Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

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.

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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

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

Beating MCPs to beat HIV

I’m a computer fanatic, but there is no way that I can remember all the acronyms used in the computer world. The same applies for AIDS. It’s HIV, AIDS, VCT, PMTCT and MCP, to name just a few. This morning’s plenary session of the 4th South African AIDS Conference focussed, amongst others, on the problem of MCP. This is an acronym for Multiple Concurrent Partners. The debate in HIV and AIDS still revolves around methods to bring the number of infected people down. By the way, one of the top professors in micro-biology stated it clearly today that, in the fifteen years that he has been involved in research in finding a cure for AIDS, they haven’t really made much progress and he doesn’t think that any real progress will be made in the near future..
Coming back to MCP: The rationale behind this paper was that people in countries with a high prevalence rate of HIV infections, which include all the sub-Saharan countries, are not necessarily having more sex, but are having more sex with more than one sexual partner in the same time period, hence the term Multiple Concurrent Partners. (I don’t fully agree that this is the only important reason for the high HIV prevalence rate in Africa, because I’m not convinced that people in the USA, Europe and Australia, where the prevalence rate is low, are really living much differently). But the point is, and with this I do agree, if the number of sexual partners could be tuned down, the statistical possibility of someone who is HIV-negative to get the virus, is also lower. How much lower, is anybody’s guess.
One of the key note speakers at the discussion, Ms Lebogang Ramafoko, is a Black South African woman who also spoke about the role of culture. I myself have found that many people in Swaziland have an almost fatalistic attitude towards AIDS, saying that it is part of their culture to have a high number of sexual partners. Even many women seem to accept the fact that their husbands are unfaithful to them and shrug their shoulders when one tries to discuss the issue. “This is our culture,” they say. However, this viewpoint was challenged today by the speaker. She challenged a culture which fails to adapt to circumstances which causes the death of thousands of people every day. In South Africa, about 1000 people are dying daily directly as a result of HIV infection. She was loudly applauded when she demanded that we re-think our attitude towards culture, as if this was some kind of unchangeable monster.
A few other things which came out in some of the other papers today and which I found interesting: When speaking about AIDS in Africa, one of the topics which regularly come up is the problem of child-headed households. I wrote about this, about eighteen months ago, when I reviewed the documentary, Dear Francis. If you are interested in my viewpoint on child-headed households, I suggest that you read this. The point is that I have become convinced that people, working for NGOs, are often using the argument of child-headed households in an attempt to get money. Obviously, one’s heart has to be very hard if you don’t give money to assist children, especially if they are living on their own. But amongst the almost 1600 clients that we are serving in one of the poorest regions in Swaziland through our home-based caring project, we still have not found a child-headed household. Obviously the orphans are facing tough times, but all of them that we know of, are living with other people, mostly family members. Therefore, I’ve been questioning the truth of the alleged large number of child-headed households for a long time and definitely the claim that one out of ten households in the Mbabane area of Swaziland are run by a child is not the truth, as claimed in the documentary.
This was confirmed today when it was said that research has shown that, of the 4.1 million orphans in South Africa (out of a total population of around 44 million!), only approximately 60,000 are living in child-headed households. In no way do I want to suggest that this is acceptable. On the contrary, one child-headed household is one too many. But the point is that we need to be careful not to exaggerate statistics to draw an even bleaker picture, in order to obtain the sympathy (or funds) from others. The picture is dark enough. By being honest we will hopefully still get enough sympathy and assistance to be able to do something to help those in need and people will also accept our integrity.

Thursday, April 2, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Death, Giving, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Movie Review, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland | 1 Comment

Determining motives for giving

I was put into a fairly uncomfortable situation today. Some time ago I received a phone call from a certain pastor in Swaziland who has a lot of connections in high places. He had heard that the Embassy of one of the Asian countries represented in Swaziland was planning to give out food and he wanted to know whether we had the infrastructure to distribute 25 metric tons of food in the area where we work. That’s approximately 55000 pounds. The way that we are working, with different projects in different communities, each with it’s own committee and coordinator, does make it fairly easy to distribute food and clothing within these areas and obviously 25 metric tons of food would fill many stomachs.
It is what happened afterwards that started frustrating me. The 25 tons of food was reduced to 5 tons of rice. We have at the present stage 400 volunteers in our AIDS home-based caring project, taking care of between 1500 and 1600 people. This means, if each volunteer and each client had to receive some of the rice, they would each receive 2.5 kilogram (about 5 pounds) of rice. And without wanting to sound ungrateful (and I do realise that for anyone suffering from hunger, even this small amount of rice will be a huge blessing) – this is not going to make a big difference in the circumstances in which the majority of people in Swaziland are living. But then, the thing that really frustrated me, was the media coverage that had been arranged for the occasion. Obviously, because the ambassador was there, it was considered as a very important occasion. All the newspapers of Swaziland were represented at the occasion (both of them!) and all the TV channels sent reporters (both of them!) to cover this moment when the 167 bags of rice were being handed over to us.
Throughout the entire ceremony I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that this was much more about propaganda than about really caring for the people of Swaziland. I spent a lot of time with the ambassador today, listening to his motives, but without being convinced that this was an honest attempt to really make a difference to the circumstances of the needy people in Swaziland. Hundreds of photos were taken, TV news interviews were conducted. In my own interview I decided to concentrate much more on the story of how God had miraculously provided us with so many things that we had needed up to now and that this ministry has truly become a faith ministry. (We can’t see Swazi TV where we live, so I am wondering how much of this will be shown on TV.)
I’m still trying to sort out my own feelings – the reason why I wrote about this. I’m not unthankful. But I can’t help feeling uncomfortable by the way in which this presentation was handled today. Perhaps it was just too much exposure to something that wasn’t really going to make a difference to people on the long run. I think I’ve seen much more important and life-changing things happening during the past few years, without any media exposure at all.
Possibly my lack of enthusiasm was caused by the fact that there had been absolutely no building of relationships today. And this has always been one of the biggest problems in mission: Handing out material goods to people with whom you have no desire to build a relationship.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Building relations, Cross-cultural experiences, Disappointments, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland | 7 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

Manipulating people into giving money for mission

I’ve said it before: I struggle to come to terms with missionaries manipulating funds from people in order to support their mission. Yesterday I received an email from someone that I don’t know within a mission that I know nothing about. The only time I hear from him is when they are in dire need of money. Freely translated, the email says the following: “Please pray with us that Father will provide and will bless our bank account at XXXX bank, account number XXXXXXXXXXX with R1720.85 (Rand – the South African currency) for essential reparations which need to be made to the mission vehicle. The reparations cannot be postponed and must be done as soon as possible. Also praise the Lord that HE will provide for the reparations.”
My emotions see-sawed between fury, indignation, frustration and disappointment after reading this.  Most mission newsletters do speak about their needs. I have no problem with this. On many occasions people have said to me that they do want to hear about specific needs so that they can find means of providing what is really necessary. From time to time someone would ask me for a bank account number. But I’m getting sick and tired when I feel that missionaries are trying to manipulate others in giving money to them by taking them on a guilt-trip. Looking at that email my first question is: Make up your mind. Do you want us to pray that God will provide the money or do you want us to give the money? I would probably not even have had a problem if they had sent out regular newsletters to a number of prayer supporters with whom they have some kind of relationship and then to contact them with this special need. But asking that we pray that God will put the money into their account! I feel that I’m being misused.
I know a great number of people reading this blog are missionaries themselves. I would like to hear from those who are not missionaries but who feel obliged to support missionaries: How do you want to be approached when there is a specific need in some ministry? Do you want to be asked directly? Would you rather that God indicated where He wants you to get involved? Do you ever pray about where God wants you to give your money?
Help us, who are full-time missionaries, to understand how people feel who support missionaries.

Thursday, November 20, 2008 Posted by | Giving, Mission, Poverty | 16 Comments

Capacity Building

I’m recovering again after a hectic week – the reason why my blog-writing has been pushed to the back for a while. On Sunday I flew down to Cape Town where I had been invited to attend a capacity building workshop co-hosted by USAID. Flying back to Pretoria, I stepped into another meeting with representatives of a Christian trust and after driving home I spent a few more hours in another meeting with a NGO which is showing some interest to partner with us in Swaziland.
Up to now I’ve never really been bothered with capacity building. I have more or less a feeling that things are going fairly well with our home-based caring ministry in Swaziland. We have money (not quite enough, but we manage) to do the basic things and I would be satisfied if we can keep this up. So I wasn’t all that eager to attend the conference. But then, before I left for the conference, a friend told me that God might be setting us up for something larger than we have been doing up to now and that we may need more resources to do what He wants us to do. (OK, so that’s not quite what I wanted to hear!) But it changed my attitude to attend the conference with a more open mind.
The overwhelming feeling I had was that most people presenting conferences like these have no idea how rural Africa looks. In most cases the people we work with in Swaziland have no electricity, no water (sometimes a communal tap, but not always), no telephone (although more people are using cell phones), little food (some homes have three meals a week instead of three meals a day!), and a large portion of the people in the rural areas are illiterate.
But then, at the conference, we heard stories of Christians and congregations who are aching to become part of the solution to the world’s problems. People living in affluent communities who feel that they want to start investing their money in ministries deeply involved with the world’s problems – bringing hope and light to those communities. And as I listened to this I realised that there must be a way for those with the resources and those doing the work on grass-roots level to connect with each other. It doesn’t seem right that people are eager to get involved with God’s work on a greater scale and others are looking for ways in which to increase their influence, and these two groups cannot be connected.
But after this conference and the hard work (and we worked really hard in smaller groups), my favourite topic kept coming into my mind: partnerships! In rare cases it may be acceptable for someone with a lot of money to write out a cheque. But that’s not the ideal. We need people to come and look and feel and smell and taste the reality and then sit down with us to think of ways to have an even greater impact on this country – to think of long-term solutions.
So: This is an open invitation to get involved in Swaziland. If you’re part of those people aching to do something outside your own community, send me a note. If you belong to a church longing to do more than merely keeping those inside the church happy, send me a note.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

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

Should Bibles be sold or handed out?

This is a question which all missionaries working in poor countries will have to answer. And the answer is not as simple as we sometimes try to make it.
I was recently reminded about this issue while watching a DVD of an international missionary organisation working in Swaziland. We all realise that DVDs or pamphlets or whatever other medium is used, are made in order to convince people to donate money towards the cause. The DVD starts with a shot of a number of school children, singing and dancing with Bibles in their hands. The caption reads: “Swazi kids excited about their new English and SiSwati Bibles.” These Bibles had been handed out to them with the help of donations received from overseas. Who’s heart won’t soften when seeing children in darkest Africa dancing with joy because of receiving a Bible?
Many people however feel that it is wrong to hand out Bibles free of charge. The logic behind this conviction is that something is only appreciated if it is paid for.
And now the question: Who is correct? Should Bibles be sold or handed out? And the answer, as I said earlier, is not as simple as saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When I arrived in Swaziland in 1985 we used to receive boxes full of tracts, some in English, others in siZulu (closely related to siSwati) and when visiting schools I handed out these tracts by the thousand. But there came a time when I became convinced that I’m not doing the right thing. I did realise that the children were merely grabbing the tracts, not because they were really interested in reading them (although I believe that many did read them), but because it was something given to them free of charge. After making this decision I planned the distribution of literature in a much more disciplined way. The fact is that I became convinced that I could distribute Jehovah’s Witness literature or even Muslim literature free of charge and that the children would still grab as much as possible.
So what is my solution? In the good old days I was able to get 30% discount from the Bible Society if we bought Bible directly from them. Bibles were fairly cheap (around $2) and after the 30% discount they were still affordable for most people. We literally sold thousands of Bibles. But at the same time we were open to hand out Bibles to people who we felt would put the Bible to good use and who could not afford to pay for it. I’ve received many things free of charge which I deeply appreciate and I sincerely believe that many people receiving a Bible free of charge would also appreciate it. Which means that we used both systems of giving and selling Bibles, but always selling it without profit.
Things have changed. The Bible Society refuse to give churches discount. Discount is now only given to stores and prices have gone through the roof. The cheapest siSwati Bible available in stores would probably be around $12 – this in a country where 70% of the population live on less than 45 US cent per day! Money received for Bible distribution is now used to buy Bibles at shelf price, but then we sell them at about a quarter of the price at which we buy them. And then we still have an understanding that Bibles may be handed out free of charge or sold at an even lower price if the recipient can really not afford to buy it.
We don’t have much singing and dancing with Bibles in the hand using this system. But I’ve seen many people sitting with their Bibles, reading it and when I look at the congregation on a Sunday as they follow the Scripture reading in their own Bibles, I see Bibles with pen marks, showing signs that they have been used. For me this means more than the singing and dancing.

Monday, July 14, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Church, Culture, Giving, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology | 7 Comments

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