Everyone go home, but send money

31 Mar 2023

The US is doubling down on aid to Ukraine, including sending a very sensitive and very effective Patriot missile battery. Yet at the same time, over the last year, given the tensions between Russia and the United States with regard to the war, it was unsurprising Americans left the region “in droves.” While I have anecdotally heard of many missionaries and mission agencies being pushed out of China, I have not seen similar stories from Russia. But they would not surprise me.

Both missionary thinkers and secular analysts hold to the idea that “the Pax Americana is dead.” This theory says globalization was made possible in large part because the American military ruled the oceans and could intervene overwhelmingly anywhere in the world. Now, for a variety of reasons, America is withdrawing. As it does, some other countries are becoming limited Powers in their own right; but mostly, in the de-globalized spaces, nationalism is rising. In this environment, foreigners—and especially? Americans—are less welcome.

One can find all sorts of counterfactuals. This tipping—with foreigners being ejected, borders being hardened, nationalism leading to xenophobia—isn’t comprehensive. There are spaces (especially where tourists and foreign workers of varying stripes are desired) where there is some veneer of welcome for foreigners. And, if the Pax Americana is dead because the American military isn’t welcome, apparently American military money & weapons are still very much in vogue.

This issue of ‘American money is welcome, but Americans aren’t’ crops up quite vividly in Ukraine, obviously. And there are lots of nuances: while some ‘free patriots’ (adventurer/merc types) and ‘military trainers’ are having an impact, no one is suggesting putting troops on the ground in Ukraine—that would be a significant escalation, obviously. (I know America wouldn’t want that, and I’m not sure Ukraine would welcome it either.) In fact, America is being fairly careful about what sorts of weapon systems they put on the ground.

Nevertheless, in the words of one writer, “The story here is not NATO straining every sinew but the US financing the abject humiliation of one of its two main geopolitical rivals at a cost that, in the grand scheme of things, is little more than rounding error in the federal budget.”

What does all this have to do with mission? The push out of Americans (really, the push out of most non-locals from most nationalizing spaces, with many counterfactuals) coupled with the welcome of foreign money could bring us back around to renewed thinking and experimentation around the involvement of foreign money in mission.

We have long known that bringing money into mission partnership relationships (really, into any relationship) is dangerous. It changes dynamics around power and incentives dramatically. There have been many movements that have fizzled when they became overly dependent on foreign money and then the foreign money went away.

And yet, there is no question that (1) money is, essentially, one way to ‘buy’ or ‘sponsor’ or ‘enable’ manpower and hours (i.e. a company will ‘buy’ worker hours from someone else when they don’t have it in house), (2) money can capitalize the purchase of resources which can multiply worker hours (in mission cases, for example, wide area broadcasting, resource printing, the translation of Scriptures, etc), and (3) whoever the missionary workers are, they and their families need to eat. Just this week, I received an email where an abrupt funding downturn has led at least one worker to have to look for other work. Our own family has experienced funding losses in the past which made us question lots of things.

I have questions with no answers. The current environment is likely to cause us to raise these questions again and again in the months and years immediately ahead. People are constantly asking “how can we help mission to the unreached places?” When many of these unreached places are beyond the reach of outsiders, and missions to those places have needs that money can help with—that deserves some thought, because thoughtfully or not, it’s going to happen.