Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

(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.

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

5 Comments »

  1. Missions committees may be stingy, but what do flush toilets matter? If they are a luxury item in Malawi, why does a missionary bemoan their loss of it? They didn’t become a missionary to live a life in comfort. I didn’t abandon myself to Jesus in the expectation of a luxurious life. What kind of a witness is it to the people of Malawi when a missionary separates themself like that, being too good to live like the people? The issue is reaching these people for Christ. If missions committees need to be more generous to that end, let them be (you may have a valid point there), but flush toilets? I would not use them. “I have become all things for all men that I might win some.” You can’t do that when you’re enjoying porcelain toilets while the people around you struggle to find provision for their basic needs.

    Comment by John Maughan | Sunday, February 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. Good point, but I do have to ask again: Do you even know what I’m speaking about????

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Sunday, February 24, 2008 | Reply

  3. I think so. I see good reason to be upset about a missions committee that takes it into their own hands to keep a missionary poor. I think I’m aware of the spirit that feels like it would be bad to give them too much. Let generosity abound, by all means. But in that generosity I am quick to point to my dear brothers and sisters who are native missionaries in some of these poor countries. They suffer hunger, cold, blistered feet and worse in the name of Jesus Christ. I would rather see them better clothed than have myself a toilet. I know that wasn’t the main point of your post, though.

    Comment by John Maughan | Monday, February 25, 2008 | Reply

  4. Most long-term missionaries are extremely sensitive for the culture within which they find themselves. There will always be some kind of disparity between the missionaries and those they come to serve. I’ve written about this dilemma many times. However hard we try to get rid of this, it still remains. Most missionaries, sent out by some organisation, receive a salary. Some receive it by way of a budgeted amount, others through people donating money for the purpose. This as such is already a form of disparity between the missionary and the local church leaders, some of whom receive nothing at all. The answer to this dilemma is not so easy.
    The point I was trying to make is that missionaries, sensitive to the local circumstances, are often ignored when they speak about specific needs but that those making the decisions are themselves not willing to live without the needs. If they had thought that, living without flush toilets is to the advantage of the spreading of the gospel, then by all means communicate this to the missionaries. But why would this attitude change the moment when the members of the missions committee are expected to live in the same situation?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, February 25, 2008 | Reply

  5. That does seem awkward. So our missions boards need some prayer. I’ll get on it. Thanks for clarifying and being willing to discuss this with me.

    Comment by John Maughan | Tuesday, February 26, 2008 | Reply


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