restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations

                

Financial Support for Evangelists

Becky Lynn Black  

From time to time someone will ask us about taking on the monthly support of an evangelist in Ethiopia. They want to "sponsor" an evangelist financially. Many organizations follow this route in funding the needs of their work, but we have chosen a different route. Let me explain our reasoning.

Our primary rule in working with the Lord's church in Ethiopia is this: first, do no harm. This is applied to many aspects of the work, but especially in the area of finances. The Evil One loves to twist and harm, despite our best intentions. So financial assistance begs an extra measure of wisdom. 

        We must not interfere with the role of the church elders as having primary responsibility for the evangelists. It is not helpful for us to interject our support directly to the evangelists. All assistance is given in consultation and with the full blessing of the church elders. No "sponsorship" discussions are held with individual evangelists; all is done through the elders in respect of their primary responsibility before the Lord for the welfare of the evangelists. Additionally, no funds go directly from us to individual evangelists; all monies are funneled through the church administration.

        We must work cooperatively with the elders in such a way that we do not promote dependency upon us. On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, our dependency must be upon the Lord Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Lord of the Church. He is the Savior who has pledged Himself to the Church's provision and protection. So our dependency must always be upon the Lord Jesus through prayer and obedience. It is possible to give so much financial assistance that spiritual harm occurs.

        Individual sponsorship can deteriorate into a sort of "wooing" to the American possibilities. The Evil One tempts the sponsored person to entertain thoughts of coming to America, of being sponsored to a big education, of gaining additional material blessings above and beyond a basic salary. "America" means "rich" in most parts of the world. And to have personal contact with an American means "I can get rich from this American" to many people. The Evil One is tricky. Even the most spiritually-minded person can become trapped in materialism. (If you don't believe this, just look at those sitting in the pews next to you on Sunday!) We do not want to create an atmosphere of relationship that is primarily financial in basis; it is better to base relationship fundamentally upon the spiritual unity we have in the Blood of Christ. By continually reaffirming this spiritual relationship we help to close the door to this temptation.

        Personal financial sponsorships can create a "haves" and "have-nots" divide among the evangelists. The Evil One loves to divide and conquer. He loves to create division. He does this with philosophies, with education, with background cultures.....and with sponsorships. There is a very real sense of "security" and "belonging" and "affirmation" that comes with sponsorship. Hence, there is competition for sponsorships. But what happens when there are not enough sponsors for everyone? Then some are left out in the cold; their sense of isolation is very real.  And if a sponsor drops their support, the sponsored one is left feeling very vulnerable and exposed. Trust has been broken, and the spiritual damage is deep.

         Sponsorships are temporary at best, creating havoc in the financial operations of the Ethiopian church. Sometimes through no fault of their own, sponsors stop their commitment after just a few months. They usually stop without advance warning and without explanation or apology. If the Ethiopian elders are relying upon a pledge of sponsorship, and make financial decisions accordingly, what can they do when that income falls short. Unlike American churches, these churches do not have financial reserves in the bank. It is hand-to-mouth in church operations as much as family operations. Rather than making pledges of sponsorship, it is better to make financial gifts based upon what is in hand that the Lord has already sent. This creates a more healthy and stable cash flow situation and does not place an evangelist family at risk.

These are some of the tidbits of wisdom God has given us through the years of working in one of the poorest nations on earth. And here's how we help the evangelists, while safe-guarding them from these dangers.

  1. All assistance is given through the Operation Ethiopia fund, directly to the Ethiopian church administration. Team members who desire to give a love gift to someone while on site in Ethiopia must limit their gift to 170 birr ($10). Anything larger must be given from "the fund," without reference to individual donors.

  2. We emphasize personal PRAYER adoptions over financial sponsorships. There is much more power in prayer than in dollars. So let us act accordingly. And in the matter of prayer, it is always an encouragement to know of specific individuals praying. (See Adopting an Evangelist and His Family.)

  3. When people send funds to us, they may designate their gifts.  Bibles, Clinic, Rural Bible Training, and Evangelist Aid are some main designations. Within the Evangelist Aid category, we pool the money from all sources and then spend it according to specific needs. Specific needs might be medical assistance, salary supplement, or evangelist housing. Examples of our meeting these needs (by the grace of God through His people) abound on the website. The elders of the Burji and Alaba churches communicate with us about specific needs, and then the Spirit guides us in the specific application of the designated gifts. Without a doubt, the designated funds for evangelist aid has not been sufficient to the need; we have regularly supplemented with undesignated funds. 

So, what is the current financial situation among the Ethiopian evangelists in Alaba and Burji?  In a word: terrible! Why? Inflation! Let me give you some specifics.

Most evangelists are paid a salary of about 700 birr ($41) per month to support a whole family.  In Burji, the evangelists have their family farm which helps to supply their food needs, but in Alaba they have no farms.  The cost of tef grain (the main staple for their bread) has more than doubled in the past year. Sugar, oil, tea, coffee have also sky-rocketed. Most evangelist families in Alaba can only afford Misser or Shiro Wot....this is a sort of lentil porridge. Breakfast, lunch, and supper is the same thing...lentil porridge with tef bread. Week after week, it is the same. Meat is an extravagance reserved for holidays.

Let's talk about clothing. The price of a pair of simple, cheap shoes is now 500 birr...that's up from 200 birr 6 months ago. A man's shirt costs 300 birr. Let's put this into our economy. If a family in America has an income of $3,000/month, that means a pair of shoes would cost $2,100! It would take two-thirds of the monthly salary to buy a pair of shoes! And it would cost about $1,200 to buy a man's shirt....about 40% of the monthly salary. Amazing, but real. Here in America, where our inflation rate is a low 3%, we have no concept of what it means to live under inflation of 100-200%/year.

So we are currently doing a clothes-and-shoes drive for the Ethiopian evangelists and their families. No high heels. No women's pants. But otherwise, we can accept all sizes, colors and shapes :-)   And we are asking the Lord to send us $7,000 for 2 evangelist homes and funds to distribute as a salary supplement when the Team goes in July. Do you have shoes in your closet?  Do you have funds to spare so that the evangelist's children can eat? Will you help to pay the medical expenses for those suffering from malaria and other diseases?

Contact us at dblack@sebts.edu for questions. Our address is 2691 White House Rd., Nelson, VA 24580. Donations must be received by May 30, 2012, in order to process and get packed. 

Thank you!

March 5, 2012

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