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Last week, a colleague sent me a link to a blog post entitled "How Support Raising Keeps Parachurch Ministries White" (read it here The piece contributes to ongoing conversations we have been having at the denomination's global missions agencies about how to engage underprivileged young people in missions.

Eric, the post's writer, asserts that "structural and cultural flaws produce systemic funding inequities for ethnic minorities that serve to keep parachurch ministries White." He explains that the models that parachurch ministries use to raise funds assume a resource base that ethnic minorities in North America either a) don't have, because of systemic injustice, or b) cannot effectively implement because of cultural differences. Because conversations about this issue have been happening among the agencies that I work with, I think his idea that missions are only accessible to those with privilege applies to church missions as well. 

Eric indicates that post is meant to spark conversation, and concludes by asking why we haven't done more to change the model. But he doesn't offer any ideas for solutions. I suspect the reason is because there are no clear solutions. I know youth leaders, churches, parachurch and mission agencies are all struggling with this issue, and no one seems to have an answer.

So let's get this conversation going here. For those of us who agree with Eric's premise that current funding models prevent ethnic minorities from engaging in missions, how do we change that?

I have a few ideas, ready to be considered, shot down, built upon or added to. Note that in all of these suggestions I will talk about "churches", but know that when I say that, I am including individuals going for missions (because I believe the Church is the vehicle Jesus established for sending his followers on missions). Here we go:

  • Stop doing short-terms missions. Then we don't need to worry about fundraising for them. They have proven in many cases to be more problematic than helpful. Perhaps they only serve to placate privileged, North American sensibilities. Note: I really don't like this suggestion, 1) because missions are often meant to change the missionary (look at Jonah), 2) because people have been working hard at redesigning short-term missions to focus on service and learning that contributes to the growth of all involved, and 3) because I firmly believe they are an important milestone for faith formation. As a North American, I don't know if there is a better way to learn how to follow Jesus than to be displaced from familiar and comfortable surroundings and be challenged to rely completely on God. 
  • Establish Savings Groups built from grants. Secure grants to use as seed funds, from donors or foundations, to start a savings group for churches lacking resources for missions. This is something groups of churches could contribute to and build on, and would be managed by the group of churches lacking resources so they could have ownserhip of the funds. But the funds to start it and to keep it going have to come from somewhere.
  • Create church partnerships. Connect those with funds to those without. Build a relationship that is mutually beneficial, where a church with funds shares it's resources with a church lacking funds and the church lacking funds shares other gifts or assets with the church with funds. There are folks in churches that lack funds who know a lot about doing missions in a reciprocal, non-paternalistic way. Churches who have funds could learn from them. But the problem with this model is that with funds, comes power. While we can try our best to say that the contributions of each church are valued, those who give funds often feel like they are giving more and expect more in return.
  • Offer crowdsourcing. Give churches who lack funds a platform for raising them. We could do this through the denomination's mission agencies. Unfortunately, it makes those lacking funds reliant on the denomination's mission agencies.

The Canons of Dort say that the gospel ought to be preached promiscuously. Can we do missions promiscuously? Can we send people on missions in a way through which everyone has the opportunity to participate, to learn, and to contibute to the ongoing narrative of how God is creating a people for himself in and through the Church?

Let's talk about it.



I think that short-term mission (STM) that are planned and executed by the church should be seen as a "personal development" opportunity that is provided to people. If so, we could maybe should have a church/denominational fund that are used to fund ALL short-term mission trips and ALL people would have to apply to receive the funding (think of it as a leadership development program or what have you). This is what you're getting at with the "savings group" idea I believe. But the reason I think everyone should apply for the same pool of money, rather than having some people be able to "buy" their way in, is that it creates a leveled entry platform for STMs and does not place an unfair burden on the ecnomoically disadvantages to have to fill out the "scholarship form." Now given the segregated nature of our churches, I think the question of who decides which people get to go should be a second important consideration, but that can be step #2. 

All this to say I think that the model of being able to buy your way into STMs is going to perpetuate a lack of representation for ethnic minorities. We need to come up with a redistribution model that people can buy into. 




There are a couple of thoughts I have after reading your post and the original that you referenced.

First, I don't agree with equating nonwhites with underprivileged. So that leaves us with two questions to answer as to why more ethnic minorities are not engaging with the denomination. #1, in our multiethnic congregations, is everyone given equal opportunity to join the short term missions teams? I would argue that yes, they are, because most of the churches I work with do fundraising as a congregation to support whoever wants to go, as long as they work on the fundraising too (make the pies, wash the cars, work at the dinners, etc.) #2, in our ethnic churches, are they uninterested in missions or just uninterested in going through our denomination? Is money really a factor? I tend to think not, because I have seen some incredible donations come through our ethnic churches after a disaster. So what is the real reason?

Setting aside the STM issue, let's talk about funding missions. This is actually something that affected World Renew's decision to move towards a country support approach rather than a missionary-centered approach. Many of our overseas staff are not from North America, or if they are, are not Christian Reformed. So they don't have their own church, Grandma and Grandpa's church, and their aunt and uncle's churches to get support. Nor do they have the social connections mentioned in the article you referenced. Yet, their stories are just as powerful, if not more so. One of our staff actually had someone come up to her after church and say, "this is the first time in my life I have heard an African woman talk about Africa." Of course, as the article mentioned, it is this pooling of resources that is possible in nonprofit organizations and denominations, not so much parachurch organizations. I suspect, though, that if the parachurch organizations were able to shift their fundraising strategies they could have a similar approach. 

A very interesting discussion. As we continue to use language of inclusion and reconciliation, too often that discourse revolves around people of color NOT having resources, knowledge or means to witness the Gospel globally. The 'root' of race-differences is NOT necessarily economic. Rather the secular conversations about 'reconciliation' get tangled in our Christian language use and unfortunately quoting of Scripture is used to argue for or against 'in-Christ' brother and sisterhood. Our imperative should be to LIVE the Gospel at all times and in all we seek to witness for the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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