Personal view: How can we best support overseas brethren?
In recent decades, many believers in the more economically developed countries of the world have had, in God’s providence, increased opportunity for travel. Whether on business or holiday, they have been able to visit the less developed countries.
Often these travellers are taken aback at the physical and spiritual poverty that they encounter. They then desire, in accordance with Scripture, to help Christians in these areas, especially pastors, as fellow-members of the one body of Jesus Christ.
The simplest solution that often comes to mind is to send funds overseas. But, although it may seem a strange question to ask, is this really the best means of supporting our brethren?
A number of charitable organisations are involved in relieving needs, but these are often through en masse projects and not targeted to specific individuals. But simply to send funds to named individuals can lead to complications and be difficult to account for to auditors and others as appropriate charitable giving.
There are a number of important factors to bear in mind. First, we must understand that the general mind-set in many less developed countries, including among Christians, is one of ready dependence on the wealthier West. But we should surely seek to encourage mature independence, wherever possible.
Significant financial gifts can destabilise a community or a church, especially if, say, a pastor to whom gifts are sent, thereby becomes much wealthier than the people he serves. And, for some, such giving can present a huge temptation to become a minister simply to reap such financial benefits, rather than to glorify God through preaching the gospel.
It is necessary, if at all possible, to independently verify prospective recipients, since sadly it is the case that truthfulness is not a constant virtue in all believers.
Ideally, there should be a well established network of local and respected Christians who know the potential recipients and can act as their referees. It is better still if evidence can be obtained by donors first-hand.
Second, it is best to support pastors within their local situations and not to send funds to enable them to enter courses of study outside their demographic area. If they study in wealthier countries, they may never return to their roots. This frequently happens.
There are, however, exceptions. For example, the pastoral demands on a minister may be so great, or the internet connection and postal service so inadequate, that someone gifted to be a future church leader needs to study in a more specialised and conducive setting.
Sometimes such men can obtain overseas scholarships. Believers’ gifts can then be channelled directly to the seminary of choice.
Third, another appropriate use of gifts is in setting up sustainable projects. An example would be to give aid for the purchase of simple machinery, that maybe grinds grain. That machine could then enable a pastor to produce and sell a final product which enables him to become financially independent.
In one such case a minister even completes his sermon preparation while overseeing a member of the congregation operating the machinery.
This short article is to encourage ET readers in constructive thought and feedback on this
subject. Please respond directly to the editor with your comments, experiences and advice on how we can best help needy Christians overseas.
There are a number of helpful Reformed societies that channel help to pastors. An example is the Ministers’ Relief Society (further details on the Charity Commission web site or from email@example.com).