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Missions 101

Posts By: Jeff Atherstone

Should I Pass Out My Email on a Short-Term Missions Trip - Part 2

Oct. 5, 2016By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

Editor’s Note: This is a continuation on yesterdays post look at the impact of passing out your personal contact information on short-term mission trips. Jeff Athersone is a missionary of Training Leaders International and serves as Chancellor of African Renewal University.

This past month I know two Ugandans who sent out some heart wrenching emails to Americans who had recently served on a short-term team. One email was a prayer request for a young girl who was raped on her way home from church. The other email was from a young man who desperately needed surgery. Both emails tugged at the reader’s hearts so they forwarded the emails on to me asking how they could help or send money.

I have had this happen a number of times before so I am used to following these types of situations up. I have learned not to lead in with what I heard but instead just to ask how the person is doing. In each case both of the people I called were surprised that I was calling them and seemed surprised that I would think anything was wrong.

The reason being both were working on an email scam and didn’t know that I had seen their emails. Here is how it works.

1) The short-term visitor and national exchange contact info (email, facebook, etc).
2) A few messages are sent to establish contact and to thank the visitor for coming to Uganda.

3) The national reports a crisis that they are indirectly involved in to gauge the emotional response.
4) Final step, they report a crisis directly involving themselves.
5) Now the American is deeply involved and 99 times out of 100 the American asks "How can I help?" and the exchange of money begins. Notice that in steps. 1-4 there is absolutely no request for money.

At this point you might be wondering, “Is this really a scam?”

Even though there is no request for money I do believe it is a scam. When the national doesn’t report the situation to a national ministry or missionary on the ground you have to wonder “why are they not seeking help locally?” In a poor country like Uganda where corruption is the norm most of the people sending these emails are looking for a quick buck and that is why they are passing by the local ministries that can use their understanding of the culture and person to make an informed decision.

As a short term visitor one of the greatest things you can do is to empower the local church and local ministries by referring these requests back to them and asking them to discern what is the best way to help. The majority of the time money is not the answer but instead there is need for counseling and discipleship which isn’t a quick fix but it sure has better results. If the local ministry does agree that the problem is money the best thing to do is to give through the local ministry so that there is accountability and the person receiving help isn’t tempted to create more problems in the future to collect more funds.

When in doubt I always encourage people to turn the tables. If a Ugandan was visiting the US and they got to meet the people in your church would you believe that the people in your church could receive the best counsel, support and encouragement through emailing the Ugandan once they returned home? Or do you think that the staff of your church in the US is better equipped to handle the challenges facing the people in your church?

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Should I Pass out My Email on a Short-Term Missions Trip

Oct. 3, 2016By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio
Editor’s Note: Over the next two days we will look at the impact of passing out your personal contact information on short-term mission trips. Jeff Atherstone is a missionary of Training Leaders International and serves as Chancellor of Africa Renewal University.

Over the past 7+ years I have had the opportunity to host over 300 short-term visitors in Uganda at Africa Renewal University. We have been blessed to have teaching teams, construction teams, community outreach teams and curriculum development teams.

I always encourage the teams to exchange their emails with the management staff at ARU. The national ARU staff have excellent training in theology and development issues so they can help the visitors as they learn about cross-cultural ministry. By exchanging emails the relationships that were established during the trip can continue and a “peer relationship” between the two cultures can begin to form.

When the staff communicates with the visitors through email the discussion usually revolves around projects that we are working in partnership on with the visitors, curriculum that we are developing together and the sharing of resources on the web that we can both learn from. This type of “peer relationship” has been a very empowering exercise for my staff helping them to put aside the “colonial mindset” that many were raised in which taught them that they were inferior to Western visitors.

Although I encourage visitors to exchange emails with the people that they are “ministering alongside” I do not encourage them to exchange emails with the people that they are “ministering to.”

There are a number of hazards that come with this type of email exchange. One hazard is that this can lead to scams and frauds, which are common through email and I will address this in another post. The primary hazard that I wish to address today is that by exchanging emails you can actually have a negative impact on the local ministry.

We have experienced this a number of times where a visitor begins emailing a student of ours and the effects can be damaging to the development of the student. The visitor will often offer the student gifts or money that other students do not receive which can cause the students to become jealous of each other and can even bring competition between the students for the visitor’s attention.

The other problem with the visitors offering our students gifts and money is that our university training is helping to give students the skills they need to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty. By offering the students these benefits the visitors are moving them back to the “begging culture” that we are trying to lift the students out of.

Aside from the offer of gifts and money the visitor’s emails are robbing the students of the discipleship relationships that are right in front of them. Email is a great tool but it can never replace direct human interaction for discipleship but too often nationals are more interested in emailing a rich visitor from the West rather than connecting with their national pastor or ministry leaders. The discipleship that I have seen effectively done through emails begins with a long-term relationship not just 2-weeks together on a short-term experience.

The exchange of gifts and discipleship might not be the key issues for other ministries but one thing remains constant – the nationals and missionaries on the ground will always have a greater understanding of how to minister to the people where they serve. That is why God has called and placed them there! The role of the short term visitor is a supportive role and should be to come alongside local ministries joining the Gospel- movement that is taking place on the ground.

Just because someone has spent two weeks in Uganda or even been on ten trips to Uganda that does not make them an expert on the issues facing Uganda. Be careful who you hand your email out to and make sure that your ongoing communication is a blessing to the ministry and people you came to minister alongside of.

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Would You Pay People to Go to Church - Part 2

Jul. 29, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

Yesterday, we asked the question “would you pay people to go to church?” After a few quick thoughts the answer was obvious “no way!”

Then we turned the tables and asked, “Would you pay pastors in Africa to attend the conference your STM team is hosting?”


Here is why I  (as a missionary) would discourage you not to:

1) African’s are relational. They want to meet you, ask about your family, share about their family and get an individual picture with you. This doesn’t happen for them in a crowd of thousands. This type of experience might be satisfying for our western individualistic culture but for a relational society it leads the crowds feeling empty. Ultimately, the only national the STM teams connect with are their drivers – who are also there just to be paid!

2) As leaders go – so goes the church. If the leaders are only motivated to learn, study and worship because they are getting paid they will produce the same type of churches. Sadly, church growth in Africa has become “whoever gives out the most wins!” This means that churches are growing because they sponsor children, provide free medical care, and pass out free clothes and bibles not because the gospel is preached, discipleship is taking place and the body is functioning according to the gifts. This pulls many people away from Bible-teaching churches and into prosperity gospel churches simply because the prosperity church has money.

3) It harms the ministries that last longer than a STM trip! Passing out things for free while receiving high-fives, hugs, smiles, cheers, testimonies and praise for a week or two is an amazing rush which motivates tens of thousands of STM teams to come to Uganda and surrounding East African countries every year. It’s a rush that has become a yearly “must –do” for churches around the US. Then when the money runs out everyone feels great because it is time to board the plane.  But for the churches that meet every Sunday, Child Development centers that open every day and Bible Colleges that meet year round there just aren’t enough resources to pass out free gifts and provide transport every day – so when the visitors leave so do the crowds. This forces many ministries to host teams year round which leads to the same types of visitors, the same messages and the same activities year after year, which African's fully show appreciation for – because it’s their job – there are getting paid!

4) What would you do? Ultimately as a pastor in the US you don’t go to every conference. You pick conference(s) based on what you can afford and when you pay for that conference you know that your elders, deacons committee or whoever else paid for the conference are counting on you to use that time to get what you need most to satisfy your soul and prepare you to lead your church. Treat your brothers in Africa the same way – let them come because it is what they need most not because you are picking up the tab!

At our University we host 5-8 conferences a year and charge anywhere from $5 – 50 per participant and it works. The pastors that need it come and those who don’t are free to stay and faithfully serve in their churches. Our conferences are well attended and I have never heard from anyone that wanted to attend and couldn’t because of the money. We’ve yet to have 10,000 attendees but then again we never had to pay anyone to come…

There is a cost to discipleship – let’s make sure we aren’t changing the gospel call by making everything free!

Jeff Atherstone is the President of African Renewal University and has served as a missionary in Uganda since January 2006.



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Would You Pay People to go to Church?

Jul. 28, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

With all the emphasis on church growth and attendance numbers I am sure that someone has considered this before:“ Why don’t we just pay people to go to church?”

It’s simple – offer people $20 / $50 or $100 a Sunday to come to church.  $10,000 and you could have a thousand member church over night. Mega-church here we come!

Obviously, I’m not the first pastor to think of this so let’s examine the reasons we don’t do this (I reasons why I hope you’re not doing this).


1)   It gives people the wrong motivation to come. They aren’t coming to learn, worship, service or give – they are coming to receive, profit and do their time.

2)   It gives people the wrong view of the gospel. Didn’t Jesus tell people to count the cost of discipleship rather than tell them to count on the profits that come from following?

3)   It harms the people who do want to come. How would you feel if you came to worship and the guy next to you keeps asking “when’s this over” and “what’s the time?” How would you feel if you came to learn and as the pastor comes to preach the whole crowd around you pulls out their iphones and ipads to start playing games?

4)   It gives the pastor a false sense of his influence, impact and following. Bigger isn’t always better (just ask your friend who failed their summer diet). Your ego might feel better having a big crowd but ultimately you are attracting a crowd that cares more about the coffee and doughnuts than they do about the gospel.

5)   It is a waste of the churches resources. If I need to explain – stop reading here because you’re not going to like me at all as I’m about to turn the tables.

Here is where I am going:

As a missionary I am shocked at how many short-term missions teams pay the nationals to attend their conferences, trainings and seminars.

Not only do they pay for the conference, food, lodging, gifts (bibles, books, etc) but many of the conferences in East Africa now as part of the registration pay the transport of the pastor to and from their conferences.

Now imagine if we do this in the US. Catalyst, Desiring God National Conference, Gospel Coalition and every other conference dropped their conference fee, paid for your hotel, meals, and gifts at the bookstore and then reimbursed your plane ticket or fuel. Pastors would become professional conference attendees and the churches would suffer without their leaders.

This is exactly what I see happening in Uganda and hear from other missionaries in surrounding countries. Pastors are turning into professional conference attendees and the church is hurting.

The argument against this is “the church in the west is rich and the church in Africa is poor why can’t we help them”

There are plenty of answers – let me tackle that in part 2 tomorrow…

Jeff Atherstone is the President of African Renewal University and has served as a missionary in Uganda since January 2006.


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Integrity Has a Price - Part 3

Jan. 28, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

It's 2 AM and I'm wide awake... usually a good sign that the day didn't go as planned.

Long story short... nothing happened.

The squatters argued that they were not served a notice to appear, which is a bit funny because their lawyer was in court on time and they were all standing outside of the courthouse (so how is it that they didn't know to appear in court - seems fishy to me)... so now the seller of the land has to provide a legal document (insert a technical name that I can't remember here) which states that he really did serve them notice.

Due to this technicality the judge delayed the hearing until April 3.

But here is where the whole issue of integrity comes in. We could have had the whole thinggavel1 taken care of today for just under $1,000 (remember this is a $100,000 land purchase so we are talking less than 1%). All we had to do was pay the judge and our case would have been heard.

I believe this is where the Western influence (or let's get more personal and say missionary influence) has added to the corruption in Uganda.

To a westerner "time is money" so it has become common practice to "pay" (insert "bribe") to speed up service. This happens with missionaries getting work visas at the Ministry of Immigration. It happens for missionaries seeking to register their NGOs (Christian organizations). It happens for missionaries who pay to get out of traffic tickets so they don't have to stand in long lines at the bank to pay the real tickets. It happens with couples who want to speed up their adoptions. The list goes on and on.

I'm not saying that all missionaries do this, but it is also more common than it should be among this crowd.

Our cultural (not biblical)  impatience has created a system that encourages corruption.

Part of me wonders if "being slow" has become the most profitable business practice in the developing world?

So today the squatters took a calculated risk and delayed the process. Now all eyes are back on us, the school with a mizungu (white) director. Will he bribe the court? Or better yet, will he pay us (the squatters) to stop fighting this case in court?

So here is the updated prayer list:

1) Pray that the judge, seller and squatters all show up in court on April 3 with all the legal documents filed correctly 
2) Pray that the judge grants us favor and makes his decision on the evidence
3) Pray that the squatters don't pay to win
4) Pray that the judge acts on his decision in our favor and sends his bailiffs to clear the squatters off the land
5) Pray that the squatters don't retaliate against the school or my family
6) Pray that the testimony of this purchase inspires our staff, students and everyone else involved to seek God's favor rather than paying for man's favor 

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  missions, money, uganda, west, corruption, patience, integrity, arcc
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