I keep thinking of those sheets of paper on the wall. Each representing what a specific Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) is committed to, the only fields where they desire to put their stakes into the ground.
Each a visible reminder of the limitations of visions, mission statements and strategies.
Each a horrible directing and channeling ofministry to meet organizational slants and objectives.
You see, the front line of ministry here in Burundi, and elsewhere in the developing world, is typically very malleable. A wholesale lack of resources means that impressionable funding recipients acquiesce easily to the forms and functions imposed upon them by western benefactors.
Pliable indigenous churches brought into compliance to others’ visions because that’s where the money is?
Christians being "one in heart and mind, sharing everything they have with each other" wasn’t supposed to take such an ugly turn.
It happens in sister-church relationships, para-church partnerships, and mission agency joint initiatives. It occurs with long-term missionaries, short-term teams and everything in between: Western visions imposed on indigenous partners, or projects initiated simply based on the category of funding available.
For the purpose of our discussion here, we’ll focus on the indigenous church as the recipient of training and resources and the actual implementer of the ministry. After all, that’s way that it’s supposed to be.
But if that indigenous church is unhealthily swayed to tailor its programs according to where the preponderance of funding is, or based on what a current or potential western partner is willing to fund, we have a problem, a serious problem.
Obviously my specific area of interest is orphaned and abandoned children, so let’s use them as the example.
A church the Golden Triangle region of Thailand wants to address the growing orphan population in its vicinity. It is introduced by a friend of the ministry to a NGO that provides funding for the building of orphanages. In order to participate in the opportunity afforded by the introduction, and to tap the potential resources that can obviously come with it, the church decides to put together a proposal to build a large orphanage on the hinterlands of town. The NGO, happy to have a project that meets with its funding criteria, subsequently approves and invests in the project, providing $200,000 for full infrastructure and start-up needs. On opening day, the orphanage takes in over 100 children.
Too bad that a fraction of that $200,000 investment could have kept all 100 of those children with close relatives while providing direct ministry opportunities into those same families as part of a church-sponsored home visitation and assistance program.
Meanwhile, a church in sub-Sahara Africa decides that it has to do something about orphans who are left with no extended family options to provide residence and care. Through a visiting short-term team, the church becomes aware of a para-church organization that funds foster care programs that enable the placement of children into community families. One of the short-term participants, who has a friend in the para-church organization, tells the church that she’d be happy to make a recommendation.
Soon, the arrangement comes to fruition. The indigenous African church receives funding for the sole purpose of seeing orphans placed into community families.
Families, motivated by the financial reward and the opportunity to have a domestic servant, sign up to participate. As a result, dozens and dozens of healthy children are provided to them, along with sizable monthly checks.
It happens each and every day…in a variety of geographical locations and cultural contexts.
Most ministries champion and protect a limited scope of engagement, often an expertise that they deem to be the best – and only – solution. They only fund according to a narrow spectrum of options and, in most cases, fund one thing and only one thing.
This is tremendously damaging to a continuum of care options and often causes one of the least effective options to be employed.
Lives are destroyed. Money is wasted.
As my good friend and colleague, Mike Vinson, frequently says, "Most ministries are silos," independently-operating organizations that are totally disconnected to or disinterested in alternatives, especially if those alternatives require the involvement or credit of other organizations.
We can’t have non-integrated, islands-unto-themselves, lone ranger approaches that don’t take into account a plethora of other good solutions…better solutions.
Funding should never be used to limit those options. Everything has to be evaluated according to the continuum of care possibilities for each church, each community, each child…using God’s ultimate instrument of ministry that He has set in place, the local church.