11 October 2007

Self-Sustaining? - Part 2

I love this concept of self-sustaining ministries…. despite what I've already said!

But I usually see the empty half of the glass before I see the half that’s full…

I see the job of the missionary is that of starting or helping to get a project off of the ground and then turning it over to the nationals…

But the problem is that I don’t think self-sustaining projects can survive in a continent that is dependent on aide…

This term… self-sustaining… plays into the western mindset geared towards results, progress and expansion… but they don’t always get what they pay for… and its not just a matter of false promises, poor execution or bad planning… the cause of failure much deeper than that.

The problem is expecting an African ministry to function in a western way without western aide…

Now before I present my arguments let me clarify. I am not saying that all self-sustaining projects are destined to fail but I believe most will…



Most Africans… South Africans excluded… lack a basic elementary education. Those who go on to university education find great difficulty in finding jobs and those with post-graduate degrees are more likely to leave Africa looking for work than staying because they will never find salaries to match their education. You say… education doesn’t matter in ministry… but in this world it does: How is someone with little to no training in math going to plan and execute a ministry budget? How is someone with little to no problem solving skills to handle no challenges once the missionary leaves?

Name a ministry and I’ll show you a need for education:

Orphans: Try keeping accurate books on expenses for food, school, facilities, staff and health at $30 a month per child… they do get audited… even in a country that hardly uses receipts… and its enough to give an accountant from Ernst and Young a headache.

Farming: Animals get sick in Africa too… whose going to diagnose illness, administer drugs and perform minor procedures which are common to all animals. Would you want someone who never got to play with scissors in school to perform your castration? Plus, if you are truly self-sustaining who is going to figure out what should be mixed for feed and fertilizer and at which ratios.

Pastoral Training: Take five second and name a seminary in Los Angeles… I just got 10. Now take an hour and name a seminary in Africa… I’ll let you use google if your still struggling after 60 minutes. What is that you say? … A seminary education is not necessary… sure… name an undergraduate bible college in Africa? Of the Ugandans I know with Bible Training… 90% had to travel out of the country for training. Of the 6 Bible teachers at GBI… 4 were educated in Kenya, 1 in the US (guess who?) and 1 in Uganda… and no reflection on this person at all but he will readily admit he is the least prepared for teaching of the bunch due to his training.

Church Planting: Ever tried it… you need to budget, plan, recruit, train, counsel, teach… do any of these sound like they come natural to someone who can barely read?

Wait… does anyone want to talk about computer skills education in Africa? Don’t worry it’s a short conversation…


I’ll avoid taking about the western trade embargos, which keep the poor Africans poor because they can’t sell their goods on the world market… and I’ll avoid taking about the upper cast politicians who hold the majority of their countries assets for their own profit… and for now I’ll ignore the (intentionally?) crippled infrastructure which keeps investors who could spark the economy out… and I’ll stick to the resources necessary to sustain a self-sustaining ministry…

They aren’t there!

There is little to no profit to be had in Africa… so unless you’re selling solar-powered cell phones most investors stay out...

So for those in pastoral training… unless you’re using Bibles only… your out of luck in your search for a theological library. For those in agriculture… good luck finding insecticides in a continent that created flies… what? Your farm is organic? … unless your name is Trader Joe any large scale project is destined for trouble without a little help from a few “cancer-causing” agents. For those planting churches… ever try to preach to more than 300 people without a sound system… how’s your throat feeling?

Need a computer… I bought a top of the line one here last year for $1700… it never lived to see its 1st birthday! Computer software… better give up your convictions about pirated software…

Try finding cast iron in Uganda… it doesn’t exist in a country with 80-100% humility… built to last… hardly!

Quick someone name a car manufacture based in Africa???


We all know that it is better to teach a man to fish than to catch it for him because he will keep coming back for more. But sadly that has been the answer of the west to Africa’s problems.

I was amazed to drive by the UNWFP (United Nations World Food Program) Headquarters and just a few miles beyond it drive my 1000’s of acres of undeveloped fields perfect for farming. Yes, they do help aide in times of crisis but to me the real crisis is that the people getting paid for this food by the UN are all in the West while it would be far more beneficial to allow the Africans to receive some profit off their own misfortune… maybe they wouldn’t always be in crisis?

The UN represents this problem but they are far from alone. It’s the problem that every NGO and religious organization that enters this country. Africans are used to poverty and they have been trained to wait for aide, sponsorship or a savior… usually from the west!

Call it post-slavery guilt… post-genocide shame… or whatever else you will but the west is deeper into Africa than our friend George is into Iraq and neither one seems to know the way out!

So what can be done… first, nothing in this world will ever be perfect until Christ returns… just had to mention that one…

Although nothing in this world will work out perfect… just ask Prince Charles and Dianna… I believe the answer is to EDUCATE and ADVOCATE. Lead the horse to water and then stick his head in until he drinks! …I think that’s how the saying goes?

What are the drawbacks?

1)Time – for those who want a quick fix this one comes at a cost. This 5-year plan just turned into a 50 year plan… but the question is should the west still be pouring aide into Africa in 50 years or by then is it time to expect something in return.

2) Ownership – as with every leadership turn over change is to be expected. But the question is will the west loosen their grip on Africa… or will we keep insisting that the white way is the right way?

3) Investment – education takes time… gaining an ear form the nationals takes time… figuring out what the heck your doing over here takes some time as well… so let me get back to you in about 10-20 years for a few more answers…

1 comment:

Teenietinyt said...

Call it post-slavery guilt… post-genocide shame… or whatever else you will but the west is deeper into Africa than our friend George is into Iraq and neither one seems to know the way out!
~~~LOVE this comment~~~
And I agree with what you've said...America is very focused on a quick fixes..."just pay them off" but deep damage takes time...time that most Americans don't recognize they have, and time they aren't willing to give