Last month I was in Tijuana. The city seemed to be thriving, but my hosts clarified that the crime is real (all three of them had had their cars stolen and homes broken into). I wondered aloud what impact the church was having on all this that led into a good discussion how churches are little bubbles of refuge. Refuge is good in a hard place, but my hosts expressed their frustration in that a place will never soften if the Gospel does not interact with the world outside and break up the fallow ground.
While we were talking we passed a beautiful church building. I commented on it, only to be told, “The church has ten, maybe fifteen members. Many churches here have less than ten members, but nice church buildings because Americans come down here and build the churches.”
I pressed further for clarification. My hosts replied, “Americans come here and do puppet shows, sing songs, give out tracts. They think they are doing evangelism, but mostly it’s entertainment for the locals. They don’t hear or understand the message. People come forward or raise hand to be nice but they have not met Jesus, so the city continues its downward spiral. So much of what Americans do for short-term missions is for themselves and to appease their own conscience. It’s not about us or our needs.”
My friend Jonathan Martin writes in his excellent book, Giving Wisely? – Killing with kindness or empowering lasting transformation?:
We western missionaries can often have this backwards. With money being one of our abundant natural resources, it has traditionally led the charge. We’ve gone into a country and used western funds to build a church building first. We then find a seemingly trustworthy national and pay him western money to be a full-time pastor. And then, when we see the locals aren’t giving to the poor and widows and orphans, we figure it’s because they’re too poor, and so we go in and use western money to do that for them as well. The locals have never owned the church, and with such a foundation it will never be locally owned. The gospel may have been preached, but it’s not being lived. No one has yet shown them how. (p.114)
The need for real jobs, in which a real, reproducible Gospel is both modeled and spoken, is needed. As B4Ters this is core to picking up our cross and following Him.
Jonathan summarizes, Money is a lot like fire. When controlled and used wisely, its potential for good is enormous. But when it burns outside certain parameters, its power to destroy is unmatched. We Christians in the West turn money loose on those we’re supposed to help outside the boundaries that are meant for it—and it burns them badly, often more than it helps. We must know the boundaries. We must keep the fire in the fireplace. (p.42)
This is a challenge for B4Ter’s and Christians who have a job. We need to be different. We need to do mission better.