Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Mission outreaches, again!

I’m not dead and I haven’t been seriously ill. I just did not have the time to blog the past few weeks. Since the beginning of July I’ve first had a single girl who came to join us for a week in Swaziland, to experience what our caregivers are doing in an AIDS-infected community. While she was here, three medical students also arrived for five days, wanting to combine compulsory practical work with a medical outreach to the community. While they were around, my friend Tim Deller (http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/) and his dad arrived back in Swaziland, to visit many of his old friends. While they were still around, the two leaders from a team from Fresno, CA, arrived and then a few days later the rest of the team arrived and we spent a great time together in Swaziland. You can read about their experiences on their blog: Summer in Swaziland
Yesterday, as the team was preparing to return to the USA, we had a long time of debriefing, rethinking and evaluating the previous two weeks. Someone asked me a question: “This trip had cost us around $36000 (traveling, food and on the ground expenses). Do you feel that you received $36000 worth of help? Shouldn’t we rather have sent you the money and remained at home?” I had to think a few seconds before I answered: “First of all, twelve people would probably not have been able to raise $36000. Secondly, how do you determine the value of deep relationships – the type of relationships that were formed while they were in Swaziland the past two weeks? How do you determine the value of encouragement given to caregivers, working in fairly hopeless conditions, when someone from affluent USA says that she is willing to get into a taxi with a caregiver (twenty one people in a twelve-seater mini-van), walk along sandy footpaths to reach a homestead in order to apply the most basic care?”
And then the person who had asked the question, added that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the team also had to be taken into account. Probably the greatest moment, as far as I’m concerned, happened yesterday morning when one of the team members, who had never prayed in public before, voluntarily prayed while the whole group was listening. I wonder if I’ve ever been more touched by a prayer. It was an amazing experience for all of us!
I met early this morning with a group of men, some of whom are presently attending group sessions every evening focused on their own spiritual growth. Without wanting to discredit what they are doing at their church, I am absolute convinced that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the lives of most of the members of this outreach team, surpasses what will be obtained by attending lessons about the topic.
Short-term outreaches can lead to serious problems, one of the greatest probably being that the people being visited become dependent upon the outreach teams. There are many horror stories of outreach teams eventually realizing that they had been pumping money into a community, only to find that they had not been assisting the community, but had rather led them on the road of greater dependency. I still find it very difficult to know where one should help and where one should deny help. Or to rephrase: Where one should assist directly (giving something which is needed) and where one should find other means to give assistance such as helping certain forms of development to take place. I’ve made enough mistakes in my own life where I gave help in the wrong way. However, I’ve also seen the results when two groups of people from different cultures come alongside each other, the one rich (according to African standards), the other extremely poor (according to Western standards) and where they work together to address the real needs and not only the perceived needs.
I asked the group a question: “Is it necessarily wrong for people to live in a house built of mud, where they sleep on a thin grass mat on the floor and where they have to go down to a river to fetch water?” Obviously, if you had never had to stay in such circumstances (except possibly when going on some kind of exotic vacation), you would feel that it is wrong. But for those growing up in such conditions, it is fairly acceptable. To move into a community such as this, building a new home for one person (usually someone that the group had become attached to) is probably not going to be a good idea, as the neighbors are bound to wonder what that person did to deserve a new home.
Ten days ago we were part of a community project to help a certain community to get clean water. I have three basic requirements when starting any such project: It should be affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. (These are a sort of rule-of-thumb for myself and there are times when I would ignore one or more of these requirements, but then I need to make a deliberate decision that, within the circumstances, it is acceptable to do so.) The community has a real need for more clean water. The Swaziland government had installed a communal tap, but the water flow is so slow, that it takes ages to fill a container with water. After discussing a plan with the community, they came together to dig a hole in the ground. We supplied a plastic barrel (costing R300 or $40) and the community helped us to bury the barrel in river sand which acts as filter, so that eventually clear water will accumulate in the barrel through fine holes we had drilled into the bottom of the barrel. This is affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. In fact, this is the second similar project we have done.
Did I need a team from the USA to do this work? Of course not. But I’m sure that for some time to come, every team member will think of that community whenever they open a tap and see clear water running into a glass. And the community will remember that the group of people came from the USA, not to give out huge sums of money, but to address a real need that they had been struggling with for some years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Dependency, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Compassion needs no money

I think I’ve been spoiled. Other people would say that I’ve been blessed. Whatever the case may be, I realised this again on Saturday. On Friday and Saturday I was invited to an AIDS conference held in Mamelodi, a very big township to the east of Pretoria. The aim was to get pastors of the Uniting Reformed Church motivated to do something about HIV and AIDS in their own communities. I was asked to speak on Saturday morning and I asked Mrs Thembi Shongwe, in charge of training our caregivers, to accompany me. We agreed that I would start by sharing the story of our home-based caring project and that she would then give more detail on how we train the volunteers and what we expect them to do.
I started by showing a short video clip about our work (available on Youtube at http://tinyurl.com/bom9hy ) and then continued by telling them how God had brought us to the point where we were convinced that we could no longer turn our backs on those living with HIV and AIDS. If you haven’t read this story yet, do yourself a favour and read it at http://tinyurl.com/bjpvbb.
After we had finished our session, the meeting broke up into smaller groups to discuss various topics and I joined those who showed an interest in starting with home-based caring in their communities. And it was at this point that I realised the miracle that had happened in Swaziland.
I’ve been in Swaziland now for more than 24 years. One of the biggest frustrations that I’ve had to cope with is that everything that was planned was linked to money. It’s not as if it was the first time that I tried to motivate people to do something voluntarily when we started with our AIDS project. But in the past, regardless of what I wanted to do, the first question that was always asked was: Where will we get money to do this? And if I couldn’t answer this question, then nobody was interested to get involved. Things changed when the AIDS project started. I’m not sure what it is that changed them (apart from the Holy Spirit!) But somehow something happened to motivate them to do something for others without expecting anything in return.
Coming back to Saturday’s workshops: As we sat in a group, the first question that was asked (wait for it!) was: “What can we do to collect money to start with home-based caring?” And this was the main topic for at least fifteen minutes; trying to make plans to collect money so that they could also start taking care of others. This went on for some time, until I asked the question what it would cost someone to visit the home of a neighbour and show compassionate love to that person. The whole group agreed that this would not cost anything. Then I asked the second question: What would it cost to motivate fifty church members to show compassionate love to two neighbours each. And again they agreed that it would not cost anything.
At this point I challenged them to forget about starting big projects and collecting money. Start by preaching about God’s compassionate love and giving examples of how church members can follow Jesus’ example. And then motivate them to start doing this in practice. Of course, with the church leader setting the example.
Whether this will happen, remains to be seen. But I am convinced that money (or rather, the lack of it) cannot become the stumbling block which prevents us from showing love towards our neighbours. Money makes many things easier. Money enables ministries such as ours to work more effectively and on a larger scale. But I sincerely believe that, if all sources of finances should stop, that we will still be able to continue with the work we are doing.

Monday, February 16, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

When a missionary’s support falls away

Probably one of the most traumatic experiences a missionary can face, is to be informed that his or her support is going to be terminated. It is my guess that this will be happening again as the impact of the global financial crisis starts having greater effect on the income of missionary organisations and churches. Over the past week or so, I’ve received three messages from missionaries or mission support organisations, all mentioning that dark days may be lying ahead. Things like a global financial crisis or a depression are more or less out of the control of the church. I was reading a post today of someone who described how their church had kept on sharing their funds in spite of severely hard times that they went through. People who make faith decisions like this need to be honoured. It is also understandable that individuals who had supported missionaries in the past, may now be faced with the harsh reality that they need to decide whether they will continue with their support or not.
I do not know of a single missions organisation that do not need financial support. Long distances that need to be travelled, the harsh circumstances under which most missionaries are working amongst people who more often than not are themselves barely surviving, the lack of proper schooling, sicknesses and many other issues have the result that finances are needed to support those who are working as missionaries. When it comes to the point of support, I can think of a few things which need to be kept in mind if the work has to continue over an extended period of time.
First of all I think that it is not wise for one individual or one organisation to fund a missions project on their own. Supporters lose interest. Financial circumstances change. A variety of things may occur which makes it impossible for the individual or the organisation to continue with their support. What happens if the supporter dies unexpectedly? What happens if the supporter’s source of income falls away? If a potential supporter is convinced that a missions project is from God, then they need to discuss it with other partners and get them to invest financially in the project in order to establish some form of sustainable support.
Secondly, new projects need to be considered prayerfully and not emotionally. Now, this works both ways. I’ve seen many a project being started due to the convincing arguments given by a missionary. But if such a project is from God and the supporters are truly living in a relationship with God, then God himself can convince the supporters to fund the project. Gather people together to hear whether the new project is really from God. But the argument also has another side to it. I’ve seen many a missions project stopped because the supporters or supporting organisation used equally emotional arguments why the project could not be started. Sometimes a new project has to be started as a leap of faith. As long as we are convinced that it is what God wants us to do, we need not fear to take the next step.
Thirdly, supporters need to realise that they are working with people’s security when they make decisions about support. I once attended a meeting in advisory capacity where the future support of missionaries working in Asia was discussed. The congregation was not going through a particularly tough time, but they did need to do some renovations to their own property. They then suggested that the missionary’s support be cut by 50%. I had trouble to control myself, asking the meeting where they wanted the missionary and his family to cut on their own budget. Their rent was fixed. Water and electricity was fixed. School fees for the children were fixed. The only place where they could cut, was on their monthly groceries. By cutting their subsidy, this family was effectively being told to eat less if they wanted to remain in Asia. The sad news is that the cut was approved. The good news is that individuals then started supporting the family with even more than the reduction in the subsidy.
Financial support for missions is an extremely sensitive issue. I am aware that some missionaries misuse funds. But on the whole, most of them are stretching the funds to cover much more than would ever be possible on the home front. Whether you want to start supporting a missionary or whether you are starting to feel the pinch and considering to withdraw your support, don’t do it without seriously praying about this and discussing options with Christian friends you trust.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 Posted by | Church, Dependency, Giving, Mission, Mission Resources, Missionary Organisations, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Support teams, Sustainability, Tithing | 9 Comments

Bringing Keen Minds and Passionate Hearts together

During the recent Courageous Leadership Award ceremony, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek, spoke off the cuff when asked to announce the winner of the award. Gathered in the room for the celebration dinner were senior members of the Willow Creek staff, members of World Vision, the three finalists and then quite a number of business people. He said some very inspiring things, challenging each and every person in the room to make a commitment to visit at least one “place of pain” (as he calls it) within the next twelve months. It is true that one has to be confronted with the real need of the world before one can really become inspired to make a difference.
But then he said something which really stuck. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this: “If someone with a keen mind (from a resource church) could link up with someone with a passionate heart (usually in a frontline church), amazing things could start happening.” As I listened to these words, I realised that this may well have been one of the “a-ha!” moments in my life. It made so much sense to me when he put it like that.
People with keen minds are usually focussed on finding solutions. They see a problem, analyse the immediate need, find a solution and very often even supply the solution. Unfortunately, however, this may not be a long-term solution. Very often the solutions involve not only a huge amount of money but also a lot of maintenance. I remember how a group of well intentioned people once visited Swaziland, found that someone they had grown to love had to wash each night in a zinc tub, then built him a shower, complete with petrol pump to transfer water from a container on the ground into another container on the roof of the house, so that he could shower. When I saw this, I just shook my head, knowing that this would only work until the petrol is finished. Or until the pump breaks.
I have often had people coming to visit us with great ideas how the people could start some kind of small business through which they could generate money. But the moment I ask the question to whom they will be selling their products, the answer comes: “To their neighbours!” Well, the only problem with that is that the neighbours are usually as poor as they are. And in the end all that is happening is that the little money within the community is being circulated amongst them. This is not a solution.
The people on the frontline with the passionate hearts are also looking for solutions but are mostly hindered due to a lack of resources. But I find also that we are hindered by a lack of ability to look objectively at a problem. We are so closely linked to the needs of the people on the ground, that it takes great effort to stand back for a moment or two to view the problem objectively and to possibly find a new or better solution. But what would happen if the people with the keen minds could come together with those with the passionate hearts, where both groups interact to find the best long-term and sustainable solutions for the people in need?
Finding ways in which the people could effectively and economically grow their own vegetables, makes sense. But this is a long-term project in which a lot of time will have to be invested if it should work. But people with keen minds may be able to do this effectively. Teaching people basic skills to build and maintain their own homes so that they do not need to pay professional people to do the work, makes a lot of sense. But people with keen minds need to get involved with this. Even setting up a small business makes sense, as long as plans are also in place to sell the goods produced outside the community so that money can come into the community.
Perhaps we need to start praying for more people with keen minds to get involved in finding solutions, not on their own, but together with us who have the passion for the people in need.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 Posted by | Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, Giving, Mission, Poverty, Prayer, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Vision | 3 Comments

Food crisis in Swaziland

Richard Rooney recently reported on the effects that malnutrition are having on children in Swaziland. According to his information, four children out of ten in Swaziland are so malnourished that their growth has been permanently stunted. It’s not only with children that we see the effects of malnourishment. Many of the people we work with in our home-based caring program have been convinced to go for HIV testing and if found to be positive, they then went for blood tests to determine their CD4 count and if found to be less than 200 cells per cubic millimetre, they then become eligible for anti-retroviral therapy (ARV). The problem is, without healthy food, the ARV therapy may add on a few years to a person’s life (which is certainly better than nothing), but combining healthy eating habits with ARVs could often add on ten years or more to a person’s life.
Richard writes that in the past year about 600,000 out of Swaziland’s total population of less than one million people have received donor food aid. But apparently this assistance is now being reduced. Obviously the food given to these people were really very basic. But even so, at least it was something. But what is going to happen if this food is further reduced?
Although all our care-givers working in the home-based caring project are working voluntarily, since February this year we have been able to give each of these care-givers a food parcel once every two months. We don’t know for how long we will be able to do this, but we undertook to continue doing this until the money runs out – which should have happened in April! But we seem to be experiencing something of the widow’s jug – a miracle for which we are extremely thankful! In any case, the reason for giving them the food is two-fold: On the one hand we feel that this is a small sign of appreciation for what they do. But on the other hand we know that healthy food will increase their capability of caring for others. Keep in mind that many of our care-givers themselves are HIV-positive. Included in the food packet is a bag of rice. But we have been warned that the price of rice will probably double in the near future! We also feed a group of orphans daily at our church. I trust that we will be able to continue with this, regardless of the price of food. But what about the thousands upon thousands of orphans who do not have access to feeding schemes?
What happens in a country where 67% of the population earn less than 45 US cents per day (not even enough to buy half a loaf of bread), if the price of basic foodstuffs start doubling?
I don’t yet know what is going to happen. I do know that we as family complain about the price of groceries, and I really don’t think that we follow a lavish lifestyle. But if you hardly have any money to buy food and the prices increase by 100%? Then you’re in deep trouble. And I can foresee that Swaziland (as many other African countries) is going to be in a real food crisis very soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Dependency, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

The Second Chance

While at a missions meeting last week, a friend of mine told me about a DVD with the name, The Second Chance. I was able to get a copy of the DVD and our family watched it on Saturday. The story is about a pastor, Ethan Jenkins (played by Michael W Smith), the minister of music at a suburban mega-church called The Rock, and Jake Sanders, a pastor of an urban church called Second Chance. He has a nice church and his salary is sponsored by The Rock. Once a year pastor Sanders is invited to The Rock to give a three minute talk on how things are going at Second Chance (and to thank the people of The Rock for their help!) On one such a morning, he tells the people of The Rock that they should keep their money if they were not willing to become personally involved in his ministry amongst drug addicts, prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, dysfunctional families and worse. Obviously the people from The Rock are greatly upset by these words and pastor Jenkins, who had invited him to speak, was blamed because he was not able to restrict pastor Sanders to the prescribed three minutes nor did he coach him properly on what to say. And so pastor Jenkins is seconded to Second Chance to teach him a lesson.

Towards the end of the movie the leadership of The Rock meet with local developers who want to build some stadium in the area, but in order to do that, Second Chance church will have to be demolished and the church will have to be relocated about five miles away. And this was the part of the movie that really touched me personally, as I saw the leadership of The Rock making decisions without consulting the leadership of Second Chance, planning a wonderful new campus for Second Chance and after everything had been finalised, only then calling in the people of Second Chance and informing them of the plans.

What was clearly shown in this part of the movie is how often people in the church (those with the money) can make decisions on behalf of those with less money. Very often the decisions in itself are not bad. Usually the decisions are for the good of others. But because the decisions had been taken without consulting those mostly affected by the decisions, huge mistrust and accusations are bred between the two groups and in the end, instead of working together, they work against each other. And I couldn’t help wondering how often I may have done the same thing – with good intentions – but still, breaking down relationships instead of building them.

Monday, June 16, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, Giving, Meetings, Mission, Partnership, Racism, Sustainability, Theology, Tithing | 5 Comments

Working with Short-term Outreach Teams (3)

When I started blogging, one of the first topics I wrote about was partnerships in mission. If you click on this link, you will find everything I wrote about partnerships. One of the reasons why I believe that partnerships often stop functioning effectively, is because most partnerships in mission are one way roads where resources are channelled from the “haves” to the “have-nots” which are only too glad to receive all kinds of gifts. But this usually leads to a very unhealthy relationship and eventually the people handing out the gifts get tired of doing this and then the relationship often stops.
I can’t remember where he wrote about it, but I recall that David Bosch once mentioned that both partners in a mission relationship should be giving. Obviously, the poorer of the two can hardly support the richer partner financially, but in most cases they have other things which they can give. What needs to happen is for the richer partner to realise that they have a need for what the poorer partner can give to them. One example of this would be the caring spirit that is often found amongst poorer communities – something which I have heard time and time again really touches people from richer communities who live in circumstances where they do not really need to take care of others.
In the past, when hosting short-term outreach teams, the team would greet me at the end of the time with the words: “When we came, we prepared ourselves to give to these people, but it feels as if we had received more than we could give.” Nowadays, when hosting a short-term outreach team, we prepare ourselves to give to them. We know much more about the culture than the visitors know. We know much more about the needs of the people. We know much more about ways of taking care of people, using the minimum resources. We have much more experience in taking care of people in need, of encouraging the sick and the dying. In most cases we know much more about HIV and AIDS. The list goes on. What the visitors have to offer we receive gladly, but I inform them beforehand that we are going to expose them to situations which most of them have never experienced, but we do it on purpose to help them better to understand what we are doing and in such a way equipping them to use their newly acquired knowledge in other places.
No longer do we have to feel guilty or ashamed because of what we are receiving. We are thankful for everything that is given to help in the ministry, but at the same time we are sharing our experience and our example with others, so that we can truly be equal partners in accomplishing the task God gave us to do.

Thursday, May 29, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, David Bosch, Dependency, Giving, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

Commitment in missions

I have a friend who says that he has “tickability”. I’m not sure whether non-Africans have experience with ticks. (Perhaps someone can tell me whether ticks are known in the northern hemisphere with its extremely cold winters.) In any case, a tick is a small insect which bites onto an animal (or a human) and sucks out blood and it really takes some effort to get them off the animals, at the risk of breaking of the ticks head and it causing further infections. My friend claims that he has “tickability”. Once he’s committed himself to something, he won’t let go – no matter what!
I’ve just returned from Dwaleni where a group of people from a congregation in South Africa will be busy with a short-term outreach until 3 April. I know the youth pastor of this congregation very well and she has been looking forward to this outreach for many months. What was extremely disappointing to her was, once everything had been finalised and quite a number of school kids had committed themselves to come for the outreach, to find that one by one the children cancelled their plans. Eventually the team turned up today with four young people (three more will be joining them on Friday.)
I won’t say that this lack of commitment does not disappointment me anymore. In fact, it does. I’m probably just getting a bit immune against it, because it happens so often. The problem does not lie with the children. One could probably say that the problem lies with the parents who should tell their children that you should not make a commitment unless if you intend to follow through with it. But the problem lies even deeper than this. Very few churches seem to have the ability to make a commitment towards mission. This is one of the most-heard arguments used when discussing involvement in mission: “We don’t want to commit ourselves towards supporting this project!” Why not? Why can’t we commit ourselves for a mission project? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that people will become dependent upon us? Or are we afraid that we will become tired of doing good?
I was thinking today that I have had pastors arranging with me to bring a group from their congregation to Swaziland for a short-term outreach and then, as the days come closer and I don’t hear anything from them, I eventually have to call to confirm whether they are still coming, only to find out that the outreach had been cancelled and the pastor did not even take the trouble to pick up a phone to let me know. This, I would describe as a lack of “tickability”.
I’m busy working through the book of Acts together with a group of people and Paul’s commitment, his “tickability”, is probably one of the greatest characteristics in the life of this missionary. I’ve just read today that the number of missionaries in the world has increased significantly over the past few years. This is good news. From my side I hope that these missionaries possess a good douse of “tickability” and that those congregations who have sent them and who have committed to support them, pray for them, visit them also have enough “tickability” to continue with this. Mission and commitment go hand-in-hand. This is true for the missionary as well as those who support and encourage him/her.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 Posted by | Church, Dependency, Disappointments, Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 7 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