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EDITORIAL: Our view of money shapes missions

A missionary in southern Africa wanted to build a new facility for a benevolence ministry.
He found an African minister who also was a contractor. The missionary gave the minister $2,000 to buy materials for the project.
The missionary didn’t see the minister for several days. When they met again, the missionary asked him when he would start construction. Soon, the minister assured him, but he would need another $2,000.
“What happened to the $2,000 I gave you?” the missionary asked.
There was a huge gospel meeting in a nearby city, the minister explained. Hundreds of people attended, and more than 30 were baptized. The funds went to transportation and food.
It’s easy for Christians in the U.S. to hear this story — a true story, by the way — and condemn the African minister as a crook. (And many of our African brethren would agree, we imagine.) But we believe this cautionary tale demonstrates how two people on two different continents view money.
On Page 1, we report on the models of mission funding in Africa. Some African Christians ask Americans to move from providing ministers’ salaries to partnering with churches in short-term projects that, they believe, will reduce the risk of dependence.
As churches in the Global South — Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent — grow at a faster rate than those in the Western world, such partnerships seem wise.
To be partners, though, we must appreciate each other’s views on money.
Too many misunderstandings have hurt feelings, wasted resources and split churches. Worst of all, souls have been lost.
We recommend “African Friends and Money Matters” by David Maranz. Written from a Western, secular perspective, the author details the differences in attitudes he encountered while working in Africa.
In Africa, “the financial need that occurs first has first claim on the available resources,” Maranz writes. That may, in part, explain why the African minister felt justified in using roofing funds for a gospel meeting.
Maranz also observes that resources in Africa are limited and should not be hoarded. If something is not being used, it is considered “available.”
Also, Africans are highly sensitive to the needs of others — and quite ready to share their resources, he writes.
It is impossible to generalize across a continent of nearly 1 billion souls, but Maranz’s book is a good missions resource.
We also recommend www.missiology.org. Gailyn Van Rheenen, former missionary to Kenya, analyzes various models of mission funding with a sense of fairness we appreciate.
“Too many mission-sending churches … operate with no model for the use of money in missions,” Van Rheenen writes. “Their decisions about money and missions are, therefore, likely to be inconsistent, haphazard and paternalistic.”
Let us not squander material blessings — or damage fellowship with believers in Africa and around the world.
Regardless of what continent we call home, let us follow Christ’s call to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” as we share our resources for the glory of our King.

  • Feedback
    I do not recommend what the minister did. It is very bad, a very bad behavior that has to be rebuked. Also I need the whole truth about this matter because in most of the cases missionaries used to employ Africans and exploit them. …
    Really I am not satisfied about the work that missionaries are doing in Southern Africa.
    Seth Mokoena
    Central Johannesburg Church of Christ
    Johannesburg, Doornfontein
    South Africa
    October, 17 2010

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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