Money and Africa

17 05 2014

I am frequently asked about giving in Africa. I would love to tell folks that you can send a check to most charitable organizations in Africa and know that things will go as you planned. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

As you know, I am writing a series of articles meant to be used as tools for me to use when people ask me questions. I did one on why I don’t do micro loans and I plan others as well. It is a process. Recently, a Christian in the US asked if I would give a young man some money for bibles. This person had friended me on Facebook so I knew a little about him. I agreed. This story is salient to this topic.

 

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The young man had been begging me to connect with him and teach him about discipleship, house church and other things he had followed me talking about on FB. So why not. Sure I will take the money for him to get bibles and give it to him. I needed to meet with him anyway so we would proceed. I sent Pastor Fred to met with him first. I clearly explained a bit about our mission via message on FB. Pastor Fred reiterated it in person. He wanted to bring his father, a traditional African pastor. I informed him that I actually taught AGAINST, the traditional Christianity he was mostly familiar with. That I taught that buildings were a waste of God’s money and that any pastor with a church building would find me teaching challenging things to say the least. He wanted me to speak in his fathers church but I declined. I stated that I would meet with him alone at first and conveyed that I would NOT meet with him until he read our literature explaining our teachings and agreed that what he thought I was teaching, was what he was called to do.

We teach the gospel as Jesus taught it, not the theological version of the West. You must take up your cross, lay down your life, drop your nets and come and follow Jesus. Like Jesus, we are making disciples not casual believers. You must repent, be baptized and obey the King of the Kingdom of God. He agreed. I got the funding from my friend in the US and scheduled the meeting after confirming the young man read the material. He did not have a copy but did have a computer and could download it for free to read. We set the meeting.

He showed up with a pastor and an evangelist. He had NOT read any of the materials and the pastor and evangelist immediately began asking for money to build a church building. Sigh. After I shared our vision I had Pastor Fred and Wilson take him to the bible store to buy the bibles. Instead of buying all bibles with the money they only wanted about 40% for the bibles and the rest in cash for them. My guys warned them that muzungus, white Westerners, viewed this as a betrayal and a serious breach of trust. The Africans persisted. I want to take this example and explain a few things.

First, Africans communicate to build relationships. Westerners communicate to convey facts. This is a shame honor culture. Meaning that confrontation is bad. It typically damages and can end a relationships. That does not mean you can’t deal with reality. It just means you need to understand what you are dealing with.

I rode a bus one time on a long journey. I turned to a young lady in the next seat and asked her how long to the next rest stop. I explained that I needed to go to the bathroom. She said 30 kilometers. 18 miles. Great I could wait. I fell asleep knowing I would awaken at the stop and be fine. I awoke an hour later. I ask her again how much further? 30 kilometers was the answer. You see here, it is bad manners not to help anther. She had no idea how far the next stop was. Africans, unless they are very Westernized, have no understanding of the value of accurate time and distance. To her, it was very important that she answer my question in a positive way so that I felt good about her answer and was happy. I know this sounds absurd but that is the way it is. I am constantly assured of facts that frankly have no bearing on reality.

As you might imagine this has become frustrating and a source of great trial and learning for me. I tell this story to help you understand that she did not want to lie to me. To her, telling me she did not know, was unacceptable. She would view herself as a bad hostess. She wanted me to be happy. And she gave me great hope. FYI, it was about 140 kilometers to the stop and I made if fine.

Back to the young man. He very much wanted to become my friend. A friendship with a white man is prestige and honor and potentially a source of great financial gain. To have me as a friend and colleague would be the equivalent of him getting his doctorate. It is likely he had every intention of reading the materials, but lacked the funding to get online with his computer. It is also likely that he had shared his good fortune in getting me to talk with him online and had shared it with his father. After having communicated that with his dad, I am sure his dad ask him about it often. In his enthusiasm of getting to met me, I am sure he shared this with his dad and, frankly, did not have the wisdom nor skills to deny his father come. And of course his father had shared with his evangelist friend. I am lucky 10 guys did not show up.

Of course the young man shared NONE of my information in the emails. Nothing about not building structures nor about the cost of discipleship. Hence the immediate request for money for a building. Now onto the money.

In Africa, once you give someone money for something, it now belongs to the person that you gave it to. It is not yours. It is none of your business. An honest and Godly man will spent the great majority of the money exactly or nearly exactly as you meant it. However, things are different here. It is completely possible and in fact likely, that since the person made a request to you other factors have come to bear. For example, the brothers may not have had the fare to to come to meet me and had to borrow it. They will have to pay it back. It could be that you sent money for a cow but that the price changed so they just bought milk and maize instead. That is acceptable here. In fact, they may explain this to you and ask for the money again to buy the cow. It would not occur to them that you would not understand. I am constantly sent money that is ear marked. It is hard for me to have 500 dollars for a widow I won’t see for two weeks and stand in front of a house with starving orphans with almost nothing to give. I can find a way. It is within my power to responsibly deal with this situation. Africans, on the other hand, don’t have the obligation, nor skills to deal with this all the time. They would just take the money earmarked for one thing and spend it on the greatest most pressing need. In fact you need to understand a few things here.

Pressing needs come first. Forget what the earmark is for to an African. It may go to exactly what you want, at least some of it, but it might go to something else more pressing. that is acceptable here. And not dishonorable.

I am sorry to say that many Pastors and leaders here know what Westerners will and won’t give to. You will help widows and orphans. You won’t send school fees for the pastors kids to go to a private school nor build him a badly needed house or a perceived need of a car. So he says he has a widow in need and he buys a car. That is the reality here. It is an example of the corruption that goes on here from Bishops down to deacons. It is horrific in Kenya especially. Entire ministries are set up online that are completely bogus. Are they run by conman and thieves? Nope. Bishops and Pastors. Complete teams of them. They have also learned that the more other pastors involved the more likely you are to think they are trustworthy. And by the way, they praise God for answering their prayer for the new car. They spend their time asking Westerners for money. I have actually overheard a conversation between two pastors. One ask the other what he had been doing. Evangelizing? NO. Shepherding? NO. His answer was, seeking money from Muzungus, (white Westerners) as usual.

We brought the prosperity gospel and the easy believism of the West here and they have bought it hook line and sinker. We sowed this seed and this is the harvest.

On to the next point. It is their money. You gave it. They can do what ever they want. I know of a man locally that went to the neighbors for help for a terrible medical need. Everyone gave generously. So generously that he had more than enough. So he kept soliciting. He got enough for the medical need, a laptop and a new Iphone. He did not stop he just kept going. I have had to confront, yes confront, a team of pastors that I knew had raised enough for a plane ticket many times over and they just kept going. I can tell you that in this case I ruined any chance at fellowshiping with these men again. I was so angry that I trembled. I was so angry that I raised my voice. I was furious, as the money was to transport my dear friend Paul Imam to be buried in his home country. Men that had never visited Paul in the hospital nor seen him in years came out of the wood work fundraising for a cause they would never contribute to. This is common here.

So the brothers took 60% of the money and left with it. To my knowledge the young man has never read the materials. We have decided to wait and see if he tries to connect with us again. And if he does, one of the brothers will handle it from here. I am out of this one. I am no longer working or meeting with folks with the where with all to connect with me on the internet. Period. We seek out the poor and lost. Surprisingly, the truly poor seldom ask for anything. They don’t know how.

So my advice to Westerners. Give to people you know. To proven disciples. And don’t give to the big Western agencies either. They will eat up most of your funds with overheads and salaries. I don’t know what is worse. An African spending 30% of your givings on widows or a Westerner doing the same. I must say I have little sympathy to groups that pay a CED hundreds of thousands of dollars and have staffs numbering in the hundreds. I know some good folks that are not just MY people. Let me know, I can help.

I hope this does not discourage you. I hope it will not give you an excuse NOT to obey Jesus to help the least of these. Eternity is at risk here.