Are Native Missions Trustworthy With The Money We Send Overseas?

Christian Aid has been supporting indigenous evangelistic missions for 58 years. We have said that it makes much more sense than perpetuating the costly practice of sending out American missionaries, especially those who compete with our fellow believers who are already there.

While response has been generally favorable, some traditionalists have raised objections. A few have been severely critical, and have tried to persuade our churches not to support indigenous missions.

Here are three stereotypes often raised by those who oppose supporting the work of independent indigenous missions:

1. You can´t trust the "nationals" with handling money.

In the past when Foreign missionaries went to other countries they appeared to be fabulously rich to the poor natives, and their presence caused covetousness among the natives. They hired many of the locals to be their servants, often paying them no more than ten cents a day plus food. So, as might be expected, these pitifully poor but highly intelligent employees were continually seeking some way by which they could trick the rich foreigners and tap into their fabulous wealth.

Indigenous mission leaders are just the opposite. They live on the same level as those within their mission. All are equally poor. They are accountable to one another. If any one tried to take too much for himself, the others would put him out. In general, we have found the leaders of indigenous ministries to be every bit as trustworthy, and often more so, as the heads of missionary organizations based in industrialized countries.

2. Foreign support causes dependency.

Here again is an erroneous conclusion based on colonial tradition. Missionaries went out and set up affiliated churches in poorer countries, usually patterned after those at home. Impoverished people could not possibly pay for or maintain such institutions. So they had to be subsidized by the missionaries. Result: dependency.

Christian Aid avoids creating dependency by never sending funds directly to individuals. All are sent to responsible native mission boards, and they distribute the support to each missionary.

But those native missions are not wholly dependent on support from Christian Aid. They were on the job before Christian Aid began helping them, and would continue their work if our support were all cut off. Our help greatly multiplies their effectiveness and spurs rapid growth. But none are totally dependent upon that support in order to carry on among their own people.

3. If we send money to "nationals," they will be corrupted.

This objection is a half-truth. I have known American missionaries who were good at raising money and worked independently. That is, their finances were not under the strict supervision of a mission board. All the funds they raised went into their personal bank and brokerage accounts. But to imply that all American missionaries are like that would not be true.

Most are conscientious in handling funds. Likewise, there may be an occasional individual in a poor country who learns how to raise money abroad and uses it for personal advantage. But such are rare exceptions.

Any work that was formerly done by U.S. missions in foreign countries can be done just as well or better by native missionary ministries, at a fraction of the cost incurred by colonial missions.