Having seen the poverty of the persecuted church in China and Vietnam firsthand, I've been thinking about how to help them. As I examined the various approaches that are available to fund raise I have arrived at the conclusion that whatever technique or tactic I employ needs to be sustainable. In other words, a one-time gift of $500 or even $5000 by a charitable donor or donor's is simply not the answer to the problems faced by these churches. What they need is a system of giving that goes on and on indefinitely without relying upon a single entity or person for their ongoing support. Once I reached that conclusion I realized that almost everything I know how to do is time limited and would be very difficult to replicate over and over again. Having run into that apparent barrier I decided to examine the pattern of giving used by New Testament churches during the apostolic era.
So I turned to the second epistle to the Corinthians beginning in chapter 8:
2 Cor 8:1-28 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. KJV
Here the apostle Paul commends the good example of the churches of Macedonia, which would have included Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and others in the region of Macedonia for their generous giving. These churches were both poor and persecuted and yet we see that they rejoiced exceedingly to do good to their even more impoverished and more persecuted brethren in other places.
In this passage Paul highlights their great liberality, which he calls the grace of God bestowed on the churches, (v. 1). In all likelihood Paul is referring to the charitable gifts of these churches. Their charity to the poor saints can only be attributed as coming from God as the author; an attribute of God's is that He overflows with generosity. Their giving was also a reflection of their true love and devotion toward God, which also was manifested in how they gave. That shows us that in effect, the grace of God must be attributed as the root and fountain of all the good that is in us, or done by us, at any time. This quality of goodness manifested by the Macedonian church is a kind of proof that they were abiding in Christ and He, likewise, was abiding in them. It is only through this great grace and favor from God which is bestowed on us, that we are made useful to others. This alone explains any good work done by us. In a nutshell, what this passage teaches is that if believers in a local church are indwelt by God one of the ways they will manifest His indwelling in them is by their generosity to others.
I find it interesting that the Macedonian churches were so poor, and themselves in such distress, yet they contributed to the relief of others. They were in great tribulation and deep poverty, (v. 2). For the Macedonian churches it was a time of great affliction in church history, as may be seen, Acts 18:17. These Christians were persecuted, and stripped of their property and belongings which had reduced them to deep poverty; yet, they had abundance of joy in the midst of this tribulation. In some respects that parallels what I see in the persecuted churches of Asia.
I began to realize in reading this passage that the Macedonian churches were very little different from the churches in Asia with which I am familiar whose circumstances were nearly identical. If we change the names and add 2000 years to the date, the churches of Macedonia are very nearly interchangeable with the churches of Asia. Persecution notwithstanding, even so the Macedonian churches abounded in their liberality; they gave out of a little. I wondered as I read this, how can people who are so poor possibly have anything to give to anyone else? It did not take long for me to see from whence this enablement derived.
Their ability to give rests solely in their apparent trust in God to provide for them. They could trust that God would make up to them anything that they gave away. Their giving is described as being with the riches of liberality (v. 2). This term "liberally" simply means that they gave as if they had been rich. We don't know how much it was but in Paul's estimation it was a large contribution; it was according to, yea beyond, their power (v. 3). It was much more than could be expected from them.
So this passage really did help me to understand how the first generation of the church handled fund raising. From this narrative we can see that fundraising in the first generation of the church was a matter of every individual rich or poor giving to the benefit of others. It wasn't a call for the rich congregations to give to the poor congregations it was a call for every individual to participate in the grace of giving. I had always understood this concept but there was a missing piece for me still. I still had difficulty seeing how this could be applied in a practical way and in particular among the persecuted churches of Asia. Those that I have seen are so dirt poor I couldn't imagine that they would have anything of value to give to anyone else. And then I read an e-mail which was not even sent to me, I had stumbled upon it as I was helping my friend Robin with a problem he was having on his computer. Would you call that an accident? No!
The e-mail that I saw on Robin's computer contained a link to a YouTube video entitled: "A Handful of Rice". It sounded intriguing to me so I clicked on the URL and watched it. This little video was less than 15 minutes long but it contained a great message that pretty well parallels second Corinthians chapter 8. It's about an impoverished congregation of people in India and how they have been practicing this kind of grace giving where each individual household gives one handful of rice to the church. That's all they had to give. Upon receipt from each of the members, the churches in this area collected the donated rice and were able to sell it and raise the money that was needed within their own local congregations. I hope you'll take couple of minutes to watch this video.
What the video helped me to see is that the kind of fundraising that will ultimately help the persecuted church today needs to be raised from within the congregations where the needs exist; even if they are dirt poor. In another YouTube video I was exposed to the testimony of an African man whose total monthly income for the support of his household was only $10 per month. The problem he was confronting was that the children in his village were going blind for want of a medication that merely cost $.50 per child. The man prayed that God would send a rich man to his village to supply the needed medication for the children. A rich man never showed up. Eventually, God placed upon the heart of this one man to buy one dosage of medication per month for a child in the village. As of the date of the publication of the video that one man has been able to supply over 80 doses of medication; that translates to the over 80 children in his village that he has been able to help in spite of his abject poverty. The message is clear; each of us as believers has been given by God the wherewithal to give to others who are in greater need than we find ourselves. There is always someone whose situation or need is direr than my own.
That doesn't mean that Western churches can't or shouldn't raise funds to be applied to the needs of the persecuted churches in Asia; not at all. But I now see that outside donations can only supplement what must be done locally. It seems to me this is the design that is modeled within the first generation of the church and that worked for them. I conclude, in all likelihood, it will work for the church today. After all, God has not changed in 2000 years and even today I'm sure we would be amazed to see how He can still use a handful of rice.
Joe Baginski is currently serving on the mission field in South Asia where he participates in delivering Bibles to closed or tightly controlled countries. He is in frequent contact with the poor and persecuted leaders of house churches in these countries. His blog: www.breaduponthewatersasia.com