Yes, give to missions and missionaries, give to the poor and needy overseas. But don’t just wire money to somebody. In your giving, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Go through what you know to be legitimate channels and make sure you have a way to monitor where it all goes.
Not too long ago I posted photos on Facebook of me handing sacks of maize flour to needy Africans that I had purchased out of my own pocket. This has been an usually severe rainy season in Malawi, causing homes to be destroyed.
The other day a man who is a member of a U.S. church that used to support me contacted me and asked how he could send me money to buy more flour. I told him that the rainy season was over, normalcy is being restored, and I had no further plans to buy and distribute flour. This is not what I normally do; I’m a lecturer at a Bible college. I suggested that he wait until next year when the cycle starts all over again. I realized his offer placed temptation in my path. As is well known in the evangelical world, all us missionaries are Spirit-filled and sinless (tongue-in-cheek!).
However, while the churches of America spend billions of dollars annually on “mission trips,” many long-term missionaries and needful projects go underfunded. When there is a shortfall in support needs, missionaries are tempted to use the money for personal use instead of its intended purpose. I hear stories like: The church that thought it was supporting an orphanage in Africa, only to learn after years of giving that the orphanage never existed.
Or, of the U.S. denomination that gave money to a “sister” denomination in Africa for the purpose of building a pastor training college. The Africans used the money to buy the head of their denomination a car, then asked for an additional sum to build the college. To them what they did was legitimate; in African culture there is a pecking order and the head guy must be taken care of first.
I did my doctoral dissertation on the history of an African denomination. I read years of leadership meeting minutes and the bulk of it consisted of assigning someone to contact the “mother church” and ask for money (BTW, my doctoral supervisor made me delete most of this information).
I think it was about 18 years ago some man in Tanzania emailed the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s World Outreach office in the U.S. and copied me; the subject line read, “Emergency for EPC aid in Tanzania.” He claimed he was the head of a denomination that was looking for a U.S. partner. I emailed World Outreach and told them to disregard this guy; they responded and said not to worry, they get stuff like that all the time and that they never pay attention to it.
So yes, please, give to missions and missionaries, give to the poor and needy overseas. But don’t just wire money to somebody. In your giving, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Go through what you know to be legitimate channels and make sure you have a way to monitor where it all goes.
Larry Brown is a minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and serves as Professor of church history, world history, hermeneutics and missions at the African Bible College in Lilongwe, Malawi, where he has served for 27 years.