This is an article from the September-December 1998 issue: New Horizons in Mission

Horizon Four: Avoiding Dependency Mobilizing Local Resources

Horizon Four: Avoiding Dependency Mobilizing Local Resources

Often we seek to mobilize global resources for local projects "over there" that we are convinced will work. Glenn Schwartz proposes a new set of priorities.

Speaking at a missions conference in England nearly a hundred years ago, Bishop Tucker of Uganda asked a question something like the following: "Is the shortage of funds for missionary evangelism not because so much is being given to mission-established churches which are already in existence?" At the same time, he spoke of all that had been accomplished in Uganda where he worked and said that not one half penny had come from overseas in support of it all.

One of the most important issues in church-mission relations today is the challenge of finding enough resources to carry out the remaining task of reaching the unreached. Unfortunately, many mission-established churches and other institutions are economically paralyzed and feel they have little or nothing to contribute toward the remaining task. Hence, the resources for reaching the unreached are still being given to existing churches showing they are still dependent on outsiders.

This problem of dependency is at the heart of many other problems in the Christian movement as well. Dependent churches not only feel they cannot sponsor their own outreach, they feel they can't support their own service projects such as clinics, hospitals, guest houses and other things which the Christian movement is doing elsewhere. Economically paralyzed churches are also behind under-funded evangelical fellowships, Christian councils, Bible societies and interdenominational theological institutions, etc. In fact, sometimes their spirit of dependency also characterizes the governments to which they send their members as representatives.

In spite of this, the good news is that there are churches and other Christian institutions which used to be dependent on outsiders but have shown that positive change is possible. They have learned how to mobilize local resources adequate for their own needs as well as for outreach. But for the dependent churches, unless attention is paid to mobilizing local resources, they will continue to look to others to make provision for them, not just for outreach, but sometimes for their own survival.

Local vs. Global Resources

There is divided opinion among Christians as to where to find the resources to complete the task of world evangelization. Some look at the disparity between the West and the rest of the world and conclude that it is only reasonable that the West should help the rest. This results in global rather than local resources becoming a primary means for world evangelization.

Why is it important that local resources be given high priority? The availability of outside resources often convinces people that what they have is insignificant and of so little value that it isn't worth giving back to God. That is how the dependency syndrome is created and perpetuated.

How Inadequate Are Local Resources?

We must all remember that our God is a multiplier of what we present to Him. (Remember how many benefited from those few loaves and fish when Jesus blessed them?) One church leader in East Africa recently said that if you give zero to God He can multiply it and it will still be zero. There are many examples today of churches and other institutions which have discovered that "confessing poverty" (as it has come to be known in some parts of the Christian movement) has been a great disservice to their people. They now realize they are being deprived of the joy of giving from what they already have, however small that may seem to be.

One Biblical illustration which comes to mind is the story in II Corinthians 8 in which the Apostle Paul tells about the Macedonians who "out of severe trial and extreme poverty, begged for the privilege of giving." Suppose for a moment that Paul had exercised pity on them and said that they should not have to help anyone under those conditions. He might have rationalized that since they had so many needs, they should only receive from the global storehouse. Would he not have been doing them a disservice?

Applying the Principle of Geographical Proximity

Consider for a moment the importance of mobilizing local resources first. There are times when global resources--those from afar-- might be needed to help with a natural disaster or catastrophe. (I say "might be" because even in times of war, local people have sometimes begged for the privilege of doing all they can to help themselves, as in Indo-China following the war half a century ago.) There is a danger that mobilizing global resources might destroy not only local initiative but also the market for what is already available in the local or regional area.

In 1984 during the most severe drought in the history of Zambia to that date, people in some of the provinces were suffering without enough food supplies on which to survive. To meet this need, grain was imported from outside the country. The Minister of Agriculture in Zambia at the time deplored what was happening. He reported that even then, with Zambia's worst drought in history, the nation produced more grain than it needed. The problem was not supply, but rather storage and transport. He said that when global resources were imported, those in provinces with extra crops were left with a harvest they could not sell. Anyone who wanted to help might have become involved in helping to develop or repair the local infrastructure.

In another case several years ago in West Africa, an outside shipment of food aid arrived simultaneously with 110 percent local harvest. Local commodities dropped in price by 90 percent. Farmers threw up their hands and said they would not plant the following year because they could not afford to pay for fertilizer, etc. Getting only 10 percent of what they were accustomed to receiving destroyed their motivation to plant crops the following year. The challenge is learning how to keep global resources from destroying local initiative and leaving a community less able to help itself than before gifts from the outside are brought in. And when it comes to preserving local initiative, what applies to food aid, also applies to things as basic as church buildings and church offerings.

What Local Resources Can Be Mobilized?

Westerners often make the assumption that those in poorer areas of the world have little or nothing to give to help their own cause. This is sometimes because, for the "wealthy," help is often defined in terms of money. After all, money is what people need to buy the essentials of life, to get an education, or to have something to put into the church offering. When one takes a closer look at the needs and resource axis in our world today, it becomes clear that often there are resources close at hand to the needy--not always in the form of money--which can be turned into something useful. A few examples follow.

One resource often overlooked is labor. A prime example can be seen among the people of Japan, a country with few natural resources. They figured out how to mobilize the one resource they have in abundance--human labor. This they did so effectively that they became an economic powerhouse even without normal natural resources within their boundaries.

A second resource often overlooked is land. As more and more people move to urban areas they are ignoring one of the most important God-given resources essential to their own survival-- food-producing land. Helping people to identify land as a resource could be one of the most important things anyone can do to bring dignity where there is now deprivation. This will not be done if greater and greater numbers of people continue to leave the land for burgeoning urban areas, thereby abandoning a God-given resource close at hand.

A third resource often within arm's reach is the rapidly disintegrating extended family network which often gives way to western individualism. Think of the extended family as a powerful local resource. Several years ago more than a million people from Ghana were expelled from Nigeria and sent back to their homeland. When the international community heard about it, aid organizations geared up to mobilize massive global resources which they assumed would be needed. Imagine their surprise when the extended family structure, which was alive and well in Ghana, absorbed more than a million people without collapsing.

In another place in East Africa some years ago, a family was given a small loan from a revolving loan fund. They managed it responsibly and were entrusted with increasing amounts. Eventually they built an extended family business which was exporting dried vegetables overseas. That is mobilizing a local resource for the benefit of local people. If the concept of Christian stewardship is built into the process of mobilizing local resources, the Church stands to become a major beneficiary.

Why Are Local Resources So Often Replaced with Global Resources?

One reason is that there is a great need on the part of Westerners to give away their excess resources, even if it creates or perpetuates dependency. Recently a church in China was offered their annual grant, plus an increase from a mission society in Europe. The church in China was pleased to say that they did not need the grant. The people in the European country said, "You don't understand. We already allocated the funds; we are only asking how much increase you want over last year." The people in China finally gave in and suggested that if the money must be given, that it be sent to those doing pioneer church planting elsewhere. Those in China decided that it would be unhealthy for them to continue to receive outside help since they were capable of standing on their own two feet. How often is the giving of local resources thwarted because outside funds are available or offered even when they are not requested? Among the most disturbing practices along this line is the opening of funding offices in Africa and elsewhere where outsiders are looking for projects to fund, sometimes even where formal funding requests are not being made!

A Closing Thought

More than a hundred years ago missiologists discovered the importance of self-support for establishing mission churches. Now, a century later, in many places not only are the lessons of healthy self-support not being applied, but many are rationalizing that the only reasonable thing to do is to supplement or in some cases replace local giving with global resources. They do not seem to realize that when global resources replace local resources, people are being deprived of the joy of giving back to the Lord some of what He has given to them. Even more sadly, somewhere the Gospel will not be preached because too much money is being diverted to churches already in existence.

Taking Ques from the Lutherans

by Robby Butler

One of the more insightful-and easily transferred-lessons to be gleaned from the Lutherans is their "allocation" of manageable components of the vision. The church is then guarded both from the apathy of non-involvement and the suffocating effects of taking on too much while pursuing the vision.

Maybe your church is ready to use it's giftedness to make a major contribution to the mobilization effort.

The present shortage of USCWM staff hinders many significant projects and makes it difficult to coordinate individuals eager to volunteer from a distance. The LCMS model suggests a creative alternative to the status quo.

Your church could team up with the USCWM on any one of a variety of projects-mobilizing the resources in your church to take on a major role of wide-ranging impact.

Perhaps your church would be interested in partnering on of the following:

• USCWM internet-related advancements • Graphics projects • Assisting our upcoming effort to introduce a million U.S. believers to the needs of unreached peoples • Developing the kind of pre-candidate network described on page 13.

To inquire further about this possibility, contact Robby Butler at (626) 398-2175 x175.


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