Saturday, February 21, 2009

Easy Money

Here at our location we are actively involved in discipleship. It is not the only thing we do. But I believe it is the core of what we are doing to reach this country and the many unreached people groups here. It would be easy to gather a bunch of people willing to go out and preach the gospel to other nationals here. However, if the right people aren't chosen, or if they are not properly discipled and prepared, it could be a disaster.

Corruption is a way of life in our location. Corruption is found, not only in the government and in those who serve as officials, officers and office workers, but in every other arena where money or power is found. In the market, people pay others off to get the corner stall. In private companies accountants and workers find ways to skim off money by lying and cheating. At the gas pump the attendants offer to write receipts for any amount you want so that the person buying fuel can keep the difference. In school, students get passing grades when when they buy "gifts" for their teachers. Many teachers encourage their students to cheat in order to pass. Far too many teachers offer special "tutoring" sessions at other times that students can attend for a small fee--and improve their chances of getting a good grade.

And corruption is found in the church, too. It is rampant. Money that is offered is kept by those in power. Money that is designated for certain people or needs is "taxed" by the pastors. Many pastors raise twice or triple the amount of money they need to build their churches. Those who have a position in the church try to use their faith to impress outsiders who might give them money. Often there is no accounting, no reporting and no transparency when it comes to the financial dealings of the pastor, who controls all the money. For all the things that are not taught about from the Bible, tithing is one that is never forgotten. And every single time an offering is gathered, the song "I Surrender All" is sung. I'm not kidding. If there is a second special offering, then they sing it twice.

It is the goal of many a young Christian here to be "sponsored" by a foreigner. Unlike in the US where many pastors make much less than the people in their congregations, here people can make out quite well on $50 a month, and live a much more comfortable life than they would if they were an upland farmer. So the idea of being "sponsored" to do any kind of ministry is very attractive. So much so, it attracts those who don't really have a heart for ministry but are interested in the good life.

So how do we avoid this? One way is that we have our young disciples do an internship. They live together up in the mountains, outside of town, and in addition to studying the Bible, they work. It is not very attractive because they don't make a lot of money (they make enough and more than they did before, but not anything to go ga-ga over) and they aren't studying English. Living in the country they don't have the opportunity to go to "fun" things in town like bars, dance clubs and festival events. Now, we do take them out on picnics, hikes and enjoyable things like that. But for those who are looking to just have fun and consume the foreigners money--well, they opt out. We have had more than one person decide to quit after joining us for a week. And that is okay. Our discipleship program is not for everyone. But we have designed it to help us weed out those who are not sincere and who are more interested in advancing themselves than they are in serving God and ministering to others.

Another way we avoid corruption is by giving our disciples good examples. They have all seen bad examples of Christians leaders. We want to show them there are those who are sincere and honest in their service to God. So, we have one such person who lives with our interns and disciples them on a daily basis. If they were to become like this man we will not be disappointed. We also bring in other national Christians to teach them for short-term series. We want them to see those national Christians who serve God in honest and effective ways and who aren't motivated or sustained by foreigners. We want to get past the idea (in national Christians' minds) that they can only do anything a foreigner sponsors them to do, and past the idea (in national non-Christians' minds) that Christianity is a foreign religion. Good national examples gives them the opportunity to see the light.

Another thing we do is we set high goals and standards for them. We have them read the entire Bible (most national Christians and even pastors have not ever done that). We have them memorize songs and scripture. We have them teach and share. We have them visit people in the village three times a week. We have them talk to the "big people" (village headmen and leaders), which is an intimidating thing for them to do, by inviting the village leaders to a dinner we host. We have them learn ways to do agriculture (raise fish, frogs, rabbits, plant fruit trees, soybeans, etc.) so that they will know how to feed themselves and their families without depending on anyone. In fact, that is one of our high standards for all of them--they must learn how to live AND serve God by working and making enough money to support themselves.

By the end of the internship everyone knows they haven't signed up for "easy money" from foreigners when they join with us. But they will have an example of how to live, work, eat and do ministry in a village by having done these very things with us.

So what do we do with them when we are finished? Stay tuned for my next post about that!

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