Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset... - Matthew Parris, writing in the Times.
The recent furore over revelations of sexual exploitation in some of our biggest international charities has cause consternation and soul searching for many donors...and understandably so.
Probity and good governance has to be paramount for all charities, especially where the power balance is unequal between provider and recipient, and lack of advocacy and vulnerable people groups can be the tinder for predation and abuse. This is equally true within the recipient communities as aid provision becomes a currency for advancement and personal gain. Though the spectacle of a behemoth like Oxfam teetering on reputational collapse spawns column inches, sexual sin and corruption knocks at the door of every charitable endeavour. Hardly surprising really, given the three main cause of human failing remain 'the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life' so succinctly captured in 1 John 2:16. Little has changed over time and these failings are 'not of the Father, but... of the world.'
Secular organisations will always tend to look at CV's , at qualifications and experience, but how is the heart for service assessed? This is not to say that many fine and honourable people of no faith toil with verve and integrity in service of others, of course they do, and should be lauded thus.
Systemic failings occur when charities operate as businesses, funding led and top driven, projections and budgets sustaining a machine whilst service provision and human outcome run an unintentional second.
Parris makes an interesting observation:
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
When you work with people you will always have trouble. Induction, orienteering sessions, diversity training and risk assessment are all broken attempts to evidence governance. The Bible states that ' The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 'Jeremiah 17:9
The mind of Man is hidden. We deal with projections, projected competencies that have shielded abusers and paedophiles, liars and thieves. The Church, Investment banking, Police, Politicians and Health care, all have had their share of seriously bad apples, and now to our horror, the charitable sector. Why should we be surprised?
Over the past 15 years we too have had to deal with sexual indiscretions between local workers. On two occasions we have had to fly back within a week of our return to apologise, and bring transparency to issues that though perceived to be a minor transgression to community members nevertheless stand at variance with the standards of the Mission, and the testimony of the work. Sexual immorality (and occasions of theft) , even if societally acceptable, if against biblical teachings, , always result in instant dismissal. This has ensured the integrity of the work, and a zero tolerance procedure affords clarity and protection for all.
Christian Evangelical Mission is binary, there is no middle ground. Without a good testimony there is no legitimacy to speak. Parris is succinct in his appraisal that 'Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation'.
Large secular NGO's cannot police the heart or even modify it. No charity or Mission is immune to human failings. Where there is recognition of the eternal capacity to sin and fail, there is also the chance for change, for confession and repentance, and a 'new heart'.
It is so sad that many of these large charitable organisations were started as Christian initiatives, wholesale founded on the Gospel and Biblical truth. With time and slippage, these have become a soft fusion of good intent, fuzzy spirituality and humanism policed by professional managers with nothing but an eye for growth.
Extracting rare metals necessitates an intense refiners furnace, the end result usually small in volume and dense in mass. After last years events we too have refined the work, now smaller and more serious in intent. Never despise the day of small things, its in the detail that the perfection of the whole is found.
Christian character requires a refiners fire to mature the soul. Slovenly, casual Christianity provides the leaven for apostasy and undermines the foundations of the work. Look at the failings in the Church, in secularised Christian charities and you will always see men and women who have turned away from the Word of God, and self examination, in the light of Scripture. When society increasingly makes the evangelical Christian a social pariah It's ironic it takes a perceptive non-believer like Parris to point to the evidential fruit that comes from turning to Christ and submitting to God's authority in our lives.
Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted. And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete. - Matthew Parriss
Postscript : A local Pastor called recently to ask for prayers for the incursion of 'muslim terrorists' who are stoking violence against the indigenous Christian farmers and destroying farms. Islam and its accompanying intolerance is now the new ingredient to be added to the malign fusion Parris speaks of. School latrines
Anthony is one of the three senior workers. Our new school is growing in numbers and toileting and hygiene are increasing concerns. During the closures at the end of last year many children were lost to cholera.
During his time off Anthony dug and lined a septic tank. A toilet has been built and water provided from the nearby borehole we installed last year. Though not really his job, and to save the Mission money, he stepped up and got the job done. It seems this is the only latrine in the whole community!
A small project but it's the vision and heart that is setting the pace for change.
Dental Clinic At our last surgical camp one of our workers was trained by visiting dentists to extract teeth and teach the merits of dental hygiene. In the entire region there are no trained dentists. A simple abscess can erode into far more serious osteomyelitis ( bony infection) and even death. Treatment and extraction is predicated on few criteria, severity of infection, tooth viability and pain.
Aesthetics and long term prognosis for neighbouring tooth instability is sadly a luxury. Extraction is popular, and successful, as most patients present late, when infection is severe and the tooth already loose.
We work in remote areas where fillings and drilling are simply not possible. This is fire fighting, but highly effective.
The power of the Gospel unto Salvation The new refining of the work, the loss of Ian and the rededication of the work has given a real gravity to the purpose of the Mission There is both unction and passion in the communication of the Gospel that precedes every start activities in the Clinic. People realise the Gospel is the reason for the Mission, and the medical provision the vehicle and the legitimacy for the pronouncement of the Gospel.
Many are coming to faith, not the shouting, affirmative herd mentality of the many doctrinally wobbly pentecostal churches, but quietly, and with considered reflection. The love of God through the gift of his Son is proclaimed , metered and with gentle authority. This man accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour, having for many years attending a catholic church in a nominal capacity.
Anthony and the others visit him, and every new convert to disciple , teach, pray with, and encourage. The dramatic rise in people of all ages coming to Christ is wonderful fruit from the recent months of tragedy.
The rise in numbers coming to faith in Jesus Christ means discipleship material is vital. Providence Baptist Church in March kindly donated funds for a number of boxes of books to go out. J C Ryle is proving particularly popular.
There remains some residual tensions after last year and the community chairman has posted security on both the clinic and the Mission Station 24 hrs to ensure all the workers are safe and no incursions into the community from outside gangs.
This is perhaps not how we would envisaged things but appreciate and understand the intentions to protect the workers. The region remains volatile and unpredictable, but in the midst of this, the work and the testimony thrives. To God be the Glory.