Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reflections in Kenya #2

What is most intriguing about the national church in developing countries is that some of them have an erroneous perception of wealth and missions. Somehow my Kenyan friends think that when a missionary from America commits to living overseas that they just load up a container full of goods and arrive on their field of service. Yes, it’s true, we come from a country that is the wealthy and, it is also true, that most western missionaries do indeed live in nice houses, drive nice vehicles and can surf the Internet even in the most remote places of the earth. It’s also true that compared to their standard of living that maybe we have more than our fair share of wealth. Though I understand the tension between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” there is an underlying principle of biblical missions that I believe is universal. In spite of the disparity of income, all missionaries, western and non-western face: (1) Every potential supporting church or donor says they don’t have money and, (2) Raising support is a part of the process of getting to the field.

SORRY, WE DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY - When I talk to the non-western churches about supporting cross-cultural missionaries they tell me “we are too poor to support missionaries.” Guess what, that’s what the American church says as well. They don’t quite say it that way; their excuse for not being a part of the Great Commission is that the budget is tight and for right now (suggesting one day maybe) they just can’t support missionaries. This with the backdrop of their million dollar capital program, the need to hire an administrative pastor or the need to raise money for their teen-agers to take a 10 day trip to Ecuador. Of course the issue is never about having enough, it’s a matter of priorities. On scale, whether it’s a church in Clovis, New Mexico or a church in Nakuru, Kenya, there is enough money in sending missionaries, it’s just a matter of whether they are truly committed to being a part of world evangelization.

First of all, non-western missionaries must recognize that they are not going cross-culturally with the goal of enhancing their standard of living. Missionaries going to another country should expect to live at the same level or less than their home country. While there are exceptions, most American missionaries don’t live as well in a foreign country as they do in the states and I know many who with far less that their peers back home. A missionary from the Philippines going to Tanzania will live as a Filipino, not as a westerner; same with a Korean’s going to Russia or a Kenyan going to Chad. If one expects becoming a missionary means economic lift in their standard of living they are going into ministry with the wrong expectations and motives.

SUPPORT RAISING IS PART OF THE JOB - I don’t like the system and wish it wasn’t a part of the job, but most missionaries must be willing to raise their own support in getting to the field. This is one area that some non-western missionaries don’t quite get. Raising support has two main purposes. The first is obviously getting enough money raised to support both family and ministry in a different environment. The other reason for raising support is to be a part of the education process for the local church in THEIR role in the Great Commission. The churches of Kenya will never really understand the need of reaching the world for Christ until they meet and partner with someone who has is willing to go to places where the Gospel has not yet gone. The Great Commission is not dependent on a country’s GDP. Every congregation throughout the world shares in this mandate from our Lord.

The pastor who asked me, “What can we expect from our grandfather in the Lord,” would like for me to relieve him of the burden that every missionary I know has had to do deal with, and that is raising support. By the way, it’s a long process. I know North American missionaries who have spent as long as three years trying to raise enough money to get to the field. Of course I think, given the wealth of the American church, that is criminal, but it’s a reality. Because the economy in Kenyan is much less, a national missionary should be able to raise his support, one church at a time, just like everyone else in this world. I pray it won’t take them three years to raise the needed funds but if it does it’s still a part of the process.

No doubt someone reading this may think it makes more economic sense to just raise money for nationals, accelerating the process as well as being better stewards of God’s resources. Though I understand the argument, for me, it is missiologically ignorant (in the sense of being unaware of sound missiology). To that issue I will address next time…to be continued.