Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

’Twas the day before Christmas

We live in a very small town, but today it is almost impossible to move around in the business area. Everybody seems to be doing their last-minute Christmas shopping. Those planning to spend Christmas with their relatives, are stocking up on food to ensure that there will be enough to eat. People are coming out of liquor stores after they’ve ensured that there will be enough to drink over the weekend. Those with money have bought the latest gadgets to be handed out as Christmas gifts. The main road leading from Johannesburg to the North Coast (with some of the best fishing areas in South Africa) passes straight through our town and huge 4 x 4 vehicles towing even larger fishing boats or trailers are moving non-stop through the town. Many of the trailers have an off-road quad-bike latched onto it – quite often two or even three so that there will be no need for people to take turns in riding the quad-bikes over the sand dunes.
How did we move from the story in the Bible of a mother and father who had to stay over in a stable, from a mother who gave birth to a Son who later declared that He did not even have a pillow to sleep on, to where we are today? I’m certain that we’re missing the real message of Christmas.
And I can’t help wondering what the millions of people living in extreme poverty will be doing on Christmas this year. In Swaziland I know that the majority of the people have nothing extra to give to their children for Christmas. No presents. Nothing special to prepare for dinner. Those relatives coming home, although welcome, will more often than not stretch the budget even further. Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, at least 6500 families will be gathered around the deathbed of a relative who had died of AIDS of which at least 4500 will be found in sub-Sahara Africa.
The purpose of this post is not to attack those with money. But I do have a feeling, as I observe what is going on around me, that Christ will not be found in the stores and in the exotic vacation venues on this Christmas day. If I had to search for Him tomorrow, I would rather start my search in a humble hut or in a mud house, where there are no flickering lights or a special Christmas dinner, but where He is being honored as the King of kings and the Prince of peace – the way in which He was honored just after He was born.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Disparity, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 4 Comments

A Christian viewpoint on poverty

One of my dear cyber-friends yesterday wrote on Facebook: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV) Isn’t the last phrase interesting? “Pierced THEMSELVES.” This initiated a lively debate on the issue of money and poverty and the love of money and materialism and many other issues. After commenting back and forth (eventually the discussion took place between three people) I felt that the topic is important enough to blog about and perhaps get some more response.
One of the important remarks made was that it is not money as such that is a root of all evil, but rather the love of money. Which of course is true. And an equally important comment stated that the love of money is not restricted only to rich people, but that poor people often, in spite of their lack of money, also have an unhealthy love for money.
I myself have used these arguments often. But I cannot help wondering if I’m not using these arguments mainly to justify my relative wealth (and even using the term “relative wealth” is a way of justifying what I have while all around me people are literally dying of hunger.) And if you think you’re not rich, have a quick look at the Global Rich List and determine your position when your income is compared with the rest of the world’s population. You’re in for a shock.
The simple fact is that millions of people are living in extreme poverty through no choice of their own. Some were unfortunate enough to be born to parents who cannot care for them. Some were born in a country in war. Some were born in a country which has not had sufficient rain for many years. Obviously there are people who are extremely poor because they chose to squander their money on gambling or drugs or alcohol. But most of the people whom I know in Swaziland who live in extreme poverty (and approximately 60% of the population live on 45 US cents per day or less), had no choice in the matter. And the question which I have to answer, if I am seriously seeking the will of God, is what my responsibility is towards those who are less fortunate than I am. Is it all right with God if I continue with my life, making more money, collecting more material possessions, going on more expensive vacations, while all around me people are dying.
I was having a chat with a Black nurse yesterday about this very topic, and she made the remark that it sometimes seems that the poorer the people are, the more willing they are to share with others. Of course, this is not universally true, but I do have the same impression. I am busy collecting personal data of the 663 caregivers who are part of Shiselweni Home-Based Care, a ministry of our church consisting solely of volunteers, who are giving their time and energy to help people with HIV and AIDS. One of the questions I ask them, is how many orphans they are taking care of. With almost 15% of Swaziland’s population made up of orphans with very few official orphanages, it is usually the extended family that needs to take care of the orphans. However, if there is no extended family, then other community members will take over that task. One of our caregivers has four children of her own, ranging from 8 – 16, and then she is also taking care of 16 other children! Another one has five of her own children, ranging in age from 15 – 23. She is also caring for 15 other children. Sometimes it’s one or two, sometimes four or five orphans, but these people who are living in extreme poverty, without running water and usually without electricity, are doing things that the rich will most probably not even consider doing.
(We have now started with a project to assist these caregivers in Swaziland with food and medicine to enable them to do their work more efficiently. We call it: “Adopt-a-Caregiver”. If you are interested in helping these selfless people to have an even larger impact on Swaziland, you are welcome to contact me on wyngaard@lando.co.za )
We will have to start rethinking our attitude towards money and material possessions. I am convinced that God is not happy with the way in which the majority of rich Christians think about money.

Thursday, October 8, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Death, Disparity, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Tithing | 5 Comments

The Innocent Victims of AIDS

A very sad thing happened today. On Thursday evening I called our coordinator for our AIDS ministry to discuss a few issues with her before meeting one of our Home-Based Care groups on Friday. She told me that a family had been identified, a mother and father (both HIV-positive) who have recently had triplets. The children are one month old. The children could not be nursed as it is absolutely essential, when a mother is HIV-positive and nurses a baby, that the baby may not take any other food or liquid for the first six months, not even water, after which the child is put onto solids and then the baby may not be nursed at all anymore. With three children this is impossible.

However, when the family was found, the caregiver found out that the mother is feeding the children with thin maize porridge as she does not have money to buy milk formula. I was shocked when I heard this. On Friday morning I had a quick discussion with our coordinator about the situation and we decided that we would take responsibility for the children until they are at least six months old. We would buy the formula and bottles and everything else which is needed and will make sure that the children are fed properly. I went to a local pharmacy and arranged to have the correct formula ordered so that we could start caring for these children as from Monday.

At this point I need to share a remarkable incident, something which have happened to us a number of times in the past. Our budget does not really allow us to do things like this. Our income is too small and our expenses just too big. But we have learned to be open to the nudging of God when we need to do something like this and normally don’t spend much (and normally almost no) time on discussing where the money will come from. It’s not that my faith is so big. But God has taught us a few lessons over the past few years. In any case, when I arrived home on Friday and opened my email, I received a message that a group of students that had been with us in Swaziland had arranged to have money deposited into our account. At least now we know that we will be able to take care of the children.

And then, this morning, I got the news that one of the babies had died! Not because of HIV. Because of malnutrition. I was angry. I’d had a tough day, struggling to work through some bureaucratic red tape, both in South Africa and in Swaziland. But suddenly all my impatience seemed to vanish as I realized that these parents had lost a child, probably not because they did not care, but more probably because they lacked some basic knowledge and lacked the funds to be able to give their three children what they needed. I was angry at the injustice that seem to force certain people to do things that we would consider to be absolutely irresponsible. I was angry that we were not able to pick up this problem earlier.

The other two children are also suffering form malnutrition and have now been hospitalized. As soon as they leave the hospital, we will make sure that they are properly fed.

Last year I preached in a church (on World AIDS day). Afterwards I heard that a certain man who had been in the church was absolutely disgusted with the service, saying, amongst others, that AIDS was not his problem. The people who had it had made a choice and are suffering the consequences.

I wish I could take him to these children and ask him what they had done to deserve this.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Death, Disparity, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Swaziland | 6 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

Being content with life

I’ve been away from home for a few days while attending a meeting, which is also the reason I did not blog for two days, seeing that I had no internet connection. Part of this meeting was spent on discussing the letter I previously mentioned here. The person who had written the letter was also asked to attend the meeting so that it could be discussed with him. The good news is that he decided to withdraw the letter. However, the fact that it had been written could not be ignored and therefore a lot of time was spent in trying to understand his own personal feelings which had motivated him to put these things which he had said, on paper.
As I listened to the discussions taking place, I realised at some point that probably one of the main problems with this person was his own feeling of discontentment, not only with his own life but also with that which he received. And shortly afterwards I also realised that the issue was not the salary which he is getting (or rather, that he feels he is not getting). I have a strong feeling that, even if his salary should by doubled or tripled, that he would still feel that he is somehow being robbed of money that someone was owing him. He will never, as far as I can see, really be happy, because he seems to believe that the world is owing him something, and this feeling will not go away merely by increasing his salary.
Someone made the remark afterwards that it was strange to him that someone who was getting a relatively large salary (in terms of what people are earning in Swaziland, somewhere in the top 15% of the world) should be complaining about his salary while others, referring specifically to the group of people involved in our home-based caring project and who are getting no financial compensation for the work they are doing, seem to be doing this work joyfully. And suddenly the light seemed to break through in his own mind when he said that the difference was that these people had found purpose in their life. Being content with life isn’t first of all related to compensation received, but knowing that, through your life, you are having a positive influence on other people’s lives.
Obviously this could never become an excuse to underpay someone, but I couldn’t help thinking of the words in Hebrews 13:5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
And I wondered: Is it possible to trust God if you’re continually discontent with life?

Thursday, November 8, 2007 Posted by | Church, Dependency, Disparity, Home-based Caring, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland | 2 Comments

Disparity in salaries in missions

Readers of this blog may wonder why missionaries write so much about money. Before I came to Swaziland I also had the wonderful idea that missions is all about the gospel and proclaiming the peace of Christ and people of different cultures living in harmony with each other. It didn’t take long for me to come down to earth and to realise that there were many issues in missions which I had never considered before and which was never taught to us at university. And most of these issues concerns money. And mostly it is about local people working in the church not getting enough and closely related to this, that expatriates working as missionaries are getting too much.
John Rowell, in his To give or not to give, also writes about this problem. Western missionaries have always received a higher salary than the local church leaders and it is understandable why this would also cause a lot of tension amongst workers.
Yesterday was not a good day for me. Out of the blue I received a letter from one of our fellow church leaders in another congregation with a sharp attack against me personally as well as the missions committee which sent me to Swaziland on exactly this topic. This type of thing is really sickening. I went to university. He went to university. I’m getting probably about three times what he is getting. I’m being paid by the missions committee which sent me to Swaziland while he is being paid by the local church (which receives a subsidy from the same missions committee, but not enough to pay his full salary.) On the other hand, we also make use of church leaders who have not had official university training and he is getting about four times what they are getting. And so it seems to me, that the disparity is there and will always be there, unless if all church funds could be placed into one big pot and then divided equally. But then again: Will that be fair? Will everybody be happy then? As parents we always said that if you have four children and you treat them all equally, then three of them are being treated unfairly. Is the same true in the church? I know that the responsibility which I have to carry and the expectation which the church has of me is much greater than the responsibility which any of the local church leaders have to carry and the expectation which people have of them. But is that reason enough to have a disparity in the salaries?
If I think about what Jonathan Bonk wrote and I think of what John Rowell wrote, then I acknowledge that there is a lot of unfairness in the system. But then again, is there a way in which this will ever be solved?

Friday, October 19, 2007 Posted by | Dependency, Disparity, Giving, Indigenous church, Jonathan Bonk, Mission, Poverty, Racism, Rowell, Swaziland, Theology | 8 Comments