Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

And what if revival comes?

A number of years ago, one of our dear friends, living in the same town where we stay, made a remark which more or less said the following: “I’m praying that God will bring revival to this town and that at least 2000 people will come to repentance.” To which I replied (to her shock): “I’m going to start praying that it will not happen.” After she recovered from the shock of hearing blasphemy from the mouth of a pastor, I explained to her why I said this. At that time we were just not ready to receive 2000 new believers into any (or all) of the churches in the town. The new believers would be neglected. They would probably starve (spiritually) and eventually many of them will leave the church and return to their old lives.

Even now, when I do evangelism training in churches, I tell the people that they must not even start with an evangelism program, unless if they have everything in place to receive and support the new believers. This is almost like preparing the unborn baby’s room in anticipation for the birth that will take place.

During this past week I realised once again how unprepared most churches are for new believers. And this time it was my own congregation in Swaziland that I had to admit is still not ready for any form of revival. Since we started with our AIDS Home-Based Caring ministry, I believed that people will be affected by the caring attitude coming from the church. Our aim was not to attract new members for our own church, but we did hope that people in the communities where we work will start realising that God actually loves them. From time to time individuals did decide to join our church.

And then, in 2007, I received an invitation from one of Swaziland’s Members of Parliament in an area known as Lavumisa, to start conducting church services in his area. He opened his home to us, invited people to come and things started happening. I myself went there on various Sundays and when Tim Deller was still in Swaziland, he also went there regularly. He mentioned this a few times in his own blog, and I also blogged about it, amongst others in Starting a new church at Lavumisa.

There is, however, one big problem about conducting services at this place, and this is the distance which I have to travel to get there. It is almost 160 km (100 miles) from my home, meaning that, to go there, implies a round trip of more than 300 km. But then I also have other places which I need to visit on Sundays and furthermore I’m also invited at times to preach in other churches. From the start I realised that it would not be possible for me personally to take responsibility for this area. After the people indicated that they wanted our church to continue working in the area, I took the matter to the church council and asked them to discuss ways of helping these people. I sensed a reluctance amongst some of the church council members, but they eventually agreed that they would arrange that people in the vicinity of Lavumisa would help with church services. Unfortunately, it seems as if they did send people there a few times and then stopped going.

Last month we trained a group of caregivers in an area known as Qomintaba, which is about 20 km (12 miles) from one of our existing churches at Matsanjeni. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. On Wednesday I heard that the headman of the area had come to repentance. We didn’t speak to him about Christ. But he was so touched by what he saw the church doing, that he decided that he wanted to accept this Christ we are preaching and now he, and a large number of the caregivers, want to join our church. I know that most people will say “Halleluiah” when they hear this, but this is becoming a logistical nightmare. Once again, we don’t have people in that area that can take responsibility to do the work. But then the church members at Matsanjeni made their own plan. They would drive down to Qomintaba on a Sunday morning, help them with a church service at 9, then drive back to Matsanjeni to have another service at 11.

And then, on Wednesday, I had a long discussion with one of our church elders, and found that he was actually irritated by this. His first remark was that I’m putting him under stress because he feels that it is his responsibility to care for these people. In fact, he told me that we should just forget about them. (Wow! I can now understand how Peter felt when he returned to Jerusalem after Cornelius had accepted Christ in Acts 10.) I could understand his point of view. But I also realised that he was still not ready for God to do big things in the church. He was still feeling that everything is his responsibility. Eventually I (hopefully) convinced him that not I nor anyone else was expecting him to conduct services at Qomintaba on a regular basis. I would love to visit them in the near future. I would love him to visit them as well. But we need to respect the church at Matsanjeni who have taken this responsibility upon their own shoulders, encourage them, supply them with the basic needs and then allow them to do this work. This, I think, is probably fairly close to the New Testament model of the church.

But I couldn’t help wondering what would happen in most churches, my own included, if a real revival starts taking place.

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Friday, June 12, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Church, Disappointments, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Meetings, Mission, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | 1 Comment

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

Are church leaders leading their members towards mission involvement?

Rick Meigs posted a blog almost three months ago, titled: Are We Delusional? I pinned the post, meaning to respond to it at some stage. The point he’s trying to make in the post is that many church leaders will theorize about mission and about the importance of mission, but will never set the example to their church members on what it means to get involved in mission. No wonder that church members do not get involved in mission: they’re only following the example set for them by their leaders.
Something which I’ve heard quite a lot over the past few weeks and also during the past WENSA mission conference I attended, is the words: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” When it comes to mission, I’ve seen too many church leaders not willing to lead in this regard, nor are they willing to follow, nor are they willing to get out of the way that others can do what they believe God wants them to do.
Last year, when we were awarded the runner-up position for the Courageous Leadership Award for our involvement in HIV and AIDS in Swaziland, one of the other finalists stood up at the awards ceremony at Willow Creek and told how his own congregation had been waiting for him, either to take leadership or to get out of the way so that they could do something. Fortunately, he made the choice to lead, not only his own congregation, but eventually a large part of his city, to get involved in a town in Lesotho. You can read a summary of their amazing story here.
Everybody in church seem to want to be leaders. I saw it once again during this past conference when the large group had to break up into four smaller discussion groups, speaking about youth, women, community involvement and leadership. I would guess that at least two thirds of the attendees went to the discussion on leadership. Obviously we need better leaders in the church. But true leadership (in the church at least) is not something that is taught from the pulpit. It is something which is demonstrated in such a way that church members will want to follow. And where this happens with passion and with honesty, nothing can stop the army of church members signing up to follow their leader in making God’s Kingdom become visible on earth.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Meetings, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

The Angus Buchan Phenomenon

It seems you either love Angus Buchan, from Mighty Men Conference-fame, or you hate him. For those who don’t know whom I’m speaking about: Angus Buchan is a farmer living in the Kwazulu-Natal midlands in South Africa who started an evangelism ministry some years ago. About six or seven years ago I attended one of his services in the town where I live. I went absolutely open-minded, but left, deeply anguished by some things I saw that evening. (If you are interested in what happened, you can drop me a comment with your email address. I don’t think I should discuss it on this open forum.)
Nevertheless, I think it was in 2007 that he organised the first South African Mighty Men Conference, attended by several thousand men. Last year he pitched, what is supposed to be the largest tent in the world, on his farm and accommodated 60,000 men. As from today thousands of cars are driving to his farm again for the 2009 conference where Angus Buchan hopes to have 200,000 men attend! By the way, the book and the movie, Faith Like Potatoes, is a biography about his life.
In spite of my negative experience at his service a few years ago, I had the feeling last year that he might just be God’s man for South Africa at this time. I don’t necessarily have to agree with everything he does to believe that God can use him effectively. After the conference, which a number of people I know attended, I noticed distinct changes in the lives of many of them – changes for the better. One person, who was an absolute racist and did his utmost to break down the work we’re doing in Swaziland, came to repentance and has since contributed substantial amounts towards our work amongst people with HIV and AIDS in Swaziland. Others, who had been Christians, but living more like non-Christians, came back and a year later their lives are still fully devoted to God. Obviously, a large number also came back and returned to their old lives. I’m grateful, however, for the change in many people’s lives.
But I do have a few concerns. One of the things I suspected, is the restricted audience he has. This was confirmed yesterday when I watched a home-made DVD made by someone who had attended last year. I don’t have percentages to prove my point, but the majority by far of the people who attended, were White males. In follow-up conferences held during the rest of the year at sport stadiums, attracting tens of thousands of people, the majority of people attending were also White. I suspect (and I would like to hear the opinion of others on this point) that many White people see in Angus something comparable to an Old Testament prophet, called by God to give hope to the people of South Africa in times where many are uneasy about the future. What worries me – and I know, once again, that I have no proof to substantiate what I’m saying, merely a “gut feeling” – is that White people may have the hope that God is going to put South Africa back into the hands of the White people, or at least, in the hands of Christians, and I fear that this may be false hope.
The other concern I have is the reverence that people have for him. It is almost as if some people take his words to have even greater authority than the Bible. Or at least, his interpretation of the Bible is believed rather than the interpretation of people who are also serious about finding the true meaning of the Bible but who differ from him. For many people, the words of Angus Buchan has the highest authority. I’m sure that this isn’t what he wants, but I would be afraid if I myself ended up in such a position. I’m not sure whether I would really be able to handle this new-found glory in the right way. After last year’s conference I told many of my friends that we need to pray, if this man is really someone sent by God for these times in South Africa, that God would grant him the ability to remain humble.
As for myself: I have respect for Angus Buchan. I’m not a disciple of him, nor do I hate him. At this stage I prefer to follow the instruction in Acts 5:39 : “…if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

Thursday, April 23, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Disappointments, Evangelicals, Evangelism, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Prayer, Racism, Swaziland, Theology | 118 Comments

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

Progress on the AIDS front

Day 2 of the 4th South African AIDS Conference in Durban started with some exciting, but highly scientific papers which were read. After twenty five years there is still no sign of a cure for HIV or AIDS, but Professor Bruce Walker from the Harvard Medical School shared exciting news on progress that has been made while trying to find out why a small number of people who are HIV-positive seem to keep on living normally even though they are not using any medication. I didn’t follow everything he said, but it seems that there are certain cells in the blood of a small number of HIV-positive people that could perhaps be duplicated and given to people who do not have a natural resistance against the virus. It’s a bit presumptuous of me to even try and summarise what he said, but what I followed was that there may be a faint light shining somewhere in the distance. At the same time, I realise (and I think that everyone should realise this) that this does not mean that AIDS is not going to continue to be a catastrophic problem for many years to come. And even then the question remains whether this research will necessarily lead to a cure for AIDS.
Professor Wafaa El Sadar presented a paper on the five key priorities that is needed to scale up the fight against HIV. She identified the following priorities:

  1. Multi-disciplinary teams need to come together to contribute towards the fight
  2. There needs to be a focus on the family instead of only on the infected person
  3. Quality of programs need to be stepped up
  4. Focus needs to be placed on prevention rather than on treatment
  5. Healthcare systems need to be improved

She mentioned the terrible paradox which came out in an earlier AIDS conference: “Drugs are most abundant in countries where infections are least prevalent.” And the same applies to medical personnel. She mentioned the statistics of a few countries, amongst them Swaziland, which has only 18 doctors and 320 nurses/midwives per 100000 people.
This, of course, is something which we have realised long ago, becoming one of the reasons why we opted to start with home-based caring when we decided to get personally involved with those infected with HIV and AIDS in Swaziland. There’s much more to do and we are actually looking at ways to involve ourselves in other terrains as well, but in a country where most people cannot be hospitalised and will have to die at their homes, we can at least help people to live and die with greater dignity.
Three other sessions I attended today was about the “A-Z on proposal writing” (very good), “How to understand scientific papers and apply this in policy” (also good) and “AIDS statistics and how to tell good science from bad” which was interesting up to a point after which a fairly dull topic became even worse! I tried to concentrate as I really want to use this information for an article which I’m busy writing, but the last 30 minutes was torture!
I’m excited about tomorrow’s plenary session which includes a paper on “HIV prevention – scaling down on partners.” What the contents of the paper will be, I will have to wait and see, but hopefully the presenter will say what needs to be said about this topic. I hope I’m not disappointed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland | 2 Comments

The voice of a prophet

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Durban, where I’m attending the 4th South African AIDS Conference. Today has been the opening day and we’ve been promised 95 sessions over the next few days that we will be able to choose from to attend.
Today we had the chance to listen to Dr John Hargrove who made a case for much greater availability of ARVs and sooner than at present, where ARVs are only prescribed when a person’s CD4 count is below 200. He also argued that HIV testing should be compulsory.
The next speaker was Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is the first time that I had had the privilege to hear him speak in person, but it is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. (I was able to get his signature, through a contact, in a book about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of which he was the chairperson and which was established after Apartheid came to a fall in South Africa.)
I remember that, somewhere in the eighties, I had a conversation with a professor in missiology who was a member of the, then forbidden, African National Congress (ANC). This professor was obviously extremely critical of the National Party which was still ruling South Africa at that time. At one point I asked him whether he would be equally critical of the ANC when they get to take over the government in South Africa. He didn’t really answer me and sadly, I’ve never heard him speak out against the wrongs which the ANC is doing in South Africa.
During the Apartheid years Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out strongly against the National Party, against Apartheid and against all the unrighteousness of the government. What made many people respect him, was that he, with the same voice with which he had criticised the National Party, continued to criticise the ANC government if he felt that they were wrong. And in my understanding, this makes him a true modern day prophet.
I experienced the same feeling today. A week or so ago the South African government refused to issue the Dalai Lama with a visa to visit South Africa with a visa to attend a peace conference. Their excuse is that it would take the focus away from the 2010 world football series which will be hosted in South Africa. (OK, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but that’s what they say!) And today I heard Archbishop Tutu speak to South Africa’s vice-president, who was also present, in which he told her that the government was wrong. Many people will be willing to criticise their country’s leaders. But how many people have the integrity that they can stand up, in front of an audience and reprimand the leaders in their faces? I was deeply touched by this.
Professor David Bosch had been a true modern day prophet. I consider Desmond Tutu to be one as well. But, as with all prophets, the people who need to listen may very well close their ears until it’s too late.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, David Bosch, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Meetings, Mission, Social issues | 1 Comment

Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism

Wendi dropped a comment on a recent post of mine, saying: “I’m taking a missions class called Perspectives. There was much discussion about how many (few) missionary efforts go toward clearly unreached people, and how much of our mission efforts and resources go to actually “reached” people, like the Swazi people.”
If our mission efforts should be primarily directed toward unreached people, why should any of us come to a country like Swaziland, 80% Christian already?”
You can read my reply to her here, but I thought the topic was important enough to open it up for more discussion.
I was listening to an international leader in mission, a former director of Operations Mobilisation in South Africa, last night. He mentioned that about 27% of the world still need to be reached and I can fully understand why people would say that our efforts should be directed to these countries rather than to those where Christianity is already strongly established, as is the case with Swaziland. The issue at stake here, as far as I can see, is what we define as “mission”. If mission only refers to “soul-saving”, then the statement would obviously be correct. But when one sees mission as something more than mere soul-saving, then it would be irresponsible to say that our efforts should be directed solely towards the unreached peoples of the world.
I’m unashamedly Evangelical. By that I mean that I believe that all people need to come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How it happens is of lesser importance to me. That the relationship exists, is of much greater importance. But this isn’t the Alpha and Omega of mission. David Bosch in his book, Transforming Mission, says on page 10-11: “Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions, Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sins and inviting them to become living members of Christ’s earthly community and to begin a life of service to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
When defining “mission”, Bosch quotes P Schütz who described mission as “participation in God’s existence in the world.” He then continues to formulate the implication of this by saying: “In our time, God’s yes to the world reveals itself, to a large extent, in the church’s missionary engagement in respect of the realities of injustice, oppression, poverty, discrimination, and violence. We increasingly find ourselves in a truly apocalyptic situation where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and where violence and oppression from both the right and the left are escalating. The church-in-mission cannot possibly close its eyes to these realities, since “the pattern of the church in the chaos of our time is political through and through”
When one is confronted by the extreme poverty, the injustice, oppression, the problems of HIV and AIDS, to name but a few, which occurs in countries all over the world, then one realises that those who propagate that the church should focus only, or at least primarily, on the unreached people (implicating that the missionaries should withdraw from the “reached” countries) still do not understand what mission really is.
Shortly after I had finished my theological studies, I was called as chaplain to the South African Defence Force for a compulsory two years of military service. The soldiers, fighting against terrorists entering – what is today known as Namibia – from Angola, used to count the bodies after every battle. (This, by the way, was absolutely gruesome and perhaps one of the reasons why I feel so strongly against war today.) I sometimes feel that many Christians also go into the spiritual battle with the aim of merely counting the souls after every campaign. But this is not what mission is all about. Mission is about proclaiming the kingdom of God (the “reign” of God) all over the world in every place. And wherever God’s kingdom is not being acknowledged, the church has the task to continue with its proclamation, be it in “reached” or “unreached” countries.
Does that make sense?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, David Bosch, Evangelicals, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 17 Comments

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

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