Financial Responsibility

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I went to the mailbox today and pulled out two envelopes designed to end human suffering. Interestingly, as I studied both vastly different appeals, I realized that neither was providing a long-term solution to this human dilemma. The first appeal was to my “need” for a respite from my own pain. A 3-D mailer, a cruise ship literally popped out of the water as I unfolded it. It promised “delights in every detail,” the opportunity to see “wondrous parts of the world” and experience the “the exhilarating allure and bold adventure” of a world-class cruise. For ten thousand dollars I can “get away” from it all for a week, ignore my problems and the hassles of life and experience decadent pleasures beyond belief. Oh, if only it could last!

In sharp contrast, the second mailer didn’t even need you to open it to capture your emotions“On the verge of extinction. No Food.  No Water. How Long Can They Survive?” was the tagline on the front of the envelope. The back had a photo of a suffering child and the phrase, “Imagine your body is so hungry IT STARTS TO EAT ITSELF.”  Motivated by a heart of compassion, this organization claims that your gift of just $27 will be multiplied 5X and will help bring children back from the “brink of starvation.” Who wouldn’t be compelled to answer this bold, gut-wrenching appeal to save poor, helpless children from certain destruction? Oh, if only it could last!

The problem with both appeals is that neither one offers a sustainable solution to human suffering. After seven days of being pampered with the finest food, entertainment and scenery, I will return to the reality of my challenging life. On the other hand, a bag of rice can only stave off hunger for a day or a week. What happens when that is consumed? Another mailer goes out. More money is raised, and more rice is handed out.

The way an outside organization enters a community will determine the way the local people respond. If the organization brings money or goods, the locals will see them as providers of aid and will simply wait for the next hand out. If an outsider enters in order to discuss ways to help the local people become self-supporting, the locals will see them as trainers and coaches encouraging them to develop sustainable solutions. The reality is these are creative, resourceful people who have survived thousands of years in their particular environments without the charity of Western donors. What they really need is to be given the opportunity and the incentive to become change agents right where they have been uniquely planted as “the display of God’s splendor” (Isaiah 61:4).

During a crisis, immediate aid and relief are definitely needed. But to keep people in perpetual crisis by taking away their incentive to discover solutions to their own problems is nothing short of criminal. The amount of aid flowing from Western nations to developing nations is shrinking dramatically as the Global economic crisis deepens. More aid is not the answer! They must be reminded that they too bear the image of a living God; the world needs their strength and dignity as contributors not charity cases. Their own leaders must be given the incentive to lead and the tools and training to maximize their potential to advance the Kingdom of God in every segment of their society. Their soil is rich and needs their stewardship to maximize its yield. The long-term sustainable solution to their suffering can only come from an inside-out approach led by capable, visionary local leadership.

Please feel free to respond to these bi-monthly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking, we need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,

Mark Mielbrecht

Director of Global Leadership Development
BREAKTHROUGH PARTNERS

Many non-profit organizations have good intentions. Compassionate people want to give to the less fortunate, doing their part to “end” poverty, hunger and suffering around the world. The problem is that particularly in the Global North, poverty is seen as simply a lack of material goods or resources. The well-meaning solutions are based on alleviating material symptoms by offering the goods or resources that appear to be lacking. Food, medical equipment, clothes, and money have been shipped to the Global South in staggering amounts. Unfortunately, this has done little to end the cycle of poverty. Why?

Poverty is a very complex issue that often manifests itself as a lack of material resources. Yet, poverty has much to do with the psychological, moral and relational health of a person. In a World Bank report, Voices of the Poor: Can anyone hear us?  40,000 poor people from 47 countries were interviewed regarding the issues of poverty. More than a lack of material resources, the lack of a voice, power and control over their lives, and equality for women contributed profoundly to a state of perpetual poverty. One poor woman from Moldova said, “Poverty is pain; it feels like a disease.  It attacks a person not only materially but also morally. It eats away one’s dignity and drives one to total despair.”  Furthermore, Bryant Myers in Walking With the Poor recognizes that “Poverty is a result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life…”

I would submit to you that the average homeless person on the streets of America is not simply dealing with the fact that he doesn’t have a home. He has in some way lost the social safety net that most people rely on when they face difficulties. What appears to be the result of a loss of financial stability is likely related to a loss of relationships and the social equity that keeps us connected to those around us. The systemic causes of poverty are very difficult to discern in surface assessments. An honest and perhaps personally invasive assessment of what brought him to this broken place of dependency is needed to bring about systemic change.

We must realize that an aid and relief approach will not end poverty but will only relieve some of the symptoms. In order to provide the kind of systemic solutions that are needed we must also answer some hard questions. If your well-intentioned approach is doing more to keep someone in a state of poverty than it is actually helping, are you willing to change? Is your church or ministry willing to consider the implications of a long term, systemic approach to poverty that includes the healing of the whole person? 

Please feel free to respond to the Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking. We need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,
Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development

In a remote African village the children were being ravaged by cholera, parasites, and a host of other water-borne diseases. A medical missions team assessed their situation and prescribed the need for clean water to end these preventable illnesses. An American church soon heard the story and the money was quickly raised to build a well. Within days, blue jerry cans brimming with crystal clear water and the smiling children playing in the flow gave a happy ending to this tragic story. The missions team left, the benevolent givers were happy, and the situation was resolved, right?

Unfortunately, the story was far from over. A year or so later some of the medical team checked on the children. To their surprise not only had the water-borne diseases returned, but the village was now further from the well. Unbeknownst to the Western missionaries and the supporting church, this village had been in relational conflict with a neighboring tribe for quite some time. The new well, built as a beacon of hope for the future of the village, had become a weapon in the hands of the more dominant tribe and this weaker tribe had lost all use and benefit of the new water source.

Too often, in our assessment of the needs of a community in the developing world, we don’t take the time to look into the deeper, systemic issues that are much less tangible than digging a well or building a house. What this village really needed was to be reconciled with its neighbor. All the clean water in the world would not solve this deeper issue that was preventing them from using the new well.

At Breakthrough Partners we are committed to walking in relationship with the local people in order to discover the systemic issues and to help facilitate an inside-out solution to their problems. By bringing the leaders of the different villages together and working through these tribal differences, a process of forgiveness and reconciliation can begin to transform the relational landscape. Now, the well can serve both villages equally and the entire region can benefit from this life-giving water source.

As you consider your missional contribution to a community, are you willing to take the time to discover the deeper systemic issues that may make your current ideas for intervention a moot point? Are you willing to walk alongside the leaders of these communities to make sure they actually have the identified needs and the means and knowledge to sustain these projects for their well-being? How will the rest of the community or neighboring communities react to your intervention? We must come with eyes and ears wide open and a listening heart in order to avoid a “war of the wells” situation.

Please feel free to respond to these bi-monthly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking. We need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,
Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development

ManWithSacksIn over 200 years of missions and an average of $20 billion in AID and RELIEF efforts given annually for the past several decades, Africa remains a complicated web of poverty, injustice, faction, corruption, and opposing religious ideologies. Why? Is God powerless to change this? Is money, education and medicine the wrong focus? What is at the heart of this perceived failure? In the cleared sections of jungle in Congo DR and in hundreds of other places on the continent of Africa, rusting tractors, abandoned wells, and dilapidated fish farms whisper the sad story to those who have ears to hear. Unsustainable infrastructures have been imported and are now in various states of disrepair. In our most compassionate, loving, and Christ-like manner we have created an insatiable thief that has robbed so many impoverished people of dignity and the desire to dream, initiate, and be creative in finding  their own solutions to the spiritual and economic complexities of Africa and other places on the planet. We have created DEPENDENCY on Western aid and expertise and in many ways have created artificial environments dependent on the methodology of our imported church or mission philosophy that fall apart after we leave.

Steve Saint, whose father was martyred with four other men trying to make contact with the Waodoni (Auca) people of Peru in 1956, had strong words to say against some of our most common missional mindsets. In a September 2011 article in the Journal for the U.S. Center for World Missions he said: 

Our goal in planting Christ’s church where it doesn’t exist must be to produce churches that are self-propagating, self-governing and self-supporting; especially where the members come from a background of hopelessness, powerlessness and inadequate resources. The most important aspect of church planting is whatever that fledgling congregation needs most. In a growing number of cases, the greatest need new churches have is to become self-supporting.

Giving handouts creates more problems than it solves. It is like casting out demons with long leases. Break the lease or they will come back and bring more roommates (Lk 11:24–26). Where the Church is being established among people that perceive themselves as powerless, there is a great need for deep discipleship, wrestling with the roots of poverty at the community level rather than concentrating on the individual.

Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs. Until we realize that we can’t overcome poverty with handouts, we will never be much help in completing Christ’s Great Commission.” (Click here to read the article)

It is time for a major breakthrough in how we think and thus act in terms of helping to establish and support the Church and impoverished communities in some of these difficult contexts. God has given us amazing hearts to help those in need, and this is so beautiful! In those cases of widespread catastrophe we must first stop the bleeding. But very quickly we must transfer the triage and care to the local community or they will become overly dependent on our solutions and we will become unnecessarily entrenched. In most cases, being part of the solution requires us to resist the knee jerk reaction to give benevolently when a more long-term approach of empowerment will bring much more independence and creative solutions to the local community. We must ask ourselves, “What is the potential long-term harm or benefit from our current missional approach?” “Who is in perceived leadership right now?” “How am I raising up indigenous leadership to be fully capable to do what I am now doing?” “How is my approach creating dependency?”

Please feel free to respond to these weekly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking. We need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,
Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development

Mothers making and selling necklaces.

Mothers making and selling necklaces.

They raise children, tend to household chores, heal wounds, provide stability for families, educate the next generation, listen to dreams, pray for the sick, work to provide daily sustenance, laugh with the joyful, love tirelessly… I am grateful for my mother. She gave and sacrificed much for the sake of our family.

The mothers that I meet in Africa matter, too. Their lives are difficult. Yet they give and sacrifice just like our mothers do. 

From my most recent trip to Cote d’Ivoire to train people for community transformation, I met Bertine. She is a dynamic mother caring for her children and grandchildren in one of the poverty infested neighborhoods of Abidjan. Two years ago she caught a vision for transformation to come to her community.  She prayed about what she could do to make life better for all. After some searching, she learned how to start a neighborhood savings and credit association. Her conviction was that if the people pulled together to save of their meager income, they could create an investment fund.  With the pooled resources, they would be able to work to make their community better. Today, 2,000 people participate in a community credit association run by Bertine and her team of 10 others. Jobs are being created. Children are being immunized. The schools now are filled with students. Unity and trust is being fostered among the citizens. Churches are becoming self-supporting. Crime is declining. Bertine matters.

This month thank mothers for the enormous role they play to make life better. And if you are able, contribute to an organization that strengthens mothers to impact impoverished communities in ways that will never be reported in our newspapers. Mothers matter!

 Gary Edmonds

EdmondsNapiers2Please pray for us as we depart Friday, November 27 to the Ivory Coast.  In the 10 days that we are there, we will train people in Christian Economic Development and the dignity of womanhood.

Our objective is to move some 15,000 men, women and children out of vulnerable and destitute poverty to stability and self-sufficiency.  We will impart knowledge, skills, attitudes and relational connections to help them achieve this goal.  With God, this will happen in the year to come as the darkness is pushed back in the communities of these lovely people. 

 Thanks for standing with us as we build leaders to rebuild communities. 

Yours truly,

 Gary & Tricia Edmonds
Kevin and Renee Napiér

The Prosperity Thinking That Changes Impoverished Nations

rwanda-nov-2008-081Traveling in Africa, I see the strong hold that a culture of fatalism has on the people. “We are poor. This is our lot in life. We can do nothing to change our fate. Therefore, we hold our hand out and ask you to redistribute your resources so that we may live.” Of course this thinking keeps the people stuck in abject poverty and dependency.

 

Often I speak and teach about prosperity from a biblical perspective. God wants us to be prosperous and contribute to the prosperity of the nation. Even in times of recession and in the context of extreme poverty Jeremiah 29:4-9 says, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city…”  But what is prosperity? Let me share with you the new mindset that is beginning to transform the poverty culture of African communities.

 

To be brief:

  • Prosperity is working to earn enough to take care of your families’ daily needs of food, clothing and shelter.
  • Prosperity is each one working to provide goods and services for the well-being of the society.
  • Prosperity is working and paying taxes so that the government functions to bring stability and order to the nation.
  • Prosperity is working so that you may give generously to assist others in need and provide for the leadership of the church.

 

Are you prosperous? Let’s work to help all humankind to be prosperous.

 

Gary Edmonds

In 18 months, I’ll be 60.  I’m old enough to know better, but I still use a four-letter word so frequently I don’t even know I’m saying it.  Forgive me.  When I pause to think about it, my misleading speech must make God wince, but it’s so ingrained in my thinking, my speech, my daily talk that I feel it nigh on impossible to stop.

holdinghandsIn my weaker moments, I want to blame it on my family and friends.  They all say it.  My 89 year old mother still says it, as do missionaries, Sunday School teachers, evangelists and good Christians around the world. So what hope is there for me?

 

Frankly, when I do catch myself, I tend to move on, failing to apologize or repent.  Gratefully, grace is at work and the Spirit still convicts. 

 

The word is “mine.” I talk about the house in which I live, the lap top on which I write, the car I drive, the clothes I wear – as mine.  Mine?  Hardly. 

 

Truth be told, I own nothing, but I’m constantly tempted to act as though I do.  At best, I’m an undeserving manager, given charge – for a while – over little or much. 


Guest Blogger: Randall E. Davey, President, accruWealth (www.accruWealth.com)

key-to-stewardshipRecessions force us to do what we should have done in boom times. We scrutinize budgets, cut excess spending and eliminate redundant staff.  All of this invites questions about stewardship. 

 

Though stewardship is a word generally relegated to the vocabulary of the church, its’ roots are far more pedestrian. A few centuries ago, a land baron would hire a steward to manage his staff, his money and his resources. Today we might think of a steward as the CEO or COO of a privately held company and come close to the genesis of the term. 

 

So, how does the board steward the pastor? How does the church steward the staff? Collectively, the staff and board are called to steward the leadership of the church as well as the rank and file members of the congregation. Is it possible that lack of funding is symptomatic of more significant issues?  

 

Perhaps the time is ripe for Rethinking Stewardship: Good News for Pastor and People.  Our message is one of celebrating abundance and not scarcity. To get from where we are to where we need to be, someone needs to be the voice crying in the wilderness:

1)      Steward your pastor and staff. Protect them to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.

2)      Steward church boards and leadership types. Call them to balance and focus. Give them permission to step down from committees and projects that render them ineffective.

3)      Steward the congregation. Call all believers to find their ministries and equip them to serve. All gifts are vital for a healthy Christian community.

4)      Steward financial resources. This is a matter of thinking differently about money. Gift donors with knowledge on ways to navigate through difficult financial times.  If you do, saints know what to do with the excess.

Are there enough resources for the church to thrive in recessionary cycles?  Absolutely!  Will the church moving forward look like it did in times of financial abundance?  Hopefully not.  Without question, the church has every resource necessary to do that to which we have been called. Where there appears to be scarcity, look more closely. There is a stewardship problem of our own making.

 

For the full article, click here.

 

Guest Blogger: Randall E. Davey, President, accruWealth (www.accruWealth.com)

 

 


Let’s talk about financial responsibility, that scourge of our day, with the stock market in freefall, the housing crisis and rumors of bank failures. Wait! Don’t click the delete button yet. I wanted to share an email that I received from a friend in Rwanda.


Theo Mushinzimana of Rwanda Partners wrote that when we taught last May in Bugesera, Rwanda, he was helped by three phrases:

Theo Mushinzimana

Theo Mushinzimana

1.       Gain all you can.

2.       Save all you can.

3.       Give all you can.


We challenged the people of Rwanda, through these thoughts from John Wesley, to take full and personal responsibility for their own development and not to look to others to bring the change. With that challenge, we asked those who daily live in extreme poverty to rise and be the agents of hope in their own communities.

 

Today, Theo reports that as a result of these words of challenge, he and his partners are weekly visiting and helping those in the hospital, assisting an orphan to cultivate his inherited land, and receiving training to manage their own financial affairs more wisely. When truth is brought with love, lives are changed.

 

It makes me wonder how the world would be changed if we all followed John Wesley’s advice.

 

Gary Edmonds