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Lessons from the South African Church

The figures just did not add up when I used my United States thinking. Then again, we base our finances on budgets, and these folks base theirs on faith.

I recently experienced so much of the vibrant life in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />South Africa’s Baptist churches today.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
I attended a meeting of the South African Baptist Alliance (SABA), which brings together the Baptist Union (traditionally white but now mixed); the Baptist Convention (mainly black); the Afrikkan Baptists; and the Baptist Mission and Baptist Association (mainly Indian). Ten years ago, such a meeting would not have been possible, and even then, when one or two of the groups met together, there was animosity and lack of trust. 
Today there was just such a great spirit, a lot of humor and a clear dedication to work in the new South Africa bringing people to Christ and working with the poorest of the poor. 
On the agenda was the possible formation of a federation of their theological seminaries, all being housed on the same site and sharing staff and facilities. This is still only a possibility, but groups have been meeting for more than a year to try to bring this about.  
The plans are impressive and would make a lot of sense, with each college retaining its autonomy yet sharing resources with each other.
The cost of the venture is estimated at just over $1 million.
And that’s where the figures just do not add up when compared to life here in the United States. We have small churches here that think nothing of going into debt for well over $1 million to build an extension to the church building.  
Now if I could find just 10 of those churches that would be prepared to tithe their building funds, we would have the million dollars for South Africa!  
On the Sunday morning, I went to the Kagiso Baptist Church in one of the townships west of Johannesburg. My old friend Zacharia Motaung is the pastor, and he had been attending a roundtable meeting in Johannesburg, called by Baptist World Aid, to plan our Baptist response to the terrible drought devastating many parts of Southern Africa.  
The worship experience was wonderful. When it came time for the offering at the first service, Zac decided that all the money—tithes and offerings—should go to BWAid’s drought relief appeal. 
At the more crowded second service he announced the same. Looking at the deacon chair and church treasurer, he asked them to raise their hands in agreement, joking that he didn’t want to take the blame for this alone! They readily did so. 
The offering was given to me at the end of the service, neatly bundled and bagged and amounting to 1,667 South African rands—about 166 U.S. dollars. This had been sacrificial giving, and I thanked the pastor, deacon chair and treasurer.  
“I hope this won’t affect your budget,” I commented. “Oh. Don’t worry about that,” said the treasurer, “the people will just give double to the church next week!” 
The figures just did not add up when I used my United States thinking. Then again, we base our finances on budgets, and these folks base theirs on faith. 
Paul Montacute is director of Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance. 
Also read: 
Building as Part of Ministry
New Age of ‘Cathedrals’: Reflecting the Image of God or Man?
Blessed are the Builders?
Ethical Considerations in a Church Building Program: One Church’s Story