Reputable Western mission agencies have a long history of rules for annual reports and record keeping. This, however, is relatively new for their East European counterparts. During the repression years this might have been excusable--authorities could confiscate detailed records and use them to incriminate a person or organization. Under the present circumstances workers from the West would do Russian brethren a great service by giving them a good example of biblical stewardship and by providing training in accountability. But first, foreign workers must be sure their own actions are above reproach.
Western workers would therefore do well to ask themselves:
Does our use of funds display good stewardship?
I recall an American pastor who had been in Russia for a short visit and approached Russian Christian Radio with a proposal. Seeing the financial needs of pastors, he had come up with the idea of asking Americans to contribute $20-$50 a month towards the support of Russian pastors. We asked whether he had some way of ascertaining the reputation of the pastors and a way of keeping track of their support. At that point he lost interest in pursuing the working relationship.
In supporting pastors, do Western Christian workers make it clear that the help is temporary and not permanent?
Given the unique conditions in the former Soviet Union, the possibilities to render help for present needs are unlimited. But what is being done to prepare the indigenous churches to take care of the financial needs of their pastors in the years to come? In the past only top Christian leaders earned their living through ministry, rather than with secular jobs.
With the resources available from the West, it is very easy to be generous, but is the generosity truly beneficial in the long run?
The use of helpful technology, for example, taken for granted in current circumstances, can convey a wrong image. One pastor/evangelist asked for several electronic keyboards and insisted that without them he would be unable to start any new congregations.
How can Western Christians, by example or teaching, show Russian counterparts the importance of using funds as designated?
Some indigenous mission agencies in the former Soviet Union often raise funds in the West for specific purposes, such as missionary support. However, the missionaries in question, who are already serving on the field, report that they are not receiving these funds and, consequently, are living in utmost poverty.
In forming partnerships with national agencies or individuals, what can foreign Christians do to guarantee that agreements or even written contracts will be honored?
People in the West generally abide by contracts or agreements they make with others. That is not necessarily so in the East. A Western mission recently lost all its property and assets in Russia to an unscrupulous pastor through an illegal takeover. Instead of condemning his actions, the pastor's superiors defended them. Christian people now working in the former Soviet Union or planning to do so could and should raise and answer these and other questions of accountability. Closer consultation among foreign Christian workers regarding accountability would aid efforts to spread the gospel in Eastern Europe. Tom Houston, chairman of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, rightly observes in an interview with World Pulse that there are dangers in the way Christians currently evangelize: "I fear that in this decade push (up to the year 2000), we will sow a great crop of nominals. We have far too many individualistic, fly-by-night evangelists who ignore other workers, other agencies, and local churches." It is a warning we should take to heart.
Pirkko Poysti, who died on 3 May 1994, previously served as editor of Prayer and Praise, Russian Christian Radio, Box 1667, Estes Park, CO 80517. Russian Christian Radio has established a memorial fund in her name. Surviving her are ten children, twenty grandchildren, and her husband, Russian-American radio evangelist Earl Poysti, who has preached extensively in recent years in the former Soviet Union.
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© 1994 Institute for East-West Christian Studies