TAXICABS AND GOATS are among the means used to support mission work as members confront budget cuts caused by the collapsing global economy.
CHENNAI, India — In this coastal metropolis, Hindus worship the god Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles.
Spend a few minutes in Chennai’s gridlocked traffic, and it’s easy to see why the elephant-headed deity has a place of honor on taxi dashboards.
But there are no plastic statues or stickers bearing Ganesha’s likeness in Babu’s clean, comfortable SUV. The driver maneuvers deftly between the giant trucks, tiny mopeds and ox-drawn carts that clog the streets.
The vehicle is part taxi and part “Ethiopian chariot,” evangelist Paul Renganathan said.
Money raised through fares helps fund church work. The Choolaimedu Church of Christ oversees the auto ministry, which also includes auto-rickshaws — three-wheeled taxis that zip between larger cars as they carry passengers through the city.
The motivation for the ministry is Acts 8:29 where the Holy Spirit tells Philip to “join thyself to this chariot,” leading to the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. Each auto-rickshaw bears an advertisement for the Choolaimedu church on its bumper, plus gospel pamphlets for its passengers.
As a bonus, “a three-wheeler brings enough income for a preacher and his family, or a student at the Bible college,” Renganathan said. That’s advantageous, he added, as the church braces for possible cuts in the funds it receives from overseas due to the poor global economy.
Across the U.S., churches show signs of diminishing collections, “not only concerning global missions, but for just about anything beyond their walls,” said Alan Phillips, associate director of Texas-based Missions Resource Network.
As a result, some workers who receive funds from the U.S. have decided “these are times to get a bit more creative in how God’s mission gets accomplished,” he said.
ROOT CANALS, COFFEE AND GOATS
In other Indian cities — and around the globe — ministries and workers receiving foreign support are developing alternate sources of revenue:
• Despite terror attacks there last November, Mumbai, India, remains a center of shopping, the Bollywood movie industry and hip replacements.
Private hospitals in India offer procedures from root canals to bone marrow transplants to uninsured patients for nearly one-tenth of what they would pay in the United States.
Three U.S. church members living in Mumbai launched American Medical Solutions to help Americans through the “medical tourism” process.
“We save them money on absolutely everything they do, including shopping, because we know how to do it,” minister Don Wood said. “We charge nothing for our services, but expect we’ll be tipped if we did them a good job.”
• At the Kakinada School of Preaching, students can learn Old Testament history, Christian evidences and how to serve hors d’oeuvres.
The ministry training school in southeast India recently launched a school of hotel management in its facility to help Indians find jobs in the country’s luxury hotel business.
Sagar Kumar, a graduate of the preacher training school, returned to train in the management program, with hopes of supporting his father, who ministers to a poor, rural community in India.
• In the African city of Jinja, Uganda, church members operate The Source Cafe, an Internet cafe and coffee shop.
Profits from the cafe help support church-related needs for the 70-plus congregations in the area, including care for victims of AIDS.
• In the Philippines, a goat-raising ministry is yielding fruit — and vegetables.
“We have been teaching goat raising to the poorest of the poor ... for two years now,” missionary Salvador Cariaga said. “We now have 500 goats distributed all over the Philippines. Eventually, this program will help support our various ministries.”
Filipino farmer Alberto Demayo recently showed church members how to use the goats’ manure to fertilize crops, giving the ministry another means of support.
MISSIONARIES ... NOT BUSINESSMEN
As a former missionary to the Ivory Coast, Barry Baggott understands the financial stress ministries endure.
But churches using means of revenue beyond simple giving aren’t following patterns laid out in Scripture, he said.
“When it comes to financing the Lord’s work, the only biblical method I know of is simply Christians ... giving as generously as they can, with the assurance that God will bless them, provide for their needs,’” Baggott said.
Baggott, who oversees a ministry that produces French gospel literature in Nashville, Tenn., noted that he wasn’t referring to “tent making” — vocational missionaries working to support themselves as they minister, following the example of the apostle Paul in Acts 18:3.
Operating moneymaking enterprises can be a daunting task for Christians engaged in full-time ministry, said Chad Westerholm, who works with a mission team in the African nation of Mozambique.
The team currently helps about 35 churches, which “seem to grow faster than we can train leaders,” he said.
“If I were working on the side to try to support my family, the ministry would suffer greatly,” Westerholm said. “I am trained to be a missionary, not a businessman.”
Though many U.S. churches provide funds for ministries with the goal of those works becoming self-sufficient, “helping others to become self-sufficient is easier said than done,” Cariaga said.
In the Philippines, many religious leaders become self-sufficient by demanding offerings from the poor. These leaders use the money to build cathedrals and mansions, he said.
“I believe the Lord’s church should temper its quest for foreign self-sufficiency,” Cariaga said, “but make every effort to find creative ways to reach that goal in a godly and biblical way.”