Will We Survive Western Missionaries?
Reflections of a Czech Pastor
Flooded by Missionaries
Already in the first half of 1990 we were flooded by missionaries. This influx lasted for nearly two years. I believe that in 1990 and 1991 I had one visit a day on average. Of course, there were days when no one came, but there were also days when I had three or four visitors. Since I will write many critical remarks, I want to make it plain that occasionally there were some real jewels among them. Sometimes we were visited by people with excellent teaching, with humble attitudes, and with viable proposals. We still cooperate with some of them. On the other hand, we had some very, very bad experiences.
Tremendous Waste of Money
From my perspective much of God's financial blessing was mismanaged by the people who visited us. Let me estimate conservatively that we were visited by 750 people in one year. Some of them came from Europe, some of them from Australia, most of them from North America. Let us estimate that they stayed for only two days in the country. Czechoslovak prices were (and now, Czech prices still are) moderate by Western standards. So let us estimate that the two days here cost $100 (U.S.) per person. And let us suppose that each visitor spent $500 for airfare and ground transportation. One visit by one person would cost $700. So the total price tag of these "fact-finding missions" and other trips (real ministry trips not included!) would be $525,000 in one year. My salary at that time was about $130 per month, that is about $1,560 a year. You can easily calculate that the money spent on visits to Czechoslovakia in one year would cover salaries for 336 pastors in that year. I suppose that those $525,000 (in reality, it was probably much more) was either directly paid by churches or, more probably, collected from individual sponsors. Of course, there were some who invested their own money. In any case, it was God's money. Was this wise stewardship of God's money?
Why so much waste? There are probably many different reasons. But one of them is obvious. There was a complete lack of coordination. Those who sincerely believed that "God now opened the door" most probably did not even try to contact the people who already were working here in the Communist years. Nearly everyone wanted to do his own thing on pretext of fulfilling the Great Commandment. If we have the best doctrine, if we have the most powerful anointing, why bother about coordination with others! Let's go! I do not believe we were flooded by God's army. The waste of means, the waste of time and energy (not only theirs, but also ours) was horrendous. In many cases, no ministry for the Lord was accomplished. It was a costly way to get a feeling that one does something for the Lord. It was not God's army, but a bunch of free-lancers.
Many visitors (not all of them) were of course aware of the difference in the standard of living. They were aware, or became conscious of the fact, that they live in far better conditions than the vast majority of people here, and especially better than the Christians, who usually did not belong to the local upper class. And they looked for a way to address this. Many "richer" Christians who came to Czechoslovakia were motivated by genuine love. Thank God for all the help they have brought! Yet, I am afraid that some were motivated by a bad conscience about being more affluent. Some sincerely tried to do something about the financial disparity. The obvious thing to do was to bring some gifts to the pastor. But the obvious is not always the best.
The reasoning, in many cases, perhaps subconscious, might have been as follows: "My standard of living is shamefully high in comparison with these people. I should share the gifts God gave me. I cannot help all; let me at least help the pastor. He is entitled to some help. And he will share with the others." It sounds logical, doesn't it? And in many cases this obvious solution probably was the right one. But the visitors were not always conscious of the possible traps. Some Christians from poorer countries are masters in asking and not asking for help at the same time. I know a Czech pastor who can very passionately explain to visitors how much more he could do "for the Lord" if he would have a better car, a stronger computer, a higher salary. A direct request is never made. Unsolicited hints are plentiful.
There is a European country where there is only one pastor who is paid by local money as far as I know. Most of the pastors have sponsors in the West and their income is four to five times higher than the average salary in the country. To keep their sponsors, they have to spend a few weeks, in some cases even up to two months, traveling in the West and speaking about "the mighty things the Lord is doing in their church." You can imagine the pressure to make things look better than they really are. And who would muster the courage to tell the sponsors the harsh truth in case things don't go well at all? But who would refuse to help when he is able to help? How many times must the story of Naaman and Gehazi be repeated (II Kings 5). In that case, the story of Gehazi seemed quite trustworthy. It does not surprise me that many churches in our part of the world are contaminated by spiritual leprosy.
It was obvious from talks with some of the people that they would like to be important. I remember a conversation with one of these visitors:
"How big is your church?"
"Well, about five hundred adults."
"And how big is the largest church in Prague?"
"I presume we are the largest."
"So would you be considered one of the leaders in your nation?"
"I suppose I would."
"Oh, we speak to an important leader!" said the female visitor, turning to her companion. From the tone of the voice and from the whole conversation it was obvious that "talking to a leader" is the important thing. I know perfectly well that from God's point of view I am not necessarily that important at all. Perhaps some unknown intercessor is. God looks to the heart, not to what the world honors.
It was very common that some people coming from the West wanted to perform some drama or hold a meeting. They turned to us to arrange it. We were supposed to organize all the permits, rent a hall, arrange and distribute the leaflets. They generously paid for it, performed their act, and went back home. Then we received their newsletter about how they "did a mission campaign" in Eastern Europe. They did not bother to consider if their activity was really worthwhile, what its real impact was, if it was really the thing we needed, and if we would not have been able to do the same thing better if we had the money. Well, we learned our lesson. Now we are very, very careful in what we do and with whom. We do not believe that God only wants us to help someone have his photograph in his newsletter, embracing us and saying how they "helped" or "instructed" us.
Dan Drápal is a pastor of a Christian Fellowship in Prague, Czech Republic. His article is excerpted from a 36-page booklet of the same title, reprinted with permission. To be continued in the next issue of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies