My comments and advice below are directed primarily to Westerners and should be construed as such.

I’ve fielded many inquiries from Christians in America, Australia, etc. who desire to get involved in East Africa.  I commend them for doing due diligence (those who don’t often end up with heartbreak).  There’s a steep learning curve when it comes to initiating and maintaining cross-cultural partnerships and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.  I encourage you to get involved—just take some precautions.

  • Beware of false impersonation.  Fraudulent emails have been sent out by impersonators claiming some kind of emergency (e.g. health concern, robbed and stranded in a foreign city without ID or wallet, etc.) to trick you into a quick response.  Don’t fall for it.  In January 2010 several people forwarded to me emails purporting to come from me (they came from an email address similar to mine).  The forwarded emails were requesting funds for a medical emergency.  The people who received the messages were smart to check with me first at my REAL email address since there was no emergency and the messages were a scam.  These are called “phishing” emails.  Like Nigerian-style confidence scams, they want to gain your confidence so you’ll reveal your banking information.
  • Turn and run away from unsolicited partnership requests.
  • Anyone who comes to Africa with money needs to understand dependency issues very well.
    • It may surprise you to learn that it is almost always harmful when well-meaning Christians from “the West” take it upon themselves to “sponsor” or send money directly to an African pastor or congregation.  Such a practice often hinders the development of the Church by fostering jealously and distrust.  Think about it: if you sponsor an African pastor then his congregation will have little reason to practice biblical stewardship.   Even more, your sponsorship makes the man accountable to you instead of his congregation and local leadership—and as an outsider who lives thousands of miles away you don’t have the capacity to hold anyone accountable.  In this circumstance it’s very tempting for a man to become a law unto himself.  It’s not helpful to put anyone in that position.
    • As a general rule, don’t send any money directly to Africa.  It is far better to send donations thru the Mission Board of your church body (e.g. in my case, LCMS World Mission) for the support of officially approved programs and initiatives.  This will go a long way toward ensuring that your gift reaches the field properly and will be applied to authentic and strategic needs in a way that will build up and NOT tear down the Body of Christ.
    • There’s a lot of good scholarship these days on the issue of dependency and missions.  Just give a shout and I can share some resources with you.  One researcher with lots of experience in Africa basically says: come visit but leave your money at home.  It’s counter-intuitive to the American mind but he’s got the research to back it up.  African leaders back him up, too.  It’s something to investigate.

These warnings may sound like a real downer but we don’t deal with these problems every day.  Overall, the work here is a tremendous joy.  It’s just that Americans tend to assume the best and take people at their word.  Unfortunately, a few bad apples take advantage of that.  That said, I’m not down on Africa.  Are you going to try and tell me that we don’t have scammers and crooks in America?  No, we’re sinners the world over.

Get involved, have fun, but let’s be careful out there.  Matthew 10:16b

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