Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hand Out

In talking with a friend of mine recently he said, “I feel sorry for you guys (missionaries). Everyone seems to have his or her hand out asking for support. The problem is that you all are fishing from the same pond…the local church.”

Of course I can’t disagree with his underlying argument. There are a lot of people crisscrossing the country every Sunday giving their pitch on their ministries, ranging from orphanages, sports ministry, Bible translation, schools, youth camps and feeding programs. I, too, have a tendency to be jaded by the dog-and-pony shows of missionaries who put on silly looking national dress, have their kids sing songs in Swahili, show pictures of the poor in Cambodia and tell fantastic stories that border on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. It doesn’t help my attitude when I turn on the GOD channel and see the televangelists who wear outrageous costumes, jump up and down like Masai warriors with people lying on the floor, presumably slain by the Spirit, jerking as though they are having an epileptic seizure. It’s embarrassing and I hate that some people would lump me in with others who “have their hand out.”

Though I disdain the reality that missions have become a business, which requires that each program must seek funding, I’m not sure there is an alternative. The corporate world certainly isn’t going to advance the Kingdom nor will secular NGO’s. I may not be convinced that Christian camp programs in Moldova are strategic or that distributing food to the hungry will produce anything but “rice Christians,” but because I don’t buy into it doesn’t make those ministries illegitimate. I’ve been in the business long enough now to realize that God uses some of the dumbest ideas for His glory, which includes some of my dumb ideas. This is not a defense for nonsense, but a check on being critical for sake of putting down ministries we personally may not agree with.

Missionaries go to the local church because, as Willy Sutton said of banks, “That’s where the money is.” God’s people, interested in God’s work are challenged to give for the cause of reaching the world with the message of Christ. While it does seem that there are a lot of people “with their hand out,” statistics consistently report that not much more that five cents of every Christian dollar given ever gets to the mission field. Missionaries are not competing with other mission projects but with new church buildings in the states, sound systems, church parking space and short-term mission trips for the youth. Missionaries, with their “hands out,” struggle with funding, not because there isn’t enough money to go around, but rather because they are competing with local interests.

In reality, most people in this world have their “hands out.” The politician who wants to get reelected solicits funds, the employee who fills out a job application, the businessman who seeks clients, the NGO who tries to get a government grant, the church passing the collection plate are all, in a sense, begging “Brother can you spare me a dime?” I suppose it’s a matter of perception and presentation. The skeptics, like myself, need to show a little more grace. Most missionaries are honorable and sincere people who just want to serve Christ. Even if they wear funny shoes or hat, God give me the grace not to see them as just having their “hands out.”