Discussion of issues related to supporting "national" or indigenous missionaries


Author: Meg Crossman <>
..This whole issue of "support of nationals" is one that needs to be considered carefully and surrounded by a lot of wisdom and information.

I am personally very offended by people who "market" support of nationals as "more bang for the mission buck." Some ads have actually sounded like the nationals were on the slave block!

Often, support of nationals is touted as a culturally sensitive issue. Not necessarily true--many times a person who is culturally closer or geographically nearer may be from a tribe or group who has oppressed the target people. They may be LESS open to them than to someone from a more distant culture with whom they have no previous interaction.

Which "nationals" (...we are ALL nationals of some country) are to be supported? Often funding is being sought for some person who is serving as a pastor to his own people. THEY should support him, not Western money--if he takes Western money, he is usually perceived by his people and fellow pastors as a "hireling." This is very true throughout Mexico, for example.

Too many times, a converted people were not taught to give (and receive the blessing God releases when they do) but to rely on foreign money to support each thing needed. This cripples the new church and teaches them dependency, lack of responsibility, dis- empowerment.

If the national receiving support is pastoring his own people, that is not mission; it is evangelism.

Are the "nationals" serving as cross-cultural missionaries? Sometimes...they are doing an excellent, sensitive, appropriate work. Often, however, they suffer from the same thing every culture does-- ethnocentrism. Just because one is not a Westerner does not mean one will avoid the problems of culture shock, discouragement, failure, etc. Many "nationals" go out, full of enthusiasm but with little or no training, and fail in almost all the ways Western missionaries have failed.

What accountability structures are set up for the funds that are sent? Many cultures have very different ways of looking at the use of monies than we do. If Uncle Joe needs his car repaired or your nephew needs help to raise Bride wealth, can nationals rightly refuse if they have funds in hand?

It is far wiser to enter initial partnership agreements with relational connections: Offering other kinds interaction rather than money [training, some technological support, etc.] with EXPECTATIONS OF MUTUALITY OF BLESSING not paternalistic "money bags."

This is not to impugn well-developed partnerships for mission and agencies who are solid and well-founded in the way they conduct their work, but [I do want] to encourage God's people to do serious thinking. Agencies and people who are legitimate do not mind being asked the "Hard Questions."

This is an area fraught with challenges as well as promise for those who truly want to be strategic and significant in their mission commitments.


From: "Christopher"
The issues mentioned are all valid arguments I've heard before. Sometimes when I've heard them before they sounded like justifications for why I shouldn't give my hard-earned money to some untrustworthy Third Worlder. There may be hidden undertones of racism in these arguments. I didn't sense that was the case here though. The arguments were all well-presented and raised important issues. I've also been offended by churches who seem to "buy" missionaries for prestige or economy. I used to tease my mission committee by saying that our church had the best missionaries money could buy.

I agree that in many cases a "national" may find it more difficult to "missionize" a neighbor from another people group because of some historical and cultural hostility, e.g. a Uygur would have a hard time hearing the Gospel from a pork-eating, culturally oppressive Han Chinese. Nationals (especially in India, Africa, and the USA) have been less than scrupulous in their handling of monies, but some allowance should be given to different cultural concepts of personal property. It's also been proved that "national" missionaries who raise their own funding in faith from their own people are much more successful than Western-supported ones. The most successful mission agencies in India are "nationally" supported. There is also the issue of relationship which Meg raises. There is less chance of developing a relationship by sending money to a national one doesn't know. This may be positive or negative depending on the spiritual maturity of the donor and the recipient. Sometimes a relationship can be developed through an ongoing short-term project that the church commits to. I've even advocated that the national church members come to the donor church and minister to their benefactors in worship, prayer, and cultural sensitivity. One church here in Denver invited a group of young people from the national church they were partnering with in Guatemala to come and minister in Denver. They performed on the radio, sang and preached in Spanish in several Spanish-speaking churches and were very well-received, helping to tighten the bonds of Christ's love.

Meg's input [should] definintely generate discussion, since this is an issue in many churches when the "bang for your buck" budget is drawn up.

..There are agencies like Partners and Opportunity Int. who help to screen valid nationals and national ministries.

Also on the flip side, a well-trained national who can speak the language of a neighboring group has an enormous head-start on a North American missionary, aside from economic efficiency. While the verdict is still out on the success rate of Latin American missionaries in Muslim countries, they do have some cultural and racial similarities that on the surface make them more potentially successful. I think a big part of mobilization would be to train nationals to be missionaries outside their culture.

From: The above discussion came as a result of the article posted here a couple of weeks ago suggesting that a balanced mission program might include the support of "nationals." I believe that balance is a key to any mission program. Whenever a mission committee throws all its eggs in one basket--as often becomes the case when a church gets so excited about sending "nationals"--it hurts the cause of God's kingdom. I have seen first-hand how devestating it is to missionaries when their own home church won't give them a dime because it will only support "nationals." Westerners MUST still go out as missionaries; Jesus never rescinded His Great Commission to any part of the world. But, as we go, it will be increasingly more in partnership with missionaries of the "2/3 World," and we must anticipate this.


I appreciated your comments regarding the support of national missionaries. I work with an organization, Every Home For Christ, which uses national workers almost exclusively. I use the term worker as opposed to missionary because sometimes they are not going cross-culturally themselves, but are having others from within their country doing it - whether they are volunteers or other nationally supported workers.

I couldn't agree more that the accountability structure is very important. We require anyone who is getting funds from us to send us a monthly financial report, a statistical report, and a prayer and praise report. The reports should also be backed up with photos. We base our amounts of support on many factors, including the typical $ for the nation. We generally check with other ministries or national churches to get an idea of what is sufficient for the nations, without being extravagant and overdoing it. Also, we verify what our workers tell us by talking with other ministries where we can and by on-site trips.

I myself get very upset when I see organizations claiming that you can support a foreign national for a very small amount and get a much greater "bang for your buck..." That may be true in some cases, but not in all. For example, in India there were many groups sending money to a national worker who could live and minister for "$30 per month." Well, that worker happened to be getting $30 per month from many, many different groups, including individual churches in the states. The workers full time job was to develop relationships with churches who would send him "just $30 per month..." I don't think I need to say more.

I have lived on support for several years now and lived that was as an MK in Taiwan. I know the importance of western missionaries. We would not be anywhere near where we are in regards to reaching and identifying the unreached peoples if it wasn't for the foreign missionaries.

I heard from a Norwegian missionary at an AD 2000 conference a few year ago in Colorado Springs that in Norway, 1 missionary is fully supported for every 100 people in their churches. That is awesome. That shows priority...


C Bennett <> President, Partners Int'l
Forwarded by: Wayne Fong <75572.1226@CompuServe.COM> I agree with many things in Meg Crossman's statement but I fear she is speaking about the worst cases. Certainly it doesn't describe most of the current reality in the international "joint ventures" my agency, Partners International, is now involved in with sixty indigenous ministries that work in over fifty countries.

Personally, I never use "nationals" as a generic term meaning non-westerners. It smacks of a colonial world view. Like Meg, I am offended by people who market cut-rate missionaries. I tell our people to always say we partner with indigenous workers because they are usually far more effective. . . . and incidentally they happen to be a lot less expensive. (Not the other way around.)

I agree that near neighbors who are from an ethnic group that has been the traditional enemy or oppressor usually have a tougher time being received than someone from a more distant culture. When I was a missionary in southeast Mexico, I saw that the long-oppressed Indians would receive an American much more readily than a Mexican Latino. But I also saw that when an exceptional Mexican Christian finally did manage to win their trust, that bond was strongest of all and that kind of person was incredibly effective. (Christ must be incredibly powerful to have turned one of those arrogant, overbearing Latinos into such a loving person, the must have reasoned.)

The two potential problems in a partnership between an organization from an affluent country and one from a relatively poor country are, (1) How do you assure accountability without direct control? and (2) How do you avoid unhealthy dependency? We work hard on both these all the time. We think it is possible and we think all but two or three of our current partnerships meet those criteria. (We have papers available that address each of those questions.)

It all comes down to healthy trust relationships and local "ownership" of the ministries. If it is their ministry, rooted in their culture, and we are willing to joint venture with them to help them fulfill their God-given vision, problems are minimal and the fellowship is wonderful. If it's our agenda, or they feel like hirelings or sense even a hint of condescending attitude on our part, they will resent us. Some may reject us while others fawn over us to get our money, but both resent us.

Christians in some countries have unfortunately evolved under a long history of dependency. These include Haiti, Liberia, the Philippines and parts of India and Bangladesh. There we have to work extra hard to convince them that we want to be their partner, not their "patron."

I don't entirely agree with Meg that it is better to offer training and technological support rather than money. Money implies "I trust you." Training often implies "I am smarter or more spiritual than you and I want to straighten you out." Unless, of course, the training is their idea. Somehow we Americans feel like we have to go around the world training everybody. After all, we are more affluent so that obviously proves that we are more spiritual and wise, doesn't it?

Of course we don't want to create unhealthy dependency by paying salaries to local pastors. Of course we don't want to do anything for them that they can do for themselves with their own resources. Of course an indigenous mission that is supported by churches from within their own culture is preferable. But what about the cultures that are just too poor to support much mission work or those where Christians are too few in number to support much? Do we refuse to help them just because there might be some risk that a few of them might take advantage of us?

Incidentally, in October we are holding the first-ever consultation for Western mission organizations whose primary purpose is to support indigenous ministries. We have a list of 110 such organizations in North America. Clearly this is becoming a movement, even though virtually all of these organizations are very small and their combined budgets are probably less than just one of the larger traditional Western sending missions. We want to try to bring some standards to this growing "industry" in the areas of accountability and avoiding unhealthy dependency.


By: Karry Kelley <70740.134@CompuServe.COM>
I think as we discuss the relative value of sending funds to support national church planters as compared to sending missionary church planters from the West, we need to begin with theology. Pragmatic concerns are also of vital importance as we consider how to carry out our mission. But our mission begins with theology and is directed and qualified by theology.

God sent His Son into the world. And as the Father sent the Son, the Son has sent us. He has sent us to make disciples, so that people everywhere might follow Jesus.

We mean more to God than money. We are much more important to Him than our money. And we have much more to offer than money. We have ourselves to offer. And we must give ourselves to God and go.

God wants us to go and heart-to-heart, face-to-face, life-to-life, share Christ with the world. Many other tools and methods can facilitate mission, and are necessary. But this is the bread and butter, and it is our calling as Christians. Let's not sell ourselves short.

The other side of this is that the idea of cross-cultural missions does seem, and but for God is, foolishness. It is a ministry out of weakness against all odds. How could a foreigner go bumbling into a culture and with strange habits and customs and unweildy speech be used of God to win people there to Christ and plant churches? It seems absurd! Are we willing to be absurd for Christ, irrelevant, and minister out of weakness? Yes, I think we are.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with sharing our money with our brothers in Christ. But we must share much more than our money. Let's send, in Christ's name, from our own churches, all our children and brothers and sisters to serve Christ in mission. And let's send our parents. And let's go ourselves.


ANSWER From: (Meg Crossman)
Some of these requests are legitimate and some are utterly specious. (Including "Please send me tapes of your pastors messages"--tapes are erased and sold in their country.)

Partners in Christ in San Jose is the best organization for helping put together reasonable, accountable partnernships with Nationals. Never send money to anyone that you do not know personally or who is not known to your missionaries. I do not personally feel that letters like that are even deserving of a reply, myself.


ANSWER From: "ELLEN J. LIVINGOOD" <102575.3275@CompuServe.COM>
Mission agencies and local churches here in the US frequently receive these types of letters. If you are able/willing to consider responding with a financial contribution to one of these solicitations, I would recommend that you contact a mission agency you know and trust that works in the country from which the letter was received. Ask them for their evaluation of the situation and the need. If they are not personally acquainted with the individual, church, or organization asking for funds, they can probably refer you to someone who can give you a more objective opinion regarding the situation. In some countries, for instance in most of Africa, a mission agency can put you in contact with a national or regional evangelical church association that can advise you of the situation.

If after confirming the need you decide to contribute, again consider doing so via a mission agency and/or the national church leaders in that country or region. This supports and affirms local accountability and leadership, rather than end-running those who have been elected or appointed to be decision makers. Unfortunately, in the past there have been too many cases where a young national tapped into funds from the West and then refused to be accountable any longer to the godly older leaders to whom he should have been looking for direction.

This is not to discourage all response to these pleas. Last year our church received such a letter regarding a needy student at a Bible school in Kenya. Since we were interested in supporting the training of national leaders, we were willing to consider a gift for this man's tuition if it was a legitimate need. We first contacted AIM and they gave us the name and phone number of a missionary teacher at the school who was presently in the States on home assignment. We talked to him and although he did not know the student well, he confirmed many of the details about the overall situation. Then he recommended that we contact the well respected Kenyan principal of the Bible school. We wrote him, and he responded with a very thorough analysis of the situation and an encouragement of our support. Armed with this information, we decided to underwrite the student's tuition for that semester, but we did so anonymously by sending the funds directly to the school. This served several purposes: first, it affirmed the authority of the school and our suport of the institution and its leaders; second, it prevented us from being deluged with pleas from a hundred other students who got word of our generosity.

This process took more time and effort than quickly writing a check and mailing it to the originator of the letter. But we felt we had exercised responsible stewardship and won the friendship of a respected African leader by funneling the money through his management. (Another bonus: At the end of the semester we received a report on the student's studies from the principal.) This process was faciliated by the fact that most Kenyans can communicate in English, but mission agencies can put you in contact with one of their field personnel who can translate if the correspondence is not extensive.


I also get these requests. The answer to your question depends upon how the Lord is leading you in your ministry. For example, I am more focussed on small individual indigenous ministries. Therefore, I would have to write him that I don't have the resources he needs and would then express an interest in learning more about his ministry and him personally. My reasoning is to get to know him better and begin to feel him out, while at the same time asking the Lord what I should do about him.

Your ministry at Caleb project may not allow you to set your focus the way I do. It may be better for you to write him saying that you don't have the resources he needs but have forwarded his request on to a ministry that may be able to help. Then refer him on to an organization that does deal with these types of ministries. If you try to deal with him yourself, be prepared to learn and deal with a completely different attitude about relationships, ethics and accountability.

There are some groups whose primary focus is handling resources for these people. Bob Savage at Partners International would be a good place to get some info on who these groups are. Also Christian Aid and Interdev should be able to help. Bobs email is; Bob Savage <>. I can't find the others email addresses, but Christian Aids phone is (804)977-5650 and their fax is (804)295-6814. Interdev telephone is (206)775-8330 and their fax is (206)775-8326.

There is also a conference on the xc hub called Indigenous-Ministries. Bob Savage is the moderator and the conference developed out of a group that met last October who call themselves the Consultation on the Support of Indigenous Ministries. It is an easy conference to join, same as most of the brigada conferences, and if you posted your question there I'm sure you would get a lot of very interesting feedback.God bless you as you seek the best solution.


ANSWER From: "Kevin A. Guttman" <74562.3305@CompuServe.COM>
Nate, I would encourage you to call Partners Int'l. and ask them to send you two pamphlets by Alex Araujo (Dir of Int'l. Operations). The first is called Accountability in Cross Cultural Partnershps. The second is Dependency in Cross Cultural Partnerships (not sure about the second title, but Dependency is key). You can talk to Susan Harris and she would be happy to send you these. This will answer many questions about support for nationals. Ralph Winter calls PI the "cadillac of missions agencies who are in this type of ministry". PI has an 800 # 800-966-5515.


ANSWER From: (Greg Crawford:COMMIT Ministries)
It looks as though the question is being beaten to death by deferring to Partners Int'l. But since one or two have alluded to the idea of providing "tuition" to nationals in an accountable fashion, may I suggest contact with Chuck Waite with Overseas Council for Theological Education ( These folks provide tuition to nationals attending seminaries in their respective countries and channel these gifts via a state-of-the-art accountability system through their main office in Indianapolis. Hope this helps.