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Missions and money: Partnerships, accountability, patience vital

I offer the following advice for U.S. churches and missionaries partnering with foreign national churches.
By Fieldon Allison
For the Christian Chronicle

In 1973 our feet werebarely on the ground as new missionaries. We were busy learning culture andlanguage and going out trying to begin churches.
One day a young mancame to my house and said that he was preaching for another mission group. Butif I would pay him more than they were paying, he would be happy to preach forme. Needless to say, I refused his offer.
In an opinion piece inan East African newspaper, titled “How Religious Leaders Exploit SocialTensions,” John Githongo reported that there are more than 600 registereddenominations in Kenyaand several hundred others that are not registered. He said, “Today evenKenyans who are not that cynical admit that many of the new sects and cults areactually vehicles for greedy evangelists to enrich themselves. Indeed religionin Kenyais big business.”
Often in foreignmissions, missionaries or U.S.financial supporters — realizing their wealth and resources — completelyfinance foreign evangelists or projects. With their genuine love and concernfor the lost, they desire to make things happen too quickly. So, no partneringis done. The result is not partnership but paternalism.
A true partneringwith our national brothers is essential if we are to equip them to maturity inhandling their own affairs and preaching the Word. We don’t do it for them; wedo it with them. The work may appear to move more slowly, but in the long run itwill have been built on a much surer foundation.
My wife and I teachmarriage and family seminars throughout East Africa.The seminars are completely funded by the local churches. We expect the seminarhosts to plan the meeting, which includes providing food, water and housing forguests. We provide teaching and handouts for the course participants.
On Mt. Elgon,where we live and work, the churches plan and fund their own youth, ladies andgeneral meetings without outside help. Doing this now ensures that they willhave the ability and strength to continue to do it when we are gone.
The very fact thatthese people, who are some of the least privileged in Africa,are now funding their own meetings indicates that African churches are capableof doing this. When we finance everything for them, we rob them of growth andmaturity.
We may be stealingthe national Christian’s spiritual self-esteem with the generosity of ourcontributions. What “seems right” may not be right.
Many AfricanChristians feel that it is time they carry the baton of evangelism to their owncontinent. They can see the problem of foreign financing of their works. Theyare waking up to the need to teach their own churches at home about theirresponsibility to obey the Great Commission.
In April 1992, SundayEkanem from Nigeriaaddressed 200 participants from 15 African nations at the first AfricansClaiming Africa conference in Kenya.The theme was “We can do it financially.”
In his speech he saidthat “we Africans can do the work of Christ … we can convert those on thiscontinent and finance it on our own. … Let us not deceive ourselves. We arerich. We can support the gospel so that our people can be saved.”
I offer the followingadvice for U.S.churches and missionaries partnering with foreign national churches.
• Never make a hastydecision to support a foreign mission effort, whether sending an American orsupporting a foreign national. Give the decision lengthy, prayerfulconsideration. Do a thorough background check on the individual who isrequesting the financial assistance. Failure to produce quality references isself-defining.
• Beforecontributing, insist on contacting the overseers responsible for the individualrequesting funds. Talk to them personally to know their feelings about theindividual and the requests he is making. Meet with them to pray for anddiscuss the work. Perhaps you can pool resources to send a representative toview the work each year.
• Make sure that all U.S. funds besent through the overseeing body. Never give money to an individual. This willhelp avoid the misuse of those funds and encourage accountability.
• Do not allow yourfeelings of compassion for the one asking for support, or for the work to bedone, or your richness, to get in the way of wisdom in these matters. Pouringmoney into a mission effort may not be the wisest choice for sustained churchgrowth.
• If you aresupporting a foreign national preacher or congregation, you should dialoguewith those individuals about their ownership of the work. You should begin aphased withdrawal of monetary support, with a full written agreement with thosebeing supported.
• Good stewardshiprequires that an independent body control and audit all funds sent for foreignmissions. The independent body can monitor the situation and make unbiasedreports.
• Be careful aboutestablishing or perpetuating works that the local church cannot support on itsown. After a specified period of partnership, the local church shouldresponsibly continue the project independently.
If members cannotsupport the work on their own, it shows either a lack of commitment or that thework undertaken does not meet local needs.
• If you aresupporting a foreign work, whether a native American or a foreign national, donot trust reports or letters alone. Your support responsibility includes anon-site visit where you can see with your own eyes how your money is beingused. Talk to as many other people as you can (community leaders, governmentofficials, church leaders, missionaries) about the character, work ethic,credibility and effectiveness of the person supported. Do not take it forgranted that the supported person is telling the truth — prove it.
Missionaries andtheir supporters should ask the question, “Will what we are doing cause thiswork to be strong, to stand long after we discontinue our support of it?”

FIELDENALLISON, his wife, Janet, and their children have served in Kenya, East Africa,since 1972. They were part of a team that first worked among the Kipsigispeople of southwest Kenyafrom 1973 to 1990. They work with the Sabaot people on Mount Elgon in Western Kenya. The Monmouth church, Trenton Falls, N.J.,oversees their work.

  • Feedback
    I do not agree 100% with you view about Africans. You still have reservation about Africans seeking partnership with other brethren across the globe. Otherwise thank you for putting effort in mission work all this years. I personally benefited from your teachings and hospitality since when I was in school. My request to you is to help bridge the gap in Africa and America by looking for more support for locals who are struggling in mission work with poverty which is of out of there control.
    Eldoret, Kenya
    September, 13 2010

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