Taking Care of What Ain’t Yours

It’s been a whirlwind week!  Last Wednesday we announced that my wife and I will be heading to Rwanda for a 10-day trip next month; I will be teaching pastors there biblical interpretation and preaching skills (plus some pastoral stuff) and Laura is focusing on childbearing in various facets.  It’s an amazing opportunity that God has dropped in our laps, and we are very grateful to be asked to participate out of the blue.  Since sending out her request, Laura has raised over $2000 towards her expenses!  That’s half way there, and we are amazed at the generosity of people who want her to go and help the women of the Nyagatare district of Rwanda lower their death rate in childbirth as well as their infant mortality.

The request for financial help has produced some rather unexpected results as well.  First off, some significant contributions have come from people who do not consider themselves to be followers of Jesus.  They see the good that is going to be done and want to participate, which in my mind is really cool.  At the same time, I got a polite but very pointed email that basically made the following objections (boiled down to be polite to the emailer…):

  1. It is a waste of money to send an American to Rwanda; the money would be better served by giving it to an established organization providing relief there already.
  2. It is improper to provide relief that is religious in nature; the thought here is basically that there are ulterior motives and that it is inappropriate to proselytize with “bait” such as assistance in agriculture, medicine, or education.

When I first got the email, I must say that I was a bit hot under the collar.  To my mind it is one thing to dislike supporting religious charitable causes or to disagree with methods and not want to provide financial support, and another thing entirely to be adamant enough about it that they decided to send my bride an email telling her how wrong she was to ask for support.  This letter wasn’t sent to strangers, either (okay, okay…some of you here on ABF I may not know personally and it was posted here too, but it wasn’t one of you), so I suppose that I was frustrated from the angle that friends should be more polite to one another than that.

Then I slept on it, and woke up this morning realizing that the objections weren’t completely bogus and needed to be satisfactorily answered if we were going to go to Rwanda.  After all, emotions aside if I could not justify the trip then why are we going?  Is it wise management of resources to spend the money to go rather than just sending money or supplies to the people where we would be going?  And is it appropriate to provide relief in developing nations with an explicit religious purpose?  At the end of the day, I think that the answers to those questions are both resounding yeses.

Show Me The Money

The first objection is financial: is it worth the cost to go?  Would it be a better investment to send money or items to established organizations to distribute relief than go ourselves?  After all, it is going to cost approximately $4000 total per person for us to take a 10-day trip; at a per capita income of $370 annually, this trip could provide a family of four in Rwanda with 2.7 YEARS of income.  It could provide a village with 8 cows, which in a few years could make the village self-sustaining. (provided, I suppose, that they already have a bull!)  What makes us think that our presence is so vital that we are worth more than that?

The answers to this question are many.  The first was brought up by my 13-year-old daughter, who rightly reminded us that in developing nations like Rwanda corruption is rife.  There is no guarantee that any money we send to Rwanda would make it into the hands of the people who need it; many times it ends up in the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats or feeding criminal syndicates.  When we go, we guarantee that the help gets where it belongs, and there is much value in that.

Second, there are times when it is more important to bring expertise, support, and training than it is to provide for physical needs.  The pastors in the area have requested that someone come and train them in the art and science of Bible interpretation, in proclaiming the message of God to help their people, and in caring for the people of their community socially, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.  I have those skills, and the ability to teach them to others in a way that is impossible simply through books (and even with a literacy rate of 70%, the older generation who I will be teaching need help because their literacy rate is lower and their skills in my area of expertise are limited). 

Laura is coming to help the people learn childbirthing skills to help lower the 8.4% infant mortality rate (2008 State Dept. estimate); more than that, she is going to help with basic nutrition information, prevention of spreading infectious disease, and sanitation.  1 in 12 birthing women dies in childbirth.  Think about that for a moment, and then consider if what she brings is worth sending her.  How much is a human life worth?  If her training saves one woman and her baby it will be worth the cost.  According to Matthew 10:29-31 and Genesis 1:26-27, we are made in God’s image and are therefore worth the cost of saving.

Finally, there is a difference between sending and going.  By sending money we help a little.  By going we will not only help the people of Rwanda but will undoubtedly build a heart for the people there that will last a lifetime.  More giving and more partnering and more help will come from our trip than the cost can estimate; it is more an investment than an expenditure. 

So for these reasons and many more, the trip makes financial sense.  Yeah, it’s a lot of money to go, but it is money invested in the people of Rwanda that will bear fruit in the entire community for a long time to come.  A healthy baby in America, delivered vaginally, costs somewhere between $9,000 and 17,000 to deliver.  My seminary education cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.  And we can deliver benefits that are similar to Rwanda for a fraction of that!

Bait and switch?

The other objection I received concerned going as Christians and bringing aid under an explicitly Christian banner.  Is it appropriate to help others under a deliberately religious framework?

Well I think it is. 🙂 (I am willing to bet that you knew that)  Even from an atheistic perspective, is there any harm done in promoting Christianity, even if it is false?  If we are going to go teach the people how to live better, be healthier, and follow the tenets of Jesus concerning loving each other, why is that a bad thing?  Would it be any different if we went to tell people about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  I am willing to bet that this objection is more about Christianity in particular than religion in general, in other words.

Secondly, I think that this objection overlooks what true Christianity says about how Christians are to live.  My first response is to question the question somewhat: would an atheist think more of a Christian or less of them if they actually obeyed the instructions of the God they claim to follow?  I would think that a Christian who is trying to obey would be better than a hypocrite who deliberately chose to ignore Jesus, wouldn’t you?  Well Jesus begins  this issue in Luke 10:25-37, which we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We are supposed to love our neighbor, and that means going out of our way both in time and in finances to help them whenever we see a need.

That’s great, but it’s not the end of the story either.  Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  So in reality, if I am going to be an honest and true Christ follower there is no way I can leave Jesus out of my trip to Rwanda.  To do so would be to deny what I have been told to do, namely love God by loving people and helping them.  And I am called to do that while telling them about the God I serve who loves them too! 

Finally, Jesus tells us that we are supposed to take His message to the world:

“but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” ” (Acts 1:8, NAS)

So it is entirely appropriate to go in the name of Christ; as a Christian it would be dishonest not to.  Now I would agree that it is not good to pull a “bait and switch” or demand that a person convert to Christianity in order to receive aid or to benefit from our trip.  But of course, that is not at all a condition of our going or of helping people.  Laura will educate and help all who come.  I am there to help Christian pastors, who will then lead and help their communities as pillars and reach out to help all people as they are commanded by Jesus.

There are books written along these lines, but you get the gist: going in the name of Jesus is acceptable as long as it is not duplicitous.

Bottom Line

So at the end of the day, I believe that this trip is defensible.  I think that it is entirely wise money management to go rather than send a check, and it is entirely appropriate for us to go in an explicitly Christian manner and purpose. 

So to the person who wrote the email, I offer my heartfelt gratitude.  You’ve made me seriously consider the underpinnings of the trip we are headed on, and for that I am very grateful!  I mean that without any sarcasm.

For anyone else, we still need to raise almost $2,000 to cover Laura’s trip, so if you’d like to be a part of it we would appreciate it immensely!  Check the first link in this post for the ways you can be a part of our support, and please pray for us as we prepare.

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