Donors Beware

The truck ground to a stop in the Brazilian Indian village. A government official climbed down from the cab and told the driver to pull back the tarp part way. Villagers crowded closer to see shovels, axes, hoes, bush knives, rakes, rotary manioc graters, and two-metre-wide shallow pans for roasting manioc.

tarp truck“The government knows you need these tools and equipment,” the official began his speech, pausing frequently so his words could be interpreted into the local language for those who didn’t understand Portuguese.

“We are going to many Indian villages and leaving tools and equipment in each village that needs them.”

“Yes, yes, we need all things in our village!” several voices shouted.

“Especially the roasting pans,” the chief added, “Our old one has holes in it.”

“Before I give you some of these tools, I need to know one thing,” the supervisor said. “Are there any missionaries living here?”

“Yes, there are,” the chief replied, pointing to two women in their thirties standing at the edge of the crowd. “Those two missionaries give us medicine when we are sick. They teach us to read and write in our own language. And they tell us stories about God.”

At that, the supervisor signaled to the driver to cover the load and retie the tarp. As the tools disappeared from their sight, the villagers shouted, “Hey, what about the tools? Aren’t we getting any?”

“You already have missionaries helping you,” the official shouted over the clamour. “You don’t need the government’s help. Just ask the missionaries for the tools you need.”

With that, he climbed into the cab and the truck drove off leaving the villagers bewildered. Their shock soon turned into action. The chief turned to the two women and accused them of being stingy, of not giving them the tools and equipment they needed.

The women were devastated. Their missionary support income was barely enough to cover their most basic personal physical needs and the medicines they gave away. They had absolutely no way of providing the villagers with thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment and, in tears, told them so.

“Well, then, you need to leave,” the chief declared. “The truck has to come back through our village. Maybe they will have a few things left. If we tell the government official we have permanently sent you away, they may leave those things here.”

And that is what happened. It was rumoured that officials with their personal anti-Christian agenda often manipulated the indigenous people into expelling missionaries using the promise of essential agricultural tools as leverage.

I know that Christian relief organizations in North America frequently fund these village level humanitarian projects. When I heard that story during our time of working with the Canela people, I wondered, Do any of the donors know that their gifts are used to expel Christian missionaries from the villages where they minister?

I speak at dozens of events each year to raise funds for a variety of Bible translation projects like the Translation Acceleration Kits. After checking that the project is overseen by honest and reliable people, my wife and I usually help to fund it personally. How can I ask others to give to a project when I don’t give to it myself?

A Latin phrase Caveat emptor means “Let the buyer beware.” The term is often used in real estate transactions, advising the buyer to perform their due diligence before finalizing the purchase. In these days of fund raising scams and manipulation, I wonder what the Latin phrase is for “Let the donor beware?”