Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Giving to African churches

A question about Western giving to African churches...

Suppose that the amount of giving by kind, generous mission-supporting churches in the West dwarfs the amount that is or can be given locally. Let's suppose too that the locals are the majority poor; they live hand-to-mouth (they're not the middle-class elite).

Suppose that the locals have noticed this. They realise that their contribution is minor, proportionally. If they don't give, then it will not change the big picture into a different level - the church income will remain in the same ball-park.

Remember, these people are living hand-to-mouth. In the towns, they live under great pressure for food, rent, medicines when sick, relatives needing loans from crises, etcetera.

What do you think their response will be, once they've added up the sums, looked at their own situations and the demands upon them, and looked at how easily the foreigner is apparently able to send more cash?

And why do you think that? Is it based on personal knowledge of the maturity of the churches? Or wishful thinking?

Moving on from there, what do you think the long-term effect of this kind, generous mission-supporting church giving on the African church will be?

There came a point in our own missionary adventure when we realised that the weakness of the African churches, at least those we are familiar with, is not a sad,regrettable and surprising outcome despite all the help that the West has been giving them. It's something else.


Ned Kelly said...

Perhaps the most difficult question of all, David, and one not easily solved. Last year I listened to an African economist stating that Africa's economic woes stemmed from too much Western largesse in the form of aid being wasted by the local governments. Instead of learning how to manage their countries, these administrations were simply relying on aid, and the solution must entail a reduction in aid to African governments.
I wonder if the same is happening in African churches - they are not learning how to be self-sufficient.
I can't know, having no experience on the ground as you have, but when I look at the churches in China that are growing despite the persecution, just as the early church did, I wonder if there is a lesson there - faith growing through adversity.
My understanding of history and cultures is that humanity never matures through handouts, but only through endeavour. That said, I have no clear idea of the fine line between charity and handouts, but I am quite sure that Western government leaders do not even begin to approach the level of wisdom needed.

David Anderson said...

"I wonder if the same is happening in African churches - they are not learning how to be self-sufficient."

One problem that I am seeing is that there is little way that the churches here could learn to be self-sufficient. The Western sugar-daddy (WSD) is teaching them that there is no need of such a thing. The WSD speaks words about long-term plans, but people living hand to mouth immediately forget such talk because it has no relevance to their immediate challenges. All they know is that WSD is paying right now, therefore they have no need to think about that issue. WSD teaches the churches to not be self-sufficient.

Compounding the problem is that WSD measures what churches "need" far too much in terms of his own experience of the West. This throws a large mix of gasoline, kerosene and meths on the fire. :-( Westerners find it much easier to throw money at problems than to get to the root of the issues; they're used to writing a cheque and saying "fix this for me", but that doesn't work in a culture that hasn't already been Christianised at least at some level, and if the culture here had already been Christianised then we wouldn't be having this discussion to begin with...