Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dependency Mission 02

"Just $30 a month and you can support a native missionary who already knows the language and the culture, and who will risk their lives to preach the gospel to thousands."

Sounds good, right? There are a number of mission agencies in the world who advertise like this. One in particular will give you a free book telling you why Westerners should not be missionaries because it takes more than $30,000 to move them there and that same money could support hundreds of native missionaries who don't have to go through language training or worry about culture shock.

Many times I've been asked the same question: "Why should we come visit you when we could just send the money from the plane ticket to hire locals to do the same work?" And in many cases, I do think sending some money would be a better thing to do. In other cases, I don't think very much money ever comes in from people who've almost decided to go.

But arguments for supporting native missionaries, sponsoring children and donating to missionary charity efforts tend to rely on making sure you know that we over here (on the mission field) are better off if you give us your money versus you spending that money on something else, whether that be a trip to the field or a swimming pool in your back yard. So the only thing you consider is whether you should give your money to "missions" or spend it on yourself. You can see where this is leading. You feel guilty spending money on yourself so you give it to missions.

What is usually left out of consideration (and many agencies don't want you to go there) is whether or not the missions program you are giving to is a good thing. Most just assume, "It's missions so it's all good." "They're helping the poor--what could be wrong with that?" "We have so much compared to them. What is just a little for us really goes a long way over there."

But just continually supporting native missionaries or sponsoring a child can create dependency. More on this later.

What about you? Do you have experience in giving out of guilt while assuming the recipient has a worthy program?

Tomorrow I will share with you about what happens when some missionaries come to town with big plans...


  1. Interesting... looking forward to the follow-up posts. Our church is looking to do exactly what you've mentioned. The work we're going through is legit (my wife has personally be there herself), and the reason they're asking for "sponsorship" is that Westerners cannot get Visas approved (one of the reps for the mission has had his Visa rejected several times)... at least for religious work. I'm not sure about a venture like you've got going. I might have to check into those options.

    Looking forward to your coming posts.

    Yes! The word verification works today!

  2. Hi Aaron,

    There is a lot more I could say on this whole topic. Let me share a couple.

    First, there are a lot of good national missionaries out there are are really doing some amazing things. I believe God uses them in many ways EVEN IF there are dependency issues. So, please understand that I'm not condemning anything (other than outright deception where it exists), but am trying to point to better ways to accomplish God's mission.

    A big thing about missions is reproducibility. Typically, ongoing programs that are completely funded from foreign sources are not reproducible by the people there because they are dependent upon foreign funds. It's like if I was going to burn down a forest and had to go around and light every tree on fire. I might eventually get the job done, but it would go so much better if I lit one tree and then it progressed from there.

    So, I think the big questions to ask is if you are going to support a native missionary are: Who are they? (What kind of people are they? Do they have a heart for God? Are they financially benefiting from this arrangement in a way that might tempt greed? Etc.) How long will you support them? What is the plan for them to be self-supporting? After you start supporting them will there be an endless line of requests for help with building church buildings, schools, hospitals, and other related things? Are there any ways for them to be self-supporting and not "professional" Christians? More likely than not they will tell you that your help is the only way for them to get anything done. So, you really need to go visit the field. When there, DO NOT just take the guided tour. If you do, you will be impressed by them for sure--they know how to impress you. But when you're there, talk to others outside of their organization or ministry who know about them and what they do. What do they say? Ask other orgs and missionaries about sustainable mission programs and what is possible in that location. See if anyone is doing BAM there. Try to talk to as many different orgs and evaluate as many different programs as possible. Finally, try to find an American (because you are an American and they will know how YOU think) who has learned the local language FLUENTLY and has lived with the people for many years and understands the situation. (Not just someone who has been there a short time or someone who does not speak the language fluently, even if they've been there a long time.) Ask this person about sustainable ways to do ministry in that location. Listen to what they all say. Pray. Ask God for his guidance.

    My thought is... if Westerners cannot get visas, what they mean are missionary visas. This is true for any "closed" country in the world and is true of where I am serving, too. Sounds like a perfect place to do tentmaking and BAM. See if anyone is doing that. See what programs there are for setting up nationals--not just to be sponsored by foreign funds--but to be self-supporting as they do ministry whether that is through business, a vocation, cottage industry, etc.

    I know, I just gave you a lot of work to do. :-)

  3. Not at all. These are certainly things that I've been thinking about. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Bob Roberts, but he talks a lot about this in his books--looking for creative ways to get into "closed" countries. So I'm somewhat familiar with what you're talking about... and I dig it. These are certainly questions I can ask.

    As for the organization we're looking into supporting, I know tons of people who are familiar with it, have supported it for years, and have nothing but great things to say. I know that they have set up a top notch nursing school, which gets their nurses into goverment hospitals, etc., but I'm not 100% sure about the church planters. I'll look into that.

    I totally dig what you're saying about reproduction. Many of these organizations reproduce by adding. Real reproduction happens through multiplication. I totally see here in the states how a great majority of church planting can only reproduce with addition because of the boatloads of money church planters raise for one church. It's part of the reason I'm now an organic/simple church guy, and when I move, I'll be "tentmaking" instead of raising funds.

    Whoa. That's long enough. Great stuff so far. I dig it.