by Byang H. Kato
Henry Venn’s famous formula coined in 1861 as a definition of the autonomous church— self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating (extension)— has been so misused that massive education is necessary to review the thinking of both the donor and the recipient in mission-church giving.
Henry Venn’s famous formula coined in 1861 as a definition of the autonomous church— self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating (extension)— has been so misused that massive education is necessary to review the thinking of both the donor and the recipient in mission-church giving. It should be noted that the Anglican High Church clergy was reacting violently against the dictatorial paternalistic fervor of the Anglican missionaries in Venn’s days. Venn’s concern was the growth to maturity of the national church. "If he seems to us to assume too readily that the missionary task is finished when the new church is established, that is due not to any lack of concern for `native Christians’ but, on the contrary, to his conviction that as long as they are supervised by the mission they cannot come of age, nor gain spiritual maturity" (The Responsible Church and The Foreign Mission, by Peter Beyerhaus and Henry Lefever, p. 28). To use the three-"selfs" formula as a cover for reluctance to assist the young church overseas is to miss the point. The major concern should be the growth of the church of Christ in the foreign land.
Herbert Kane has rightly represented the position of the church in the third world. After indicating how mission cum government institution will continue to flourish, he asserted, "Whereas the churches, woefully weak and poor, are left to fend for themselves." He then cautioned, "The indigenous church will require moral and material aid from the outside" (Moody Monthly, Nov., 1969).
It should be remembered that the whole idea of one church aiding the other is a New Testament principle. The Macedonian church happily exercised this grace by sending unsolicited gifts to the needy Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26-28). Who should help whom in terms of home-field relationships is immaterial. Antioch, and not Jerusalem, was the home church of Paul and Barnabas, so there is no need to advocate that churches in developing nations should send aid to the churches in advanced nations. Macedonian donation was sent on the basis of need, as an affirmation of the true catholic nature of the church of Jesus Christ, and as an exercise of a grace (2 Cor. 8:1,2) which was seen as a privilege rather than a responsibility grudgingly fulfilled after a series of "mission conferences organized by women’s auxiliaries." The gospel as the power of God unto salvation was meant to break down not only spiritual walls but also economic walls as much as possible.
Although it is necessary to stress the need and privilege of giving, we must face the problem of the effect of giving on the younger churches. How can we know when foreign aid will promote church growth or stifle it? The middle man in the new ball game is the missionary. He is at the point of screaming, "We are pressed on everyside" (2 Cor. 4:8, ASV). At the Green Lake convention, North American pastors strongly charged the mission boards "for standing in the way between us and our brothers overseas." In a recent "think session" some keen Christian university students in Nigeria confronted the Sudan Interior Mission and the leaders of their indigenous church, the Evangelical Churches of West Africa (ECWA), with this challenge: "SIM has been supported from its foundation by overseas churches. One would have expected the mission to introduce ECWA, the fruit of the mission work, to overseas churches, but there seems to be no effort made to this end; in fact, one would suppose that the SIM acts as a deliberate barrier between ECWA and overseas churches interested in it."
Many national church leaders would see some truth in this allegation. And many more would at least plead for more support from overseas than what is given. "At the present stage in her development, the ability of the church in Africa to contribute personnel outweighs her ability to contribute financially" (Africa Now, May/June 1971, p. 4).
There are some valid reasons why the "middle man" has had to be tossed around. Some missionaries have failed to measure up to the trust committed to them. Half-truths in deputation, stories for self-promotion, not telling the nationals the true situation in North America, jealousy for the academic progress of the national Christians, fear of losing their position – these and many other reasons are causes of mistrust of the "middle man."
Many times when a missionary leaves his station or the field of his work, the station is considered closed even though a faithful national colleague is laboring on faithfully with great results. This has led many nationals to doubt if Americans are really interested in the growth of the Lord’s work. It was humorously remarked at Green Lake, "Where the American dollar is, there he must be in person. If he is not there, his dollar must not go." The suspicion is more than a point of humor in the national. Many really believe that American Christians are interested only in their own man there.
The problem lies not only in the missionary. Many churches are either too gullible or they have indiscreet enthusiasm. The strong demand at Green Lake to "let us deal directly with our brothers" cannot be the solution. Many pastors and students forget the long process that goes into the making of a missionary or a national Christian leader. A national high school boy, who knows very little apart from the 30 miles around his home town except through books, is more easily believed about what obtains in the church overseas than the missionary. An American pastor went on a three weeks’ tour of a mission operation in an African country. After "discussing" with a school boy who was just learning French (the American pastor knew only English), he returned home and reported that the money his church was pouring into the work was not bearing fruit. A student had told him they were not learning anything, he reported.
The national church cannot be exempted from being part of the problem of foreign aid. While the American pastors might have had a primarily spiritual emphasis in their desire to deal directly with "our brothers in the foreign field," many nationals would have had material benefits as their primary motivation. There are numerous cases where "begging letters" have flooded homes and churches in North America from Africa. It is true that many of the "beggars" are not bona fide leaders of the church. But some churches have had to pass some strong rules in Nigeria to restrain indiscriminate correspondence. Similarly, mission leaders have had to arduously check the missionary "prayer letters." It should also be pointed out that many local church groups are not aware of the overall operation of the mission and the church. National churches have threatened to withdraw from the mother mission/church organization "because they refused to build a hospital in our town."
Individual national students many times fail to see the need of the Lord’s work as a whole. A Nigerian student was given a scholarship to study in North America for a theological degree. After completing the course, he asked for another degree in a secular field. This was also granted him with the hope that it would enable him to pursue a higher degree in theology. Upon completion of his second degree, the student applied to take a third degree in a different line. He was then advised either to return home or to pursue a second degree in theology. The student became bitter, and began to circulate letters to churches saying that the mission had withdrawn his scholarship for no just reason. Without looking into the matter, a gullible American Christian would rush to this student’s support "to help build up the church in Africa." An unjust condemnation of the mission and national church leadership concerned would ensue.
Apart from the foregoing illustrations of possible abuses, it is also possible that a bona fide gift could hinder the growth of the church. Dr. Louis King’s illustration at Green Lake is not an isolated case. "Pastors and congregations annually made demands for more and more money from abroad. Instead of an attitude of love, care, and self-sacrifice on the part of a pastor, his feeling toward his congregation was, ‘I get my salary paid whether you like me or not.’ The congregation thought, ‘What is the use of worrying about it. The pastor gets paid whether or not we provide for him and whether or not we like him . . . ‘ . . . In one instance, the church had given the missionaries six months to leave."
A child lavished with gifts indiscriminately without sense of responsibility soon becomes a spoiled child. One church in Nigeria that used to receive huge amounts of money from overseas has grown to the place of blindness to the scriptural reasons for the existence of the church. It is not uncommon in that church denomination to find a huge piano costing $50;000, while there is no evangelism program or organized church instruction classes of any type. Many of the churches are not growing, and the members are starving spiritually. Bread-on-the-plate type of aid may not be the only reason for a stagnating church, but churches that have been taught responsibility and sacrifice are the most evangelistic and growing churches in Nigeria. We must not, however, shut our eyes to the glaring fact that some work has suffered because of a lack of human compassion.
If foreign aid is to help rather than hinder the work of the Lord, it must be given as unto the Lord, and received too as God’s money. There must be a strong element of trust all around. To bypass the existing mission agencies is not going to be the solution. It will only generate animosity between the missionaries and the national church; and when the emotional fervor evaporates, or some unhappy experience occurs, the bond of love between American and African Christians will break down. Such a situation could have a devastating effect on the body of Christ.
Missionaries too should have confidence in the nationals. The commonly heard phrase, "you cannot trust the national," must be dropped and humble repentance offered for the past action. Merely because one Nigerian boy steals same cookies in the missionary’s kitchen (would he give him even of the leftover any way?) does not mean that all Nigerians are thieves. It is true that there have been cases of dishonesty among the nationals, but missionaries, let alone Americans as a whole, cannot all be excused from dishonesty. This does not amount to, "You cannot trust Americans." Nationals, too, need to realize that the missionary is a saint in the making. He can rightly cry, "Be patient, God is not finished with me yet." The missionary is there because God calls him. Just because one missionary has obstructed the way of progress of one national does not mean that all missionaries are there to hinder our progress. What Dr. John Mbiti of Kenya has said is a fact to be reckoned with when we consider the development that has occurred in Africa. "I see mission Christianity, therefore, as making a real contribution and progress in Africa, in spite of criticisms that could rightly be laid against it" (African Religions and Philosophy, by John Mbiti, Frederick A. Praeger, New York, p. 40).
The principle of partnership, where there is mutual confidence, should provide the guideline of provision of any foreign aid. The mission and church leaders need to understand each other. Training in the Scriptures and cultural anthropology, seasoned with patient acquiring of experience, cannot be over-emphasized. Right spiritual relationship with the Lord of the harvest, of course, is absolutely necessary for the parties involved. Given these qualities, churches in the Western world should then seek to operate primarily through mission-church leadership in a given foreign territory. They are the men on the spot who can determine the weight of priorities.
The principle of partnership has worked in Nigeria, though weaknesses may not be denied. Within three years, SIM has spent several thousand dollars in various building projects. Before any of the money was expended, mission and church leaders sat down together and outlined the priorities, since there are so many needs and so little money to spend. One decision taken was that rural churches did not need an elaborate building such as is required in major cities where the government requires a certain standard of building to be achieved. The class of people to be reached in the cities is also different. The cheap labor available in the rural district is absent in the urban communities. So only key centers would qualify for the foreign aid available. The aid was not going to be doled out indiscriminately either. Some of it would be given as a gift, and another portion on a loan basis, but both were to be given only when the local community had contributed a certain percentage. Thus, local initiative was stirred and many new buildings have been constructed. This has enhanced church growth. In some cases the loan given has been paid back in shorter time than promised. ‘this is because the building, with other elements, has drawn in a higher class of people.
Cooperation is required in any program. The principle of indigenization should begin the day the first missionary steps on the indigenous soil. Where programs have started as a mission’s "own thing," problems have multiplied in the transition days. One mission complained about a national church that reluctantly accepted an elaborate medical program only to sell it to the government and use the money for the felt need. While one does not want to sit in judgment on such a case, it is apparent that local involvement was lacking at the beginning.
Two programs have been started by the Sudan Interior Mission and the Evangelical Churches of West Africa. One has been embraced as a baby of the church, the other one is still looked upon as a baby of the mission. The primary reason is the way each program was initiated. In 1946, both the SIM and the national church (which did not become ECWA until ten years later) jointly started the African Missionary Society with a Nigerian as the leader and a missionary advising.
The AMS, which is today called the Evangelical Missionary Society, has over 100 families involved. Working also in Dahomey and Niger, EMS has been responsible for founding more than one-fourth of ECWA’s 1400 churches. In 1969, the SIM, with some consultation with ECWA leadership, started an office of evangelism with a missionary heading it and paid a hundred per cent by the mission. In spite of the obvious success, ECWA has not yet been convinced that this is her baby. The office of evangelism, it is advocated, must either come under the EMS or stay out of "our program." SIM has now learned that new projects must be started within the context of the church.
As to actual programs in which foreign aid could be directed without any fear of stifling growth, it is hard to lay down a general rule because situations differ. However, partnership of mission and church to determine the priorities should be a safe rule. From the experience of SIM and ECWA, the training of national leadership should have the overriding consideration. In this aspect, theology is being given the top consideration. While it is true that in Nigeria we need medical personnel and science teachers, both nationals and missionaries, it is in the area of church leadership that we are most lacking. John Mbiti has rightly said, "The church here now finds itself in the situation of trying to exist without a theology" (Ibid., p. 232). Ecumenical scholars have pointed out in a recent study that some missions of the movement have been spending as little as 45 percent of their total budget on theological education. Following this study, the World Council of Churches established a scholarship program and a sizeable number of African students have benefited from this very lucrative program in liberal seminaries in the West.
If evangelical Christianity is to meet the challenge of the present day Africa, and this can safely be done without stifling autonomous growth, theological training must be strengthened. A very spiritual church leader was once invited by some university students in Nigeria to speak. He declined the invitation with the remark, "What will I say to them?" His wide experience and dedication were not sufficient for the task. It is true that Jesus Christ used the humble "unlearned" Galileans. But when the learned student of Gamaliel and the medical doctor (Paul and Luke) came to the scene, our Lord did not turn them down.
Theological assistance should be given both for overseas training and the improvement of theological education within the country. The indescribable hardship allowed as a sort of "jungle training" for young capable nationals has turned away many potential theologians. To illustrate the point, Igabaja Seminary, in Nigeria, brings in college students and expects them to live on $30 or less a month for a family of five. The students counterpart gets five times as much in secular training. The mission has to operate this way because of a lack of finances. The national church may be charged with irresponsibility. Evidently there is more need of faithful stewardship on the part of Nigerian Christians. But it should be realized that the per capita income in Nigeria is less then $300 as compared to the $3,685 in the U.S. Without witch-hunting as to whose fault it is, the Nigerian church is appealing to the older churches for assistance. Christians should search their hearts and be sure that the principle of faithful stewardship, not only in collecting the Lord’s money, but in spending it is followed. It should be borne in mind that all gifts come from Him. "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7).
At this initial stage when churches are just emerging in many ways, a number of nationals must be sent abroad for sound evangelical scholarship. With a few exceptions, the SIM/ECWA policy is to send men overseas only for the training they cannot get within the country. But even in this careful selection, there are a number of qualified students who cannot be sent overseas for much-needed theological education. Many of these, of course, would accept a scholarship even if the devil gave it to them. U.S. churches would not stifle national church growth if they gave assistance through recognized channels.
Besides leadership training, there are other national church programs that will suffer unless foreign aid is obtained. It would be the indigenous leaders, of course, who should decide on such programs. A case in point is the support that the Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission in the U.S. is giving to some national pastors in Nigeria. ECWA leaders are of the opinion that the salary of a pastor in an established church should be paid by the local congregation. That is the case of some 1000 pastors and evangelists within ECWA. But in the Eastern States of Nigeria, churches are not yet firmly established to such a degree that they can finance their pastors. The recent civil war in the country worsened the situation. Furthermore, a full-time evangelist who is to labor beyond the confines of ECWA could not get adequate support from one single church, since every church has its own responsibility. So ECWA is delighted to have CNEC support about 40 people in these projects in Nigeria, but this is done through ECWA headquarters.
It is hoped that some of these guidelines, though perhaps not definite enough, will help in the sharing of material benefits that the Lord has given to his children. One area of need is personnel. Foreign missionaries are still very much needed for evangelism and building up the church of Christ. But it also must be underlined that the principle of partnership vertically first of all, and then horizontally, should provide the guideline. Indeed, we are "workers together with Him."
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