At Three Worlds we support a variety of project throughout the Middle East region. Donors can give to the Cedar Home Orphanage in Lebanon, the new Church plants in Russia, assist the church in Egypt during these difficult days, help the Church of God in Athens, Greece as it helps the less fortunate during the worst crisis since the 1930's, or support the Next Generation of leaders in our region (and our interns from around the world) through the NextGen Fund. These are just some examples of projects we have open in the region.
Some Problems with Money on the Mission-Field
In general, however, 3W is careful with money because missions and money don't often go together well. It's very easy to create dependencies--where churches or countries don't grow on their own. Instead they just wait for the next check from the U.S. Because the Christian culture is a high-trust culture, it's easy to have people in the system that abuse that trust and not use money as donors intended. It's also easy for people to think that money will solve all of their problems, when often it just compounds them in new more divisive ways. It is also a problem when things are constructed (such as buildings or schools) and there's no one there to really manage the property adequately. Many countries can become extremely unhealthy very quickly if the floodgates are opened and money just pours in from North America. Power battles can ensue, a sense of entitlement can be formed, and the church's mission can be more about sustaining its facilities and remittances than it is about actually doing evangelism. Unfortunately, we have seen this too often.
Real Relationship First
At Three Worlds, we do not think the flow of funds from North America to Europe/Middle East should be our core purpose. That, in fact, is low on the list. We do not have many projects in the region on purpose. New project proposals must meet certain requirements and we are only willing to open two a year for the entire region, and even that is not guaranteed. We prefer to spend our time ministering in churches, training, encouraging and empowering the next generation of leaders, as well as reaching out to the young, and creating a regional sense of unity and purpose. Relationship and ministry comes first. The flow of funds from North America to our region is the lowest priority. We have seen time and time again (especially in the Church of God), the more money a mission-field gets over the years, the less ministry you see happening. While those countries that learn to do with what they have, tend to stay focused and grow in a healthier manner.
There is a place for financial support. Often certain projects need to be kick-started, or an infusion of cash can help a ministry come to life or survive a turbulent time. Or assistance for a pastor can help a church plant to get launched. But these should be taken on a case by case basis and the deeper, structural realities should always be examined before the checkbook is pulled out. A need is not enough. There needs to be health underlying that need.
At 3W, we go by an internal plan that we call "RAISE NUT (R-A-I-S-E-N-U-T). The "Raise"principal comes from Jonathan Martin's "Giving Wisely." However, those principles are pretty common-sensical. Why was that book such a hit? It's because the Church of God in North America got so careless, that it started violating even those common-sense principles in their support for missions. Many people got burned time and time again.
WHAT IS RAISE-NUT?
R=Relationship First: This means that it's vital to have a real relationship first that's based on friendship and partnership in ministry, not just an arrangement to enter into a financial agreement to transfer funds from North America to some country overseas.
A=Accountability: There obviously needs to be some pro-active oversight over the funds with the recipients demonstrating clearly that they are using the funds as designated. The missionaries and mission-agency must be very transparent in how they are delivering the funds.
IS=Indigenous Sustainability: The funds given should enable the mission-field to continue operating on its own and not create dependence on foreign funds. It something new is starting, there should be a clear explanation of how this ministry will be funded without outside help in the near future.
E=Equity: The money must not be distributed in a manner that is unequal (one village church gets a lot, the other village church gets nothing), or which begins to separate the recipient from the living standards of those they work with and serve.
At Three Worlds, we also added three more key pieces in 2011 based on our observation that these things can also be problems:
N=Next Generation. Is the country empowering the next generation? Are they putting emerging leaders into positions of influence? Are they doing the things that it will take to make sure that the country will have churches 20 years from now? In some cases, leaders intentionally block young people from leadership (and by younger I mean under 50 even)!. We are very intentional about partnering with countries that are serious about reaching young people and having a future, not just preserving and protecting the past.
U=Unity: Does the project bring unity to the country or the churches? Or does it cause division? Furthermore, if a country is already suffering from a lot of division and divisive behavior, we are highly unlikely to start a project there, which will only exacerbate the problems. There's no reason countries or churches should get money when they have no interest in being united in fellowship with each other. We only work with countries and churches that are committed to unity or willing to work toward unity in humility.
T=Timeline: We want a concrete time-line that tells us when the project will end. We have phased out open-ended projects because it becomes too tempting for mission-fields or churches to become dependent on those funds. In special circumstances, the project may be extended, but only after a careful review; and that review will happen with someone on the OUTSIDE of 3W to give us better perspective and objectivity.
Of course none of these guiding principles mean anything if they are not taken seriously or enforced. A non-profit organization must have standards that it insists on if it is to protect its donors, not create dysfunction on the mission-field, and stay on the right side of the law. But it's easy to get wobbly in the knees when people are making personal pleas. There's a place for compassion, but there's also the need to be fair, ethical, and not become enablers.
For 3W, having standards that we all agree on (donor, missionary, national) makes things run far more smoothly. All of us must be challenged to some extent and reigned in at times. A system designed to do that is going to work better than a purely subjective, unplanned process. Ultimately the thing we value most at Three Worlds is health, because once you lose that, it really damages your witness.
We're happy to be working in this region and happy to see that we are all doing our part in a healthy, accountable way.