Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

UNICEF exposes Abuse of Children in Swaziland

Richard Rooney recently brought my attention to a report written by UNICEF (UN Childrens’ Fund) with the title Swaziland: Every Third Woman Sexually Abused As a Child. This is scary! According to this report, a third of all Swazi women have suffered some form of sexual abuse as a child and a fourth of the women are experiencing physical violence. Furthermore, it says: “In two years, Swaziland will have a population of 200,000 children orphaned by AIDS – more than one-fifth of its population, according to UNICEF. With HIV prevalence at 33.4 percent among people aged between 15 and 49, the country has the world’s highest infection rate. As a result, life expectancy has halved from nearly 60 years in the 1990s to just over 30 years today.”
On at least two occasions I posted something about women and AIDS in Swaziland. In one post I wrote about AIDS and the lack of respect for women and in another about Women and AIDS in Swaziland. After reading about this UNICEF report, I was once again appalled by the things happening in this country, things which very often becomes the cause of the growing number of people with HIV and AIDS in Swaziland.
Obviously we have to be careful that we don’t see this problem as being restricted to Swaziland only. In all countries children are being abused and women are being exposed to physical violence. Yet, somehow I do feel convinced that, when a third of all women claim that they were sexually abused as children, then something is seriously wrong. It is also reported that “only 43.5 percent of girls said their first sexual experiences were freely willed and devoid of coercion: a little less than five percent said they had been introduced to sex as rape victims.”
We have daily contact with vulnerable children – mainly orphans – at our church at Dwaleni, where we provide food for them. People have asked me whether the solution would not be to start with homes where the children can be properly cared for. But how does one provide accommodation for 200000 children? This is impossible. But I can’t help wondering how many of the children who leave our church every day to return to some home where they live (be it with a grandmother or another family member) are being abused without us knowing about it.
Perhaps, some day, God will give us the wisdom how to handle these situations in such a way that the children will be able to speak out about their experiences. But by keeping quiet about this, we are equally guilty of the things happening to them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 Posted by | HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 3 Comments

Catering for men in Africa

Bob Roberts recently asked a question on his blog: What does a masculine church look like? He was asking this question because it seems that churches are not really focussed on men, and, as he correctly says: “Just having men in leadership roles doesn’t guarantee that at all.”
Up to now there has been 14 comments on this post (two from myself). In my first response I wrote: “This is arguably our biggest need in Swaziland (as probably in most of Africa) – if we can really reach the men and present Christ as an answer to them, I believe that Africa will change. But most churches have 90% (or more) women and children and church is seen as a feminine thing – for those who are not strong enough to care for themselves.”
In the rest of the comments nothing was said about this problem in Africa. If Africa is seen (as many do believe) as the place where the new revival is going to start and from where the world will be reached, then this problem will have to be acknowledged and addressed. After some further comments on the topic, I wrote the following: “The last three responses may be true in a Western culture but is not necessarily true in an African culture where, to be a Christian, has definite implication for one’s beliefs in cultural practices. We’re not speaking about church attendance only. We’re also speaking about a new life in Christ which means having to break with certain things of the past – and for most men the price seems to be too high to pay.”
Once again: No response.
In the Western world people are struggling to find ways to make church more attractive for men through the way of worship, the type of messages brought to them, the people (eg sports heroes) used in the church. In Africa the problem is hugely different. How do you convince men that they will be better off if they leave their old life and start a new life in obedience to Christ?
As far as I know this is a universal problem all over Africa. Where men come to true repentance, the family often follows them. But if men are not willing to dedicate their lives fully to God, the church in Africa will remain something for women and children.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Bob Roberts, Church, Culture, Mission, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 4 Comments

Luke Commission

Yesterday was again one of those days that I was out most of the day, reached home around sunset, flopped down on a couch, too tired to do anything else and just thanked the Lord for allowing me to be part of what is going on in Swaziland at present. The day started when I went to meet a group of volunteers who had come together with the desire to be trained as home-based caregivers. I cannot get over the fact that these women (in this specific case no men were present), some of whom themselves are HIV-positive, are willing to step forward and get involved in the caring of people who are even worse off than themselves. Forty women turned up! In spite of my warning that we do not have money to give to them and that anyone not happy with this may leave, all remained and if the same happens as in the past, even more people will turn up when we officially start with the training on 25 March.
When I was finished there, I travelled on to Nsalitje. There I met up with an American couple. The man is a medical doctor and his wife is a professional nurse and together they are involved in the Luke Commission. You can read more about them on their website. How we met up is a miracle in itself. Maya, one of the regular readers (and responders) of this blog, attended a missions conference in Seattle some time ago. There she heard of a certain woman who was a missionary in Swaziland. Hunting her down, Maya obtained her contact details, sent it through to me and I was able to make contact with them while she and her husband were still in the USA. On 15 January Harry and Echo van der Wal returned to Swaziland for four months and are now running mobile clinics all over the country. Being fairly technically minded, one of the most amazing things was to see how glasses are distributed. They arrived in Swaziland with around 40,000 pairs of used glasses which had been donated, tested in order to determine the prescription and then placed in a plastic bag with a computer-printed label by which it is catalogued. People in need of glasses are then tested with the use of a simple but very efficient eye scanner linked to a computer. Within less than two minutes a slip is printed with the prescription needed and the catalogue number of glasses which would be suitable for the patient. A few minutes later the patient leaves the room with eye sight restored! Take the trouble to read the story found here.
Echo and myself then had a chance to sit down and speak about the devastating effects of AIDS on this country. This is a fairly new field for them as they are now venturing into the field of VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) for the first time. After discussing the issue of counselling people before and after being tested for their HIV status, I was invited to be “counselled” by one of the Swazi volunteers helping them. She even insisted on testing me for AIDS, but I politely declined her kind offer 😉
As I listened to this young girl explaining to me all the issues that I had to keep in mind when being tested and discussing it last night with a friend of mine who is also very interested in the AIDS problem in Swaziland, I realised that there is a need for a Christian counselling course for people being tested for HIV. On the one hand the counselling given at government hospitals and clinics are more or less meaningless. On the other hand Christian counsellors also have to realise that their clients are not all committed Christians. To preach to people being tested will not always be very effective. This may be a challenge which we will have to take up if we want people to be properly counselled when they are tested. If anyone has any knowledge on this, please let me know.
When I eventually arrived home, I was tired after a long day and lots of travelling in high temperaturs, but so excited because of what I had experienced.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 Posted by | Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Giving, Health, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Indigenous church, Mission, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 1 Comment

Taking hands in the fight against AIDS

I’ve had a pretty hectic week. On Wednesday I made a trip up to the north of Swaziland, to the capital, Mbabane, where we have now started the official process of getting our home-based caring group registered as an NGO. From time to time we have people, churches or other groups wanting to donate clothes, medical supplies or food to assist us with the work we are doing and although the customs officials at the border are VERY friendly and lenient, always allowing us to take the products through, we also realise that the correct way in which to do this is to be registered as an NGO and then to get a tax and customs exemption form from the department of customs and excise. Because we have obtained a lot of credibility with the local people as well as their representatives in parliament, we are fortunately also receiving a lot of assistance to speed up the process, which can, in Swaziland, take up to a few years to complete! From Mbabane I drove to the eastern side of the country, drove all the way down the eastern border to the south, then turned west again to see how things were going on with the training of the people at Matsanjeni, focussing on traumatised children before returning home – a round trip of about 330 miles in extreme heat. (Air conditioning isn’t a luxury – it;s a necessity!) Along the way I came across four American girls stuck with their vehicle after they had a flat (or a puncture, as we know it). They are also working in Swaziland for some mission organisation. I stopped to assist them with the tyre. Fortunately, before the hard work started of loosening the studs on the wheel, help arrived from their mission organisation (how did we survive without cell phones?) and I could continue on my way. So, if any of the mothers of these girls are reading this, I’m pleased to report: your daughter is safe! 😉
As I was making the trip I just kept on marvelling at the beauty of this country. Swaziland is often called “Little Switzerland” and a trip like I had on Wednesday makes it clear where Swaziland got this nickname.
This weekend I’ll be visiting a church in South Africa in a town called Tzaneen, not too far from the Kruger National Park. This is a typical white, Afrikaans-speaking congregation (which is found all over South Africa) who had decided that they want to take hands with another congregation consisting entirely of black members speaking one of the indigenous African languages (I’m not sure what language – but I’ll find out on Saturday when I’ll be meeting up with them – probably Venda or Pedi.) Because the black communities are so large and also because of their culture where communities are much more closely linked with each other, they also experience the AIDS problem and the related deaths much more personally. They have now invited me to meet with the white congregation this evening (Friday) to inform them about the problem of HIV and AIDS and also to explain to them what we are doing as a church to help people. On Saturday I will meet the members from a number of black churches and discuss the situation with them to inform them of our work but also to try and plan with them how they can tackle the problem in their own communities. On Sunday morning I will be preaching in the white congregation and during the evening service we will try and have a question and answer session, aiming to find a way forward that these two groups can take hands to fight against this terrible disease. Neither of these groups can make a real difference on their own. Thye black churches have the man (woman) power and the white churches have the resources. If these groups can take hands, there is enormous potential within them.
I’m really looking forward to this. I believe that we have developed certain principles in Swaziland (with the help of other people who guided us in the right direction) that can be duplicated in other areas outside Swaziland. Obviously each area and each situation is unique, which is why I cannot merely implement our model in another place. But if the principles are applied, then a group of Christians can, within their unique circumstances, really make a huge difference in their communities, becoming – as we have formulated it in our vision – the hands and feet of Christ within the community.
Just an interesting remark: My good friend, Tim Deller from the USA who is helping us in Swaziland, will this evening be going to his first rugby match ever with some friends of mine from South Africa. He’s travelling up to Pretoria for this occasion. Oh boy – he’s really so excited!
Please also read Tim’s latest post which you can access here.  It will really open your eyes for what we experience on a daily base in Swaziland. He even has a few links to Youtube video clips that he posted if you want to experience Swaziland as he sees it.

Friday, March 7, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Death, Giving, Health, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Indigenous church, Mission, Partnership, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 2 Comments

Washing each other’s feet

These past two days I have been plucked entirely out of my comfort zone. I have so often spoken about the importance of leaving your comfort zone in order to become more useful to God and certainly I have been in situations which other people would just turn around and walk away from. But I still have a lot to learn.
In 2006 I attended the graduation of some students at the Africa School of Missions in South Africa. Among the students was a Russian girl, Svetlana Kutusheva, whom I had met in Samara in Russia on previous visits to this country and who had also been in my class while I was teaching there on the topic of eschatology. She decided to come to South Africa for two years to further her studies in theology, to obtain a degree and then to become a missionary in Cambodia. During this graduation function I witnessed a remarkable ceremony. After their degrees had been handed out, each of the potential missionaries lined up before the audience and each then received a towel, symbolic of the fact that they had been called to wash people’s feet. Seldom in my life had I seen anything which spoke so strongly to me and I made the decision that I was going to duplicate this ceremony in Swaziland with the one home-based caring group which we had at that time at Dwaleni. It was close to Christmas and we were already planning something for around 250 orphans living around our church in the area. I decided to combine the two functions and when we handed the orphans a small gift I called all the care-givers forward and presented each one with a towel, explaining to them the symbolic meaning of the towel.
As we trained five extra groups of care-givers during 2007 this became part of the final day of training where I stressed the fact that the greatest leaders in God’s eyes are not those who can manage millions or who make decisions about a country’s future, but that Jesus considered those who serve the most to be the greatest leaders. The handing-out-of-the-towel has always been a very special occasion for me. But during the last week or two I felt that God was trying to convince me of something more. I became increasingly convinced that God was expecting me to set an example on servant leadership. Now, I fully realise that the washing of other people’s feet had become something of a custom among certain Christians. But as I thought about this issue (not without some fear) I also realised that, in our case, this would be much more than a mere symbol. This would mean that I, as a white man, the pastor of the church (held in high esteem in Swaziland), the CEO of Shiselweni Home-Based Care, would have to go on my knees before a Swazi woman to wash her feet. I was not comfortable with this idea. Not at all! I’m not a very “touching” person. A bear-hug is fine (male or female – as long as it’s not too long or too close) and a hand on the shoulder or the upper arm is also acceptable. But washing another person’s feet was just way out of my comfort zone. That’s not me! And yet, I felt convinced that I had to do it.
Then on Wednesday I received a phone call from a recently married woman living in our town. She had been praying to God about greater unity among Christians and churches in the town where we live and she felt that God was telling her to visit each of the pastors in the town and to wash their feet. So she called on Wednesday, told me what she believed God wanted her to do and made an appointment for the Thursday evening. And I didn’t look forward to this. (Refer to my previous paragraph!) The only reason why I consented was because I felt that it would be wrong of me to discourage this woman from doing what she felt God was telling her to do. But I wouldn’t even be comfortable if my wife was bowing down before me to wash my feet – let alone another woman!
Well, she came. She went down on her knees before me, washed my feet and prayed for me and then I also prayed for her. After this she left. This was a first for me. I survived! But the big test would be the next day when I had to wash other people’s feet. So yesterday I drove through to Nsalitje, encouraged the people, handed out the customary towels and explained to them the symbolic meaning of the towels. And then I called the newly chosen chairperson and coordinator to come forward, asked them to sit on a bench and, after explaining to them what I had in mind, I started washing their feet with soap and water, afterwards drying their feet with a towel.
As I was doing this, the craziest thought came into my mind. In Biblical times people were mostly expected to wash their own feet. In extreme circumstances a slave could be used for this purpose but there was an explicit law that prevented Jewish slaves from doing this. Slaves could be asked to do anything, but washing another’s feet was considered to be so degrading, that there was a specific law against Jewish slaves doing this. (Only heathen slaves could be forced to do this.) And this was the thought that came into my mind while washing their feet – that I had probably never been in such a degrading position in my life.
I survived! I’m glad I did it. I think that I will do something similar in the future when we train new groups, as the symbolic meaning of the washing of feet was emphasised in a way that the mere handing out of a towel could never accomplish.
Never again will I speak lightly of people having to leave their comfort zones. But then again, if I could survive this uncomfortable situation then others can also survive getting out of their own comfort zones.

Saturday, February 23, 2008 Posted by | Celebration, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Eschatology, Home-based Caring, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 3 Comments

What motivates people to help others?

Today we started with the training of our seventh group of home-based caregivers in an area known as Nsalitje. To have a look at a satellite photo of the area on Googlemaps, click on this link.
Today was a typical day in Africa: The sun was VERY hot, with temperatures probably in the 90s (which is in the 30s in Celsius). The day actually started in the Dwaleni area where we are trying to help a community get fresh water. The government helped the community some years ago to install one communal tap which the entire community, consisting probably of a hundred or more people, has to share. But the water is flowing at such a slow rate that the women are spending most of the day at the tap waiting for their containers to fill. A 20 litre container would take about 30 minutes to fill. We hope that we have found a solution, but I’ll write about that when we see the outcome.
We then proceeded to drive through to Nsalitje (praising the Lord all the way for the luxury of air conditioning.) On our arrival at the venue where the training was taking place, I was really shocked. The training was being done in a community hall (known in Swaziland as the Mphakadze.) The entire building is made of corrugated iron and there is no ceiling, so it doesn’t take much imagination to think how it felt inside. 25 people had turned up for the training, all of them eager to become home-based caregivers. As I looked at this group of people, some of whom were clearly HIV+ and one young man whom I’m convinced already has full-blown AIDS, I asked myself the question what the motivation would be for these people to become part of this home-based caring project. Money is definitely NOT a motivation, as we don’t have any money to give them. Not all of them are Christians, so although we would like to think that their faith is the great motivation, this is also not the final answer, although it may definitely be true in some cases.
Ultimately it seems to me that the great motivation would be a desire to really make a difference in people’s lives. But then I’m still puzzled why people who have nothing, most of whom are living far below what we would describe as extreme poverty (less than $2 per day), would be willing to give their time and their energy and often even the little money and food they have to make a difference in other people’s lives. I don’t think I have the answer yet.
What I do know is that this attitude never fails to amaze me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Church, Culture Shock, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 2 Comments

Women and AIDS in Swaziland

An article was recently published in one of Swaziland’s newspapers about a seventeen year-old girl who had appeared in a Swaziland court after she had had an abortion for which she received a fine of 2000 Emalangeni ($US 265) or a two year prison sentence. Now, although the US$265 fine may sound stupid, keep in mind that close to 70% of Swaziland’s population earn around $165 PER YEAR. Then the fine becomes a really huge amount of money. (Unfortunately Swaziland’s newspapers do not have an archive on the internet. Only the main articles are published each day. The two newspapers are the Times and the Observer.)
Richard Rooney who frequently discuss articles published in Swaziland’s newspapers, brought this article to my attention. You can read his comment here:
Part of the hearing was reported verbatim and went as follows:

Magistrate – Do you know that there are contraceptives in this world?
Girl – Yes, I know.
Magistrate – Why did you not use protection when you engaged in sexual activity with this man?
Girl – He refused that we use a condom.
Magistrate – Why did you not tell him that you would not agree to have sex if he did not use one?
Girl – He grabbed me such that he got his way.
Magistrate – Oh he forced you? That is rape, did he rape you?
Girl – Eish, no. You see, we were lovers, he didn’t rape me.
Magistrate – But still you could have told him no protection no sleeping?
Girl – Like I said, he grabbed me such that I eventually gave in and said yes.

As I read this report I realised once again how absolutely hopeless the situation of most females in Swaziland – and for that matter in most of Africa – is. I’ve written before that, to think that most women in South Africa are in a position to negotiatesafe sex” within or out of wedlock is an illusion. In general women have very little rights and this becomes even worse when confronted by a man (husband or not) who is under the influence of alcohol or who is just generally abusive, as so often happens.
I’m not saying that all women in Swaziland are being abused. I’m not saying that this young girl did the right thing by having an abortion. I’m just wondering why nothing is being done to the man who obviously coerced this girl into having sex with him (him being married and she being underage). As I’ve mentioned before, domestic rape is a reality in many homes which makes the argument of the magistrate ridiculous. A culture needs to be established where women and girls are respected by men and boys if we honestly want the HIV rate to come down significantly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Culture, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland, Women | 3 Comments

AIDS and the lack of respect for women

If you’ve never read a Swazi newspaper before, then you should do yourself a favour and read it on the internet! You can link to it here.
One of the blogs I read regularly comes from Richard Rooney. He is Associate Professor, Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Swaziland and every weekday he comments on the articles written in the country’s newspapers. Sometimes I feel that he is to critical and even cynical, but I still read his posts as it does give a lot of insight in what is going on in the country. Today’s post touched on a topic which he had commented on before. It can be read here.
A female security guard was apparently raped and after reporting on this the newspaper wrote an article in which women are given advice on how to avoid being raped. Apparently the best advice given in the article (which unfortunately I did not read myself) was for women to clothe themselves decently in order to avoid being raped. You can read Rooney’s article yourself to see what he thinks about this advice.
While I personally think that we need to remember that we are living in a sinful world where all possible precautions should be taken to prevent crime against your own body and your possessions, Rooney touches on a very serious matter in his article. Obviously I would advise any female to stay away from dark alleys or from other secluded spots, but then again, why should a woman not be safe in such places? In an ideal situation, a woman should be able to move around anywhere and at any time without having to fear being raped.
And this is where I agree with Rooney: The blame in the article he refers to is placed totally on the shoulders of the rape victims. Men, according to this article, cannot control themselves and therefore women have to take full responsibility to prevent themselves from being raped. And should they fail in doing this, then the men cannot be blamed for what had happened!
In a country which is slowly but surely being devastated through the effects of HIV/AIDS, one of the ways which would have the greatest effect on the outcome of the war against this pandemic, would probably be to show greater respect towards all females. While it is being said in the newspapers that men do not have to take responsibility for their own lives and that women who are raped are themselves to blame, I cannot see how things will ever be able to change in the country.
Of course, it is not only in Swaziland where this is the case. In most parts of the world, including Europe and the USA, one would find a great number of men who have no respect for women. What is perhaps different in Swaziland is that this is being written in the national newspaper.
Rooney ends his article with the following words: The Times is wrong on rape. It has been told time and again that it is wrong, so why does it insist on continuing to give men permission to rape?
It was disappointing for me to read this article and I can only pray that someday a man with stature will stand up to call the men of this country to taking responsibility for their own lives. Before this happens, I cannot see how the AIDS pandemic will be reversed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 Posted by | Disappointments, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Swaziland, Women | 3 Comments

Personal Evangelism or Community Evangelism?

David Watson touched on an important issue on his blog today. It’s really worthwhile reading. You can find it here.
I’ve always been more positive about personal evangelism as opposed to mass evangelism. I’ve just seen too many cases of masses of people in an audience praying the sinner’s prayer but never making any commitment to the Lord. (Yes, I know that many people can witness to the fact that they met the Lord on such an occasion, but I’m still not positive about this.) I prefer a one on one method of evangelism where I can be fairly sure that the person I’m talking to really understands what is going on and where I can make an appointment to return if I am not convinced that the person to whom I spoke were ready for a commitment.
The question David asks is whether personal evangelism is Biblical. The argument he has is that we read very seldom about individuals only coming to repentance. In the case of Cornelius (Acts 10) it is not only Cornelius but also his family and friends who come to repentance as is the case with Lydia and the prison guard. I believe that he may have a valid argument, although I would probably not feel as strongly about it as he does. The point that he is trying to make is that, in many countries, when people turn to the Lord, they are rejected by their families and by their communities which makes it extremely difficult for them to live as Christians. Had an entire family or even better, an entire community decided to turn to Christ, this at least would have been easier.
In Swaziland we won’t find that a Christian would be rejected by the family, but it is definitely more difficult if a person decides to follow Christ wholeheartedly while the rest of the family are still unbelievers or at most, no more than lukewarm Christians. As I had written previously, Christians often struggle to fight against cultural traditions which may eventually also lead to a break between family members. Where I differ from David is that he says that Satan is willing to let one member of the family go if he can keep the others – in other words, Satan is quite happy with personal evangelism as the community will never be reached in this way. I’m uncomfortable with this type of argument as I feel that we are overestimating the power of Satan and underestimating the power of God. Ultimately it’s not for Satan to decide who will be saved and who not. And furthermore, if each Christian who had received the Lord could be trained to become an effective witness for the Lord, the strategy of an organisation such as Evangelism Explosion, then, through the repentance of one individual, an entire community could potentially be reached. Nevertheless, I can see that, working with a community, may eventually bear much more fruit than merely working with individuals only.
When concentrating only on individuals, we inevitably target those who seem to be good prospective Christians. Quite often, as David says, we target young people (or women). But the young people, especially in Africa, (and this applies even more to the women) are not really able to change a community due to the paternalistic structure of most of these communities. However, once the father of a household decides to commit himself fully to the Lord, chances are that the rest of the family will follow suit. But this way of working will probably be more difficult than the old ways of either doing mass evangelism where hundreds of people pray the sinner’s prayer without really understanding why they are doing it or targeting the easy prospects to become Christians. It seems to me that we would need to do much more strategic planning if we want to evangelise people effectively.
I would be reluctant to make a choice of either one (personal evangelism) or the other (community evangelism). If the Holy Spirit allows someone to cross my path with whom I can share the gospel, I would not be convinced that I have to remain quiet until such time as the community this person comes from had become Christians. But I can definitely see the need for strategic planning if we want to evangelise effectively.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Culture, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Swaziland, Theology, Women | Leave a comment

The reality of tithing in missions

I don’t consider tithing (meaning to give 10% of your salary for the work of the Lord) as a law, but I do consider it as a good guideline. Why do I say this? For those of us reading this post, the mere fact that we have access to a computer and to the internet most probably means that we receive a way above average income. For most of us 10% should therefore probably be seen as the very least that we should give to the Lord. Without using Malachi 3:10 as a magic formula, we as family have often experienced that, in spite of giving away some of our money for the work of the Lord, that we still have more than enough to survive fairly comfortably on.
Since arriving in Swaziland in 1985, I have also tried to teach church members about the necessity of contributing towards the work of God. I have explained the principle of tithing (how to calculate 10% of your income). I have explained the principles from books like Leviticus and 2 Corinthians about giving. For the most of the years we could see a growth in the average income per member which gladdened me as I realised that people were slowly but surely learning something about sacrificially giving to the Lord.
What did make me angry at times, however, was when I was sitting at meetings with people from rich backgrounds and I would be told: It is very easy to solve the problem of finances in missions. If you can teach all of your members to tithe, then your problems will be solved! (Having had experience of Western churches where they usually follow the 20/80 principle, meaning that 20% of the people give 80% of the income and where I knew that 40% or more of their members gave absolutely nothing, I always felt that it was really unfair for someone who had no idea under what conditions most of our members live, to expect them to surpass their own members in faithfulness in giving!) Regardless of what these people said, and which sometimes were extremely hurtful, we still went on to speak about the importance of giving to the Lord.
About three or four years ago I had a group of visitors from South Africa with us in Swaziland. They had come to look at a possible way of partnering with our work. I had arranged for a meeting between this group and a number of our church members one Saturday morning. Unfortunately only a few of our members turned up, as most of them were attending funerals around their homesteads. All of those who came were female. Things went well with the discussions and the type of questions the visitors asked clearly showed that they were honestly seeking to understand the circumstances of our church members better.
At one point one of the visitors asked a question: Where do you get money from to give to the church? As I listened to this question, I realised with a shock that I had never really thought about that question. One of the women looked at the person who had asked the question and answered: Every Sunday we have to ask our husbands for money. Most of our husbands are not believers. It depends on how they feel that morning whether we will be able to give something to the church or not!
I felt like hitting my head on the table out of pure frustration with my own stupidity. After all my years of working with these people, I had never realised what they may be going through in their homes in order to support the church. I never realised what type of tension I may be placing on their marriages merely because I was telling them that they had to give more money to the church! Granted: Some of the female members in our church are earning small salaries. A few are even earning larger salaries. But for the majority their giving to the church depends on the mood of their (mostly unbelieving) husbands. I felt so ashamed!
We cannot stop teaching the Biblical principle of giving sacrificially towards the work of God. But that morning’s experience taught me to be much more sensitive when I teach about it and to be much more realistic in my approach. And it emphasised to me that the attitude in giving was much more important than the amount given, as in the story of the poor widow (Luke 21:2-4).

Friday, October 5, 2007 Posted by | Church, Culture, Giving, Indigenous church, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 2 Comments