Americans’ Generosity and Its Harmful Impact on Asia

February 7, 2019

Everywhere I go in Asia, I see lots of American money “raining down” on the Asian church. Sadly, although Americans are quite generous and mean well, this abundance of Western giving is actually doing more spiritual damage than good. The Asian body of Christ end up acting like “victims” with little or no ability to find creative methods and ways to care and do for themselves. The best example in the Western Hemisphere of American giving “gone awry” is Haiti. For years millions of aid has poured into Haiti by American/Western churches. Yet national evangelical churches there are often weak and incapable of reproducing themselves. All this transferred wealth has not seemingly made much of a healthy impact on the country at large. I know there are certainly exceptions. This is true for Mexico as well. While there are healthy churches in Mexico, many along the border with the USA (who often receive the most American assistance) are spiritually weak and often inept at doing for themselves. This writer has taken Chinese churches to Mexico on several occasions to conduct mission projects. On one such occasion I watched Mexican believers sit and drink Coca Cola while Chinese believers built the church structure! In short, we Americans are often generous to a fault! Although our generosity is to be commended, it is best to give in supplemental ways only. This forces the national believers to contribute the majority of funds to their own physical projects and national workers. Yes, the physical projects will end up looking more simple. Yet they will also be easier to maintain long term by the national church. In addition, yes, the salary of national evangelists and pastors will be more meager compared to their Western counterparts. Yet they will live more like the people they are ministering to. Otherwise American money raises their level so high, that they are rendered culturally ineffective in reaching their peers. In addition, indiscriminate American giving creates an unhealthy “victim” mentality within the national church. The best example of a self sufficient mentality can be found in China and among overseas Chinese churches at large.

The Chinese church had to be self sufficient since missionaries were kicked out of China since the reign of Mao. Yet in my view, even if missionaries were not removed, Chinese would have still largely cared for themselves. Why? It is because it is against Chinese self dignity to ask anyone for anything. Believers and nonbelievers alike do for themselves. Otherwise, they will “lose face” and bring their family public shame. So how does this impact our ministry philosophy at MM?

At MM, our philosophy has always been to help national churches and workers in only supplemental ways. This makes our work slower by nature and less glamorous. However it creates a final spiritual product that ends up being more healthy and biblically mature in the end. While we may “jump start” a church plant by supporting a full time worker fully, we have a plan to wean them off over time as the local church grows. Yet, by and large, we avoid such projects. In most of our ministries in Asia, we partner with the national church to give only in supplemental ways. This forces the national believers from “day one” to have local ownership of the project.

With a USA budget of approximately 24 thousand (on average) annually, I am proud to say we do more to grow the Body of Christ in Asia than many big missions that give millions. What makes the difference in growing these healthy ministries? It all goes back to the mentality of the Macedonians found in Paul’s letters. While poor, they begged to give to God’s work. They never felt like victims (II Cor. 8,9). They were more like the Chinese believers today. Let us as Americans continue to give but do so in wise discerning ways. Otherwise, we end up doing more damage than good to the Body of Christ in our world, particularly on the mission field.