The Messiah Complex vs The Entrepreneur

This morning I read an interesting article from Acton Institute Powerblog  but originally found on the Foundation for Economic Education Website entitled “Local Entrepreneurs, not foreign-do gooders are the true Hope of Africa.”  It pointed out the fact that though lots of foreign aid is given towards countries with extreme poverty problems like Africa, it doesn’t seem to be making a huge difference.

I found this article interesting because it highlighted a common problem for missionaries, specifically that even though you come to meet spiritual needs, there area always going to be physical ones as well.  And how you choose to meet those needs (or whether you meet them at all) is a very big decision.

To be perfectly honest my first thought when seeing people in need is to help them, however its very easy for that to become a “Messiah Complex.”  This idea comes from a blog post by Joseph Sunde in March 2016 particularly dealing with a messiah complex in short-term missions.  He describes it this way…

When you roll in and hand out a bunch of soccer balls and candy to kids, it undermines the bridges of trust built through partnering and instead sends the message of easy “Aid” and spreads dependency. It makes it much harder on them when you leave when they wonder why this friend who has been staying with them over years never “gives them stuff.” If you have gifts, only bring what they’ve asked and let them hand them out at a time they deem appropriate…

In other words giving things to people in need is good…but it can also create a sense of dependency upon those gifts in the future.

The fact that aid can develop a dependency can lead to lots of frustration, or an unwillingness to give things away.  That kind of attitude shared in my blog post “why I don’t give things away” in March was an attempt to find a middle ground with that struggle making people “earn gifts,” however since then I’ve changed my mind on the subject and decided this kind of attitude doesn’t share the love of Christ.

Instead of making people earn things I give out use of items freely (such as juice, my tablet, internet or computer) offer water to anyone who wants it, and will occasionally give out a few dollars if it’s needed, but prefer to spend money on fresh fruits and vegetables grown by Vincy’s.  On the other hand I know that giving out tablet time or a few dollars isn’t going to meet the financial needs of St. Vincent (our area in particular needs new jobs)….that is accomplished by funding local entrepreneurs.

The post this morning described an organization that instead of giving large amounts of financial aid in Africa, looked for people within the country who had created new ways of dealing with needs (lack of water, food).  The group then would help them with financial aid or training if needed until their business could be taught and reproduced in other villages.  The goal was to have workshops or meetings were Africans can immediately go home and begin doing that for themselves.  While that may not be look as spectacular as the financial aid philosophy, it will give a long-term impact as the people will eventually become self funding.

The bottom line is though Missionaries aren’t called to meet the financial needs of a culture, we cannot be blind to them either.  And much of what we (Missionaries, myself included) in love and generosity can create a messiah complex where people have an expectation of receiving things.  The answer isn’t slamming the door shut or asking “why they deserve something” as I used to believe, but looking for entrepreneurs who are working to find a way of doing things for themselves, and meeting needs creatively.

There will always sadly be people who hold their hands out for a dollar in every country but won’t work for it (especially America) so as Christians we must make sure the majority of our funds goes towards those who will use it to help and teach others.

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