Gulls, Giving and Africa

Just returned from a lovely afternoon of fishing with some friends on a local lake (thanks Nancy!). Ted, a missionary from Africa that our church helps support is visiting, so we did something very Minnesotan, we took him fishing. He and his wife (Americans) have been in SE Africa (including the volatile country of Zimbabwe) for the past five years helping support churches there. They come back, now and then, to share with American churches their experiences, observations and how God is working in that part of the world.

Something he mentioned multiple times that seemed a bit peculiar but then made sense after explanation, was that Africans give openly in front of everyone and dollar amounts are announced almost right away. The immediate cash count is done primarily in the interest of accountability (pilfering is not uncommon there). All is announced as it happens, then, if a different dollar amount shows up later, all will know something has gone terribly wrong and correction can ensue.

He also mentioned that American giving can foster dependency in that part of the world. Our giving needs to help Africans help themselves, like help support their efforts to rise from poverty. Tossing them funds or stuff only keeps them in poverty. Tossing reputable ministries funds that labor hard to teach and train people needed work skills or trades is infinitesimally better. Sending a mission team to go build a church is silly, they are perfectly capable of building their own church. Better is showing up, staying in homes (get to know them and the culture), and coming alongside them as they build their church, be a supporting presence, do the menial work. Are you catching the shift here? A bit of a mind bend for Americans is to simply come to Africa just to be in relationship with them…to help foster a real, live, long-term, committed relationship (he calls it partnership, and considers it akin to marriage). Americans tend to \”do\”, are very task oriented. Helping others often, in America, means doing something for them, rarely does it mean just being their friend, just coming alongside them as they minister to others.

How to be a friend to people halfway around the world?? Hmmm, good question. He recommended American churches partnering with African churches, taking the long view and becoming good friends. Ways to do this include intermittently sending a sampling of Americans over there to just befriend and support fellow Christians in Africa, and vice versa (intermittently send Africans here). Seems the very act of showing interest and caring about the other brings God\’s healing and encouragement for ministry…imagine that :-) There is also a deep learning curve that happens in all of this, the churches learn from each other. Other ways include exchanging gifts or needed items and, I suppose, he wouldn\’t \”poo poo\” the idea of emails, snail mails, packages, Internet interactions and the like…ways for people to connect and show support who cannot travel the long distance.

Other things he mentioned included matters of the heart pertaining to giving. Giving just to get the warm fuzzy that comes with the grateful, smiling face that receives it…not so good, there. Giving to find a sense of worth, nope, no good there, either. Giving to show off to one\’s peers (i.e. go on mission trip and come home and let everyone know how much you\’ve sacrificed to help the poor, suffering people of Africa), is a no brainer bad idea. Giving just to say you\’ve been there done that (i.e. go on a mission trip, build the church, and cross off one\’s \”must do before I die\” list), sad, but common. Giving openly, publically, and joyously, no offering envelopes, please, two thumbs up. Giving in the context of relationship, big smile.

Whew! It was much to take in and I\’m still processing it all. The object lesson of the day, though, came quite unexpectedly. Pastor Meg (yes, our pastor is a \”she\”) caught a fish that swallowed her hook. It didn\’t survive the hook retrieval process and lay dead on the back step of the boat. I figured it would be thrown in the trash when we got back on shore. Mark and Tracy, though, mentioned to just toss it back in the lake so that it would feed a bird. Well, when I heard this, all I could think of were the ugly dead fish that haunt our dock and shoreline…I figured we would be doing little but adding as much to the nearby dock. Wasn\’t keen on the idea, myself…. Ted (the missionary) threw the fish not too far from the boat. Sure enough, soon thereafter we got a great show for our \”luncheon on the boat\” pleasure: a seagull came and swooped for the fish. It missed! It swooped again. Got it! With this largish fish in mouth the gull tried to fly away. The bird never did get much air, but it did get far enough away from us to feel comfortable and dropped the fish in the water and plopped itself alongside. Pretty sure it lunched right along with us. Our gull friend was given what was needed and, as far as I could tell, received it without a second thought.

Seems giving and receiving is quite a \”nature-al\” thing to do. The funny thing is, we almost prevented it from happening…

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