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Do our Missions Programs create Sustainable ways to meet needs or Welfare Recipients?

By Ron DeMiglio - Whenever I write anything, I always go back and read it several times. Sometimes I am taken aback by what feels like an overly critical portrayal of a given thought or activity. It always causes me to search my heart. I don’t ever wish to berate the good intentions of others in order to make myself feel more spiritual or enlightened. In the case of this chapter I am frankly a little confused. In the one-dimensional nature of a text only medium, the thoughts seem kind of callous to me. The thing that is confusing to me though is that I can’t decide if my phrasing is too harsh or if we are so far off the beaten path with our Missions Programs that the contrast only seems mean spirited. I guess the other option is that I am a certifiable loon in which case I would be the last to know so it doesn’t much matter. Anyway, if it feels like I am disparaging to your efforts, I apologize. I don’t mean to invalidate any ones efforts or intentions. But I do mean to call into question what I feel are suspect and lazy interpretations of how we act on those intentions. Please overlook my lack of diplomacy.

Can we agree that if it’s God’s money, the church has a responsibility to use it wisely? To spend money and use resources in the most responsible and spiritually impacting manner should be the goal of every church. Unfortunately the Missions program for many churches are little more than a spiritualized, marginalized and sanitized welfare program. I am unsure as to how the effort got so watered down and ineffective but in many instances it has. I don’t fault the effort as much as I do the unintentional self-serving nature of it. I want to be straightforward not only because I think I should but because I believe we are all capable of so much more. I also want to issue a disclaimer here. This less than eloquent rant does not and should not apply to the work churches do and the provisions given to sustain “widows” and “orphans”. Those two categories fall into the realm of a specific biblical mandate. I want to whine a little about churches that “perpetuate” that which they are attempting to “eliminate”. OK, I’ll stop the rhyming thing.

We were created to work. The disobedience in the Garden of Eden resulted in the curse and made it more difficult to work but we were always intended to work. Eve was always meant to bear children but after the fall it would be accompanied by horrific and unbearable pain. I have to take my wife’s word on that one but being there for the birth of both our kids, I have no doubt she is not exaggerating. If we were created to work that must mean that working is good and working is Godly. Clearly I’m a quick study. God speaks of teaching people to fish instead of giving them a fish. The biblical principle of gleaning also speaks to the spiritual link between effort, provision and purpose. Yet, we seem bent on the easiest and least impacting activities and we call it mission’s work.

Many churches round up a dozen or so well intentioned souls from the congregation. They gather clothes, functional items, building materials, tools and bibles, book a flight and saunter into Mexico, Central or South America to do the Lords work. In many cases, even though the motivation is commendable, I am not so sure it really is the Lords work. We build new community centers, new church buildings, new schoolhouses or medical facilities. Why? Do we do this so that the indigenous people of the region have a pretty new place to be systemically poor in? They have no future and as such little or no community. The church buildings enhance faith but are void of long-term hope. They are too poor to educate the children and instead put then to work in the fields in order to survive. They have no money and the clinics more often than not fall into disrepair and abandonment unless perpetually funded. What are we really doing? I contend that we are taking the easy way out and salving our consciences over doing what is right. I feel like these actions may be life altering and significant to those doing it, but it is dehumanizing and spiritually degrading to those we seek to minister to and help. Did you know that there are hundreds of remote villages in these countries that just sit around waiting for the next group of Christians to come down and hand them something. In the worse cases this is not a Missions Program, it is merely a second Benevolence Fund. Like a perpetual welfare recipient, these villages have adopted the idea that they are incapable and we have reinforced that idea with our actions.

I know that at times we need to provide shelter, warm clothes, and housing or yes, even build a community center or a new church. But if these acts are the norm and not temporary stopgap measures while we help provide a way for them to rise above their destitution, then in my opinion we miss the mark. If we merely give them something, they will forever need us to give them something. If we teach them to fish, or sew or manage land or better yet, help them to buy their own farmable land, we not only change their lives but we impact those families for generations. The luckiest and most industrious of these people are sharecropping at best and receiving pennies on the dollar for their efforts. If we provided interest free loans for land we could change the poorest countries in the world. They work the land and receive the lion’s share of their efforts instead of virtually nothing. In time, they make enough money to pay off the loan for the land. Families are fed and are afforded the luxury to have their children attend school. Educated children begin a new cycle of hope and heritage. Spirits are renewed as they realize that they are not cast offs that are only capable of receiving handouts. Missions programs become sustainable as the money is being paid back so more land can be bought and sold to families. Now our efforts and missions trips can truly bear fruit for decades.

Wouldn’t it be better to bring along an agronomist and help them double or triple the yield of their crops? Form a cooperative that will make sure they combine buying power and to receive the best prices for their crops and seeds. A micro economic program of this nature requires work but impacts generations. Granted it is not as easy as just going down and slapping up a makeshift building or handing out tennis shoes and chocolate bars. But shouldn’t the goal be to help them out of their poverty permanently? Be creative, imagine what other ways we can change the station in life for people and not just give them a shiny object to remain in that station with. Sustainable missions that bring about intrinsic change and not perpetuate poverty should be the goal. If those we seek to help are involved in the process of their financial restoration, spirits are revived and God is glorified. Grab a hoe and help them make some dough. Last rhyme, I promise.

Can we admit that we have subsidized lethargy and promoted the idea that God is simply not capable of providing for or sustaining them without indefinite charity? Is that really what we want to do? I know that at times we need to provide essentials but those should be the mortar and not the bricks when it comes to reconstructing lives. Ultimately, it’s better for everyone if we help them attain the means of buying their own mortar and making their own bricks. Let the United Nations recognized and applaud the temporary solutions of redistribution of wealth and forgiveness of third world debt. We need to be about the business of helping families be sustainable and pointing the way to Godly purpose and fulfillment. If the people of these countries were financially and generationally whole, we would not need to redistribute wealth or forgive dept. I know it is not as glamorous and as personally edifying as being the amazing Americans that have come to bestow our gifts and prayers on them. But to me, sustainable missions and providing opportunity to others is compassionate, benevolent, spirit empowering and the highest use of our money, time and efforts.

Do you remember the actor named John Candy? He died quite young. I often wonder if he was stuck in a situation that inevitably would result in his premature death. He was most well known for a specific kind of role in almost every movie he was in. He was without a doubt one of the best actors ever at playing the hapless, helpless, lazy, irresponsible, gregarious and slovenly goof of a family member or friend. He had an infectious personality and was a uniquely interesting guy, to me anyway. What I know for sure is that he fell into a type cast and that was what he was physically and exclusively known for. If he lost the weight he would not be John Candy. He would not be able to play the same type of role and his acting career most likely would have quickly faded. If he stayed large he would have consistent work and acclaim but would almost assuredly die way too young.

Imagine having the choice of fame and notoriety that resulted in a premature death, or anonymity and discipline that resulted in health and longevity. What would you choose? There is not as much glamour or fame in being the people that challenge, encourage, come along side and help provide the means for others to pull themselves out of despair. Discipline and work is not a popular thing to require of others but it has the most health and longevity associated with it. Don’t allow yourself or your church to be type cast into a role that will end up with a premature death of your mission’s effort. You can be popular with everyone and just provide temporary village trinkets or you can be life changing for the proportionate few but have your efforts endure and ultimately impact thousands more. The results are slower but they last and allow God to do the miraculous in and thru someone other than you. Let’s begin to wean ourselves off of the easy displays of spiritual philanthropy and set our efforts to assisting people out of despair. Sow opportunity. Sow life. Life that sustains people, establishes families, builds community and endures for generations

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posted by Justin Forman | 10.14.2009 - 7:28 AM

4 Comments:

I just read a book which I'm sure everyone knows. My Business my Mission. This could be a good kingdom model in my opinion. The focus is more on nationals using their own innovations to solve their problems, and business owners providing mentorship and intial capital.
commented by Anonymous Rachel Heine, 12:09 PM  

Sometimes it takes a while to teach people to fish. In the mean time we should probably feed them a few while they learn the trade.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:37 PM  

Or maybe the past 50 years of free fish is enough. We need to quit rationalizing our spiritual irresponsibility and conceding the difficult tasks to the next generation. I like the post a great deal.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 11:02 PM  

It would be helpful to see where the money was being wasted or otherwise used inefficiently.

With all the software as service (SaaS) that serves business these days...certain there is software that exists or needs to exist to create greater accountability in this area.

It could rank investments directly by returns (based on numerical values assigned as the most important by the church).

It would also have to calculate the relative percentage of money that the churches were putting into the program (ie if church X was funding 10% of the total budget).

That and software that could solve 5 to 10% of the church accounting abuse would vastly improve our missional effectiveness. There may already be Saas software in this area thats used in corporations. Its amazing and sad how much is abused. (this would free up money for other key innovations in church evangelism & incentivize effectiveness across the board). Data driven ministry is going to be the next wave of church effectiveness.
commented by Blogger Nate, 3:53 PM  

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