Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lessons from Living With (But Not In) Poverty (Part 3)

Lesson #2

Money alone is not the answer.  To poverty, that is. 

Sometimes we read statistics about how much money it would take to alleviate poverty.  And that makes us dig a little deeper into our pockets and fork over some more at the next offering.  But all my years in Africa have taught me:  Money alone is not the answer. 

Did you know that in the 50-60 years since Africa received its independence from colonial rule, billions of dollars have been given or loaned to African nations?

And did you know that in those 50-60 years, the standard of living in most (if not all) African countries has decreased?


The opposite of increased.

After billions of dollars.

Money alone is not the answer.

(But, um....look at America.  How many people who have spent years on welfare (and not in just an emergency situation) are now living financially, self-sufficient, productive lives?  Yeah.  Goes for African nations too.)

See, the problem is, when we hear about poverty and are convicted about it, our first inclination is to throw money at it.  That way we don't feel so guilty.  But the truth is, money (or other kinds of donations) alone often makes the problem worse.

But they seem like such noble causes!

Building a church for a poor village:   But how is that affecting the local believers' sense of biblical stewardship?  What does that say to the unbelievers in that village?  (Come to Jesus and the white people will give you stuff!)

Sending used clothes to a poor village.  Or a huge box of school supplies for the children:  But what does that do to the guy down the street who is trying to make a living by selling clothes?  What does it do to the tiny stationery shop when suddenly no one wants to buy their pencils any more? 

Building a well in an area with no water supply:  Africa is littered with wells that were machine-dug, and are now broken with no one to fix them.  They can't be maintained.  The local people have no sense of ownership over it, because they did nothing to make it happen.  Now--perhaps there are times when a machine-dug well can be a lifesaver for a local school or orphanage....but ONLY if it is not replacing the work that the local, indigenous church should be doing themselves!

Lesson #3:

Money+long-term commitment+the GOSPEL=The Answer

Ohhhhh....there's too much on this to say on this for a blog post!  But if you want more, then you must read this book.  But let me just summarize by saying that the gospel changes more than just people's eternal destiny!  It gives them dignity and respect and a work ethic and integrity.  It gives them the desire to be unselfish and to cooperate with their neighbors.  It sets people free from the bondage of addictions so that they are able to provide for their families. 

And using principles from Scripture, workers can help produce long-term poverty alleviation even before there is a community of believers. 

Take, for example, another method of well-building:  A long-term worker builds relationships with the men in the village.  Over time, he develops a vision in them for building a well.  He tells them that if they provide all the labor, he will provide the materials.  He teaches them how to do it. 

The men agree and dig the well themselves, provided with about $600 in supplies.  They succeed.  They know how to maintain it themselves.  The well could last 100 years.  The men are so excited that on their own, they make plans to build another one.  Dignity.  Respect.  Self-sufficiency.  Reproducibility. 

True story.  From very good friends of mine.

Lesson #4

So where should my money go?

Make sure your donations are helping, not hurting.

Are you supporting a national pastor in the developing world that would better be supported by a local church?  Is the organization working towards that goal?

Are you paying for a church to be built and the local people are doing nothing?  Contributing nothing? 

Are you supporting an expensive short-term missions trip where the participants will be stealing work from nationals.....such as painting a building?  Distributing gifts and prizes to small children that can never be replicated by the local church?  (What if then the kids in the village only want to come to VBS when the white people are there, because that's when they "get stuff?"  What does that do to the national believers?)

Is the gospel a major part of any poverty alleviation effort that is going on?  Is it a part of a long-term, relationship-building ministry, or just a "blitz" that won't have lasting results?

Look for national involvement and decisions.  Who initiated the project?  The local church?  Or the white people with Big Ideas for fixing problems?  Look for long-term sustainment, reproducibility....and humility among the foreign workers.  Micro-enterprise.  Selling things at low prices instead of giving them away.  Using local resources instead of imported resources. 

A couple of major exceptions:

1.  Emergency relief after a national disaster.  Support organizations that are doing this in the name of Jesus, but other than that--get those poor people some water and food and shelter.  Just make sure you support a ministry that knows this should be temporary.

2.  Orphan ministry (though even in this, the local church should be involved!)

3.  Sometimes any of the above.  I'm not ready to tell anyone that they should never support a national pastor or pay for a church to be built or pay for a machine-dug well.  I'm mostly saying that you should do your homework and ask good questions and think through the long-term effects of how you donate.

(at least one more part coming be continued)

Keep reading:  Part 4
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