it would be wrong of me to discourage this woman from doing what she felt God was telling her to do. But I wouldn’t even be comfortable if my wife was bowing down before me to wash my feet – let alone another woman!
Well, she came. She went down on her knees before me, washed my feet and prayed for me and then I also prayed for her. After this she left. This was a first for me. I survived! But the big test would be the next day when I had to wash other people’s feet. So yesterday I drove through to Nsalitje, encouraged the people, handed out the customary towels and explained to them the symbolic meaning of the towels. And then I called the newly chosen chairperson and coordinator to come forward, asked them to sit on a bench and, after explaining to them what I had in mind, I started washing their feet with soap and water, afterwards drying their feet with a towel.
As I was doing this, the craziest thought came into my mind. In Biblical times people were mostly expected to wash their own feet. In extreme circumstances a slave could be used for this purpose but there was an explicit law that prevented Jewish slaves from doing this. Slaves could be asked to do anything, but washing another’s feet was considered to be so degrading, that there was a specific law against Jewish slaves doing this. (Only heathen slaves could be forced to do this.) And this was the thought that came into my mind while washing their feet – that I had probably never been in such a degrading position in my life.
I survived! I’m glad I did it. I think that I will do something similar in the future when we train new groups, as the symbolic meaning of the washing of feet was emphasised in a way that the mere handing out of a towel could never accomplish.
Never again will I speak lightly of people having to leave their comfort zones. But then again, if I could survive this uncomfortable situation then others can also survive getting out of their own comfort zones.

Saturday, February 23, 2008 Posted by | Celebration, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Eschatology, Home-based Caring, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 3 Comments

Helping the poor to help themselves

We’ve all heard that it is better to teach someone to fish than to merely give a person a fish to eat. I absolutely agree with the principle. But I’m not quite sure whether this is the final word about the principle. Our home-based caring group at Dwaleni had for some time now been speaking about the possibility to start raising and selling chickens. They had been able to obtain some building material and were planning to build a place where they could raise the chickens. One half of the building would be used to raise chickens to sell and the other half would be used to keep chickens which would lay eggs. Some of the chickens would be used in the orphan feeding project and the rest would be sold to get money through which the caregivers would then be supported. The idea is really good and fits in totally with the principle mentioned above.
I then discussed this with a friend of mine who owns a store where farm products are sold, including chicken feed. He had offered more than a year ago that, if the caregivers should want to farm with chickens, he would supply the food at cost. So I went to see him to hear whether his offer still stands. I was quite shocked when he told me that he himself had stopped farming with chickens. Chicken food had become so expensive that a small farmer cannot survive any longer by raising chickens. To make it worthwhile a farmer needed to keep at least 20,000 chickens or even more so that food could be supplied in bulk. In two or three minutes he convinced me that it was impossible to make a profit from chickens on a small scale.
As I listened to this, I thought about the principle of teaching people to fish instead of giving them fish to eat and I realised that it’s not as simple as that. Whoever thought out that saying, was living in different times than we are. A small farmer cannot, or can hardly, survive in the modern world where things have become so competitive. Someone mentioned to me during the week that the typical African only plants enough maize (corn, as it is known in the USA) to survive on for a year. But to me it makes sense, because it is nearly entirely impossible for a small farmer to plant maize, to sell it at current prices and then still make a profit from it. In 1985, when I arrived in Swaziland, small farmers were everywhere and products like cotton were being planted and sold and people could survive. Nowadays, when I drive through the same area I see no cotton at all. It is just not profitable to plant these products on a small scale anymore.
I still agree with the principle. But somehow I feel that the playing field isn’t fair for all. A small farmer – even fifty small farmers – cannot compete against one farmer with all the right tools which enables him to plant in time and to collect the crop in time. A small farmer with 100 chickens who has to buy chicken feed in bags cannot compete against a large farmer who has trucks of food delivered at his farm. A large farmer who loses fifty chickens hardly notices it. A small farmer will probably be bankrupt.
Another problem is the market. A large farmer can export his entire crop to the most profitable market. The small farmer has to sell his products amongst people equally poor as he is. The products are there but there isn’t money to buy it.
I absolutely agree that the people in Africa need to find alternative ways in which to earn money. But which fishing rod to use in the modern world remains an open question.

Thursday, February 21, 2008 Posted by | Culture, Dependency, Disparity, Giving, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Sustainability, Swaziland | Leave a comment

When should you give money?

I was confronted today with a situation which I have learnt to hate. About six months ago a man knocked at our door. He knew from somewhere that I was a pastor, although he lives more than 200 miles from where we live. He must have picked up the news somewhere in town. He told me that he was called as a witness in a court case after his daughter had been raped. Because he was a witness, he was liable to receive a travelling allowance from the court, but he did not have enough money to travel to the town where the court case was to take place and now he wanted to borrow money from me so that he could travel to this town, appear on behalf of his daughter and then, on his way back, he would repay me.
Now, I cannot remember that I had ever “borrowed” money to anyone who knocked at my door and then had them bring back the money. In fact, I have more or less decided in principle that I never give money to an individual. Too often I have found people asking for money after their money had been stolen or lost, only to find out afterwards that the money which I had given them was spent at the local bottle store.
But on that particular day I listened to his story and asked myself how I would feel as a father if I was in that situation. I obviously took into consideration that there was probably more than a 80% chance that he was telling a lie, but still, if the story was true, how would I feel? Eventually I gave him the money, deciding that I would not get it back but at the same time making a mental note of his features, so that I would recognise him if he should ever come back to my home.
And today he did come back. I’m not sure if he thought that I would not recognise him, but after I greeted him in a friendly manner, I told him that I assumed that he was there to repay my money which he had borrowed. But of course I was wrong – he was there to borrow some more money. His story now was that his wife had died (of AIDS) as well as his son (also of AIDS) and that his three daugters, the oldest who is 11, were at home and he had already left them for two nights on their own and he wanted to return to his home today to ensure that they were still fine. Furthermore, he was on ARV (anti-retroviral) treatment for AIDS and he had to return home to continue with the treatment. And then I stood before the choice, whether I was going to give him money again or whether I was going to tell him to leave.
He kept on asking over and over again for money while I told him that I was not going to give him more money. Once again I asked myself what I would have done if I had really been in his position. Eventually I said to myself that he had clearly been telling me a lie on the previous occasion or he was telling me a lie now, because a few months ago he had a grown daughter while now his first-born was only 11 years old. This sounded a bit strange. Furthermore, if he had really left his children with an eleven year old to take care of them, then he himself should be punished for being so careless. And if he had really stopped his ARV treatment for two days, then one extra day wouldn’t cause extra harm.
Eventually I sent him away after giving him a glass of water which he had asked for. I’m sure that I’m correct in my analysis of the situation.
The only thing I’m not sure of is whether Jesus would have done the same thing that I did today.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 Posted by | Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, Disappointments, Giving, HIV & AIDS, Hospitality, Mission, Poverty | Leave a comment

What motivates people to help others?

Today we started with the training of our seventh group of home-based caregivers in an area known as Nsalitje. To have a look at a satellite photo of the area on Googlemaps, click on this link.
Today was a typical day in Africa: The sun was VERY hot, with temperatures probably in the 90s (which is in the 30s in Celsius). The day actually started in the Dwaleni area where we are trying to help a community get fresh water. The government helped the community some years ago to install one communal tap which the entire community, consisting probably of a hundred or more people, has to share. But the water is flowing at such a slow rate that the women are spending most of the day at the tap waiting for their containers to fill. A 20 litre container would take about 30 minutes to fill. We hope that we have found a solution, but I’ll write about that when we see the outcome.
We then proceeded to drive through to Nsalitje (praising the Lord all the way for the luxury of air conditioning.) On our arrival at the venue where the training was taking place, I was really shocked. The training was being done in a community hall (known in Swaziland as the Mphakadze.) The entire building is made of corrugated iron and there is no ceiling, so it doesn’t take much imagination to think how it felt inside. 25 people had turned up for the training, all of them eager to become home-based caregivers. As I looked at this group of people, some of whom were clearly HIV+ and one young man whom I’m convinced already has full-blown AIDS, I asked myself the question what the motivation would be for these people to become part of this home-based caring project. Money is definitely NOT a motivation, as we don’t have any money to give them. Not all of them are Christians, so although we would like to think that their faith is the great motivation, this is also not the final answer, although it may definitely be true in some cases.
Ultimately it seems to me that the great motivation would be a desire to really make a difference in people’s lives. But then I’m still puzzled why people who have nothing, most of whom are living far below what we would describe as extreme poverty (less than $2 per day), would be willing to give their time and their energy and often even the little money and food they have to make a difference in other people’s lives. I don’t think I have the answer yet.
What I do know is that this attitude never fails to amaze me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Church, Culture Shock, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 2 Comments

Where do your priorities lie?

Yesterday I was preaching from the book of Jonah. He was probably the greatest missionary that ever lived, preaching a short sentence after which the entire Nineveh came to repentance. What a man! But of course, his life followed another route before he eventually became a missionary. The book of Jonah is truly remarkable. Although Hebrew was one of my main subjects at university, unfortunately I’m not fluent enough in reading Hebrew, which is actually the ideal in order to understand this wonderful book.
There’s a number of themes in the book. One (I think my favourite) would be something like: If God calls you to work for Him, you’d better listen, because He’s not gonna let you go! Another (the theme I used yesterday) is: God has the freedom to shower His grace upon any person, regardless of who or what they are. But there was also another theme which came out as I was busy preparing my sermon: Where do your priorities lie?
At the end of the book, after Jonah had been on the ship going in the wrong direction, then in the belly of a fish and then back to Nineveh where the people of Nineveh actually listened to his sermon, he became totally depressed. Why? Amazingly because God had shown grace to these murderous people. The prophet Nahum calls Nineveh the city of blood (Nahum 3:1) because of the terrible things which took place there. But once they repented, God accepted them and showed mercy to them. So Jonah was angry, saying to the Lord: O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity (Jonah 4:2)
God then sends some kind of tree or shrub which grows overnight, a la Jack and the beanstalk style, to such a height that it gives shade to Jonah as he is sulking in the desert. But the next day God sends a worm to destroy the tree and directly afterwards He sends a boiling hot wind which almost causes Jonah’s death. At this point Jonah is so angry with God that he really wants to die (the third time in the story.) And then the book ends with God’s rhetorical question: You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? (Jonah 4:10&11).
What God is saying to Jonah is something like: Your priorities are wrong. You’re more concerned about the vine than about the 120,000 in Nineveh. I, however, am more concerned about the lost people in Nineveh than this vine.
And that was the question with which I left the congregation: What is your main concern as Christian: The vine (your personal needs and comfort) or the people of Nineveh?

Monday, February 18, 2008 Posted by | Church, Grace, Mission, Theology | Leave a comment

When you lose hope, you lose life

I once read something that Jessie de la Cruz, a retired farm worker in South America wrote: “With us there’s a saying: La esparanza muere ultima. Hope dies last. You can’t lose hope. If you lose hope, you lose everything.” And I read somewhere else that scientists say that a human can last for forty days without food, a few days without water, eight minutes without oxygen but only a few seconds without hope.
I’ve just read a report written by Harry and Echo van der Wal of the Luke Commission. They are from the USA but are involved for a few months every year in a medical ministry in Swaziland. Through one of the regular readers of this blog we made contact and hopefully we will be meeting in the near future. I strongly advise you to read the report which you can access here. This is such a true description of how we find things ourselves. What he is describing is a situation without hope. You see people whom you know will die shortly and all that remains is to show them love and acceptance in order to restore some dignity. They are working in the northern part of Swaziland, the only difference between their ministry and ours being that they have the medical facilities to do something to help these people while we have virtually nothing in the south of the country. But the circumstances with the people are the same.
Yesterday I escorted a group of Christians from South Africa to Swaziland. We have had a two year relationship with this congregation and they visit us about four times per year. On a previous occasion they brought a doctor along and we had an extremely distressing experience at a certain homestead with a 21 year old girl. You can read about that experience by clicking on this link.
Yesterday the team brought a physiotherapist with them. Their aim is to bring a professional person with them on every visit in order to give the caregivers further training. Part of this training is for the professional person to visit a few of the homesteads where we are working and to demonstrate to a few caregivers at a time how to care for this person. We went to visit a lady who is 74 years old and has been bed-ridden for the past eight years. A few times while we were there she told us that she would like nothing better at this stage than to die.
Her story is that she started developing arthritis about ten years ago. It was becoming more and more painful for her to stand up on her own. In the meantime her husband had died and all her children had also died. Eventually she had nobody with the strength (or the will) to help her up in the mornings to get up and because of the pain she remained in bed. At this stage the muscles in her leg had contracted to such an extent that she will never be able to walk again, even if the pain should disappear. Due to her arms and hands not being used, they have also become completely unusable. And so she is really doomed to remain in bed for the rest of her life. Physiotherapy may loosen the hand and arm muscles to a certain limited extent, but she will never regain their use. And most of this was caused by a lack of education and the lack of anybody with the time, energy and will to help her to get up in the morning.
She is now staying in a small house together with her great-grandchildren. In the morning these children go to school after they had brought her food. Then they lock the house and put the key on a windowsill. Anyone, such as the caregivers wishing to visit her, take the key from the windowsill, unlock the door and enter her house. If a fire should ever break out, she will die. If anybody wishes to harm her, they can enter her home at will. She is unable to do anything to protect herself, because she cannot move from her bed without help.
As I prayed for her yesterday, I just trusted that God would restore her hope. As those people mentioned in the report of the Luke Commission, the reality is that people are fast losing hope. Our task is to bring back hope to these people.

Sunday, February 17, 2008 Posted by | Culture Shock, Death, Health, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 2 Comments

(In)Sensitivity of Missions Committees

First of all, welcome to the 200th post on Mission Issues. When I started this blog I really wondered how long I would be able to share stories and experiences from the mission. I’m thankful for every positive response, word of encouragement and for people just reading and learning something from my personal experience, even if they don’t respond. And to top it all, yesterday I received an “Excellent blogger Award” from a missionary in the Ukraine. OK, it’s no big deal, but I still appreciate it when people feel that this blog really means something to them. You can read what Michelle writes about this (and other blogs) here.

Many missionaries will be able to share stories about the insensitivity of the mission committees responsible for sending them into the mission field. (We missionaries always refer to the prayer which mission committees supposedly pray when sending someone out: Lord, you keep them humble and we’ll keep them poor 😉
In defence of the missions committee responsible for our work in Swaziland, I can testify that one will have to search very far to find people more concerned about the work and the people doing the work than them. So, if any of those members are reading this, then I want to thank you for what you are doing for us in Swaziland! You people are really great and we honestly appreciate your love and interest in our work.
One of our former colleagues (now retired) used to work in Malawi for many years. She was trained as a social worker and later married a missionary who had worked in Zambia for many years before they joined us in Swaziland. One of her favourite stories was their constant plea to the South African missions committee responsible for Malawi to build flush toilets in the houses of the missionaries in Malawi. Year after year this plea fell on deaf ears. There was never money available for this “luxury” item. And so the missionaries had to make use of a pit latrine built as far as possible (for obvious reasons) away from the homes. (Do you even know what I’m speaking about????)
All this changed one year when the missions committee sent a delegation to visit the missionaries in Malawi. One of the visitors picked up a bug which kept him on the run between the house and the pit latrine throughout the night. Somewhere in the process of running, he also stumbled across a tree stump and fell into the bushes. a few days after the return of the missions committee members to South Africa, the missionaries in Malawi were instructed to install flush toilets in all their houses. Miraculously, money had become available!
Today we can laugh at these stories. But the question remains why committees or organisations sending out missionaries tend to lose contact with the needs of these people? For most missionaries the situation is difficult enough – getting used to a new culture, being removed from families and friends, living and travelling, very often, in ways which they are totally not accustomed to. It is so important for these missionaries to know that, at the very least, they have the support of those who had sent them out to do the work.
We have dear friends working as missionaries in Thailand. Once every fifth year they are given tickets to return to South Africa for a “sabbatical” to regain their strength and also to meet with their supporters (and their families.) I was shocked, during a previous visit, when people complained that they are wasting money coming back to South Africa to see their families as the money for the plane tickets could rather have been spent in a more useful way! (Does that also make you think of the words of Judas?)
Many of those reading here will in some way be involved with the support of missionaries somewhere in the world. Most of the missionaries I know do this with so much love and dedication and in nearly all the cases I know of they will gladly sacrifice luxuries in order for the work to be done which they were called to do. In general they don’t complain, knowing that they are doing this for the Lord and also knowing that greater missionaries like Paul had to endure much worse things.
At a previous annual meeting of our Swaziland missions committee the chairman did something which I thought was really great. There was a thick report written about the work in Swaziland to which a number of people had contributed. When the time came to discuss this report the chairman closed the file and said to all those present that he would go home and read the report. But there, in that meeting, he did not want to read what people had written. He wanted to hear the stories told from their hearts about how they experienced the work, the good and the bad, to hear where they needed prayers and to hear where they needed other forms of support.
We need more people with this kind of attitude in missions committees.

Friday, February 15, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Culture, Culture Shock, Humour, Meetings, Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Support teams, Swaziland | 5 Comments