Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lesson 8: Supporting Nationals

The trend in U.S. missions for a time was supporting national missionaries rather than American missionaries.  A popular advertisement by a national initiative went so far as to state clearly that it would be better if the western missionary stayed home and just send support for national missionaries.  Their rational was that supporting national missionaries was more cost effective and strategic.  Rather than supporting an American $200 a month, that same amount of money could support 10 national evangelists.  The argument continues that nationals already know the language and culture and so it makes more sense to invest where you can, again, get more bang for the missions buck in supporting national missionaries.

The problem with this argument is two-fold.  In today’s economic world very few national missionaries can live on the paltry support that is advertised.  While there may be a national evangelist working in a village that can live on less than $50 a month, most cannot survive on that income if they have a family and it certainly is not adequate for a national living in most towns and cities. 

The second weakness of this theory is that, though the national may be from that culture does not mean they know either the targeted people group or the language. 

One of the reasons I became a facilitator to the national church was due to what a prominent national leader in India said to me several years back.  This brother was one of those who, in essence said, “American stay home, just send money.”  Through a mutual friend we had a meeting in which this leader asked if I would come to their seminary and teach cross-cultural church planting.  Knowing his reputation, I asked him why he would invite me, an American, to teach.  His reply was revealing.  “We are supporting hundreds of evangelists throughout India, Bhutan and Nepal,” he stated, “but we’re not really having much success reaching Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims.  Many times our evangelist from the south go up north and work among non-Christians from their home districts, nominal Christians and tribal’s.  We don’t know how to serve cross-culturally.”

Cross-cultural missionaries are just that, taking the Gospel across cultural, linguistic, religious, caste, tribe boundaries.  Every missionary, no matter where they are from in the world, must learn how to serve cross-culturally, even in his or her own country.  Just sending money to national missionaries does not make them more effective. 

There are certainly many worthy national ministries that are worthy of support.  However, as I stated earlier, the missions teams responsibility is to investigate those national programs.  Not built on emotion, analysis of the national organization should include their purpose, their structure (do they have a board or belong to a national accountability network) and their finances.  There is nothing paternalistic in asking these questions.  Quite honestly, when it comes to Americans and national church workers, most Americans are woefully naïve. 

Indeed, the western church has been, and still is, guilty of paternalism.  If your church enters into a financial partnership with a national ministry recognize, beyond a standard yearly financial report, your contribution should not have strings attached and your church should not micro-manage how money is spent.  If you give to any program, national or local, there is a certain amount of trust that should be a part of any partnership.  Trust is built over time, so do your homework, be diligent in knowing what you are funding and then trust that your national co-worker is using your investment wisely.

Because of my role in world outreach, I have many wonderful partners throughout the world.  Some of these co-workers I help financially.  Though I get requests for financial help routinely, I never give to a cause that I don’t anything about.  

As a missions team, do your homework.  Ask for references, visit the project on the field with someone who understands the context, not just the need.  Spend much time in prayer, asking the Lord to give your team discernment.  

1 comment:

sara said...

good stuff, dad. Haven't been on your blog in awhile. Your a good teacher.