The most difficult reality an American missionary faces when teaching in most third world situations is the reality of poverty. Adjusting to the widespread, common place poverty is an enormous challenge for most American missionaries. But that is not the most difficult poverty reality he or she faces. Adjusting to being the "symbol of wealth" is an enormous challenge for most American missionaries. His or her standard of living commonly exceeds the imaginations of the third world poor. But that is not the most difficult poverty reality he or she faces. Adjusting to the knowledge that "money is not the answer" is an enormous challenge for most American missionaries. But that is not the most difficult poverty reality he or she faces.
"Then what is the most difficult poverty reality?" The most difficult poverty reality he or she faces is this: understanding Christians in poverty need (not are responsible) to be stewards. Good missionaries commit themselves to mission work because they (1) love God and (2) love and care about people. Good missionaries are not motivated by material considerations. Values that exceed money and material things motivate such Christians to share Christ with those in poverty. The missionary serves to give, not to receive. Initially, the missionary wants poor believers to receive, not to give.
One of the greater difficulties I experienced on the mission field was accepting gifts of appreciation from poor Christians. I worked among people who were extremely poor. Half of their children died before the age of five. Life expectancy was forty years. On an average day, most people had a malaria headache and low grade fever, and few had even an aspirin. A man, his wife, his children, and his possessions could (and did!) fit in a twelve foot by twelve foot room. The typical person ate one significant meal a day, usually the evening meal. The goal at Christmas was to have enough to eat so the entire family could eat all they wanted. Most men would not have the opportunity to have one salaried job in his lifetime. There were few jobs. Even when an extended family made enormous sacrifices to educate one member of the family, there still were few jobs.
To accept any gift of gratitude from Christians (or people!) who had so little was difficult. But to refuse their gift was an insult. They appreciated what they received. They wanted and needed to say, "Thank you." In specific instances, they wanted and needed to help others.
Stewardship expresses gratitude. Stewardship powerfully addresses a genuine spiritual need, even when the Christian is poor. To the poor Christian, ingratitude is unthinkable.
Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.
The basic nature of stewardship must capture our understanding. Stewardship is based on internal gratitude, not on external responsibility. Internal desires motivate a Christian steward to use his or her abilities, opportunities, and material goods for God's purposes and objectives. A Christian steward's primary motivation is not a sense of obligation. He or she does not "take action" because he or she fears the consequences of a failure to act. A Christian steward loves his or her master. The gratitude of love is his or her primary motivation. Love for God and Christ produces an internal change. This love produces a sense of stewardship that arises from gratitude for God and Christ's love.
Christian stewardship has not been a powerful force in the lives of today's American Christian for three reasons. First, the church has assigned stewardship to collecting money. Obviously, stewardship involved money and material things in the first century. Yet, the greatest example of stewards were the poor Macedonian Christians. Why? They first gave themselves the God and His purposes. Their generosity was the overflow of their love for God.
Second, the church has not helped Christians understand that total life is surrendered to God's purposes. In a prosperous society, money is the easiest thing to give. Time is the most difficult. We cannot share our abilities if we do not give our time. The greatest struggle in the American church today centers in service, not in finances. We are more willing to "hire" it than to "do" it.
Third, the church has removed gratitude from salvation. This was not done intentionally. We placed so much emphasis on the necessity of baptism that we neglected the joy of conversion. Few have a sense of being saved. Most feel they fulfilled a responsibility. Conversion produces stewardship. Fulfilling an obligation produces a false sense of security.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 4, Lesson 9
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