Aid to Africa: advice from an MTW missionary...

Note: Here's some wise advice from a Mission to the World (Presbyterian Church in America's mission agency) missionary, Pastor David Wegener, who is supported by both Christ the Word and Church of the Good Shepherd. David teaches at the Theological College of Central Africa. Write him at mtwafrica dot org.

Let me try and be specific about some of the things I now recommend concerning Christian missions and aid to Africa. I haven't always believed what I'm going to say below; I've learned by making mistakes.

Why have I changed? There have been several factors. One of my bosses at Mission to the World regularly sends out memos and passes on articles that have shaped my thinking. Sometimes I've reacted in frustration: if everything we're doing is wrong, what are we supposed to do? But he has also shown some good models of what we can do.

I've also seen the sense of entitlement in the churches and colleges here. Students think they are owed support by western mission agencies or donors. Churches expect short-term teams and individuals to bring them gifts. Sometimes they even make specific requests before any gift is offered.

Just yesterday, I was riding my bike to campus after lunch and passed a young boy of about 12 years old. Our eyes met and he said to me (quite audibly), "give me your bike." (And my bike is no fancy thing. It's a mountain bike, bought used in the States about ten years ago for $50.) This is a tiny thing, but it is illustrative of the sense of entitlement that we have helped create over here.

Here, then, are some guidelines that I recommend for giving to Africa...

If you are giving to some ministry that seeks to combat AIDS, ask specific questions about what they are doing. Are they teaching abstinence only, or do they recommend abstinence, but also recommend using condoms, even as a last resort? For Biblical, theological and cultural reasons, I recommend that you support ministries that teach abstinence only.

When you give to other projects, only fund the project in part and with guarantees that the rest of the project will be funded with local support and not through other western donors.

Don't initiate projects and then seek out an African church or agency through whom you can work. Rather, find some church or agency or individual that is already doing the work that interests you and then come along side and help a bit with the funding.

Let me flesh this out. If you want to give books to some students, don't give the books to the students. Have them pay a portion of the cost. I've made this mistake.

If your want to establish an orphanage or a school or a youth center, don't decide to do this and then go looking for a church or an individual or a group to make your dream a reality. Here's what might happen if you do.

You'll come in and build some great-looking, top-of-the-line orphanage or school or youth center. What will happen when repairs are needed? Who will pay for the repairs? If there was no local support that went into the building of the orphanage/school/youth center, then there will be no local support to pay for repairs; the donor will do it.

What will happen if the western donor loses interest or dies? What will happen if the western church that funded the project splits? What will happen if the missionary who started the project has to leave the field? The project dies with it. Africa is littered with such projects, some just yards from my doorstep.

Think also of the effect your gift will have on other churches or orphanages or youth ministries in the area. How are they going to compete? The only option they have is to go looking for a western donor, a sugar daddy, to fund them so they can compete with the orphanage down the street. Don't think this doesn't happen. It is exactly what happens.

So this kind of work fuels and builds dependency, rather than building self-reliance and a desire to take on projects within their means.

Instead, I recommend that you find someone who is doing the work already and come along side of them and help. Don't build a top-of-the-line, first-class-all-the-way building that costs tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars. Build something much more modest and insist that thirty or fifty or even seventy-five percent of the funding come from local support. Such a requirement will help keep costs moderate and will also help to show the Africans what they can do on their own.

There is lot's more to say, but this post is already long enough.

-David Wegener (Rev.)



Dear Rev. Wegener, i find your article very interesting and thought provoking. it is an issue i have often been challenged to think through. my reaction would be that you have only told half the story. i am certain that i could show the other half of the story being projects started and finished (BOT)and handed over which are doing very well and have become testimonies. i could also show you students who have been supported from fees to books who are now laboring in the field and bringing glory to God. i agree that forming partnerships is certainly one of the ways to go about the work.

i must say that mistakes have been made on both sides in the past. i beleive that one reason often overlooked is the heart of people who have been involved. i continue to see donors been taken advantage off because they want certain results and certain kind of feedback to give to their supporters and you will certainly find willing africans who will go beyond and give all the pictures donors could wish for to show how good a job they are doing.

the real challenge for to think through is what is really the way forward. that would be for another discussion.
thanks God bless and keep laboring on!!
Ben Ahadzie (Rev.)

Dear Ben:

Yes, there is another side, though I'm not sure it makes up the other half.

I've come to the conclusion that leadership development is one of the key areas of need in Africa. Many of Africa's future leaders are now being trained in Africa. My wife and I ate dinner at a restaurant last night and at a nearby table was a graduate of one of our region's finest theological colleges. His ministry working with the very poor is bearing good fruit.

Investing money in leadership development is quite worthwhile, though I still believe we need to see reform in this area as well.

One key element in leadership development was mentioned above. The training of candidates for ministry needs, in almost all cases, to be in Africa.

Bringing students to the west to go to Bible college or seminary makes a nice picture for the glossy brochure put out by the Promotions department of the institution. But it doesn't often help the church in Africa.

Many Africans trained in the west never return to their home country. Over here, this is known as the African brain drain: The best and brightest of the continent leave and move to the west. The answer is to provide first-rate training in the individual nations of Africa. It is much cheaper and the graduates, in almost all cases, remain in country to labor for the kingdom of God.

Some donor groups, such as Educating Africans for Christ, have come to see this. They now only give aid to students who train at colleges in Africa.

warm regards,

david, i am sure that this is becoming a dialogue, (smile), however i am enjoying it. i think that this kind of discourse between africa and the our brothers in the west is long overdue.

reading through, i thought you knew me because coincidentaly i am currently involved in leadership training and the second coincidence is that i was assisted in my training by educating africans for christ. it was a big blessing but once again certain administrative requirements convince me that we need to understand each other a bit more in these matters of assistance.

Regarding my present endeavor as you noted it is not an easy task. Having the benefit of the training that i received and continue to receive, i find that it is a whole challenge making this available to brethren out there who as you may have experienced are zealous for the work but have no knowledge or rather tools for the task.

you see i was born in ghana on the west coast of africa. i have a keen interest in such matters as we are discussing and i still think that this is more than another side it is probably more than the other half. you see i think that the natural tendency in us, is that we all see the wrongs more than we do what is right. for example the picture of africa on international media is nothing but war, famine and power crazy leaders. although this may be true we hardly talk about the other side (or half, i believe).

i often like to engage in this kind of discussion face to face since i am able to express myself wihtout being misunderstood. i am sure the Lord will make that possible some time and consider this an invitation to visit me in Ghana sometime.

However let me say, David that i think that the Lord is bringing us to realize some things, 1. as christians the world is our field, we are first citizens of the kingdom before we are citizens of this earth and its kingdoms. this understanding would take away certain distinctions.

in any case for the sake of argument let us maintain these distinctions and let me draw up an analogy, the isrealites were in bondage for so many years. when they were set free their bodies were free but their minds were still in bondage and so we see how often they desired egypt. consider how long most of africa has been in bondage and consider how long it will take us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery! you have been in africa and you will agree with me how most of our worship is still couched in forms we received from the missionaries!! my simple point is that there is a mindset that must change both on this side and on that side. we see you as givers and so we have become beggers. i am a strong advocate of partnership of the kind we see in Bible when the churches helped each other to meet needs! 2Cor.8

david i often witness christians blame each other and in some of my missions classes i have seen these come up in student discussions. my thing is there are but seven thousand who have not bowed the knees to Baal, we must as we labor seek each other out and begin to encourage each other lest we become discouraged by all that is going on around us, like elijah was.

i must say that there are many other aspects that i would like to discuss as i began to mention, i am ghanaian through and through i have seen the blessings that have come on thiis nation by the work of men and women who left their home and country to make this their home and not only gave assistance but put up schools, hospitals and other structures which have significantly helped. many ghanaians went got an education in what we used to call mission schools.

this whole debate about whether to give or not to give and in what form whether in cash or in kind. whether to train locally or whether to take abroad for training, whether to do projects or not to do projects could go on and on, maybe forever. i am keen to throw a different kind of light on these developments. but i guess i have said a lot for now and long to read your comments.

Brother the Lord bless you and continue to strengthen your hands for the task ahead.
Ben Ahadzie (Rev.)

Dear Ben:

It was nice to learn more about you. I'm afraid it is a dialogue, but maybe that's okay. I tend not to speak about what is right but what is going wrong.

In this context, I am concerned about how the west invests in Africa. I think it was a few months ago, there was a rock music concert (in England?) that raised money to send to Africa. The organizer made some silly comment like this: who cares if this money does any good, we've got to do something.

That is the kind of attitude that concerns me. So much money has been poured into Africa (millions and billions of dollars), by western governments and Christians, and it appears things are growing worse. I think western Christians (and governments) need to ask themselves some hard questions.

Are we helping or hurting things? Are we part of the problem? How can we help churches (and countries) in Africa to become self-sufficient?

In the New Testament, we see wealthier churches helping out those in a crisis situation. But did the church in Corinth support the church in Jerusalem year after year after year? Would that be a good thing? Are we perpetuating dependency? It seems to me like we are.

I don't know if I will ever be in Ghana, but if I ever visit your country, it would be great to meet and talk.

warmest regards,

those i must admit are thought provoking questions which i have been asking. especially considering the fact that africa is known to have great wealth in terms of natural resources.

i have been trying to examine this whole thing that the apostles did in Acts which resulted in there being no lack among the saints vis the dependency syndrome (if i may call it that) vis development in christian missions. and then i have thrown in the poverty dimension trying to think through. you know sometimes it is not just a maater of the west and africa but even within our borders it becomes the issue of urban verses rural.

i must admit that i do not have all the answers and we can only continue to trust that the Lord will grant us insight to resolve these things. one thing we certainly cannot deny is the unjust world order created by our political leaders. i followed the recent world trade org. conference and the debates arising with regard to global trade and all the imbalances in there.

again i see only two kinds of people, the believer and the unbeliever and i realise that the unbelieving west with the connivance of the unbelieving west continue to drain precious resources and then when things get to a point, they say well lets do something! as the organizer you refer to said.

the one big question i ask myself what can we the people of the light do? the Lord certainly has an answer and i know that sooner than later discerning christians will know better ways of going about the Lord work.

i read thorough crown financial ministries book on finances and i also think it gives us a good idea of what the Lord also intends. because i am sometimes worried when christians look at their resources as 'theirs' forgetting they are stewards, again as we dialogue we can bring up this whole issue of waste etc.

well brother i am sure you will check me out when you make it here. but let me ask where are you serving currently or where did you serve whilst in africa?

Shalom and peace to you!!!

I as achristian ,would like to know about your organization and on how you provide assistance for training in further education as a way of advancing the work of God through the skills and experience obtained. I am a Malawian waiting to hear more from you.

Thanks for the good work you are doing am a christian and would like to know about your organization and on how you reach needy africans through provivision of assistance for training in further education as a way of advancing the work of God through the skills and experience obtained. I am a kenyan waiting to hear more from you.thanks in advance and God bless you

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