Hot Potato is a game we used to play as kids. Pretending the potato was actually hot (it wasn’t), we would pass it around the circle as fast as we could from person to person. Eventually, someone would lose concentration and hold on to the potato too long. BOOM! They lose. They leave. They are the WEAKEST LINK. GOODBYE!
I have been in the world of international development and global missions for almost 30 years. I have seen a lot of money move around from foundation to organisation to church to leader to project to beneficiary. In most cases the flow of funds is seamless. But I have also seen cases where the potato stops half way and the weakest link becomes the richest link.
Its true that a lot of missions funding is embezzled every year. Not surprising, especially since the flow of funds is not always done relationally or based on integrity. Sometimes the funds go to the people who are best at writing grant proposals. ‘Laptop warriors’, they call them.
Worse than blatant embezzlement might be complacency regarding what missionaries do with the money. Maybe some rich funders in the West feel more comfortable if their recipients live on a higher level? Maybe some funders relate competence with the material signs of success and therefore a recipient with a large house and new car (or 3 cars) is considered more reliable than an urban mission worker living incarnationally in a squat or slum, having taken a vow of voluntary poverty?
Being an occasional consultant for funding organisations is a role I do not widely publicise but its one that I continue to play. I advise which projects are worthy and which might be a waste of money or (worse) a potential embarrassment to the foundation.
One of the ways I reduce the risk of mission investment is to visit the recipients. Actually, I do more than that. I hang out with them. I meet their family. I sleep on their couch. And I get to know them pretty well.
Are they people of character and integrity? Are they free from the love of the things of this world? Is there evidence of sacrifice so that the work of God might move forward? Will they shift the potato on or will they grasp it tight?
That’s why I love the way Jesus responded to the people who asked him where he was staying. I don’t know exactly why they were so curious – whether it was who (Jewish or Gentile) was hosting him, what kind of place was it (big or small, rich or poor) or maybe it was just an offer of hospitality.
But the response of Jesus was one immediate transparency and hospitality. He had nothing to hide.
“Come and see!”, Jesus replied.
The people who fund our projects are all welcome to come and see our home (its a truck, actually, since we don’t own a home) and stay with us a while. Or travel with us. They often do. No question is taboo. And I expect the same transparency of the leaders we fund.
It’s not the ultimate solution to the hot potato going cold in some greedy person’s hands, but its another piece of the puzzle that needs to be in place if we are to stop corruption in the world of charity and social enterprise.