Raising Local Resources
God-Inspired Local Creativity
Since 1961 I have been traveling in Africa, primarily East, Central and Southern Africa. In the past five decades I have heard hundreds of stories reflecting the creativity with which God has blessed the church in Africa. When people find out what I am concerned about, they love to tell stories illustrating what can be done when people begin to look for and discover local resources.
As I have often said before, this does not mean that outside resources are not needed, given the vast amount of human need we see in our world. What becomes clear, however, is that the indiscriminate infusion of outside resources can so easily cripple or destroy local creativity, which is sometimes fragile at best. It is often assumed that what people have to give back to God is too little or too insignificant to be of any use. Even in situations where poverty seems to prevail, it has been shown that people can often find something to give to God when they are encouraged or inspired to do so.
A Biblical Example
One needs to look no further than the New Testament to see the truth of what I am saying. In 2 Corinthians 8 the Apostle Paul tells about taking a collection for those in need in Jerusalem. This was a collection taken from one of the mission churches he planted for the “mother” church in Jerusalem. There is no place in the New Testament where Paul’s mission churches received contributions from the mother church. What Paul says about the Macedonian believers is most striking. He describes them as being in severe trial and extreme poverty, yet he says “they begged for the privilege of giving”. We must be careful not to assume that people—even those living in either relative or absolute poverty—have nothing to give back to
I am fascinated by the creativity that is evident as I hear one story after another on the African continent. In the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of Mission Frontiers, I told the story of a church in West Africa that raised more than a hundred thousand dollars for evangelism—starting with an egg. Many people were inspired by that story, although someone responded by saying that any project beginning with giving an egg is no match for petro-dollars coming into Africa from the Middle East. The sheer success of the project is evidence that beginning with an egg is indeed a match for petro-dollars. Remember that petro-dollars are foreign funding while the egg represents something given from the hearts of local people. Dedicated believers who give from the little they have watch it become multiplied by the presence of the Holy Spirit. By the way, in that story, those who began with an egg planted thirty-three congregations in their evangelism effort.
Examples of Local Creativity
One of the more creative people I encountered over the years is a man in Central Africa whom I shall call Jon. He made a commitment to challenge his fellow believers to look for local resources rather than to look for those from far away.
Knowing that Jon had a reputation for fundraising from local resources, his pastor one day asked him to give a challenge to their congregation in the Sunday morning service. Allowing his imagination to flow, Jon found a hand woven African basket that was about eighteen inches in diameter and three inches deep. It is the kind used to throw grain in the air to allow chaff to fly away. Jon took the basket to church that morning and during his presentation put it on the floor, referring to it as the morning offering basket. He then stepped inside the basket to demonstrate that his offering that day was himself showing that “the Lord wants all of me—given for God’s glory.”
Little did Jon realize how his simple illustration would be used to impact the congregation. He did notice that while he was speaking some people were sniffling and wiping tears. In due course, the collection was taken and the worship service ended. Jon did not know how much was given in the collection. It was about suppertime when Jon got a call from the treasurer saying, “I just wanted to let you know that in this morning’s collection we received more than we usually get in three months in this congregation.”
On another occasion Jon had the opportunity to speak to another congregation. He found that at the beginning of the service they took their normal collection which amounted to about 15,000 units of local currency—about average for that congregation. Jon found the Lord inspiring him to challenge the congregation to consider giving something in addition to the normal offering. He noticed that there was no pulpit from which the pastor could speak—only a low coffee table—the one on which the offering had been placed. He reminded the congregation that when God speaks to them each Sunday, it is through His servant, the pastor. He asked if it would not be reasonable for them to provide a pulpit from which God’s servant could speak. They agreed. So he asked them to bring another offering so that they could buy a pulpit. When they brought this (the second offering of the evening) it was enough to buy three pulpits!
But Jon was not finished yet. He presented them with yet another challenge. He said, “I noticed that when God’s servant visits you in your homes to pray for the sick, he walks to get there. Would it not be a merciful thing if you could provide at least a bicycle for him to use when he visits you? Could we not take yet another offering right now to see if a bicycle could be provided?” He then asked the treasurer to remove what was given for the pulpit. By the time the service ended, the congregation brought forward 1.3 million units of local currency. This was over and above the initial collection of 15,000 which was normally what they received. When telling the story, Jon likes to remind us that no new people arrived during the service to increase the giving. They all came with that amount of money in their pockets, and they gave it voluntarily.
Truly, when local creativity flows, the results can be dramatic. We must be sure that such creativity is not stifled by the prevalence of foreign funding which, as we all know, so often can destroy local initiative.