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Missions funding in Africa

By Duncan Olumbe

Bongo, his wife, and five children serve as missionaries in remote north-western Kenya. As Bongo stared into the 47°C sweltering afternoon, he had many questions about financing missions. He recognized that God is indeed raising an army of missionaries from Africa. Many, like him, were stepping out by faith with little assured financial support. Some had gone out as tentmakers or marketplace missionaries, while others had stable and consistent support using the support-raising model of the West.

Bongo knows, however, that financing missions remains a major challenge for Africa. Stories abound of many African missionaries like him who have been sent and “abandoned” in the mission field with inadequate resources for the task God called them into. Various reasons are responsible for this—lack of a biblical understanding, historical experiences, resource stewardship, and current realities of being sent and serving as senders.

A solid biblical foundation of resource and financial stewardship is the first building block to establishing a robust theology of financing missions. This compels us to examine key passages such as “Go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mt. 19:21; Mk. 10:21), the women who supported Jesus’ ministry (Lk. 8:1-3), Paul’s tentmaking (Acts 18:1-4) and support-raising (Phil. 1:3-6) models, and overall biblical stewardship (Lk. 6:38).

Financing missions remains a major challenge for Africa

Historically, the African Church has struggled to break the shackles of a debilitating dependency syndrome: ‘We are poor and can’t do much,’ ‘only the rich whites can support missions’—which has resulted in a ‘begging bowl’ mentality. This has been coupled with paternalism that disempowers Africans, and power plays by those materially better off who tend to adopt a “messiah complex.”

A poverty mentality and paternalistic attitudes have affected how we view money and missions in Africa. At the core is a perception of inferiority, which leads to ‘copy-and-paste’ approaches on how we resource missions, instead of exploring indigenous ubuntu practices. Furthermore, the pitfalls of materialism and consumerism are emerging among Africa’s growing middle class. The challenge is how to balance our instinctive desire to escape poverty with the biblical teaching of “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

Bongo pondered: Whereas the Western support-raising model has resulted in tremendous numbers of missionaries sent during the modern missions era, is it time to ask whether the model is past its “sell-by” date especially for the African Church? Could it be that we as African missionaries and mission senders need to find more suitable models in line with our African ubuntu realities?

Looking into the future with hope, Bongo prayed for both pragmatic and prophetic responses anchored in a biblical theology of community and generosity. Pragmatically, we need a greater focus on biblical stewardship, a sustainable use of God’s resources with accountability to God and men (Rom. 14:12; Gal. 6:1-2), and a long-term view of financing missions innovatively and with good environmental and social policies. Prophetically, we need to cultivate increased generosity out of our poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-3) and greater simplicity (Job 1:21). We must “live simply so that others might simply live” (Ron Sider).

In this edition of AfriGO, be challenged by Baba Akawu’s commitment to missions giving despite his circumstances of being blind and with amputated hands. For our Perspective article, Tshepang Basupi shares different means of raising support for missions. Our feature story highlights CAPRO’s funding experience as an indigenous mission agency and points to God’s faithfulness to provide for his work. Enjoy reading these and more, and share with others!

Duncan Olumbe is a Kenyan missions leader, community development mobilizer, organic farmer, creation care advocate, and mountaineer with almost 30 years of ministry across the nations. He has experience in cross-cultural missions, community development, agribusiness, and student ministry. He serves as Regional Director for Interserve International, and Executive Director for Peer Team Kenya. He is married to Roseline and they are blessed with three young men. He can be reached at duncan.olumbe@gmail.com

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