Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The faith part of Faith-based Organizations

I’m probably biased when I say that missionaries seem to experience God’s providence in more practical ways than Christians who are not involved in spiritual work of that nature. Or possibly it’s not only missionaries, but anyone part of faith-based organizations where they have to rely on the goodwill of people for the daily running of their organization.
I recently had an experience that still gives me gooseflesh when I tell others about it. We have a client in Swaziland who hurt his leg in 1993. What started as a small sore on his leg, developed into a massive sore which just became progressively worse over time. In 2008 we had a volunteer, Tim Deller, from Milwaukee, who worked with us. Through one of our caregivers, Tim met up with this man. You can read about Tim’s first gruesome encounter with John and his leg by going to http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/7-march-2008/ and then scrolling down to: “My New Friend Johane.” By the time Tim left, the size of the sore had drastically reduced and it seemed that it was merely a matter of time before the leg would be fully healed. But then, when Tim returned to Swaziland for a visit in 2009, he found that the sore had become much larger. His report on this visit can be read at http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/3-august-2009/
At the moment we are fortunate that we have a young pharmacist who is working as a volunteer with us in Swaziland and I asked her to make John’s leg a priority. By the time she leaves Swaziland at the end of the year, I want John’s leg to be healed fully. We arranged with a nearby pharmacy to give her the medication she needed and she has now visited him a number of times to clean and dress the wound. There is one problem however: the dressing is extremely expensive. It is costing us around R75 ($10) for a single dressing (and one dressing is too small for the wound at this stage) which needs to be changed twice a week.
While I was recently in Fresno, California, we had a reunion of a team from Fresno that had visited Swaziland in July 2009. One of the team members arrived with two bags which she left in a room with the request that I check the contents and take whatever I needed. One of the other team members works at a pharmacy in Fresno and I asked her whether their pharmacy by any chance sold the product we use for John’s leg. I was hoping that we might be able to get the product in the USA at a more affordable price. I had the name of the company manufacturing the product as well as the precise item name, but because it was produced by a British company, it is not commonly distributed in the USA and she could not help us, save for trying to get the name of an equivalent product produced in the USA. (A bit of a disappointment!)
After the visitors had left, I opened the bags that had been left there. The larger part of the contents was too sophisticated for our caregivers to use, but I then opened the other bag and – you’ve guessed it – I found a bunch of the dressings that we use in Swaziland, the exact British company name and the exact item. It honestly didn’t even cross my mind to pray about this. God had provided in our needs even before we thought about praying about this.
Sceptics  may say it’s coincidence. I know it’s not coincidence. Statistically it would be hard to convince anyone that this had been merely coincidence. A product that’s not manufactured in the USA and not distributed in pharmacies in the USA, dropped at the exact location where I’m staying at exactly the time when we were trying (unsuccessfully) to source the product in the USA (and the person who had dropped the bags had NO idea that we needed that specific product. But furthermore, the fact that this is not the first time that we’ve experienced this type of thing happening, shows us that God really cares about the work we are doing amongst the people with serious health conditions, including HIV and AIDS, in Swaziland.
In more affluent societies people spread the word of their needs and others respond. Working within poverty-stricken areas, people tend to be more focused on God’s provision. I am not a man of “great faith”. Often I feel like the father of the boy possessed by evil spirits of whom me read in Mark 9:17-27 who said to Jesus:  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” But each time something like this happens, then it helps me a bit further on the road of overcoming my unbelief.
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Monday, February 8, 2010 Posted by | AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology | 8 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

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

The Death of a Celebrity

Since last week, after the death of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, a lot has been said about the death of celebrities. Even people who would under normal circumstances not believe in heaven, have made remarks and written on their blogs that they believe that MJ is in heaven, is moon-walking in heaven or has joined the heavenly band. OK, I admit that I’m too old to be able to appreciate his music. A friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that MJ had “one or two good songs” and was heavily criticized for saying this. But to be honest, if I had been on “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, I wouldn’t be able to name a single song that he had sung, without using a help-line – not even one or two!
So, this is not about MJ of FF or whoever. It’s about the emotions that are stirred when a celebrity dies. And perhaps, more importantly, the emotions that are NOT stirred when other people die. We’re confronted daily with death in Swaziland. I recently blogged about The innocent victims of AIDS. After I wrote about the baby who had died, one of a triplet, I heard on Sunday that a second baby had also died. In sub-Sahara Africa, around 6000 people die every day due to HIV and AIDS! Those who are dying leave behind families who need to be cared for. Very often, the people who are dying in these countries, are the breadwinners of their families. When the breadwinner dies, the family is effectively doomed. There is no estate from which the family can be cared for.
I can understand that the death of a celebrity will always wake up strong emotions with the public, but surely something is wrong if the death of one pop-star dominates the news for days on end (and we’re still waiting for the funeral!) while news about the innocent victims of AIDS, slavery, warfare, poverty, malnutrition and so much more, will hardly ever be mentioned in any newspaper, let alone make it to the headlines.
It was ironic, back in 1997, when Lady Diana and Mother Teresa had died within days of each other, how the people almost deified Lady Diana while Mother Teresa’s death, compared to Lady Diana’s, was rather unimportant.
In the Belhar Confession, one of the sentences read: “that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged”. When I see the way that the world, the church as well as individual Christians reacted upon hearing of MJ’s death, that sentence may well have read: “that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the famous, the rich and the celebrity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Church, Death, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology | 3 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

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

Eric Bryant: Peppermint-filled Piñatas (Audio book)

More than a year ago I wrote a review on Eric Bryant’s book: Peppermint-filled piñatas. You can read it here. And then I recently wrote how I’ve now discovered audio books which gives me the chance to listen to books while I’m driving, in this way getting to read a book during time that would otherwise have been wasted. I’ve been wanting to re-read Eric’s book for some time now, but with books almost waist-high next to my bed, all waiting to be read, I realised that this would not happen soon. That is, until I heard that Peppermint-filled piñatas is also available as an audio book which you can purchase and download online. I downloaded the mp3 files, copied them onto five CDs and had them ready in my car in preparation for a long trip I had to undertake this past weekend.
Eric, if you’re reading this: My wife and two of my children travelled with me, but we’ve had a hectic time the past few weeks and my wife asked me whether I would mind if they sleep while I drive. I agreed to that but asked them whether I could listen to this book while they sleep. And in the end, they all remained awake for the greater part of the journey. Not only that, on returning Monday morning, leaving Pretoria just after 4 am, they all complained when I said that I’m going to continue listening to the book while I’m driving, as they actually wanted to sleep and would miss out on the book! Consider this a compliment.
It surprised me how much of the book I could still remember after a year. I think the chapter that spoke the most to me on this round, was Chapter 7, The Untouchables. This is about compassion for the poor and the destitute. By far the majority of people that I know, have a feeling for the poor, but will never reach out to them to do something practical to help them, probably because they lack true compassion. For most of my life I’ve been surrounded by poor people, having grown up in South Africa with its harsh distinction between races. After moving to Swaziland in 1985, the reality of extreme poverty just became all that more clear to me. I definitely had a feeling for the poor and the destitute, but it still took me a long time to develop true compassion for The Untouchables. As I listened to this chapter, I realised how important it is for church leaders to expose their members to this part of reality. But this is not enough. Without a plan to get involved in other people’s lives, it will not be possible to develop true compassion. Without wanting to repeat what I wrote in my earlier review, I can say that this book should be read by church leaders looking for ways to break through their own feelings of prejudice in order to share their love with others different from themselves, so that they can lead their members into doing the same.

Thursday, March 26, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Church, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Vision | Leave a 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