When the deadly tsunami struck Dec. 26, it brought to the minds of many church members what Bill McDonough already knew Asia needs to see God's love.
The veteran missionary was in Cambodia at the time. The developing country is home to many new Christians baptized through medical and agricultural missions.
It's also far from Europe, where McDonough spent 20 years planting churches. He served in Germany and Austria and directed a food relief effort for Poland from 1980-84. He brought souls to Christ in Romania, Albania, the Republic of Georgia and Kosovo.
He founded Partners in Progress in 1980 to conduct medical missions in the Caribbean. The ministry now includes projects in 48 countries on five continents - including an inner-city clinic in its hometown, Little Rock, Ark. The Windsong church, formerly Sixth and Izard, oversees the ministry.
McDonough is coordinating tsunami relief from various locales in Asia, a continent he passionately believes is ready to receive Christ.
In 1997 McDonough married Marie-Clarie Lestunff following the death of his first wife, Barbara. His daughter, Rebecca, served as a missionary in Romania with her husband, Phil Jackson, now facilitator for European church planting for Missions Resource Network, Dallas.
This Dialogue contains excerpts from an interview conducted by Joy McMillon Jan. 8.
How is the tsunami crisis different from other crises that church relief ministries have faced?
We've had more calls about this than anything that has ever happened, including Poland, Kosovo and Ethiopia.
And this time there are enough groups involved to manage it. That makes it much more likely that we will do a better job than we have done in the past. Back then, we didn't have all these groups. No one single ministry or group can manage this big of an effort and be effective. Each of these groups has a different expertise and different talents and resources.
Have churches of Christ exceeded your expectations in their response to the tsunami?
What has struck me most is the outpouring of sympathy and money for the victims by our brethren around the world - not only from the United States, but from across Europe and Asia. They are all helping. Absolutely nothing about the response is disappointing. Brethren respond to disasters in a greater way than any group of people in the world.
From which locales in Europe have you received support? Has this response surprised you at all?
European brethren have always responded to such emergencies. During the Polish crisis in the 1980s we received funds from every country in Europe, and many European brethren involved themselves personally, collecting clothing and driving trucks in the convoys we organized from Germany to Poland.
To date brethren from Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland and Belgium have responded with prayers and contributions. English-speaking American missionaries Keith Myrick in Germany, Doyle Kee in the French world, and Paul Brazle in Belgium have worked with us to get the message out to brethren.
Are Christians in Asia reaching out to the victims? Based on their responses, how would you assess the future of churches of Christ in the region?
Local Christians are responding with food, clothing, pots and pans. They're building shelters and showing compassion through personal concern and involvement with the victims.
The church will multiply in the next few years as a result of sharing and caring for the victims, just as it did in Poland, Kosovo, Eastern Europe and Africa.
Has the tsunami afforded churches and relief workers the opportunity to reach Muslims?
Yes. The experienced people here tell us there is little prejudice among most of the Muslims of Indonesia toward Christians, and we can now demonstrate Christ's love through disaster relief.
We understand that some Muslims are concerned about Christian groups trying to evangelize while they distribute aid? How do you respond?
The answer is based on Romans 13. If you do good in the sight of the government, you don't have to fear. If we go in and do good in Muslim and Hindu countries, then people are going to respond, and it won't be an artificial response.
I don't anticipate any serious problems. Indonesia has opened their doors to Christian relief already, and we have taken medical teams to Sri Lanka prior to this.
What challenges do relief ministries face in stewarding funds?
Ministries need to be transparent to those who send their money and let them know what they are doing in order to create a sense of confidence. E-mail and Web site updates are both good ways.
Regular accounting procedures and reporting also are necessary. At Partners in Progress, we have an open-book policy. Anyone who makes a contribution to the ministry may personally examine our financial records.
Ministries need to dispose of the funds - for the reason they were given - as quickly as is expedient. There is a temptation to hang on to the money and allow the funds to generate more money.
I don't want people to waste money, of course, but in a disaster of this size you need to expedite a judicious use of your money.
You have extensive experience in Eastern Europe. What made you decide to switch your focus to Asia?
Asia has more than 60 percent of the world's population, and our brotherhood spends only eight percent of our missions budgets here.
The great neglect of Asia by churches of Christ moved me toward Asia. I also was encouraged to look East by Maurice Hall and Ken Fox, who have given much of their lives to this area.
After World War II, several missionaries and churches focused their efforts on Asia. In your opinion, did their work have an impact?
There were many pioneers - George Benson in China, E.W. McMillon in Japan, Ray Bryant and others in the Philippines, Parker Hendrson in Thailand.
However, with only a few exceptions our brotherhood has never committed the numbers of missionaries or money to make a significant impact on Asia.
Currently, are churches of Christ doing enough to reach Asia?
Not nearly enough. In Indonesia, the fourth most populated nation in the world, there are no restrictions on missionary activity, except in one or two areas (Banda Aceh being one of them). We have done very little to evangelize Indonesia.
This door is now widely open, and we need men and women on the scene who will devote several years to teaching the (tsunami) victims about Christ. On Jan. 19 the president and his wife came through the airport where we were waiting on a flight. They made a special effort to come over to us - the faith-based relief workers - and greet us and thank us.
What are the biggest misconceptions you encounter in the United States about Asia and its people?
That Asians are not receptive to the gospel. Where efforts have been and are being made, Asia is proving to be as receptive as any geographical area of the world, and the tsunami disaster will open hearts even more. A lack of information, and old misinformation, have kept churches away from Asia.
Are there any successes you can point to in Asia evangelism? Do any efforts in Asia provide what you see as a good model for missions?
Yes, Indonesia and Thailand - in certain areas - have seen successes.
The work on Nias, (Indonesia,) where the disaster just took place, is an example. Missionary Dennis Cady started working there in the 1970s and the church has grown to more than 1,500 faithful Christians meeting in 45-plus village congregations.
The work in the Philippines - with more then 600 congregations - is another example.
How important is it that churches in the United States follow the lead of local church leaders in Asia when providing relief - or when doing mission work in general?
Where there are capable leaders it is very important that we share our expertise with local brethren and encourage them to take the lead. Where leadership, knowledge and experience in relief work are lacking we must take the lead and train local brethren for the long haul.
This disaster will need hands-on attention for a long time if we are to turn it into a great day for the Lord's church.
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