52 in 52 Week 18: Missions and Money by Jonathan Bonk

shop-omsc.rpdesign.com7.jpeg"Is it any wonder that Christians from poorer parts of the world -- in response to the siren appeal of the gospel of plenty modeled by the Western [workers] -- respond to the implicit invitation by saying "Yes!" to materialism? We should not be surprised at the discovery that Western workers are now credited with being one of the greatest secularizing agencies of the past two centuries" (Bonk, p.77)


This book reminded me of a book I read in the early 80's called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider. I loved that book because it was both biblical and practical and set some of my convictions about wealth in my early 20's. Bonk even has it as a reference in the bibliography. Good for you, Bonk.

It also reminded me of Richard Foster's excellent book, The Freedom of Simplicity which is also practical and inspirational. 

I liked the book at the beginning, but I feel like he got increasingly critical and judgmental as the book progressed. It is extensive in its criticism and gives a good case for a biblical view of wealth and poverty, but it is very short on PRACTICAL solutions to what he perceives as the problem. 

His thesis is that affluence among western missionaries is the Achilles' heel of missions. He contends that western missionaries sent to Third World countries are usually very wealthy by local standards, and this inhibits the spread of the Gospel because they are not incarnating it or going the way of the cross through self-sacrifice. I think this is true in many cases. It is just hard to know where that line is drawn in some cultures; and again, it is all theoretical and well-researched, but where are the practical steps for turning this long time trend in the opposite direction? He seems to think that all missionaries are turning a blind eye to it and ignoring the call of God, but I can't help but think that they just don't know where to start. Bonk gives no help. 

It is also easy for Bonk to make all these condemnations from his comfortable western existence on the east coast having only spent two years in famine relief overseas in his adult life. Growing up overseas doesn't cut it for me. Why don't you go and try to live overseas by these principles you preach and then write a book?

The tone was judgmental rather than inspiring and challenging. Also, he used big words that could make this book inaccessible for many readers.  

My husband worked for a foreign government overseas. As a foreign worker, he was given a better financial package than his foreign coworkers, but we chose to live at the same standard of living, sometimes below. Our neighbors had two cars (we had one as we did in the US - which is unusual) with their first car being a Mercedes or BMW, and the second being the national car. Our first car was the national car (which was a piece of junk, but I digress). Our neighbors had air-conditioning in every room, we only had it in the master bedroom. Our neighbors had live-in house help from poorer neighboring countries and treated them like slaves. We had three different nannies (one at a time) that came from the US for  our first year there to help me with child care so I could get out and learn the language. We treated them like daughters.  We went to our neighbors houses, and most had two kitchens and expensive furnishings. We had one kitchen and inexpensive furniture purchases.  

I don't say this to justify myself, but to clarify that not all westerners live above the standard of living of the nationals who were quite materialistic in their outlook. Historically, the western missionaries didn't necessarily transport the materialism because missionaries were not (and still are not) allowed for the majority population, yet the majority population became materialistic all on its own. The greed of Western capitalism had invaded their world through the media, not through missions. Look at the grandiose materialism of the Gulf countries where western missionaries have never been allowed. Materialism is in the heart of every man, in my humble opinion.  To blame it all on western missionary influence is far too simplistic for my sensibilities!

Maybe this is the case in places like Africa, where most of Bonk's research originates. I have never been there. I would venture to say that, while missionaries might have had an influence, colonialism was also to blame. 

I think Bonk dismisses the many hard-working and wonderful people who have gone overseas with the pure motive of loving others in the name of Christ. Sure there are those who do it for ego and significance (I know some), but the vast majority have truly incarnated Jesus and walked the way of the cross which is more than I can say for Bonk who has lived in the US most of his adult life. 

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