by Sam Yim
My dilemma with giving began after I arrived on the field in South Asia. And it started with tithing.
My dilemma with giving began after I arrived on the field in South Asia. And it started with tithing. Indeed, it is a natural thing to tithe to the local church. However, how much to give was a hard decision to make when I realized my tithing would cover the church’s entire expenses—although the amount of my tithe was only about $100.
THE COMPLEXITIES OF GIVING
The issue of dependency came up once I arrived on the field. Questions immediately came to mind: Would I take away their ownership as I became the biggest shareholder? Would they not see the need to give since the expenses would already be covered? Would the local believers end up trusting the dollar more than trusting God’s provision? As a result of these questions, I decided my giving would go to different places.
In general, giving to the poor is a way to reach out to them for Christ. However, sometimes our good intentions can turn sour and have a negative impact, thus hindering the ministry. Below are four things to watch out for when giving on the mission field.
1. Gifts can create rumors. We once received some old clothes and toys from a short-term team. We gave them to some needy people, and rumors began to spread in the village where we served; it was told that anyone who came to our Bible studies could receive money. Of course we did not give away any money. In fact, it sounds like the classic story that matches the extreme Hindus’ proclamation that foreigners use money to buy their faith and seduce them into conversion.
2. Giving can promote dishonest behavior. A villager once approached my coworker for urgent financial help. One of the man’s children had a brain tumor and needed money for the operation. Because it was a life and death situation my coworker collected all the money he needed and went to deliver it to the man’s house. His child did not have a brain tumor. The man had made up the story in hopes of getting some money for gambling.
3. Money can be seen as a symbol of status and power among national believers and local pastors. In the country where we serve, a bicycle is common transportation among the villagers. A short-term missionary once gave a motorcycle to a local evangelist who was using a bicycle to do outreach. After the evangelist was given the motorcycle he became a person of high status. This cast the seeds of jealousy and rumors in the fellowship.
4. Easy giving can promote unethical behavior. A young girl once asked for money for an abortion. Because it was believed that foreigners commonly give their money away, this request was not seen as out of the ordinary. Missionaries must avoid building up the image that we are like ATM machines. To avoid dependency, we should never give unless we are sure it will promote long-term growth.
SIMPLE STEPS TO BIBLICAL GIVING
Amidst all of these issues, however, we find God’s deep concern for the poor and social injustice in more than three hundred verses in scripture. Since every situation is different, it is impossible to give only one solution. However, two models can serve as the foundation for our decisions.
1. Community giving in the church. In the past, we have promoted the model of community giving within the church. If there was a needy person, we would let the community decide if the person making the request was eligible to receive a monetary gift. A cobbler once asked for financial help. We told him we would refer his situation to the fellowship and let the fellowship decide whether to provide help or not. After the situation was brought before the congregation, the fellowship decided not to give the cobbler any money. The result was that the man stopped attending the fellowship for a time.
2. Team agreement in missions. We also made an agreement within our mission team that if anyone asked any of us for money, we needed to share the information with each other and make the decision to give together, especially if it directly involved our ministry.
THE FINAL WORD
We need to have reasons to justify either giving or not giving. We cannot say that we do not want to give for selfish reasons. We also should not give out of guilt. We should be aware and cautious about giving, because even the best intentions can cause problems. However, we should also not harden our hearts, as there are many legitimate cases where God will ask us to give for his glory.
Sam Yim has served with Christar in South Asia since 1991. His primary work has been church planting among Hindus. He has worked in laying the foundation for a Hindi language school and an international school for MKs. He also works as an associate professor of intercultural education with William Carey International University.
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