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Review of Robert D. Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)

Robert D. Lupton. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It). New York: HarperOne, 2011. 191 pp. Hardcover. $7.90.

This book has grown out of the author’s forty-plus years of experience in Christian-based community development in inner-city Atlanta. In response to a call that he first felt while serving in Vietnam, he left a budding business career to work with delinquent urban youth. Robert (Bob), his wife, and their two sons sold their suburban home and moved into the inner city where they have lived and served as neighbors among those in need. Their life’s work has been the rebuilding of urban neighborhoods where families can flourish and children can grow into healthy adults.

In the author’s words, the “book explores . . . principles [for compassionate service] and practical case studies to examine how we practice charity. It takes a candid and sometimes critical look behind the scenes at the unintended harm inflicted by our kindness” (9).

Lupton spends the first two chapters of the book explaining the problems created by unwise and undisciplined charity: unsolved problems, wasted resources, dependency, and disempowerment. These are illustrated by stories of his experiences working in inner-city Atlanta, along with statistics provided by experts, and the testimonies of others who have experienced the negative effect of “unexamined generosity.” For me, toxic charity was poignantly illustrated by the story of Juan, a microloan director-minister in Nicaragua, whose greatest challenge lay with native churches who had US partners providing money and free resources. Juan says, “They destroy the initiative of my people. . . . They are making my people into beggars” (20–21).

In the next four chapters, Lupton dissects charity and explores what healthy generosity involves. In chapter three, Lupton examines giving, illustrating again how it can be destructive if it is “doing for” rather than “doing with” (35). He examines biblical giving through the lens of Micah 6:8 (“to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”):

Justice is “fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made.” Mercy is “compassion, kindness, or forgiveness shown especially to someone over whom a person has power.” Twinned together, these commands lead us to holistic involvement. Divorced, they become deformed. Mercy without justice degenerates into dependency and entitlement, preserving the power of the giver over the recipient. Justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, more concerned about rights than relationship. (41)

In chapter four, Lupton begins to lay down his case that effective charity can only be done in relationship. “Relationships built on need are seldom healthy” (60) and “do not reduce the need” (61). In this chapter he hints that these relationships take place within community, a theme that he carries throughout the book. “Learning to trust one another, to be trustworthy in our relationships, is the foundation upon which such community flourishes” (61).

In chapter five, Lupton asks the question and examines who is really benefitting from giving—the receiver or the giver. In chapter six, he gives us the realities: top-down charity seldom works, and effective charity takes time. Lots of time!

Having built the case that charity can be toxic, the rest of the book deals with the second part of the book’s subtitle, And How to Reverse It. These chapters are full of practical lists and helpful illustrations. But rather than being a list of to-dos, Lupton focuses on foundational principles. In chapter seven, he addresses the need to apply wise business practices, explains the importance of engaging the entire community, and touches on the application of micro-lending, community development, and economic development. In chapter eight, he unwraps his “Oath for Compassionate Service” and then shows how these six elements can be applied in community development. Lupton’s “Oath” is the boiled-down essence of the book:

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues of effective service.
  • Above all, do no harm. (8–9, 128–32)

Chapter nine explores how “attentive listening,” “legitimate employment,” and life in “community” enhance human dignity and are essential for non-toxic service. The final chapter gives some practical lists for how to move from “betterment” to “development.” Finding where God is already working is a starting point. A clear vision and a visionary are essentials. Both geographic focus and activity focus, clearly defined, are also key.

Toxic Charity is an easy read and entertaining. Yet, it is frank in its exposure of the problem and practical in its recommendations. The volume is neither a book on charity theology nor community development theory. It focuses on principles. Nor is it a how-to manual on community development, but it is full of illustrations of case studies. Finally, though it is not merely a book of wisdom, its chapters are rich in what I call “Bob-isms”: pithy statements that get at the heart of the matter, rooted in forty-plus years of listening, learning, and living responsible charity. If Lupton intends to challenge faulty assumptions that are doing more harm than good, to inspire those who seek a better charity paradigm, and to provide enough principles, practices, and illustrations to help them get started, then he has met his goals.

Greg Williams

Facilitator for Sustainable Missions

Missions Resource Network

Bedford, Texas, USA

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Review of Evelyn Hibbert and Richard Hibbert, Leading Multicultural Teams

Evelyn Hibbert and Richard Hibbert. Leading Multicultural Teams. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2014. 249 pp. Paperback. $17.99.

Evelyn and Richard Hibbert team up to write a how-to manual on Leading Multicultural Teams. They bring to the table over twenty-five years of working with ministry teams, both monocultural and multicultural, as well as specific research they conducted for this book. The authors prize team synergy and emphasize that multicultural teams are worth the extra effort, even though they are more difficult to maintain. The book’s aim is to help leaders and organizations, both secular and Christian, help their teams sustain a high level of efficiency. While the material is neither comprehensive nor groundbreaking, the book is a helpful presentation of the broad challenges facing multicultural teams and general best practices.

After a brief preface and list of acknowledgements, ten chapters make up the book. There is no distinguishable flow to the argument. Three appendices follow the closing chapter, the first with leadership discussion questions, another with a tool to parse team expectations, and the last with an inventory for multicultural team leaders. The book ends with an extensive bibliography that spans the last four decades of work on the subject.

The first chapter introduces the challenge of managing multicultural teams. The authors rightly acknowledge that there is potential for conflict when any group of people comes together for a specific task. They argue that this conflict potential is amplified on a multicultural team. The goal of every team is to achieve synergy, a dynamic in which the team accomplishes more than the sum of its individual parts. The authors begin to present their vision of healthy teams but wait until the third chapter to complete the picture. Chapter two is dedicated to how cultural differences affect teams, especially when it comes to personal values. An effective leader will help the team’s members understand each other’s value systems, which should, in turn, enable better communication.

In the third chapter the authors struggle to articulate a biblical foundation for their vision of multicultural teams. They start with the Tower of Babel and trace the theme of multiple cultures through Israel’s story and into the ministry of Jesus and the early church. While Revelation could have been the climax to the biblical thread of cultural diversity, it only gets a hat tip from the authors. They fail to make a connection between their biblical vision for diversity and why multiple cultures should be represented on an individual ministry team.

Chapter four focuses on building good team relationships. The authors highlight conflict as a potential catalyst for establishing trust. The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters address clarifying a team’s purpose, appreciating various personalities and gifts, and managing team conflict. This material applies to monocultural teams as much as it does to multicultural teams, so the authors provide brief examples of cross-cultural application for each section.

Chapters eight and nine are the book’s best. Here the reader benefits from the research the Hibberts conducted specifically for the book. They present character qualities and skills that team leaders must develop to be effective. Since the skills and character traits apply broadly, each is illustrated with an anecdote from a multicultural setting. The book’s final chapter is an apology for intentional team development, urging organizations not to cut the process short.

The book’s main strength is found in the wealth of examples and anecdotes from multicultural situations that span the entire globe. There is naturally some overlap between discussing healthy teamwork generally and multicultural teamwork specifically. The authors are at their best when they take a concept from team collaboration theory and amplify it through the lens of multicultural teams. A secondary strength is the notes section at the end of each chapter, which often provides links to online resources. In the Kindle edition, these are hyperlinked and just a click away. In the paper version, each link must be typed in separately.

The book has several weaknesses. First, it fails to inspire. In a century thus far marked by globalization and a heightened sense of cultural diversity, the authors fail to make a case for the timeliness of the subject. Next, the book’s working definition of culture is Paul Hiebert’s. This would usually be a great starting point but in this case is unnecessarily narrow. The authors miss an opportunity to broaden the discussion to include multigenerational teams as well as teams with members from varying personalities, socioeconomic classes, and ethnicities. In addition, the book takes for granted that a sending organization will assemble a team and appoint a team leader. Members of teams that have come together more naturally and lack a singular leader must adapt the material to fit their situation.

The failure to examine an attitude of learning is a glaring omission. While the authors mention the need to learn (chapter two) and learning as a shared value (chapter four), nowhere do they treat the subject with any depth. This seems odd, given that all multicultural relationships, both short term and long term, will be marked by learning and will require a learner’s attitude to be successful. One final weakness is the book’s use of the Bible. While there are many references to Scripture throughout, they are often cursory examples and thus give the appearance of being tacked on.

Despite its drawbacks, Leading Multicultural Teams provides a helpful framework for team leaders and organizations to navigate the complexities of multicultural teams. Even if a team only benefits from pieces of the book, the authors will have accomplished their goal.

Jeremy Daggett


Arequipa, Peru

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Review of Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, 2nd ed.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself. 2nd ed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014. 288 pp. Paperback. $12.91.

[The first edition of When Helping Hurts was reviewed in the February 2011 edition of Missio Dei by Monty Lynn, Professor of Management at Abilene Christian University.1]

When Helping Hurts has become a mainstay on the bookshelves of many who are interested in addressing poverty with a biblical approach over the past six years. This is the book’s third printing and an extended second edition. The first edition has received very positive responses and challenged many to rethink the ways in which they interact with and attempt to empower those who are poor. However, it has also caused some readers to feel paralyzed and unsure how to move forward in their interactions with the poor. In this edition, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have sought to address the question: What do I do next? Corbett and Fikkert write, “Because our desire is to unleash and to equip and not to paralyze, we have written this second edition, adding part four to enable you to get started in more effective approaches to poverty alleviation” (16).

In part four, Corbett and Fikkert address the question, What do I do next?, in a practical manner. They recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all formula that applies to all development work. However, they provide five core principles that they believe can help churches or ministries get started with using the asset-based, participatory processes that were introduced earlier in the book. They describe these principles in an accessible manner by illustrating them in the narrative of a fictional church (Jerry and Parkview Fellowship). Throughout part four, Corbett and Fikkert describe how Jerry and Parkview implement the five principles in their development ministries. This is really helpful, as the reader can grasp the concepts and principles described throughout the book in a formulated way. The authors succeed in communicating how one might implement truly helpful development principles, even though the difficulty of diverse contexts is always in view.

In the second half of part four, Corbett and Fikkert outline different paths that Jerry and Parkview might take in their pursuit of a more asset-based, participatory approach to development work. While the first half of part four describes concrete principles, the second half outlines four steps that will help the church move along in the process of development work. Rather than placing the burdens (e.g., time commitment and money) solely on Parkview and its ministers, Corbett and Fikkert describe different methods of involving church members and the community. This approach involves assessing the gifts of church members and providing church members with opportunities to use their gifts well. It also involves the community by connecting people with services they may be unaware of (e.g., Department of Social Services, Salvation Army, or other church ministries). part four concludes with a description of a number of ways the Parkview example could play out.

Corbett and Fikkert conclude the book with the final and most important step in the process of development work: repentance. This repentance is an integral part of overcoming our own poverty. Development workers must take this step at the very beginning and continually repeat it throughout the process of poverty alleviation and development work. Without this step, our efforts will most likely continue to do harm to both them and us. Repentance enables the reader to walk with the poor rather than provide resources to the poor and addresses the root causes of the poverty of both the materially poor and the relationally poor.

In his review of the first edition, Monty Lynn identified the absence of an in-depth case study. In the second edition, Corbett and Fikkert offer the fictional narrative of Jerry and the Parkview Fellowship as a case study illustrating one way to implement the approaches to poverty-alleviation and development described in the first three parts of the book. This provides the reader with a way to better visualize the methods and principles described throughout the book and how they can play out in a real-life setting. Corbett and Fikkert recognize that “it is impossible to provide a ‘one-size-fits-all’ pathway to success” (16). However, with the addition of the case study, they provide a real-life example of practical and concrete steps for confidently moving forward in the work of poverty-alleviation and development.

Brady Kal Cox

Graduate Student

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas, USA

1 Monty Lynn, review of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 1 (February 2011): 124–25,

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Review of Clint Archer, Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Impact

Clint Archer. Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Impact. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2014. 140 pp. Paperback. $10.57.

In response to the missionary call, William Carey told a colleague, “I will go down, but remember that you must hold the rope.”

This concept of “holding the rope” for long-term missionaries encapsulates the message of this brief but engaging book by Clint Archer. Archer’s service as an STM director, STM recipient in South Africa, and church pastor gives him a broad perspective on the use—and abuse—of short-term missions.

Though the author gives practical information for short-term mission planning and execution, he never loses focus on his core premise that short-term missions should be primarily focused upon assisting the long-term missionary. Chapters three and four are the heart of the book and weave this principle throughout:

  • “The first change I made . . . was to shift the crosshairs of our efforts over to the correct target: the missionary.” (23)
  • “The core philosophy of STM . . . revolves around the axis of the missionary, his family, his ministry, and his strategy.” (29)
  • “Our missionaries are our mission!” (33)
  • “The STM is one of the best ways of meeting the missionary’s needs.” (35)

So consistently does the author make this point that part of the book is as much a manuscript on missionary care as it is short-term missions. As a former missionary and current missionary trainer, I laud the author’s sensitivity to the impact—often unrecognized and underappreciated—that STM has on the missionary. While many books on STM focus upon the benefit to the participant and local church, this one questions whether those benefits should be the reason for the trip or simply the reward.

The book begins with the author’s personal story of STM participation as a student. His honesty and self-effacement are refreshing and often humorous. The book then moves into a brief biblical review of the missions in the book of Acts. This chapter could easily have been more developed but its brevity was in keeping with the tone of the book.

After establishing the basic thesis of the book in chapters three and four, the author shifts into a more how-to approach to short-term missions. Major topics addressed include types of STM, leadership, selection and screening, fundraising, travel advice, and follow through. For those not experienced in conducting short-term trips, the chapters contain broad concepts for consideration and practical steps for implementation.

For those experienced in conducting STM, the material might seem elementary at times. However, the author laces the chapters with sage nuggets of advice that make it worth the read.

While I praise the book for placing long-term missionary presence and practice back in the center of missions, I felt it fell short in some places.

First, the book has a gap in addressing STM preparation. It jumps from team selection and fund-raising directly into travel and cultural advice. Only one page is dedicated to the spiritual preparation needed before travel. The needs of cultural understanding and team dynamics are ignored. Since these two factors often have major impact on the success of STM, I found their absence surprising.

Second, the two pages dedicated to debriefing focused almost exclusively upon logistics such as communication to supporters, receipts, photo sharing, and so on. The author mentioned that most participants experience spiritual growth but did not include material to debrief or encourage this growth. The book also lacked information regarding the need to process emotional experiences.

Lastly, chapter seven (“The Bottom Line: Is It Worth the Money?”) seems a little out of place. The book flows from STM types to selection to finances. I anticipate that the author placed the chapter where he did in order to introduce fundraising. However, its more theoretical content interrupts the flow of practical steps and might be better served as a summary chapter.

With those three caveats in mind, this small book has a lot to offer. For those inexperienced with planning STM, the book offers many practical steps. For those experienced in STM, there is a healthy dose of rethinking motivations as well as wise suggestions. For all, it is a well written, often humorous work that can be easily read in less than two hours.

Gary L. Green

Associate Director of Missional Formation

Halbert Institute for Missions

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas, USA

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Review of Lowell Bliss, Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees

Lowell Bliss. Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013. 346 pp. Paperback. $9.06.

In answer to the question, “Who created the world?” young children across Sunday school classes may joyfully exclaim, “God did!” Many Christian environmentalists affirm the same, and the creation mandate of stewardship compels their work. However, the gift of Lowell Bliss’s Environmental Missions is an expanded view of the work of Christ in the world and the good news for all creation. Bliss’s Environmental Missions elaborates on and popularizes the ongoing conversation of the Lausanne Movement around the scope of international evangelism.

Bliss’s biblical foundation is Jesus the Reconciler. Father and Son are co-creators of the world, Jesus is Lord of all the earth, and Christ works to sustain all life, including the natural processes upon which life depends. Jesus is active on behalf of his creation, which includes but is mercifully not limited to humans. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). Christians, therefore, may rejoice in the fact that, as Bliss concludes, “There is no greater environmentalist at work in the world today than Jesus Christ himself”(85). In this way, he offers a third option to Christian environmentalists who previously chose only between two secular environmental ethics: anthropocentric (i.e., a conservation or wise-use ethic) and bio-centric (i.e,. a preservation ethic, viewing nature as valuable in its own right). As a Christian environmentalist, I now have the language and theology to confidently claim a christocentric view. He similarly expands the understanding of the relationships Christ redeemed: through Christ, relationships are redeemed with God, with self, with other people, and with creation. His thoughtful narration of personal interactions with Christians in India illustrates this multidimensional redemption by vividly connecting environmental issues with human suffering.

Though complete with an extensive bibliography, this text is accessible to readers without a background in environmental science, theology, or missions. Chapters or excerpts from this text would be appropriate for missions classes, whether at the university or congregational level. In addition to the chapters that relate to the biblical basis for environmental missions, he addresses the urgency of the need for environmental missions. In particular, he clearly develops the opportunity to infuse evangelism with refugee populations with engagement around environmental issues.

The author’s concern is largely the popularization of environmental missions as an area of missional focus, building on the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization’s Cape Town Commitment, the Call to Action put forth at the 2012 Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel in Jamaica, and the ideas of Calvin DeWitt and Peter Harris of A Rocha. For missionaries, teachers of missions, or church members active in supporting missionaries, Bliss offers a well-developed understanding of the theology and missional implications and applications of environmental science and management. If you find yourself defending agriculture, forestry, or land management activities as appropriate for missions, Bliss offers strong biblical affirmation.

However, if you find yourself struggling to defend the species selection of your reforestation efforts, you will not find those answers here. In fact, Bliss misses a huge opportunity by failing to point readers to technical resources that are crucial for doing good environmental management and community development. He could have pointed readers first (and always) to the local communities of practice. Cooperative Extension (public and private), local environmental NGOs, and government environmental professionals are charged with providing research- and evidence-based information and technical assistance. Additionally, many well-funded organizations with long histories of environmental work around the globe offer their informational resources online for free. Consider the libraries of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the UK’s Department for International Development, the United States Agency for International Development, and Heifer International. For domestic environmental work, local Cooperative Extension offices and affiliated state land grant universities are important resources.

Furthermore, while Bliss focuses on evangelistic practice in environmental missions, and this certainly reflects his identity as a church planter who is interested in environmental missions, there were a few cases in which I was disappointed that he missed opportunities to use key environmental science concepts, which would have enhanced his credibility and the reader’s learning. For example, in chapter twelve, “Topics in Environmental Missions,” he dedicated pages to explaining his views of the roles of population growth and consumption of resources but neglected the canonical explanations. His argument would have been strengthened and this section condensed had he simply referenced and elaborated on the I=PAT formula, where environmental Impact equals Population times Affluence times Technology.

Missiologists, those interested in the history of missions, and community developers alike will find engaging the chapters on the historical treatment of William Carey and on sin as unfaithful stewardship. Bliss also recounts the history of African missionaries Robert Moffat (“God’s Gardner”) and Dr. John Croumbie Brown, a missionary, botanist, university professor, state scientist, and conservationist (142). These missionaries linked the periodic droughts that plagued South Africa from the 1820s to the 1860s with environmental degradation, identifying sin as the common cause. “Drought (a judgment) is a natural result of cutting the forests and burning the veldt. By claiming that devegetation is a sin that contributes to judgment, Moffat introduces a middle term and embraces a theology of natural consequences” (145). With only a small nod to the colonialistic mentality evidenced in these missionaries’ writings, Bliss falls dangerously short of adequately addressing the paternalistic, colonial, and oppressive nature of these early environmental missionaries or, more importantly, the implications in theory and practice for environmental missions of today.

Two major blind spots in this work relate to the role of women in environmental management and postcolonial power dynamics as they relate to natural resources. Postcolonial and eco-feminist themes would be relevant and practical to this text. Wangari Maathai, nobel laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, encapsulates the interconnected goals of environmental conservation, democracy, peace, and women’s empowerment. Globally, women’s hands are in daily contact with the lion’s share of privately held soil and water resources; thus, they represent the bulk of local Christians or community members potentially involved in environmental missions. In many contexts, women environmental missionaries may be positioned to work productively alongside women of local churches with fewer cultural barriers than men may encounter. The other side of this arrangement is that women with environmental backgrounds may likely find roles as environmental missionaries, first, when their gifts align with environmental stewardship and, second, when their sending church traditions do not offer an opportunity to go as preaching missionaries, similar to the way that many young women find opportunities in roles as teachers or medical missionaries. Frustratingly, Bliss only mentions the role of women’s empowerment (e.g., health care and education for girls) in addressing environmental issues in an indirect way, when he is discussing the topic of population growth. This limits his view of the topics and people who are most crucial to the success of environmental missions and to whom environmental missions may be most relevant.

Since gender, race, and class are intertwined, it is unsurprising that the second blind spot I note relates to another power dimension. The history of colonialism is one of natural resource extraction and environmental degradation. The question of how to do environmental missions in a way that acknowledges past power abuses and, by the power of God and the work of his people, works to reconcile indigenous people to their homelands deserves to be both a common thread throughout an environmental missions text and a well-researched chapter. Bliss sadly neglects to address how environmental missions offers white, Christian, Western men another banner under which to tell brown, pagan, non-Western women what to do with their land.

Emily Stutzman Jones

Institute for Sustainable Practice

Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Review of Craig Ott and J. D. Payne, eds., Missionary Methods: Research, Reflections, and Realities

Craig Ott and J. D. Payne, eds. Missionary Methods: Research, Reflections, and Realities. Evangelical Missiological Society 21. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013. 256 pp. Paperback. $13.48.

This volume, edited by Ott and Payne, is number twenty-one in the Evangelical Missiological Society Series. It is divided into two parts: “Biblical Understandings of Missionary Methods” and “Praxis and Case Studies of Missionary Methods.” The editors provide an introduction and conclusion while ten distinct scholars supply the chapters of the book written and compiled in honor of the centennial of the publication of Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?

With a book written on missionary methods, one would expect to find an emphasis on praxis. It would be surprising to find anyone reading this review who would disagree that praxis must be grounded in thoughtfully developed “Biblical Understandings.” The three contributors to part one were challenged by the twin objectives of elucidating a theology for missionary methods while also critiquing the relevance of Roland Allen’s landmark book for current mission realities. As a result, the title for part one could just have easily been “Innovations in Missiological Understandings since Roland Allen.”

In chapter one, Robert Gallagher views the theology of Roland Allen through the lens of spiritual warfare, power encounters, exorcisms, and satanic activity. He concludes that Allen manifested “an exegetical praxis hindered by [his] theological convention” (20). Gallagher’s thesis is that Allen had an underdeveloped pneumatology (demonology?) vis-à-vis the Luke-Acts narrative. In fairness to Allen, we should note that the American Christian interest in spiritual warfare has been contained within limited circles originating at about the time of the publication of Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? and only popularized much more recently.

Rob Hughes surveys “Roland Allen’s Understanding of the Spirit’s Centrality in Mission” and notes Allen’s concern, expressed in his book Missionary Principles (1926), about missionary activity obscuring the role and work of the Holy Spirit. A related concern was “the failure of the command to preach the Gospel to all nations” (30). Allen concludes that the Holy Spirit is the author of missionary zeal but that the Spirit has been obscured by the prominence of missionary “activity” (i.e., “schools for the education of people, clubs for the welfare of young men and women, institutions for the improvement of social conditions, . . . hospitals, . . . improvement of agriculture;” 27). Holistic missions is, of course, the “innovation” that drives this particular mining of Allen’s body of work.

The third and final chapter in part one deals with the discussion on the incarnational model of missions. John Cheong ably lays out views from John Stott, David Hesselgrave, and Andreas Köstenberger, with the bulk of the chapter outlining Köstenberger’s understandings of the continuities and discontinuities of Jesus’ mission and our own.

While the efforts to provide both a link to Allen’s landmark book and the theological underpinnings that inform praxis should be lauded, part one of the book is eclipsed by the following chapters comprising part two, which are more to the point of “Missionary Methods.”

Chapter four: “From Roland Allen to Rick Warren: Sources of Inspiration Guiding North American Evangelical Missions Methodology 1912–2012.” Gary Corwin provides an extremely helpful schema for understanding the “inspirational paradigm streams” that have influenced missions from North America over the last century.

Chapter five: “A Prolegomena to Contextualized Preaching concerning the Wrath of God and the Judgment of Man: What Did Roland Allen Know that We Sometimes Forget and at Other Times Never Learn?” A review of Allen’s critique of Pauline preaching results in David Hesselgrave’s lament over the demise of “stern doctrines” and “dire warnings” of judgment in modern pulpits.

Chapter six: “The Rise of Orality in Modern Mission Practice,” by Anthony Casey. Here are the facts: Two-thirds of the world’s population are oral communicators currently. Ninety percent of missionaries still present the gospel using a highly literate communication style. Casey provides practical ways to address the need in a must-read chapter!

Chapter seven: “Missionaries in Our Own Backyard: The Canadian Context,” by Joel Thiessen, describes a situation that, while it may differ from the US context by some degree, is essentially of the same kind.

Chapter eight: “Islands of the Gods: Productive and Unproductive Missionary Methods in Animistic Societies—Roland Allen’s Examination of Saint Paul’s Use of Miracles.” The “islands” in question are Haiti and Madagascar. Here Robert Bennett provides a touch point to the earlier discussion on spiritual warfare and exorcism and reminds us of Paul Hiebert’s “Flaw of the Excluded Middle.” He notes: “While denial of the spiritual world leads to syncretism, acceptance of the spiritual world on its own terms leads to despair and bondage” (146).

Chapter nine: “Leaders Reproducing Churches: Research from Japan,” by John Mehn. This is a fascinating study of a Western ecclesiology that refuses to adapt to cultural realities. The ordained pastor-centered model has hindered the growth of the church in Japan, considered the world’s second largest unreached population by the Joshua Project. A new generation of leaders provide cautious optimism as Roland Allen’s principles are applied.

Chapter ten: “Paul’s or Theirs?—A Case Analysis of Missionary Methods among Muslims of the Philippines.” Mark Williams provides important background history of Muslim-Christian relations in the Philippines. Efforts to evangelize Muslims provide an interesting case study of the C1–C6 Spectrum as the old question is posed once more: how far is too far? Roland Allen had much to say about Paul’s resistance to syncretism while making every effort to contextualize.

The conclusion provided by co-editor Craig Ott addresses the “Questions that Still Dog Us,” including that of pragmatism in our methods, the use of the social sciences in the theory and practice of missions, and that of New Testament precedence in describing and authorizing the norms for missionary practice.

In sum, the book provides a helpful and interesting review of Roland Allen’s century-old thinking that engages our modern realities in surprisingly relevant ways.

Bill Richardson

Professor of Bible and Missions

Harding University

Searcy, Arkansas, USA

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Review of Jim Raymo and Judy Raymo, Millennials and Mission: A Generation Faces A Global Challenge

Jim Raymo and Judy Raymo. Millennials and Mission: A Generation Faces a Global Challenge. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2014. 136 pp. Paperback. $12.48.

Jim and Judy Raymo end Millennials and Mission by rehearsing a variety of questions raised throughout the preceding seven chapters. Then they conclude, “These questions and others remain unanswered at present” (108). The authors do not intend the statement to be a commentary on their own work, yet it has the ring of an admission, since the slender volume begins and ends with questions while providing few answers in between. Indeed, the judicious reader may wonder whether the book is asking the right questions in the first place. Nonetheless, the Raymos write from significant experience and offer a perspective worthy of consideration.

The book is an adaptation of material from Jim’s doctoral dissertation, written primarily in his voice but made more accessible with Judy’s help. Though there is some ambiguity regarding the intended audience, the bulk of the book seems to be directed at missions organization recruiters, particularly Baby Boomers prone to misunderstand generational differences with Millennials. One finds in chapter four what appears to be the book’s occasion: the decline of North American evangelical missions organizations and, therefore, the need to connect with “the ministry aspirations of potential new workers” (39). This sheds light on the aim Jim states in chapter one, to explain what he has learned about generational differences in the process of training and working with Millennials (1). Unfortunately, this intention does not provide the focus that a thesis would, and as a result the reader is left with a more or less organized compilation of questions, observations, and suggestions.

The first three chapters introduce Millennial generation characteristics. Chapter four pivots to “consider how these directly connect in regard to missions/ministry” (38), specifically considering their general fit for missions, the role of fear in their decision to serve cross-culturally, their preference for holistic ministries, and their potential relationship with established missions organizations. The final chapter briefly recapitulates various concerns and questions from the preceding chapters.

Two issues dominate the authors’ understanding of Millennials: self-interest and fear. The former appears to be a riff on Jim’s 1996 book, Marching to a Different Drummer: Rediscovering Missions in an Age of Affluence and Self-Interest. The reader may suspect that the authors would identify self-interest as an abiding concern regardless of the particular generation in view. Millennials have been characterized as entitled, certainly, but the authors do not parse the conflicting data with new insight. At one point they quote a source labeling Millennials as “narcissistic” followed immediately by another that describes them as “generally very self-critical” (10)—with no hint that these are contradictory by definition. The authors’ solution to this and other interpretive dilemmas is to identify paradoxical as the one word they would choose to describe the generation (16). Millennials are, for the Raymos, “self-absorbed, but generous” (16). What is most peculiar about their insistence that Millennials are characteristically self-interested is that many of the blog excerpts from Millennials sprinkled throughout the book clearly suggest otherwise.

The book’s most inconsistent argument, however, is that fear is a major concern for Millennials considering mission work. Chapter five, the longest of the book, is dedicated to this idea. Despite citing surveys that indicate Millennials are not prone to the prejudicial fears that characterize older generations, and despite quoting Millennials who state they are willing to live with the consequences of potentially dangerous foreign work, the Raymos insist that fear is a major concern for motivating and recruiting Millennial missionaries. At times, it seems as though they can’t decide which case they want to make: Millennials are fearful, or Millennials are naive about how costly and difficult cross-cultural work can be. Ultimately, it is difficult to see how the authors reach their conclusion that “fear is indeed a factor, especially in regard to comfort, security, and family” (76). Yet, given how closely this description of fear resembles self-interest, it is perhaps not a conclusion for the authors but a presupposition.

The book’s seventh chapter is its strongest, as it settles squarely into coaching older missions organizations how to adapt for Millennial workers. Though the authors have not presented an especially convincing portrayal of Millennials, they do a better job identifying issues for established organizational leadership that must deal with Millennials’ unique expectations. The authors give an interesting overview of what Millennials are looking for in a ministry context, which manages not to focus on self-interest. They chart both points of fit and potential difficulties with typical missions organizations. The chapter is unfortunately marred by redundancy, as the next section, on Millennials’ ideal missions agency, rehashes much of the first part of the chapter, and the following section deals with “ministry deal breakers” that are essentially the inverse of the same material. The chapter’s final section offers recommendations for integrating Millennials, which is again repetitive, though it also pulls a couple of points from previous chapters. Despite its redundancy, the chapter still lands nearest the book’s purpose. The Raymos’ experience in the organizational context is evident, and they share practical insights that leave the reader with the impression of legitimacy.

Millennials and Mission advances a conversation the church needs to have. The need, however, is not to prop up organizations that have failed to appeal to the next generation of workers. It is rather to understand how to adapt for the next phase of global mission, as God sends natively postmodern, thoroughly globalized Christians for his purposes. The Raymos’ basic impulse, to convince existing organizations and older generations that they should adapt rather than insisting that Millennials conform, is wise. Because the question is not whether Millennials can fit into such structures but who will be the next generation of courageous, self-sacrificial Western missionaries regardless of whether they fit into old molds.

Greg McKinzie

Doctoral Student

Fuller Theological Seminary

Pasadena, California, USA

Posted on

Recognizing Poverty Rules: Addressing the Causes and Patterns of Absolute Poverty among the Makua-Metto People

Drawing on qualitative interviews with the Makua-Metto people of Mozambique, the author develops a curriculum addressing the topic of poverty. The contextualized approach considers poverty as a system and makes use of local solutions. The article includes a diagram illustrating the causes of poverty and two series of narratives linked by the metaphor of games to demonstrate Makua-Metto behavioral norms of people in poverty and those living free from its deepest effects.

The father smiled as his son leaned forward to listen. These two men live in a remote village in Mozambique, and during a single growing season they will produce all the corn, cassava, and beans that their family will consume for the rest of the year. The son is a motivated young man who makes money by cutting and selling wood. Both of the men are followers of Jesus, but while the father has been engaged with the church from the beginning, this is one of the first times I’ve seen the son really perk up and show interest in the topics we have been addressing among their small cluster of churches. Today, as we sit in the shade on my porch, we’re talking about poverty: what it is and the practicalities of overcoming it. And today, this young man is really paying attention.

When our mission team first moved to Mozambique in 2003, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. And although in recent years our host country has begun to climb up the development scale, the vast majority of our friends still live in abject or absolute poverty. In 2014, Mozambique ranked number 178 out of 187 in the UN’s Human Development Index (Haiti and Afghanistan rank ten and nine spots higher, respectively). Over seventy percent of the population lives in “multidimensional poverty,” and over eighty percent lives on less than two dollars a day.1 Statistics like these are both mind-boggling and misleading because the situation in Cabo Delgado, the province where the Makua-Metto people are most concentrated, is even worse. They live far from the economic advancement concentrated in the country’s capital, and the rare person here with a job earning more than two dollars a day supports his or her immediate family and many extended relatives.

In an attempt to begin understanding what it means to respond effectively to poverty in this region, I searched for helpful resources. Unfortunately, it seemed that most books on poverty in the developing world fall into one of two categories. There are the books that attempt to help rich Westerners understand poverty.2 And then there are books that advocate a specific strategy,3 often giving the impression that their single solution is the silver bullet. Our mission team has attempted a handful of initiatives with varying degrees of success, but I now believe that in our attempts to address absolute poverty meaningfully in this context one of the most important things we do is present it as a system whose complex solutions must involve the Makua-Metto people’s own cultural understandings.

After doing qualitative interviews about poverty with Makua-Metto people (both Muslim and Christian) and triangulation of the data in small groups,4 I found that even though their dominant cultural pattern is defined by absolute poverty, there are a subset of practices and perspectives that, if adopted by a wider group, could bring real, lasting change. I presented my findings mostly in rural church clusters but also in a variety of settings, from a high school debate club to a women’s business seminar, and I found that four pieces of the material on poverty among the Makua-Metto people were particularly appreciated and warrant sharing with a broader audience. My hope is that this article will provide people working with the poor in different contexts with ideas for helping those they serve to find effective ways to escape the pull of poverty.

The first half of this article considers Old Testament texts that resonate with our predominantly Muslim setting in northern Mozambique, while the second half illustrates an approach to poverty as a system and concentrates on using local solutions. In the beginning section, we look at how the book of Genesis can orient this discussion of poverty. My belief that God’s word has something meaningful to say about this topic comes from a conviction that the Creator is ultimately displeased when his creatures live in absolute poverty. In the second part, we look at formative biblical texts for Israel as a community that are essential in teaching about poverty in northern Mozambique because they encourage participants to move beyond a motivation of mere wealth accumulation and see poverty alleviation as a way of living in line with God’s desire for a whole community. In the third section, I offer a diagram that illustrates the factors and causes of poverty and wealth as part of the same system. The final part, and the material on poverty that most resonated with Makua-Metto participants, uses the metaphor of contrasting games and a narrative structure to show how the rules of absolute poverty play out in daily life in this context and contrast them with real patterns of life exhibited by those free from the system of absolute poverty.

Starting at the Beginning: The Book of Genesis and Defining Poverty in Text and Context

In conversations about absolute poverty with our Makua-Metto friends, it was important to begin by defining terms.5 The Hebrew Scriptures have a rich vocabulary for describing the poor and their situation. There are “between five and seven Hebrew root words from which derive terms that occur more than 200 times in the Bible to describe the poor and poverty.”6 Recognizing the extensiveness and variety of poverty language in the biblical text as well as in their own everyday speech was encouraging to Makua-Metto participants as they saw its relevance in both contexts. This process of defining relevant words in their language always provokes spirited conversation as they distinguish between ohuva (general term for suffering), masikini (term used to describe disabled or physically handicapped people), ntiriki (derogatory term for a fool or mentally deficient person), and atthu oveveya or wolwa (two terms that refer to laziness). Encouraging each group to name and define these keywords helped participants feel ownership of the process and recognize how the ways they already speak about absolute poverty provide clues for revealing its causes and effects.

During these discussions there has been quick agreement with the following statement:

Poverty is one of humanity’s biggest problems. It is often a result of social corruption, war, physical or economic disaster, or personal irresponsibility. Its underlying cause is sin, usually committed against those affected by it, and not by themselves. It is a painful, fearful, hopeless, and vulnerable way of life due to exploitation, isolation, lack of choice, and powerlessness.7

Naming the direct and indirect connections between poverty and sin fits well within the Makua-Metto worldview.8 In order to begin thinking well about the gigantic challenge of poverty and humanity’s place in this world, it is helpful to point back to the beginning and revisit God’s intentions for creation over against the damaging consequences of sin. In that story, we learn (at least) three things relevant to a study of poverty.

First, the creation account defines our role. Genesis 1:27–31 shows God empowering and entrusting the first humans to work as stewards, beings who would prosper and multiply as they care for the earth. As Douglas John Hall notes:

The role of Steward is an honored one. In the literature of the Old Testament, the Steward is a servant but not an ordinary servant who simply takes orders and does the bidding of others. . . . He is a rather superior servant, a sort of supervisor or foreman who must make decisions, give orders and take charge. . . . The Steward is one who has been given the responsibility of management and service of something belonging to another, and his office presupposes a particular kind of trust on the part of the owner or master [who is usually a king or ruler].9

This concept resonated with my Mozambican friends as they recognized that in this text we are not given an exalted status (such as a king), and neither are we attributed a lowly position (as slaves, for example). Instead, the creation account shows us that we were given the important steward role, a place of honor that falls under a still greater authority.10 Since the sin of the first humans was to usurp the authority of the true King of creation, an important step in addressing the core causes of poverty is returning to and accepting our role as stewards.

Second, the narrative reveals our proper rhythm. In the creation account we find God modeling the rhythm of work and rest that we are to follow (Gen 2:1–3). God chooses to rest and sanctifies the day as a Sabbath. The creator exemplifies a healthy pattern for his creatures: six days of work and one day of rest. When human pride and sin trips us and causes us to fall out of step—either into working all the time, “like a machine” as one Mozambican participant observed, or into laziness—then we have drifted away from God’s intended rhythm of life.

Third, this text reminds us of our responsibility. It is significant to note that work is a provision built into creation, not “a result of the Fall.”11 We are created to be hard-working stewards. While Gen 3:17–19 tells us that sin caused the work we do to be harder, it certainly does not negate the value of our work or indicate that our responsibility to work is a consequence of sin. The truth is that labor is a part of life as God intended it.

Beyond the reframing of humanity’s role, rhythm, and responsibility in the creation account over against the destructive power of sin, the book of Genesis also provides another story that illustrates orientations that either keep people trapped in absolute poverty or have the potential to enable them to escape it. In Gen 25:19–34, we find the strange account of Jacob and Esau. We are told that when Esau returned hungry from a hunting excursion, he came upon his younger brother cooking a simple meal. Famished, Esau agreed to trade away his birthright for a plate of food. While Jacob certainly could be critiqued for his lack of generosity and accused of “tricking” his brother, v. 34 indicates that Esau was ultimately culpable because he despised his blessing.

Besides birth order, there is a clear difference between Esau and Jacob. Their mindsets are vastly different. Jacob willingly forfeited food because of the promise of a greater gain, while Esau gave up a long-term blessing for a short-term reward. My Mozambican friends see in this story a parable that has similarities to the way Ruby Payne, in A Framework for Understanding Poverty, distinguishes between two types of poverty and their underlying causes:

1. “Generational poverty is defined as having been in poverty for at least two generations; however, the patterns begin to surface much sooner than two generations if the family lives with others who are from generational poverty.”12 Mozambican participants described this as a family where “it is not possible to find even one schoolteacher.” A young boy grows up learning from his uncles to live lazily and not be ashamed of drunkenness. Esau’s thinking pattern seems most prevalent in generational poverty. His selection of a short-term reward over the long-term gain seriously affected his children generations later, and his is a cautionary tale that illustrates how the consequences of choices we make today for good or bad can powerfully shape the lives of our descendants.13

2. “Situational poverty is defined as a lack of resources due to a particular event (i.e., a death, chronic illness, divorce, etc.).”14 Mozambican participants noted that those in this group can recover faster because they think and act differently. One man wondered at the way these people could “suffer a bad crop, but within a year they are flourishing again. How do they do it?” Jacob’s orientation seems to be a key differentiator for people in this group. In the same way that he accepted hunger in the short term for the promise of a long-term blessing, those who are able to make sacrifices with a greater goal in mind are more likely to find success.

Makua-Metto participants recognized the distinction between these two types of poverty and the mindsets that reinforce them.15 They agreed that one of the key shifts in order to break out of absolute poverty is to value long-term rewards more than short-term ones. While that change in perspective may be easier to implement on the individual level, how does it work in the context of an African society where the social contract often dictates that the needs of the group are to be given primacy over the needs of the individual?

Thriving as the People of God: Instructions for Israel on Living Well Together

In this section, we will look at how God’s vision for prosperity and perspective on poverty were not limited to the individual level but were part of his objective for all of society. In Exodus 1 and 2 we see how God’s anger at the economic and spiritual oppression of the Hebrew people in Egypt led him to go to great lengths to deliver them. After the exodus, God established a covenant community where the economics of the whole society were carefully considered, and the expectation was clear that God would not accept worship from a people who neglected the poor.16

As part of my research among the Makua-Metto, I interviewed Christians and non-Christians to get a broader range of perspectives. On one of these interviews, I sat with a group of Imams and asked them about the causes of poverty. “If we were to think of poverty as a symptom, like a cough,” I asked, “what would be the illnesses that cause it?” Those Muslim religious leaders observed that poverty has three causes in Makua-Metto culture: selfishness, laziness, and corruption. Upon further reflection they concluded that corruption is ultimately the result of selfishness and laziness. So, if poverty is the symptom, then the diseases are laziness and selfishness which often give birth to a further source of poverty, corruption. These three diseases not only cause pain for individuals, but also keep the community from becoming a kind of covenant community similar to the one advocated in Scripture.

In the Old Testament texts, God specifically addressed those three causes of poverty in Israelite society, giving his people a way to protect themselves and their communities from absolute poverty.

1. Safeguards against Selfishness. Selfishness had the potential to manifest itself in Israelite society in a number of forms, so the laws of Moses specifically laid out protections against its impact in terms of land, money, and food. One illustration that resonated with our Mozambican friends was the story of a friend of mine who built a triangular fence around a hand-dug well to keep his grandchildren from falling in. These laws were some of the means by which God created a barrier to protect the people of Israel from falling prey to the effects of selfishness on a societal level. In discussing these texts, we were careful to note that the laws given to Israel are not binding on us as Christians living under human governments today, but the principles and practices they reveal could have value in helping frame a life free from absolute poverty in our current context.

  • Land and Jubilee. For the Israelites:

    Land meant a future both secure and without anxiety. The viability of each family unit was based on ownership of a piece of land given to it as an inheritance. The Lord provided them with a good land (Deut 8:7–10). More important, land was a trust whose ultimate owner was God.17

    Since the land belonged to the Lord, it could not be sold permanently. The Jubilee provision meant that after a certain amount of time the land would go back to the original family (Lev 25:8–23). By faithfully implementing this safeguard, Israel would protect many people from falling permanently into generational poverty.

  • Money and Debt Forgiveness. In Deut 15:1–11, we find God instructing the community to live in a way that “there will be no one in need among you,” while also still recognizing the reality that “the poor will be among you.” Debt has the power to strangle families, and God calls on his people to be generous in sharing. The haves are called on to help the have-nots, and for their faithfulness in passing on a blessing, they are promised a blessing from God. As Proverbs 19:17 states, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.”18
  • Food and Sharing. Israel is to leave food in the fields for the poor to collect (Deut. 24:19–22). Interestingly, the well-to-do are not instructed to give the poor a hand-out; instead they are to allow the poor to gather food on their own. One Makua-Metto friend noted how this provision would allow a person in a difficult situation to continue working to provide food for his family.19

2. Lessons about Laziness. The book of Proverbs contains some the best object lessons and illustrations about the impact of laziness. We are told that laziness is more than just a bad habit, it is destructive (Prov 18:9). In the Makua-Metto village context, everyone knows someone whose laziness leads him to delay fixing a leaky roof on his mud hut. That laziness often ends in the destruction of the house. Proverbs 6:6–11 provided the most helpful visual as together we imagined God exhorting a lazy man to look up from his bed and observe a diligent ant passing by. Mozambican participants were able to come up with many examples from their own experiences about the dangers of laziness.

3. Critiques of Corruption. God has no patience for corruption. Proverbs 14:31 states it in this way: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”20

And the Lord warns people with power not to be corrupt. To those who plot this kind of evil, God promises that he himself will plot their ruin (Mic 2:1–2).21 To illustrate the destructiveness of corruption and structural injustice, we examined the story of Ahab stealing Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kgs 21). Our Mozambican friends commented on how Ahab’s selfishness and laziness caused him to forget God’s law and follow his wife’s corrupt advice. Queen Jezebel had no respect for God’s laws against injustice. Having grown up as a Sidonian princess, she assumes that kings should be able to take whatever they want and coldly ordered the killing of Naboth so that her husband could take possession of the vineyard. But God did not tolerate this wickedness and injustice; he sent the prophet Elijah to inform Ahab that his family line will be completely wiped out.

A beautiful contrast to that tale of corruption is the example of Boaz found in Ruth 2. Boaz embodies God’s commandments. He has a good relationship with his employees and generously leaves the edges of his fields for the poor. Boaz even goes beyond what is required of him to bless Naomi and Ruth. Boaz is not selfish, lazy, or corrupt, and God is honored through this man’s generosity. God in turn blesses Boaz, and he becomes the great-grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:13–22). Our Makua-Metto friends paid special attention to the way that God wiped out the descendants of corrupt King Ahab but richly blessed the line of Boaz, making it into a line of kings.

Mozambican participants enjoyed layering these instructions, counsels, and stories of selfishness, laziness, and corruption. While time-consuming, surveying these examples helped illustrate the just, covenantal society God intended for Israel. Examining them with fellow believers at this stage was an important step toward looking beyond individual wealth accumulation as the goal and developing their imaginations for truly thriving as a community and living well together. The foundation made from these insights plays an important role in the final section as we look at implementation of day-to-day principles and practices that contribute to a life free from absolute poverty.22

Visualizing the Factors and Patterns that Affect Both Rich and Poor

Many Jews in Nazareth and Galilee during the time of Jesus lived under the economic and political oppression of Rome. Some people, by aligning themselves with the empire, benefited financially from the system. The New Testament’s economic and political history is easily relatable for our Makua-Metto friends. Mozambique suffered hundreds of years under Portuguese colonial rule, followed by a war for independence and a bitter civil war. Recognizing this similarity between Jesus’ context and their own seemed to give Makua-Metto participants further confidence to discuss ways that colonialism and war contribute to poverty and economic oppression. They have little difficulty imagining how the situation in the first century could make the poor look at the rich with both scorn (despising the way the wealth was gained) and envy (still assuming that wealth was a sign of blessing).

In leading discussions about absolute poverty with our Mozambican friends, I would walk with them through the Gospel of Luke to hear what Jesus had to say about poverty and money as he addressed both the rich and the poor.23 We used that backdrop to discuss their own perceptions of the relationship between wealth and poverty. While some people (especially Westerners) assume that there is no connection between the wealth of the rich and the poverty of the poor, many Mozambicans believe that there is a causal relationship: the haves benefit at the expense of the have-nots.

I found that an important step toward locals appreciating local solutions to poverty is their adopting a more nuanced understanding of the tension in the relationship between the poor and the rich. Without such an understanding, Makua-Metto people often give in to resignation and completely attribute their status as poor to fate or the sin of others. Surprisingly, the clues for a deeper perspective on the relationship between rich and poor can be found in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). In a fascinating experiment by Mark Powell, Jesus’ story was read aloud to people of different nationalities. Then they were asked the following question: “Why does the young man end up starving in the pigpen?” Most North Americans followed v. 13 and focused on personal responsibility, noting “he squandered his property.” Most Russians concentrated on v. 14, saying that his suffering was due to the “severe famine that took place throughout the country.” Yet, most of the Africans who participated in the experiment described the cause as a lack of sharing: “no one gave him anything (v. 16).”24 This intriguing study reveals much about our cultural biases, but it also can help us form a more accurate and holistic understanding of the causes of poverty and wealth. I created Diagram 1 to illustrate for our Mozambican friends the situational and behavioral factors that contribute to absolute poverty and a life free from absolute poverty.25

Material poverty is attributed in the Christian Scriptures to both “self-imposed and externally imposed factors” depending on the circumstances.26 So, it is not that “the wealth of the rich” causes “the poverty of the poor” or that they are completely unrelated. Instead, patterns of behavior and natural, personal, and societal factors contribute to both.

Before we move forward, it is important to note that our Mozambican friends see poverty and wealth as affected not only by physical realities but also by the spiritual realm. To address poverty holistically, then, we will also need to name and discuss the powerful spiritual forces that are assumed to be present in the world around them: fate, evil spirits, and God. While space does not permit an exploration of these spiritual forces, it is important to note that a truth that resonated strongly with Makua-Metto participants was this: God especially loves the poor:

Scripture never says that God loves the poor more than the rich. But it does regularly assert that God lifts up the poor and the disadvantaged. And it frequently teaches that God casts down the wealthy and powerful in two specific situations: (1) when they become wealthy by oppressing the poor; or (2) when they fail to share with the needy.27

So, corruption, selfishness, and laziness on the part of the wealthy will lead God to come to the poor’s defense. As our Mozambican friends and I sought to understand why God would be most concerned to protect the poor, one specific image was particularly meaningful. We imagined a mother with two daughters. One of her children is twelve years old while the other is only two years of age. If a dangerous dog approached, I asked, which child will the mother pick up and carry to safety? Clearly, she will protect the smaller one, confident that the larger child is more capable and fit to defend herself. While the above diagram and the nuances of the relationship between the rich and the poor were lost on some Makua-Metto participants, the vast majority connected well with the idea that God loves and defends the poor because he knows they need more help and assistance in time of trouble.

Which Game Are We Playing? Discerning and Leaving Behind Poverty Rules

Diagram 1 shows that a life free from absolute poverty and a life consumed by absolute poverty were influenced by external factors. Yet, we also saw that a set of internal rules or patterns of behavior reinforce each group’s status. In this section, we will look at two different games as an analogy with the internal rules found in each system.

Every game has a set of rules that players must follow. Two games with which our Mozambican friends are familiar are soccer and a game Makua-Metto children play called ayessi. In ayessi a bottle is placed on the ground, and one player tries to fill it with sand while a child on either side tries to hit her with a ball. If the child in the middle can elude them and fill the bottle first then she wins. But if she is pegged with the ball before the bottle is full then she has lost. After talking through the rules and objectives of each game with Mozambican participants, I ask them to imagine a person living in a village where everyone only knows how to play ayessi. One day, this man travels to a larger village and finds a soccer match taking place. Confused after watching the players kick the ball for a few minutes, he decides to join the game, runs to the middle of the field and begins filling up a bottle with sand. Then he excitedly jumps up and down, declaring himself the winner. My Mozambican friends laugh when I ask whether this man has won. “No, of course not,” they say, “he was playing one game while everyone else was following the rules of another.”

This game analogy is helpful for considering the hidden rules of poverty in the Makua-Metto culture. In the same way that people learn to follow patterns and rules depending on the kind of game they are playing, they also need to learn to use certain rules depending on the financial game they are playing. If one is playing by the wrong rules, there is no way they can win. Since “generational poverty has its own culture, hidden rules, and belief systems,”28 one of the most beneficial things we can do is to help people who are enmeshed in their invisible, complex cultural ecosystems discern their context’s rules of deep poverty.

In talking about the hidden rules of absolute poverty in Makua-Metto culture, I affirm that these rules contain good and bad elements. We acknowledge that many expectations and patterns of behavior served people well during Mozambique’s protracted wars, but we also note how in the modern economy these ways of living actually limit people. Very few people are reaping much real advantage from this game.

To teach on the rules of absolute poverty learned through interviews and experiences in this context, I developed the fictional example of a Makua-Metto man named Miguel and his wife, Paulina. They are people like those found in many villages who are stuck in absolute poverty. Their story and the rules of their behavior and practices are divided into three parts: money, work, and relationships.29

Absolute Poverty Rules/Practices regarding Money

  • Having money in his pocket makes Miguel anxious. He rarely has a realistic plan for his funds, and because of social pressures and expectations, when people ask for money he feels he must share with them. In order to reduce that possibility, he spends funds quickly, often on things that don’t bring much economic advantage. He acts fast so that no one will have a chance to ask him for the money.
  • His wife, Paulina, assumes that hard currency cannot really be saved or accumulated (where is a safe place she could put it anyway?). She presupposes that cash is to be used for more immediate needs. She would save money by investing it in a house, a goat or pig, or even as a loan to someone else, rather than save it in the form of currency.
  • If opportunities arise in times when the family has no cash, Miguel is not afraid to borrow funds in order to pursue them. Paulina thinks that everyone is in debt, and believes that taking out loans from others is one of the best ways to improve their standard of living. Currently, Miguel has many outstanding debts. Stepping out of his yard and looking around the village he no longer sees neighbors and friends; instead he can only think of the values that are owed to each of them. Ironically, Miguel assumes that debt and financial obligation strengthen relational ties, but the truth is that Miguel consciously avoids his neighbors because these longstanding debts bring him fear and shame.

Absolute Poverty Rules/Practices regarding Work

  • This phrase loops in Miguel’s thoughts: “I’m poor . . . it is my destiny . . . there is no reason to work hard.”
  • Miguel also thinks that agriculture is not a true profession. He tries to spend as little time as possible in his field.
  • As soon as Miguel harvests his crops, he sells much of it to merchants. Unfortunately for Miguel, that is the time that the market is full of corn, and the price of corn is at its lowest. He earns very little, and tragically, a few months later he will buy back the very same corn he grew at a much higher price.
  • When the harvest is complete Miguel thinks, “Now, I’m on holiday.” He spends his time lounging around and talking to people. A couple years ago he blew through his family’s earnings buying locally made alcoholic brew with a bunch of his “friends.”
  • Paulina makes the following assumption: “Money received from others by means of a request has the same value as the money received in payment for work and services.” What she fails to realize is that asking others for money will obligate her to return the favor in the future. In reality she is just pushing off her personal labor to a later date, one where she’ll need to work harder to pay off the accumulated interest.
  • Paulina has an uncle who is wealthy. Everyone says he got his money by means of witchcraft. So Paulina believes that if someone accumulates wealth, they probably used witchcraft to get it. She often contemplates using witchcraft for financial gain and ignores the fact that her uncle is constantly worried that someone will use witchcraft against him because of jealousy.
  • Paulina’s uncle often says, “You should always take advantage of every opportunity, even if it comes at the expense of others! Remember: ‘the goat eats where it is tethered.’ ”30
  • One day Miguel tried selling small piles of charcoal outside their yard. When Paulina’s uncle came to visit, she felt ashamed and mocked her husband in front of the rest of the family, saying it was embarrassing for her husband to do business on such a small scale.

Absolute Poverty Rules/Practices regarding Relationships

  • Miguel has the following mindset: “I must rely on a network of friends, family, and if possible a good boss. Trusted people are safer sources of funds in time of need than a bank account.”
  • Paulina is afraid to reject someone who asks for money because she believes that a person with a good heart would never refuse a request from friends and family. Even if the person has planned poorly or has been drinking, Paulina is careful not to directly refuse them because she is afraid they will say that she is selfish.31
  • Paulina would not try to correct someone who has planned poorly and is suffering the consequences of those choices, because she sees discipline as being about penance and forgiveness, not really about changing bad behavior.32
  • Miguel and Paulina keep secrets from each other about money. They won’t even tell each other when they borrow money from others. Miguel hid some cash in a tin can in the dirt floor of one of the rooms of their house, and he will not let his wife sweep that room because he doesn’t want her to find it. Sometimes Paulina will keep her secret cash tied up in the folds of her wrap skirt. She will sometimes pull away from her husband when he tries to touch her so he won’t notice the lump the money makes in her clothing. This couple thinks it would be impossible to make a plan together about money and assumes that this way of keeping secrets is how all marriages must function.
  • When illness or death strikes a relative, any available funds are used for medicine, travel, or food even though this severely sets back the couple’s financial plans and dreams. Miguel was frustrated because they had finally scraped together the money to pay their son’s school fees, but Paulina’s brother fell ill, and she gave all of it to help him travel to the hospital.

In the dialogue with Makua-Metto participants about Miguel, Paulina and the rules of absolute poverty, I was careful to note that not all of these practices are bad. At some level they work. But together they form a system that consistently keeps people in absolute poverty, and it is a way of life to which people have grown accustomed. They talked about the fact that while a few select people achieve some benefit from the system, most do not. And by continuing to follow the rules of this crushing game, people have little chance of escaping the gravity of absolute poverty. Miguel and Paulina follow the dominant culture’s norms and remain trapped in a system of absolute poverty. In the discussions about their examples, Makua-Metto participants were not interested in parsing whether these ways of living caused absolute poverty or were symptomatic of absolute poverty. Instead, they consistently expressed that this story described the reality they felt trapped in33 and desired help thinking through how to implement the biblical principles they had studied earlier into their own lives.

It was then that I was able to point out how while many people were playing the absolute poverty game, there was a subset of people in this culture who were living by a different set of norms. I shared the findings from my qualitative interviews of practices and perspectives in connection with biblical concepts in the following stories of Ali and Joana. They are people like those found in any village, but their patterns of behavior are helping them escape from absolute poverty. Again, the alternative norms in the following list are not “outside” solutions of an external agent solving the local problems, but inside solutions that emerge from the thought and practice of local agents. I have simply collected these practices, reorganized them, couched them in common metaphors, and highlighted their connections to the ways of the kingdom of God.34

Rules/Practices about Money that Contribute to a Life Free of Absolute Poverty

  • In order to save money, Ali participates in an estik or nancunawe with a few trusted friends and colleagues. This group meets regularly, and each member pays a predetermined amount into a common pot. Then participants take turns receiving that amount. Having larger amounts of cash at one time like this enables Ali to make smarter, planned purchases or buy things at a discount.
  • Ali and Joana have stopped borrowing money from people. As much as possible they are trying to avoid debt. Once, they went to a seminar at their church, and the speaker taught Rom 13:8 (“let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another”) and Prov 22:7 (“the borrower is servant to the lender”). The person leading the seminar also said something that really stuck with them: “Some people borrow money thinking it is an advantage, but you’re really only ready to seize financial opportunities with your own assets, otherwise you’re chasing profit backwards. This is because you still have to pay back the loan. By borrowing money you are doubling your risk. Let’s say you spend 1,000 meticais to buy something. If it is stolen or broken and you borrowed money to get it you will now have a debt of a thousand meticais (-1,000) instead of just being back at zero (0). That’s a huge difference.”
  • Joana’s uncle often gave her this advice, “Be careful not to abuse your position or take advantage of others. While some justify corruption by saying, ‘The goat eats where it is tethered,’ you must remember that you are not a goat—you are a person! God wants you to prosper with justice. Don’t try to get too much for yourself; be content with what is sufficient. As Prov 23:4 says, ‘Do not wear yourself out to get rich, have the wisdom to show restraint.’ ”
  • One day Joana’s uncle came to visit and found Ali selling alcohol. At the end of his visit he sat down with the couple and started by mentioning the example of the famous Mozambican Olympian, Maria Lourdes Mutola. “I remember watching videos of her running the race,” he said. “She did not trample others. She did not try to trip her fellow racers. And still she was able to win many races. Let me advise you to live with justice and not mislead anyone. Stop selling products that will trip up and trample your neighbors. Continuing to run in this way by selling alcohol to your friends will not ultimately help you win the race.” Ali and Joana were convicted by this and stopped selling those products.
  • Therefore, Ali had to start his business all over again. He felt ashamed to sell small piles of charcoal but Joana encouraged him that most business starts that way. “Our child was not born fully clothed and strong. No, he was born small, naked, and unable to speak or walk. But we did not reject him or find him strange. We were happy with the child. My husband, we should not feel shame in starting this business in a small way.” Ali listened to her encouragement, and they have rejoiced together in watching their business gradually grow.
  • One day Ali and Joana were in the city visiting her uncle. Ali asked for advice on managing the finances of the family and the business. Her uncle started by saying, “You should always protect your ‘seed fund.’ ” “What’s that?” Ali asked. “You know how every farmer will store his best seed until the time for planting? Even if this farmer is on the edge of starvation, he will not eat that corn. He must save it to plant next year and no one thinks it strange that he acts that way. You should have this same attitude with the seed money necessary to continue your business. That seed money should be set aside first, then use your profit to pay for further expenses and necessities and to share with others. Too many people strangle their business at the beginning by not protecting their seed.”
  • “Okay, how do we protect our seed?” Joana asked. Her uncle replied, “Imagine a pair of pants with four pockets. You should divide your money, organizing it and keeping it separated in a system of ‘pockets.’35 The first pocket is for your seed money—the funds needed to continue your business. For example if your little store requires 700 meticais to restock it, then your first 700 meticais should go straight into that pocket. Your profit then should be divided into the remaining three pockets. One of those pockets is for expenses (used to purchase food, salt, soap, etc.). One of the pockets is for giving away—money you are tithing to the church and money set aside to help others. Then your last pocket is to save for future projects. It takes much discipline to respect the pockets. There are times when you’ll not be able to do certain things because the money in that pocket has already been paid out.”
  • “But above all, in your quest to grow financially,” Joana’s uncle continued, “remember that while material goods can be a blessing, they can also be a danger. We should carefully consider the implications of the fact that twice as many verses in the Bible deal with money than faith and prayer combined. Jesus himself issued a clear warning in Luke 16:13, reminding us that ‘no one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and money.’ Money, like fire, can be used for good and evil. We must carefully consider the way we get it and use it. In the same way that fire can be attained in a variety of ways, we know that money can be gained in a number of ways, too. There are basically three ways to get money: 1. Work – make a product or provide a service. 2. Gift – receive an offer or inheritance. 3. Loan – borrow money on a promise to return it. This last way to receive money is not advisable. And in the same way that fire can be used in many ways, money can be used in various ways, too. There are three ways to utilize money: 1. Spend – use money to buy things. 2. Save – put aside for a long-term goal. 3. Give – This third one is important because giving at least a tenth or tithing is a way to show God that we submit to him as our King and Lord.36 It is important to sit down together and consider carefully what money is coming in and what money is going out. With this kind of control, you are not letting your money master you, instead you are the master of your money and you can use it in ways that honor your Master.”

Rules/Practices about Work that Contribute to a Life Free of Absolute Poverty

  • Ali and Joana believe that all able-bodied people should work for their living. One Sunday they heard a sermon that quoted 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Ali’s friend Rafiki is addicted to and spends all his money on marijuana. Joana has grown impatient with him. “His nose always seems to know when I am cooking,” she told her husband. “Rafiki shows up even when you are not at home and expects food to be given to him. I want to stop sharing food with him until he stops smoking marijuana.” The couple agreed on this course of action. So, the next time Rafiki showed up at the house he was told of their decision. He got mad and left to wait for food at another house. A few of the other neighbors have begun following suit. Nowadays, while Rafiki has not quit marijuana completely, at least his hunger has led him to work on his farm.
  • Ali once attended a sustainable agriculture course taught by a Mozambican church leader. There he learned the importance of doing work at the proper time. “God did not create a disorganized universe. We know that in this part of the world December 22nd is the day of maximum sunshine, so we should organize our planting to take advantage of this. To do that, we’ll need to sow our seed in late October and November in order to have the greatest harvest in the end.” Ali began thinking of ways this commitment to do things at the proper time could impact other areas of his life. He convinced his wife that instead of making fried bean cakes to sell every day of the week, she should only make them on Saturdays when there is a soccer game in the village and many people will buy them. In the past the family lost money because of the ones that would not sell. By making and selling the cakes at the proper time, Ali and Joana have begun making more money and wasting less resources.
  • At that agriculture seminar Ali also heard, “Do everything with excellence. When you plant carefully and space the rows properly, it actually means less weeding work for you. As your plants’ leaves fill in the spaces, the grass and weeds won’t have access to sunlight. Working with excellence will improve your production!” Ali has applied this principle to other areas of his life, as well. Instead of seeing the months after the harvest as his holiday, he has adopted a different weekly pace: six days of work and one day of rest. While many people are resting after the harvest, Ali uses that time, while people have money, to do jobs that others don’t want in order to improve his family’s finances.
  • Another thing that Ali heard at the farming seminar is this: “Do everything with joy. When we work with joy the work is easier and is a blessing to us and others.” One day, Ali saw Joana’s brother in the city selling cellphone airtime to people on the street. Ali noticed that Joana’s brother was not treating his customers well. His face had a sour expression, and he was not being kind or helpful, preferring to joke around with the other vendors. It almost seemed as if the customers were bothering him! Ali bought him a coke, and they sat and talked about how his business of selling airtime was going. Ali brought up the example of a nearby town where many men have gone to dig for rubies. “Brother-in-law, how would someone treat a hole where he consistently found rubies? Would he throw trash in it or cover it up? No! He would take care of it and protect it, wouldn’t he?” Ali motioned to people walking down the street. “These customers who buy airtime credit are your source of rubies. You must take care of them. Serve them well and with joy, and your business will have more success.” The young man listened to his advice and began smiling and chatting with his customers and encouraging them to buy from him. Nowadays, many people will pass up other vendors to buy from him. His joy in serving others has led to growth in his business.
  • One day Joana’s uncle asked an important question: “Ali, what advantage is there in selling while everyone else is selling, and buying while everyone else is buying? Wouldn’t you make more profit by finding a way to buy when everyone is selling and the price is lowest and sell when the price is highest?” Ali realized that food is a kind of commodity, and a person who can store a crop has the advantage of selling it at a later date. He found someone to teach him how to store and treat his corn for bugs and sell most of it only when the price is at its highest.

Rules/Practices about Relationships that Contribute to a Life Free of Absolute Poverty

  • Joana is glad to help other people. But when the sharing pocket runs out of money, she feels justified in saying no because of the plan she and her husband made to protect their seed money. Joana and Ali are trying to practice wise generosity. Once, Ali read a biblical passage that has helped him a lot: 2 Cor 9:7–11. In v. 7, Ali saw that people should give with a good conscience, informed by the Holy Spirit. That helped him feel free to share at the right time and to refuse in an appropriate way if he did not feel good about it. Last week the sharing pocket was empty and Joana refused a request from her own brother. This is extremely hard and takes courage.37
  • Joana has begun thinking of her home as a small business. She keeps track of food and resources that come in and food and resources that go out to confirm that what they have is best serving and helping her team—her husband and children—win together.
  • Many men just look at a woman’s external beauty in evaluating a potential spouse. Among the Makua-Metto there is no traditional wedding ceremony and men and women will marry quickly and divorce quickly. Ali realized that a good wife is one who can hold onto (secure) and grow (stretch) the family’s resources. Ali is not gifted with handling money, but he recognized that Joana is very good at saving money. Last year he entrusted her to hold his money for him until it was time to travel to a regional church conference, and when the day arrived, his wife handed it over with gladness. From that point on, Ali began praising his wife’s talent for keeping money safe, calling her the pet name, “my bank.” Makua-Metto men whose families live free from absolute poverty consistently say that their wives are great at faithfully conserving money.
  • Once during a visit, Joana’s uncle asked them, “Which families in this village are living free from absolute poverty? How many years have they been married?” As they reflected on this question, they realized that all of those couples had been together for at least 15 years. Her uncle continued, “Divorce is expensive and will chew through any wealth one possesses. It will demolish financial possibilities and push all parties involved towards the cliff of absolute poverty. On the other hand, a couple that has been married many years has the greatest opportunity to accumulate wealth. Therefore, a husband and wife have a huge financial incentive to protect their home.” Each week Ali and Joana sit down and look together at their finances. They pray together and ask God to help them with their needs so they can bless others more (Jas 4:1–3). They decide together what they will spend on food and clothes. They have a long-term financial goal. Hearing in church that God enjoys blessing those who are generous (Mal 3:6–12), they have decided to experiment and give a tenth of their income to the church for a year. One Sunday, Ali did not have the courage to give as much as they agreed on. So he called Joana to step outside the church building for a moment and asked her to be the one to give the offering that day. Since they made the financial plan together, Joana enjoys using her gift of faithfulness with money to help her husband.
  • Ali and Joana understand that the church at its best functions like a communal safety net. When people live on the edge of absolute poverty, it is easy to slip and fall off the high wire. In the Makua-Metto context, it is impossible to live well alone, and sharing is a key value. This is also a deep value for the people of God. “Koinonía means first of all, not fellowship in the sense of good feelings toward each other, but sharing. It is used in that sense throughout the New Testament.”38 Ali and Joana must have reliable people forming a “network” that will share appropriately and catch each other when they fall. They are glad to be a part of a Christian community that supports one another in the following ways: (1) Sharing spiritual resources and praying for each other to do well. (2) Sharing financial resources when there are needs. (3) Sharing information, experiences, and contacts to help each other get ahead.
  • But Ali and Joana know that not all communal activities serve as an effective support network. In the Makua-Metto culture, there is a practice called matanka where a family who has lost a loved one is expected to put on a feast for many mourners. This only adds to the suffering of those who are hurting. Not only are they mourning the death of a close relative, they also are expected to spend huge amounts of money on the feast. Protestant churches in Cabo Delgado have taken a stand against this practice and instead of expecting to be fed well at funerals, they intentionally bring an offering to share with the family. Sometimes when Ali is asked why his church does not do matanka (a common question in this mostly unreached area), he explains that the matanka of the surrounding culture does nothing to provide a safety net for those who are suffering but that his church does a different type of matanka feast—a matanka of love. Ali highlights how the way his church community brings an offering to help the family who is hurting serves as a safety net and reflects what true religion is all about (Jas 1:27).


The Bible does not offer a blueprint for fighting poverty, but its pages describe ways in which God takes sides with the poor and champions their cause. The church is called to address both the symptoms and the root causes of poverty at structural,39 communal, and personal levels. Describing and prescribing that gigantic task is certainly outside the scope of this article. My hope is that this paper goes beyond the typical categories of poverty resources (helping westerners understand poverty or advocating a silver-bullet approach) and instead serves as a practical supplement for those attempting to assist the poor in meaningful ways. While this article outlines an approach specific to the Makua-Metto people of Mozambique, my conviction is that long-term kingdom workers can serve and bless the poor by listening closely and helping them name local solutions. They can also do much good by pulling back the curtain on how norms of behavior they are familiar with can fit within a system free from absolute poverty as well as being in line with the kingdom of God.

Alan Howell, his wife Rachel, and their three girls live in Montepuez, Mozambique. Alan has an MDiv from the Harding School of Theology. The Howells have lived in Mozambique since 2003 as part of a team serving among the Makua-Metto people. They blog about life and ministry in Africa at


Ajulu, Deborah. Holism in Development: An African Perspective on Empowering Communities. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 2001.

Austin, Michael J., ed. “Understanding Poverty from Multiple Social Science Perspectives: A Learning Resource for Staff Development in Social Service Agencies.” Bay Area Social Services Consortium. University of California, Berkeley. August 2006.

Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done about It. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Easterly, William. The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. New York: Penguin, 2006.

González, Justo L. Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance and Use of Money. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002.

Gordon, Graham. Advocacy Toolkit: Understanding Advocacy. Roots Resources 1. London: Tearfund, 2002.

Greer, Peter, and Phil Smith. The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World out of Poverty. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Hall, Douglas John. The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.

Howell, Alan. “Turning It Beautiful: Divination, Discernment and a Theology of Suffering.” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 29, vol. 3 (Fall 2012): 129–37,

Maranz, David. African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa. Publications in Ethnography 37. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001.

Middleton, J. Richard. The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005.

Myers, Bryant. Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Rev. ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011.

Payne, Ruby. A Framework for Understanding Poverty. 4th ed. Highlands, TX: Aha! Process, 2005.

Powell, Mark. What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap between Pulpit and Pew. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007.

República de Moçambique. “Plano de acção para redução da pobreza absoluta, 2001–2005.” Versão final aprovada pelo conselho de ministros, Abril de 2001.

Sachs, Jeffrey. The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Sider, Ronald J. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity. New ed. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do about Them. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2015.

United Nations Development Programme. “Mozambique.” Human Development Reports.

Wright, Christopher. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Yunus, Muhammad. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle against World Poverty. Philadelphia: PublicAffairs, 2007.

1 United Nations Development Programme, “Mozambique,” Human Development Reports, Pobreza absoluta (absolute poverty) is the terminology most familiar in our context. Mozambican government initiatives and political propaganda use it often, and it has become a part of common vocabulary in our context. Following the government’s definitions, this kind of poverty refers to the inability of individuals to ensure for themselves and their dependents a set of basic minimum conditions for their livelihoods and well-being according to the norms of society. See República de Moçambique, “Plano de acção para redução da pobreza absoluta, 2001–2005” (Versão final aprovada pelo conselho de ministros, Abril de 2001),

2 E.g., Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done about It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (New York: Penguin, 2006); Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011); Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty: The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (New York: Penguin, 2005); Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, new ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005); Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do about Them (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2015). One of my frustrations with this genre is that so little is geared toward helping people speak with the poor about their experiences of poverty (although Myers’s book comes closest).

3 E.g., Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle against World Poverty (Philadelphia: PublicAffairs, 2007); Peter Greer and Phil Smith, The Poor will be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World out of Poverty (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). Well known development organizations often promote a silver-bullet approach: e.g., World Vision (sponsoring a child) and Heifer International (sponsoring a business investment).

4 I did long interviews (1–2 hours) with six men and then discussed these findings with small groups of mostly men (about 40 participants total). This society’s views on male/female relationships prohibit my doing long interviews with females individually, but after presenting some of my findings to a large group of women I was able to incorporate some of their feedback.

5 Even though the qualitative interviews had provided me with solid definitions, the potential for regional language variance and the need to present this material as a communal conversation made this an important step with every group of participants.

6 Deborah Ajulu, Holism in Development: An African Perspective on Empowering Communities (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 2001), 74.

7 Graham Gordon, Advocacy Toolkit: Understanding Advocacy, Roots Resources 1 (London: Tearfund, 2002), 17, These booklets are the most helpful I’ve found for helping foreigners talk about poverty with the poor in the developing world.

8 Their African/animistic worldview assumes that all “natural” events have a “spiritual” cause. So, while the Makua-Metto understanding of sin is different than the Western one, naming the link between poverty and sin allows them to perceive that physical disasters could be linked to humanity’s sin and expulsion from the garden of Eden. For a further exploration of Makua-Metto culture’s attribution of suffering to personal causes see Alan Howell, “Turning It Beautiful: Divination, Discernment and a Theology of Suffering,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 29, vol. 3 (Fall 2012): 129–37.

9 Douglas John Hall, The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 32.

10 “With privilege comes responsibility. There is a call inherent in every gift. The imago Dei is thus inextricably linked to the gift and responsibility (delegated to humanity at creation) of exercising stewardship over the earth.” J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 204. While one disadvantage of the “steward” metaphor is that it could encourage humans to objectify the rest of God’s creation (animals, land, etc.), the Makua-Metto people have lived under such political and economic oppression that this perspective provides an important corrective to a commonly held negative self-perception.

11 Ajulu, 51.

12 Ruby Payne, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, 4th ed. (Highlands, TX: Aha! Process, 2005), 47.

13 Obad 6–8. Esau’s descendants, Edom, missed out on the covenantal blessing and eventually became enemies of Israel that were marked for destruction.

14 Payne, 47.

15 This distinction between generational and situational poverty is admittedly simplistic. It fails to consider other factors: political, economic, social, and health (AIDS, malaria, etc.). But at this stage of the conversation about absolute poverty it was important to focus on a concrete example that illustrates the power that seemingly “everyday” decisions have to shape economic status.

16 Isa 1:10–17; Jer 22:13.

17 Ajulu, 44.

18 See also Prov 11:24–25.

19 Another safeguard against selfishness has to do with the call to give to God. In Exod 23:14–19, the Lord exhorts his people to bring offerings in different agricultural seasons. This was an important way for Israel to acknowledge their dependency on God.

20 See also Prov 13:23.

21 See also Isa 10:1–4.

22 For a more detailed and nuanced approach to relevant Old Testament passages see Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 146–80.

23 We would normally study some or all of the following passages: Luke 4:14–30; 6:17–26; 11:3; 12:13–34; 16:19–31; 18:18–30; 19:1–9.

24 Mark Powell, What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap between Pulpit and Pew (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 26–27. This experiment was done only in select countries, so it is important to note that its results, although instructive, are still anecdotal. But, in doing a similar experiment with Makua-Metto believers they stayed true to the pattern mentioned above—attributing poverty to a lack of sharing.

25 While I ultimately decided to create my own diagram, the most interesting resource I found for diagramming the causes of poverty was Michael J. Austin, ed., “Understanding Poverty from Multiple Social Science Perspectives: A Learning Resource for Staff Development in Social Service Agencies,” Bay Area Social Services Consortium, University of California, Berkeley, August 2006,

26 Ajulu, 77–78.

27 Sider, 53.

28 Payne, 47.

29 In my first attempts at working through this material on poverty with Makua-Metto participants I structured the information gathered from the qualitative interviews as principles, but that is an unfamiliar format in this context and proved inaccessible to people. So instead I rearranged the gathered information into a narrative format, incorporating other observations and feedback to help the content flow more smoothly. The categories of money, work, and relationships are not hard boundaries but were simply used to organize the presentation of the material and facilitate dialogue. The following bullet points are not technically “rules” but a description of lifestyle practices or decision-making patterns. Most accurately they can be seen as narratively expressed normative behaviors in the dominant Makua-Metto cultural system. I held onto the language of rules because that idea connected best with Makua-Metto hearers and allowed the concepts to be connected to the larger analogy and pedagogical structure of two competing games.

30 This quote is attributed to former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano and is often mentioned to explain the country’s culture of corruption, prevalent in both public and private institutions.

31 One of the terms for selfish in Makua-Metto is nlula, which literally means, “one who eats alone.” This is one of the worst insults one can speak in this context.

32 Payne, 52.

33 The way these rules or norms appear now are not how they appeared when I first began presenting this material. I incorporated participants’ feedback and stories into my presentation of the narrative accounts. It developed and improved over time.

34 This section was the most enjoyable to teach. It was exciting to watch people recognize the ways that some in their culture were playing a different game. As in the section with Miguel and Paulina, I had organized these as principles but quickly discovered that a narrative structure worked much better. I used materials from the qualitative interviews as well as examples I have observed to help the content flow more easily.

35 A description of this kind of system is found in David Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa, Publications in Ethnography 37 (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001), 41–42.

36 Lev 27:30 and 1 Cor 16:2.

37 Leaving patterns of behavior in a system of poverty is difficult as often an individual will need to sideline certain “relationships for economic achievement.” Payne, 59–60.

38 Justo L. González, Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance and Use of Money (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 83.

39 I am inspired and challenged by the example of Basil. “Several of (his) letters are addressed to public officials, asking them to reverse specific policies or decisions that bring suffering to the poor.” Ibid., 182.

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Self-Imposed Strictures and the Role of Western Missionaries in Cross-Cultural Mission to Africa

The author advocates the voluntary self-imposition of strictures in some Westerners’ cross-cultural mission work, especially on the use of outside languages and resources. In a world that increasingly esteems material success, voluntary poverty of Western missionaries working in Africa and elsewhere amongst the poor is easily misunderstood. Yet, understanding vulnerable missionaries’ reasons for a self-restricted ministry style, trail blazed by Jesus, is vital for preventing their persecution or derision. Once other missionaries understand these reasons, good relationships between those whose approaches to ministry vary can combine deep impact with a testimony of godly love.


A Western missionary will instinctively respond to African1 contexts on the basis of prior experience. Such a missionary, if conscientious, will endeavour to initiate in their new context some of the good things that they have come to value at home. For many Christians in the West, such “good things” are likely to originate from the material world of science and technology. A Western missionary may not be aware of the ways in which their orientation to the material has arisen from a peculiar dualistic worldview which distinguishes material from spiritual and real from unreal. Many African people are not dualists but monists. They do not draw a clear distinction between material and spiritual or real and unreal spheres. As a result, they do not see things in the same way as the typical Western missionary.2 Monistic people, certainly many in parts of Africa, invariably understand causation differently than do true dualists. For example, negative occurrences are in Africa typically blamed on witchcraft or evil spirits, while in the West they are more likely to be seen as the result of “chance.”3

Fearing “the nightmare of the ideologies and categories of racism,”4 Western governments and other bodies these days insist on treating everyone within their shores essentially equally, even sometimes ensuring by artificial means (i.e., positive discrimination) that people of a particular ethnicity do not dominate jobs and leadership positions. Fear of racism can cause Westerners to confuse equal opportunity with sameness. Their desire to treat everyone equally can blind them to worldview differences: for example, the difference in approach to life taken by people who are monistic in their outlook as against those who are dualistic.

This article suggests that some Western missionaries should self-impose strictures on how they do ministry for two reasons. First, missionaries should avoid misrepresenting the gospel by spreading Western dualistic thinking in its place. Because Western missionaries who do not consciously avoid spreading Western materialism can easily acquire a reputation for being preoccupied with it, “American missionaries in Africa almost automatically seem to be preaching a prosperity gospel even if this is not their intention.”5 All too often the inadvertent but powerful received message in Africa from Western missionaries is one of materialism, interpreted by monistic people as the prosperity gospel or as a cargo cult.6 Second, Jesus’ vulnerable way is a model missionaries should imitate. Therefore, some missionaries should consciously choose to confine their interactions with locals, at least in certain ministries, to local languages and resources, a practice known as vulnerable mission.7 Such “strictures” apply to the use of foreign languages and outside resources, thereby emphasizing the importance of indigenous languages and resources, though other self-imposed strictures may also be significant.

Voluntary Poverty in Ministry

Should you offer a lift to someone who has decided not to own a vehicle? If you know the person has the money for a vehicle and the ability to drive it, but they decided to do without it, their predicament is their own doing. Why should you be troubled to help them?

It would be different if the person walking could not afford to buy a vehicle. Then our charitable hearts would want to help the poor and disadvantaged. We might feel convicted to help a deserving poor person whose poverty has arisen through no fault of their own. The justification for being charitable to such a person might be relatively clear.

The idea that a person who needs help as a result of voluntary self-denial is less deserving than the one who has no apparent means to escape their poverty has not always been widespread. Giving alms to beggars was once a process valued by Christians and others.8 Historically, some people’s orientation to prayer instead of to business or employment made them dependent on the charity of others. It seems that the value once perceived to have been implicit in asceticism, meditation, and prayer resulting in poverty that requires “voluntary begging” is less appreciated in the contemporary world.9 Those who prefer priestly duties such as prayer, preaching, arranging sacrifices (or reminders of sacrifices) even if their dedication results in a reduced level of material well-being, seem to be diminishing in number in the Western world. At least their decline is evident in the Catholic Church.10

Voluntary poverty could be especially frowned upon in parts of the world where poverty is severe, where life is the hardest, where infant mortality is high, where diseases such as malaria are widespread. It is as if these parts of the world are constantly in crisis. Many people evidently believe that in these parts of the world the application of material insights, including salvific medical and other technologies, must have overwhelming priority. It is as if emphasis on the spiritual side of life should be suspended for these people. Even people who may have a wide variety of interests when in the West typically find that “poverty alleviation” becomes a dominant agenda for them when they reach Africa. I have found from personal experience that those who have been pastors in the West can, when they reach the developing world, end up functioning as administrators and project managers. To live amongst the poor and not to be preoccupied with trying to save them from material poverty can be seen as sacrilege or hypocrisy.

As things stand, it is very difficult for the West to “allow” their people to engage with developing-world populations other than from a benevolent position of providing material assistance. When working with other Catholic missionaries in East Africa, Joseph Healey noted that “many visitors challenged us for living the ordinary life of the local people without encouraging the villagers to improve their standard of living.”11 Many African people have the deeply ingrained expectation that Westerners who come to them will be preoccupied with saving lives, resolving crises, or enabling technology, typically by handing out funds. So then, pressure to do development work by providing aid comes from two directions. On the one hand, Westerners demand that missionaries do aid work. On the other, Africans now expect missionaries to do aid work.

The West’s concern for inter-racial (and other) equalities, which “forces” them to be preoccupied in raising the economic level of non-Western people they meet, is invariably on the West’s own terms. That is to say, others are expected to level with the West, and not the West with others. The desirable way forward is to become more Western. Westerners rarely advocate becoming more like other people. If the way forward is for all people to be the same, and the standard is the West, then any compromise with another people’s standards is, developmentally speaking, like turning the clock back.

Therefore, any Westerner who wants to stop implicitly telling African nationals that “we are better” with every other breath faces many barriers.12 A Westerner who wants to say to people in Africa, “Can I come to where you are?” can be seen as anathema. A Westerner who wants to relate to local people in Africa in at least a particular ministry using local language and local resources can have a battle on their hands.13

Being preoccupied with pulling people out of poverty can make it hard for Westerners to identify closely with locals, and, if not identifying closely curtails understanding, this can preclude Westerners’ being a part of alleviation or change of complex cultural issues. Furthermore, Westerners who behave as saviors of poor developing world nationals ultimately perpetuate racial stereotypes. It is very serious for future generations of our planet to be permanently divided between races of people who are providers or receivers. Unhealthy dependency and evils such as imperialism are perpetuated in this way.14 Finally, the implicit assumption that the value of a Westerner is in their ability to provide materially can be dehumanising to them.

Some prefer wisdom in the use of resources over the non-use of resources.15 Unfortunately this easily results in paying insufficient attention to questions of power. A free choice to use or not use power is power. A missionary who works under self-imposed strictures would be a poor example if, unlike a truly powerless person, they retained the privilege of putting aside those strictures in cases of needs that they happen to consider serious. Leaving a missionary free to decide when to impose strictures and when not to will also encourage local people to look for the story or scenario that frees up the flow of funds. It becomes a kind of insurance policy. For example, should a missionary only provide help to those injured in a road traffic accident, nationals could see them as an insurance against road traffic accidents. Stories about road traffic accidents could be invented as a means to loosening purse strings. Victims of road-traffic accidents would be taken to that particular missionary, and so forth.

Being under self-imposed strictures does not prevent generosity. For example, if the strictures refer to language and material resources, a missionary can still be generous in the time and emotional or spiritual help they offer. They can share things that do not depend on Western financing. For example, teaching people to play a keyboard easily brings dependency on Western money for purchase of the instrument. Teaching people to sing will not result in such dependency. Missionaries can also be generous in ways that do not directly pertain to their ministry. Many charitable organizations are happy to receive donations. A vulnerable missionary could donate anonymously to a cause that is not local to their area of operation. Doing such does not contradict their vulnerability to their local community.

I suggest, therefore, that some Westerners will be best equipped to “help” Africa and the Majority World by seeing issues from a local point of view. The best, or at least a possible, means of doing this is for some Westerners to engage in ministry in Africa (or elsewhere in the developing world) from a position of self-imposed strictures, such as those of the use of languages and resources that come from local people.

Self-Imposed Strictures in Jesus’ Ministry

Our primary example in self-imposed strictures in mission is Christ’s incarnation. Jesus voluntarily relinquished divine power (Phil 2:6–7). In the interests of establishing the kingdom of God he commonly chose not to provide people with immediate material benefits.

The Gospels portray Jesus as making claims to divine status (for example, John 10:30). Christians understand Jesus through his incarnation as having been a man who, although he was also God, did not actualize the great power to which he had access (Phil 2:6). There is much evidence for this: Jesus refused to turn stones into bread, to throw himself from the temple, or to use the means of the devil in establishing his kingdom (Luke 4:1–13). He walked away when people wanted to make him king (John 6:15). Although Jesus evidently healed many people, he did not heal them all—such as the cripple at the gate of the temple who had been there for up to forty years (Acts 4:22) when healed by Peter and John (Acts 3:1–12). People’s expectations as to what Jesus would do (for example, their rejoicing at the time of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem; Luke 19:37) were not fulfilled. Instead of accepting political office and clearing Israel of Roman domination, Jesus allowed himself to be crucified. Although one problem of Jesus’ claiming to be divine might to some have been that it appeared blasphemous, another was more pragmatic: It was wrong in the eyes of many people that Jesus claimed to be divine but did not confirm his might through more sufficient displays of power.16 One important reason some people despised Jesus was because his life did not seem to justify his overt declarations regarding his divinity.17

We are told time and time again that African and Majority World people value Western missionaries at work amongst them according to the wealth that they bring.18 Why after all should one pay great respect to missionaries, if they do not have the wherewithal to back up their claims of access to the divine? A claim to represent God that is not backed up by demonstrations of evident power can be treated as a false claim, especially by those who are jealous of the attention that the person making the claim is getting.19 This basis of evaluation is very logical. One could even say it is very natural or innate to human society. It is the basis on which we would evaluate almost any other claim: we want to see actions that prove the authenticity of what is being asserted. Jesus, on the other hand, chose not to satisfy people’s requirements in this way. This may well be why he ended up with relatively few, only 120 believers, even following his resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:15).

The hero of the Gospel accounts was not the kind of hero found in contemporary historiography, whose life invariably ended in triumph or honour.20 M. T. Speckman tells us that “healing miracle stories authenticated the hero or performer of the miracle.”21 Yet despite his aptitude for performing miracles, Jesus ended up crucified. The Gospels were clearly unique. Jesus did what he did in the way that he did due to the particular nature of the kingdom that he was introducing. He wanted to be in the world and not of the world (John 15:19; 18:36). Religious leaders of Jesus’ time, jealously protective as they were of their own prestigious standing amongst the people, attacked Jesus’ claim to have a unique theological eminence (Luke 22:66–71). While to some extent Jesus’ response was one of a demonstration of power (as in his reply to John the Baptist’s question in Matt 11:4–6), that demonstration of power was insufficient to save himself from judgement by Jewish authorities (Luke 23:2) nor did he rescue himself from the cross as some thought he ought to have done (Luke 23:35). In his ministry, Jesus put himself under strictures. He did not use all the power available to him. As a result, he was crucified. For Christians, his crucifixion has become the emblem of their salvation. It has become the very core of Christian belief.

Jesus’ weaknesses became the source of his power. Whether or not he was the first person to operate in this way, he certainly took it to new lengths. There are many reasons for Jesus’ “success” in establishing a heavenly kingdom that was to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) and to attract more followers than has any other “religion” the world has ever known. I cannot go into all of them now. I would suggest that many of them are rooted in his practice of demonstrating power through the weakness and vulnerability that he achieved through self-imposed strictures on what he did and how.

Jesus’ power was of an unconventional nature. The position of not searching for power can, by winning the respect of people, itself be power. Ghandi is known to have drawn on this source of power.22 Jesus was the master of it. Self-imposed strictures were required in what he did and how for him to be able to have and to express power in such an unconventional way.

Had Jesus built his popularity entirely on his divine nature, he would have left his followers with an impossible act to follow. The alternative course which he followed provoked the envy of the powerful as much as it frustrated them; he did not use the power that he had in ways that they considered appropriate, for example, to support political insurrection. It was evident that he knew that this would turn people against him; he was aware that he would be rejected and killed (Mark 10:33–34), but he nevertheless went ahead. To use our terminology, he consistently kept to strictures that resulted in his weakness, vulnerability, and death. One of the reasons for doing so was to encourage his followers to do likewise. Jesus’ vulnerability was voluntary. His disciples’ should be too. As Jesus chose not to utilize power available to him, so Christian leaders and prophets should follow his example. As Jesus was consistent in his non-use of power, so should be missionaries today.

We find no records of Jesus raising funds from foreign communities, or of using languages that were not already well known by the people he was reaching. We have no knowledge of his having appealed to the temple, to Herod, or to Rome for funding for his ministry. The question of language choice was probably obvious as there were no powerful global languages being spread by technology such as the printing press, internet, radio, and television in Jesus’ day as there are today. We can surmise that if Jesus were to go to a non-Western people to evangelise them today he would do so using their language. He would prefer an already known language to a language of empire that obliged his listeners to spend years in school before they could begin to understand what he was on about and that could never communicate at depth with their hearts.

People following vulnerable mission principles make ministry dependent for its success on the heartfelt approval of indigenous people. Because it does not come with financial benefits, I have found that vulnerable mission is a way of discerning what people actually want aside from economic help and of doing things that can be imitated by local people.

The Difficulties of Working under Strictures

Having looked at the principles underlying self-imposed strictures in ministry outside of the West, I now want to ask more specifically what it is like to work under them. This account is based on my personal experience of practicing vulnerable mission amongst Africans since 1988.

Envy can undermine self-imposed strictures. One kind of envy is that of the people whom the vulnerable missionary serves. For example, is it just for two people to do the same job but receive different pay? A Western missionary generally needs a lot of money just to get them and keep them on the field. To some, this can only be justified if the same missionary is bringing money for others on the field. If it is unacceptable for a missionary to perform a role other than being a conduit for donors, then apparently justifiable envy of local people could come against a vulnerable missionary. The only way out of this dilemma would seem to be to cut their link with their Western home country (or countries) and become as poor as local people in ministry.23

Another kind of envy is that of the vulnerable missionary’s colleagues. They can become envious of a vulnerable missionary’s ability to understand and engage at depth with the local community, an ability that they may well lack.24 The self-worth of many missionaries and development workers arises from the good they perceive themselves as doing. Any suggestion from the position of greater understanding of a vulnerable missionary that what they are doing is less than adequate can be threatening to their raison d’être. Foundationally envy is a sin (Deut 5:21). A vulnerable missionary’s activity may be a test as to whether colleagues are avoiding that sin. As with a missionary working under strictures today, this was also the case at the time of Christ, who tended to reach the poorer elements of society (e.g., see Luke 1:51–53 and Luke 4:18) but was rejected by religious leaders (John 11:53). Jesus was a victim of the envy of others (Mark 15:10).

This issue of envy probably deserves more attention than it has had in recent years.25 Some people attempt to legitimize envy. (Chilton considers Sider’s efforts at advocating for the redistribution of wealth to be the actions of a guilt manipulator.26) Missionaries’ responses to poor people’s expressed envy has helped to make intervention in the poor world into a very materially oriented activity. That is, attempts by missionaries to equalize resource availability with those who are poor in a place like Africa, so as to reduce the legitimacy of the envy of the African people, can be so absorbing of their time and energy as to define their whole identity. Envy motivates a lot of the “asking for things” that Maranz identifies as commonplace when Africans meet Europeans.27 One widespread response to this has in recent years been for missionaries (and the West as a whole) to give massive amounts of aid to those asking, even when the process of giving aid can be very destructive.28

Many African people can greatly appreciate a missionary’s practising a type of vulnerable mission that enables them to learn local languages and cultures. On the other hand, they may not appreciate a missionary’s resultant inability to extend them material aid.

A missionary not wanting to root their ministry in linguistic superiority or financial provision must be careful how they relate to a missionary colleague who has not self-imposed such strictures. Their influence on the use of resources by such a colleague will effectively mean the vulnerable missionary is providing resources (i.e., redirecting the flow of resources) despite their commitment not to do so. For example, should missionary A who is self-imposing strictures so as to work in a vulnerable way affect the ways in which missionary B uses resources, then missionary A is in effect a source of those resources. This requires the vulnerable missionary to maintain a certain distance from missionary colleagues, especially if they are searching for guidance regarding the local context, and especially if they are not careful to whom they will give credit for having influenced their decisions.29

Working under self-imposed strictures can definitely slow the rate of progress in ministry. This is clearly one reason for its unpopularity amongst Western people. Western missionaries like to report success stories, and they like to be able to do so after relatively short periods of time. The growing popularity of short-term mission points to a requirement for “success” to be achieved ever more quickly. The desire for success stories to report is linked both to the need to raise funds and the need to “prove faith.” Donors like to contribute to projects that are resounding successes with large apparent impacts over a limited timeframe. Increasingly, it appears that parts of the Christian population in the West are seeking affirmation for their faith in the feedback they receive from poorer parts of the world outside of the West, typically Africa. African people are often not reluctant to provide such support for faith, if only because they usually stand to benefit materially and even in terms of prestige as a result of having pleased a Westerner.30

The limitations that Christ found himself under as a result of the self-imposed strictures that he worked with should be clear. His ministry would, on many counts, not be considered “successful” in today’s terms, nor would he be considered a successful person. He had few followers when his life was prematurely cut off. Those who did follow him seemed to be plagued by doubt and uncertainties. They seemed rather ready to abandon him (Matt 26:56). They were often incapable of grasping the greater depths of his teaching (Luke 24:36–45).31

I have discussed some of the negative impacts of working under strictures in mission. I consider it essential that some Western missionaries in years ahead engage in ministry under self-imposed strictures. The practice must be given a high priority for the sake of the future health of global church and society.

Working with Conventional Missionaries

Genuine conventional missionaries need not feel threatened by having vulnerable missionaries work alongside them. The two need to work in a complementary way. Missionaries who self-impose strictures can become dependent on more conventional missionaries for infrastructure, resources, and fellowship. Conventional mission could become dependent on missionaries that work under strictures for the acquisition of necessary contextual insights.32

The Christian missionary seeks for righteousness firstly from God and not from colleagues. If our righteousness comes from God, then we have no need to be proud of what we are doing. We have even less cause to try to show up other ways of working. The aim of missionaries who work under self-imposed strictures is not to expose, offend, or embarrass a missionary who does not do so. The insights offered by a missionary who works under self-imposed strictures should be as the weaker partner trying to convince the stronger partner to rely more on the providence of God.33

Missionaries and development workers are not immune from the general pressure to “succeed”; yet the very contrary contexts that they work in often make it peculiarly difficult for them to succeed. They face cultural barriers that are often little understood by their supporters back home. The liability to “failure” in mission evokes various responses. Some take a critical view of fellow workers, perhaps despising those who succeed where they have failed. A scapegoat may be sought. Missionaries should be aware of and avoid this kind of behaviour. Humility and joy in the light of failure should be a part of true Christian mission. The self-imposition of strictures does not make someone into a “better” missionary.34 All should be ready to forgive, and to avoid taking offence.

We live in an age in which it has become important for the results of someone’s work to be measurable. Missionaries may not escape from the pressure to demonstrate quantifiable outcomes to carefully defined aims and objectives. Vulnerable missionaries may not be able to demonstrate quantifiable outcomes to their ministries. If we draw a parallel with the world of research, the missionary who works under self-imposed strictures is engaging in qualitative rather than quantitative research. Such missionaries’ aims can be vague, such as “encouraging the church.” Their not drawing on outside resources to boost their ministries often means that they have much less to show for their efforts than do colleagues who fund projects with foreign money. Conventional missionaries justify relatively affluent living conditions through their need to host, entertain, and travel with the foreign visitors who are an essential part of their task.35 Not having such a justification (and for other reasons) missionaries who work under self-imposed strictures can end up in relatively poor living circumstances.

Local people in Africa can be very protective of their links to donors. Their desire to protect “essential” donor-based ways of working may result in attacks (not necessarily physical) on missionaries who work under strictures. The sensitivity of on-field relationships means that missionaries working under strictures may be advised not to feed what they are learning back to missionary colleagues on the field. They should be given avenues of feedback higher-up the missionary hierarchy, such as to missionary strategists who are based in the West. Western mission leaders need to devise careful and sensitive means of taking advantage of insights that are provided by missionaries working under strictures.


Recent trends in mission from the West to Africa tend towards missionaries acting as donors. This typically requires a Western missionary to engage in a lot of fundraising. Time spent administering and distributing resources has made close identification with “the poor” difficult. This has restricted missionaries’ ability to understand the local context and hence to share a contextualized gospel.

Jesus, believed by Christians to be God in human form, did not take advantage of all the power available to him in the course of his ministry. Rather, it seems that self-imposed strictures on the ways in which he engaged with people defined his ministry. To follow Jesus’ example some contemporary Western missionaries ought to consistently self-impose strictures on the ways in which they minister. Only thus will they be able to effectively represent the gospel of Christ. Not to self-impose strictures can be to represent the benefits of Western ways of life rather than the Jesus of the Gospels.

The association between what is Western and what is “good” in parts of Africa can make mission under self-imposed strictures difficult today. These days faith in the benefits of Westernisation is so hegemonic that to be Westernized almost defines what it is for a people to “develop.” The self-imposition of strictures is the necessary means for missionaries to avoid the pitfalls of humanistic agendas and instead to remain faithful communicators of Jesus’ message.

Jim Harries (PhD) served for three years amongst the Kaonde people in Zambia. Since 1993 he has lived in a Luo village in western Kenya. ​Jim ministers in a Bible-teaching ministry to churches in Kenya and beyond ​​(especially Tanzania) using the Swahili and Luo languages. In Kenya he works particularly with indigenously founded and run churches. Harries is the chairman of the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission and serves as adjunct faculty at William Carey International University and Global University, both in the USA. He can be contacted at


Blommaert, Jan, and Jef Verschueren. Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of Tolerance. London: Routledge, 1998.

Chilton, David. Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1981.

Dear, John. “The Experiments of Gandhi: Nonviolence in the Nuclear Age.”

Future Church. “Priestly Shortage at a Glance.” Future of Priestly Ministry.

Harries, Jim. “The Immorality of Aid to the ‘Third World’ (Africa).” In Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability, 23–40. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011.

________. Theory to Practice in Vulnerable Mission: An Academic Appraisal. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012.

________. “Witchcraft, Envy, Development, and Christian Mission in Africa.” Missiology: An International Review 40, no. 2 (April 2012): 129–39.

Healey, Joseph G. A Fifth Gospel: The Experience of Black Christian Values. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1981.

Johnson, Jean. “The ‘Thinning’ Revisited: Dependency and Church Planting in Cambodia.” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 27, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 69–72,

Johnson, Kelly S. The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.

Maranz, David. African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa. Publications in Ethnography 37. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001.

Martin, Jonathan. Giving Wisely? Killing with Kindness or Empowering Lasting Transformation? Redmond, OR: Last Chapter Publishing, 2008.

Perkins, Pheme. “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, edited by Neil M. Alexander, 507–733. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

Reese, Robert. Roots and Remedies of the Dependency Syndrome in World Missions. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2010.

Schwartz, Glenn J. When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007.

Sider, Ronald J. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977).

Speckman, M. T. A Biblical Vision for Africa’s Development? Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: Cluster Publications, 2007.

Young, Robert C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.

1 Africa in this article refers to those parts of sub-Saharan Africa known to the author either through personal experience or study. I believe that much that is here said regarding Africa is also true for other parts of the Majority World.

2 The phenomenon of Africans using European languages tends to complicate this issue. Because they borrow European languages and imitate ways in which they are used, they can appear to communicate in ways that are dualist.

3 Taking chance to be: “The occurrence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause.” See Oxford British and World English Dictionary, s.v. “chance,”

4 Robert C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995), 28.

5 Robert Reese, Roots and Remedies of the Dependency Syndrome in World Missions (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2010), 63.

6 A cargo cult understands that “salvation will come in the form of wealth (‘cargo’) brought by westerners.” See The Free Dictionary, s.v. “cargo cult,”

7 See Jim Harries, Theory to Practice in Vulnerable Mission: An Academic Appraisal (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012).

8 Kelly S. Johnson, The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics, Eerdmans Ekklesia Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 3.

9 Johnson, 8.

10 Future Church, “Priestly Shortage at a Glance,” Future of Priestly Ministry,

11 Joseph G. Healey, A Fifth Gospel: The Experience of Black Christian Values (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1981), 75.

12 This is not usually said overtly. If we were to explore attitudes in the West toward the Majority World in the way that Jan Blommaert and Jef Verschueren, Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of Tolerance (London: Routledge, 1998), did using pragmatics to examine attitudes toward Muslims in Belgium, I believe that we would find massive assumptions of implicit superiority on the side of the West.

13 I am not saying that Africa and the developing world should not be “Westernized.” I object to the model being used to do this whereby Westerners must always fill “superior” roles through use of outside languages and resources.

14 For more on unhealthy dependency and how to avoid it see Glenn J. Schwartz, When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007).

15 For example, see Jonathan Martin, Giving Wisely? Killing with Kindness or Empowering Lasting Transformation? (Redmond, OR: Last Chapter Publishing, 2008).

16 M. T. Speckman, A Biblical Vision for Africa’s Development? (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: Cluster Publications, 2007), 134.

17 Many Muslims refuse to accept that someone as great as Jesus could have been crucified.

18 E.g., see Jean Johnson, “The ‘Thinning’ Revisited: Dependency and Church Planting in Cambodia,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 27, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 69–72,

19 There is a strange, ironic parallel between the position of the incarnated Jesus and that of the contemporary Western missionary in Africa. As Pharisees were frustrated by Jesus’ failure to demonstrate his power in normally acceptable ways—for example, by instigating a revolt against Roman control over Judah—so African people can be frustrated by missionaries who fail to live up to their expectations of providing material resources.

20 Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, ed. Neil M. Alexander (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 519.

21 Speckman, 134.

22 John Dear, “The Experiments of Gandhi: Nonviolence in the Nuclear Age,”

23 A Nigerian Christian once told me that a Western missionary would have to do this in order to be truly respected.

24 This is a result of being under pressure to raise funds and plan and administer projects that set them apart from their local communities.

25 Jim Harries, “Witchcraft, Envy, Development, and Christian Mission in Africa,” Missiology: An International Review 40, no. 2 (April 2012): 129–39.

26 Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977); David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1981).

27 David Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa, Publications in Ethnography 37 (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001), provides many examples that illustrate African people’s expectation to be given things by Westerners.

28 Jim Harries, “The Immorality of Aid to the ‘Third World’ (Africa),” in Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011), 23–40.

29 The same problem of association with powerful donors of course also troubles nationals—who therefore often have to give advice in favour of resource-inputs to colleagues or friends whether or not they consider such to be helpful in the long-term. Not to do so would risk making enemies.

30 Confusion between monistic and dualistic worldviews (see above) often results in African people testifying to what is happening in their Christian walk in ways that seem amazing if not miraculous to Western people. In short perhaps one could say that amazing things observed by monists can appear by dualists to be miraculous, i.e., as if they are beyond science.

31 The noticeable failings and weaknesses of Jesus’ followers, as communicated especially in Mark’s Gospel (see Perkins, 513), can be an encouragement to those who are not up to scratch in following Christ.

32 Wise conventional missionaries will look to vulnerable missionaries for insights regarding their ministries, in parallel to ways in which development practitioners look to anthropologists.

33 1 Pet 3:1–6 comes to mind; how women are to win over their husbands.

34 None is good but God alone (Mark 10:18).

35 Donors who visit projects they fund require infrastructure such as guesthouses and vehicles of Western standard. This justifies having such facilities, which missionaries then also use for themselves.

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Review of Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Missions: What’s the Role of the North American Church?

Paul Borthwick. Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 224 pp. Paperback. $11.33.

In his helpful 2012 book, Paul Borthwick is asking a critical question every congregation and ministry with global dimensions should be asking: What is the role of the North American church in God’s global mission?

Dr. Borthwick writes from a decidedly North American church background, but demonstrates deep awareness of the global context. Though he has never lived outside the US for any extended time, he worked for many years as a missions minister for a large church with a vast global footprint. He has traveled widely, listened to global leaders for decades, researched extensively, and now teaches missions at Gordon College while serving as a senior consultant for Development Associates International. He has been a guest speaker around the globe and has served as guest faculty internationally as well as being a contributor to many missions journals.

The book is divided into two sections. In part one, Borthwick provides a wealth of data to show how much our world has changed from the days when the church was dominated by Europe and North America. He traces and documents the global trends that are reshaping the world, such as migration, increasing economic disparity, and theological realignment.

Readers looking for quotable data to educate people about how the world has changed will find this section to be a goldmine.

Borthwick not only gives an excellent big picture vision of the state of world Christianity, he also provides a helpful appraisal of the North American church and the Majority World church, both of which are realistic but hopeful. The reader comes away seeing not just how much the world has changed but how each part can contribute well to the whole. This section alone is worth the price of the book and sets the table for the conversation each congregation and missions committee needs to have soon. Many needed adaptations will naturally flow when churches understand the new reality.

Part two is more opinion and less data, but it is well reasoned and supported as Borthwick unpacks the meaning of two phenomena for those of us in North America. First, he examines the global transformation of Christianity. Then, he analyzes the strengths and weakness of the West relative to the rest of the world. His appeal for respectful partnership is compelling. He outlines well what Americans do well, what we don’t do well, and what we need to learn. At MRN, we have found his views to be well founded and useful in our equipping work with American and global churches.

I found the most compelling idea in the book, and the one that has stuck with me now after a couple of years, is his treatment of the metaphor of passing the baton. He points out that in a relay race, when a runner hands off the baton, he or she stops running. This is exactly what the North American church does not need to do at this juncture. Just because we are not in charge of setting vision for world Christianity, which now has greater numbers than the West and much capable national leadership, does not mean we should disengage. The kingdom of God is about relationships, not just tasks. We engaged in global partnerships that created the expectation of on-going relationships and mutual support.

Borthwick helped me to see more clearly that the mission of God is not a project we can start and turn over. It is a complex web of relationships we serve as part of God’s global community called the body of Christ. We are family, and need to remain connected as family even if our roles change through the passing of time and transitions between generations. The North American church has a role to play moving forward, and we cannot just walk away and take care of ourselves because the global church is gaining power and we have our own issues to face. To be of benefit to the global church we must humble ourselves, learn to posture ourselves as servants, and listen deeply for a long time before responding.

In particular, Americans’ optimism, problem-solving skills, and leadership training ability are needed in a world often resigned to being stuck in fate and hopelessness. But, our “can do” spirit can also create dependency and passivity and reduce people to projects as we function from a position of control and dominance. We need global partnerships, just as any other part of the world does, for what we will gain from them.

Among the strengths of the Majority World, Borthwick mentions: zeal for the Lord; zeal for missions; expectancy; and rugged, sacrificial faith. Borthwick says the great concerns for the Majority World church are abuse of power, making converts not disciples, prosperity theology, and ignoring societal transformation.

Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • “As a colleague from Fiji reminded me, ‘Your Jerusalem is my ends of the earth.’ ” (38)
  • “My advice: if you want to be a cessationist, don’t travel! The church in the Majority World did not get the memo.” (45)
  • When he asked a Nigerian believer why they had more healings, the man said, “You have more doctors. . . . If God doesn’t heal us, we die.” (45)
  • “Global relevance demands global involvement.” (65)
  • “Someone once described an expert as a person who has made every possible mistake and tried to learn from them. In this regard, it is possible that the history of crosscultural mission over the last two hundred years has rendered North American experts.” (68–69)
  • “A brother in Zimbabwe reminded me, ‘What you in the West call “Globalization” we call “Americanization.” ’ ” (75)
  • “The bottom line is this: moving ahead together will take time, listening and long-term relational credibility.” (106)
  • “The big question is not ‘Where do we fit?’ but ‘What is God doing?’ ” (111)
  • “Paul Gupta expresses his conviction that for true reciprocal partnerships to work, ‘Every partner must bring resources to the table. If all the parties do not bring resources, it is not partnership; it is ownership, and there will be controlling dynamics from the side of the owner.’ ” (130)
  • “Building crosscultural relationships is easier if we accept the fact that 40 percent of the time we will have no idea what’s going on.” (133–34)
  • “Don’t come thinking that you are coming to fix Africa. You cannot fix Africa.” (134)
  • “From most of the world’s perspective, the USA doesn’t have friends in the world; it has ‘interests.’ ” (135)
  • “When we hear the word partnership, what comes to our mind is that this is another way for the White man to control us.” (150)

For many non-charismatic believers (i.e., cessationists), Borthwick’s rather expansive view of the boundaries of the kingdom may be a challenge. So much of the growth of the kingdom of God in the Majority World is filled with fellowships that practice and teach signs and wonders that are deeply troublesome to many in North America who do not expect such activity from God. Regardless of how a reader may respond to these phenomena, it is a powerful reality that must be taken into consideration. It cannot be discounted nor easily swept away as simply error. Something powerful is happening, and it is bringing glory to Jesus. As much as I wish Borthwick provided more help with critical discernment regarding this aspect of global missions, this was not really part of the purpose of this book, so it seems unfair to fault him for it.

Dan Bouchelle


Missions Resource Network

Bedford, Texas, USA