Saturday, October 04, 2008

Choosing Mickey over missions

This is a true story. It was relayed to me by my missionary sister earlier today. This is a story about a church's priorities gone askew. It is a tale of an unreached people group that may very well never read the Bible in their own language because an American church decided, among other things, their children's church needed more "pop." I have changed the names, and some of the details.

Eight years ago, Mike and Tracy Goeglein rejoiced when they learned that a Midwestern mega-church had decided to adopt the Kaputo people group in African. Bible translators, Mike and Tracy have devoted their life to seeing that people who don't know Jesus Christ have the word of God in their own language. Together, along with other missionaries from their organization, they signed a lengthy covenant with the Independent Christian Church that agreed to be their partners in this monumental endeavor to bring the Bible to the Kaputo.

It was a win-win. Mike and Tracy would have the resources necessary for their work; the church would accomplish its goal to evangelize an unreached people group; the Kaputo would receive God's Word in their native tongue.

Mike and Tracy returned to Africa and threw themselves into their work. Two years passed and a new pastor arrived on the scene at the mega-church. Changes were instituted. The most significant was the church's determination to be more "elder-led" and less "staff driven." As a consequence, a significant number of the church staff was fired, including the mission's minister that was the architect of the covenant between the church and Mike and Tracy.

An ocean away from these changes, however, Mike and Tracy felt relatively secure that their partnership with this Restoration Movement megachurch was stable. After all, they had signed a covenant, and that word meant something. So, they confidently continued in their efforts to bring God's Word to the Kaputo. Then, just two years ago, the church announced that their mission's ministry had "received another calling" and sent "Dear John" letters to more than fifty of the missionaries they supported. Of the church's seventy-one missionaries, only seventeen would continue to receive financial backing. Some were cut off immediately. Others, like Mike and Tracy, were given two years notice so that they could find other streams of revenue for their work.

Of course, the Goegleins were in Africa, so finding other supporters - especially those with pockets as deep as the 6,000 member church that was abandoning them - was particularly difficult. Mike and Tracy's stateside colleagues visited the church and implored them to reconsider. They were told, however, that the church's new mission strategy was more short-term in its approach. Their new "calling" was to send short-term missionaries or teams that would be in and out of a country within five years. With the average Bible translation requiring an investment of twenty or more years, the Goeglein's work did not fit the new parameters.

Eventually the Goegleins themselves returned home to ask the church's elders to reconsider. They did not. In the course of their meeting, however, Mike and Tracy were treated to a tour of the church's new facility. They were shown the multiple large-screen video projection units that the church was in the process of installing. The tour guide explained that the congregation had recently contracted with a Disney consultant to develop an animated Noah's ark theme for the children's wing.

Mike and Tracy are back in Africa now. They and their children survive on beans and lentils. There is not much protein in their diet - maybe a chicken to eat every other night. The mission support they have counted on from the megachurch ends in December. Just after Christmas. What then?

While children in the heartland will be treated to an amazing children's facility that boasts animatronic giraffes with heads that sway above the roof of a cartoonish Noah's ark, the Goegleins wonder if the Kaputo children will ever be able to read about the real Noah. While the elders of this megachurch set aside the covenant they signed in which they agreed to partner with the elders of the Kaputo tribe, one has to ask: if the Kaputo ever get a Bible in their own tongue, and if they learn to read that Bible, are they not going to ask, "If God's people can so easily jettison a document that they call a 'covenant', will not God do the same with His?"

Shame on us.

6 comments:

jeff said...

Rock on! Call it for what it is, there is no shame in truth.

Mike Waugh said...

Frank, thank-you for this post. At my church, we're right in the middle of "budget season," and as we consider the various missions we support, this is a helpful reminder to us all that the seemingly 'small' decisions we make in a few weeks have a tremendous impact elsewhere - both positive and negative. You've caused me to think...

Randy Burghdoff said...

That makes me sick to my stomach.

Rod Bisher said...

Well, seems the damage has been done, but, in an age old principal, with challenges comes opportunity.
So...here's an idea:
Why not relate this need to thousands of people across the world and set up an internet account for the missionaries that is overseen by a group of representatives from several churches (preventative accountability-I know of one person at SLCC who could definitely be in this group) and let many churches participate where one has dropped the ball. I know that God still has the funds, they are just not at this one congregation. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Before you condemn this church and point fingers, I suggest you confirm the validity of your statements. I'm not sure they're entirely correct and appear to be somewhat biased. Have you actually seen this so-called animated Noah's Ark? I do not know all of the details surrounding the decisions that this church made, but I do understand that the church, if I am familiar with the correct one, critically evaluated the missions with which it chose to break ties. Some of these churches never even responded to the church's request for information or updates! Was it unreasonable of them to assume that the lack of response was an indication that the unresponsive missions weren't particularly interested or dependent upon the church's support? This was apparently not the case with the mission you describe, but it certainly was for many. I think it is also possible that the leaders of the church were truly led or called to refocus the church's missions program. Just because someone is "doing mission work" doesn't mean they are truly effective at what they're doing or are being good stewards of the money they're given.

Frank Weller said...

Aside from changes to protect the identity of all involved the post is accurate. And, I don't disagree with you. I'm just hung up on that word: "covenant". . .