A GC Treasurer Dismisses Poverty
Mind-set in West Africa
BY ANSEL OLIVER, Adventist News Network
eorge Egwakhe is fighting the poverty mind-set. The son of farmers in rural Nigeria, Egwakhe now finds himself in a position of encouraging Adventist Church leaders in West-Central Africa Division (WAD) to abandon the phrase "I'm poor."
"I disagree with that mentality; I don't accept it," says Egwakhe, an associate treasurer of the General Conference.
His comments come during an interview over lunch at WAD headquarters in Abijan, Cote d’Ivoire, where regional church leaders held year-end business meetings.
Following the morning's treasurer's report, several delegates asked for an increase in appropriations for their regions. Both Egwakhe and the division president put the kibosh on that idea.
"Don't tell me about poverty," Egwakhe told some 30 delegates during an animated response to the floor discussion. "If you do not believe in self-support you are in the wrong place."
PUSHING TO STEWARDSHIP: George Eqwakhe says its time for church leaders be serious about self-support.
Later, over lunch, Egwakhe says that most foreign church leaders wouldn't be able to respond the way he did that morning. He grew up in the region and had to work as a farmer for five years following elementary school to earn his way to high school. "I believe it is possible for [this region] to change its financial picture," he says.
Egwakhe is one of three world church officers attending the meeting. Each of the church's 13 world regions typically hold their own business meetings following the world church.
The West-Central Africa region, home to more than 830,000 Adventists, faces some of the most daunting challenges in the denomination, local church leaders say. In addition to being a malaria zone, it's a volatile region, politically and economically. Currencies can fluctuate wildly---the region this year lost nearly 30 percent of its appropriation from the world headquarters because of varying currency rates. Also, transportation in the region is expensive---it can be cheaper to fly to Europe or the United States than to travel across the region's territory.
Still, the biggest challenge, Egwakhe says, is fighting against a mind-set that thinks money will always come from other world church regions.
Many in West Central Africa are subsistence farmers who live on a few dollars a day. But, as Egwakhe pointed out to delegates, it was the rural eastern region of Nigeria that was the first area of that country to become self-reliant more than 30 years ago, not the wealthier suburban areas.
"They were farmers, and I see some of them here today," Egwakhe told delegates. It's not the amount of wealth that matters, but how that wealth is managed. My great-grandmother could manage her wealth," Egwakhe said.
Earlier this year, the division held its first stewardship summit, which drew nearly 300 delegates to Ghana, the only country in the region to deliver a clean audit this year. Similar conferences are scheduled around the region next year to emphasize responsible living and wealth management.
"We're hitting that point hard," said General Conference vice president Mike Ryan, who also attended the meeting. Ryan spent the previous week delivering the division’s strategic plan, which calls for a strong stewardship emphasis to meet the church's policy requiring that local regions aim toward self-reliance. "Research shows that [regions] that have a stronger stewardship program tend to be closer to becoming self-reliant than those that don't," Ryan said.
In his response to delegates, WAD president Gilbert Wari put his index finger to his temple, saying,
"Development starts here; prepare your mind for development."
"Let's tell our members even to tithe their poverty," Wari said. "They eat, don't they? So if they can eat, they can tithe that too and God will bless."