Here in the West, we take learning faith reliance for granted. Donors are asking for greater accountability of non-profits working in poorer parts of the world, which is great. Especially when we are talking about Africa, churches in North America have been sending money there for ministry purposes for decades and struggle to understand why they’re not self-sustaining. This is a tricky situation because without the donations the churches, hospitals, orphanages, etc. wouldn’t be there, but the tendency to rely on donations instead of, in faith, relying on God is common.
And I am in favour of this switch, but it’s not a simple thing.
Africa is a very big place and many of the countries there rank as the poorest in the world. They lack basic infrastructure, health care networks, and in some cases even stable governments. For the Church to be self-sustaining has to be a very long term goal.
But it’s not impossible. When I was living in Africa, I spent considerable time working with a local ministry that encouraged self-sustainability. Voice of the Church (VOC) was a network of FM stations created and financed by TWR, but the intention was always for that ministry to be self-sustaining. VOC is now financially independent and has become TWR’s main partner in Swaziland. Through the hard work of our local staff they have been able to generate enough goodwill in their neighbours, friends and family that this ministry is now completely financed in Swaziland.
Swaziland is one of the smallest nations in Africa, so change is possible but it is not quick.
Our chief engineer at the transmitter site in Swaziland was very industrious and had started a small project to generate income locally. He sold our scrap metal by the pound. This simple project got me thinking about what else we could do to be more self-sustainable.
The TWR Swaziland transmitter site owns 240 arable acres of land, and the hay growing naturally there is a fire hazard in the dry season. We had to cut the hay twice a year to reduce the danger from wildfires, so we allowed a local farmer to graze his cattle there. He would keep some of the hay to store for his cows, but we found out later he was selling the extra hay to local farmers. Not a bad deal for him.
When I discovered this, I knew that we were missing out on lost income. We already had a tractor and ancient haybine (we were already cutting the hay), but we didn’t have a bailer so at first we rented one. It wasn’t long before we were able to purchase our own bailer. That was 17 years ago. That first bailer paid for itself many times over and has since been replaced.
Depending on the year and the weather, the hay generates between $30,000 – $50,000 a year (hay is much cheaper there than here per acre). That fund income helped us to do special projects, purchase vehicles, purchase FM transmitters, and upgraded our farming equipment. It was exciting to be able to strengthen the ministry through some creative entrepreneurship.
I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the teak tree plantation we started on the TWR Benin transmitter site. White teak is the preferred wood in Africa for framing, construction, furniture, etc. because it’s resistant to termites. Today, we have over 25 hectares of trees planted (about 40,000 trees). These trees need about 15 years to mature.
When TWR Canada first became involved with the high-powered transmitter in Benin (before it even went on the air) the vision was for TWR West Africa to be largely self-sustainable. This will bring us closer to that goal.
We began planting the teak trees in 2004 and the plantation can sustainable harvest 1,500 trees a year at peak maturity capacity. This will cover a major portion of TWR West Africa’s operating costs each year.
The Wood-Mizer company has given us a substantial discount on a hydraulic portable sawmill so we can turn the trees into saleable lumber. We are still raising money for this project to cover a portion of the cost of the sawmill and for shipping.
For many years we have had more opportunities for ministry then there are resources available. Harvesting trees will allow us to strengthen our ministry while at the same time make us less reliant on the Western church to sustain the ministry in Africa.
Change is slow but steady.