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Tips for the prudent missionary

  1. Let me facilitate you
  2. You’re a railroad!
  3. Skimming along
  4. False conversions
  5. My house has burned down and I’m living under a tree
  6. Instant Churches
  7. Christian is as Christian does
  8. Changing money
  9. I wanna hold your hand
  10.  Beware of the “List”
  11.  93,000 decision cards
  12.  Let us eat off him
  13.  Double pricing
  14.  My Muzungu!
  15.  Coming to America
  16.  Having your baby

It goes with the territory

To begin with, God loves the souls of people in Kenya and has called certain of us to go and preach the gospel of good news to the lost.  When God calls you to a certain place He does so knowing all the dangers and problems you will face.  Therefore, just because a calling might prove to be difficult does not mean that God has not called you to go….just look at what Paul had to face at the hands of his own people!

So, these Tips are not intended to discourage you from fulfilling your mission or vision in Africa but rather they are merely to help you avoid some of the snares that may be encountered by the uninitiated or unwary.  My hope is that though knowing of some of these common scams you will be more productive for the Lord and lose less cash in the long run.

Scam #1.  Let Me Facilitate You

Going to Minister in Kenya is kind of a right of passage for many ministers and ministries.  Africa, in many peoples minds, is still the Dark Continent described by David Livingston filled with un-reached natives just waiting for you to come and preach and teach the gospel of Salvation.  There is an air of danger to it all and having made a missionary trip over there establishes you as a real missionary in many peoples minds.

The reality of the situation is quite different though.  Kenya, which is representative of many African countries, is surely a third world land complete with poverty, disease, and lack of education.  However, this does not mean that the Kenyan people are simple or unaware.  Quite the opposite is true: The average Kenya sees a westerner coming a mile off and has developed many ingenious ways to help the missionary seem to fulfill their mission while at the same time go home with the least amount of cash possible.

Those who facilitate for free are costly

One of the ways that missionaries are commonly bilked of their funds is through having a “Contact” facilitate Them in Kenya. If you are going to Kenya chances are you will find someone who is willing to be your contact person and arrange things like transport, lodging, and meetings. If you are not part of a already establish mission organization or do not have western contacts in the country who can show you the ropes you will almost certainly wind up in this situation.

What one must understand is that 100 dollars US is roughly equivalent to 8000 shillings in Kenya money and that represents some peoples entire months wages.  Therefore, there is real motivation for unscrupulous people to relieve you of your money in whatever way they can.

Free is very expensive

Thus enters the contact person.  If you wish to come to Kenya…no problem…they will arrange everything…it will be expensive though.  You will have to pay for transportation, lodging, the printing of flyers, and food for seminars (if you plan to feed the people who come) because, of course, they are poor Kenyans.  One such facilitator said that for a 2-week trip it would cost 5000 US (i.e. 400,000 shillings).  Now, the western minister who does not know the price of things in Kenya might be inclined to feel that this price is high but might opt to go with 2500 or 3000 dollars and feel that they are getting deal. The reality of the situation is that even at the lower price you are being taken for a ride.

These type of contact men or women are cons and are out to get as much money from you as possible while at the same time hoping to send you home happy.  If you leave unaware that you have been conned maybe you will come back again and repeat their profitable experience, preferably with friends.  They will charge you double or triple the cost of vehicle rentals, room rates, equipment rental rates and pocket the extra cash for themselves.  Furthermore all of the people that that rent you equipment and vehicles will be their friends and family so that they can spread the good will around and establish themselves as someone who has a cash cow from the west. 

They know nothing of it

If you confront them they will either state emphatically that they are honest men or women of God or feign ignorance.  However, if there is no other way  to lie their way out of being caught they will apologize and ask your forgiveness in the most pathetic and pleading way imaginable.  They will state that they are so poor that they only did it for the ministry’s sake.  Such people will say literally ANYTHING to keep you on the line so that they can continue to take your money.

These types of people are pathological liars and have no conscience and in Kenya they are everywhere.  Many hang out in cyber cafes’ hoping to spot a mark. This is hard for people from the west to grasp because we have been used to telling it like it is but that is not the way things are in Kenya.  I want you know that I am speaking from experience and not from theory here.  Bilking unsuspecting missionaries and missionary groups of cash is a cottage industry in Kenya. 

Most never know what hit them

Many ministers and ministries who come to visit never know what hit them…they only know that they paid handsomely for the privilege of preaching to poor lost souls.  We of the west are naturally compassionate and figure that if we have so much and they have so little that it only right to to help their poverty.  These types of flimflam men and women know this about western people and work this angle for all it is worth.  Appearing pitiful has developed into an art for many and they really believe that you are a walking cash machine if they push the right buttons.

My Mzungu!

One of the tell tail signs of such a con is that they do not want you to deal with anyone else but them.  They want to make all the arrangements and they do not want you to change anything that they have set up.  This means that promises have been made to friends and relatives who are in with them so as to overcharge you for services that actually cost much less. If they want to pay your hotel bill this might mean that they have made an arrangement with the hotel to double charge you….giving a little extra to the hotel and pocketing the rest.  If they want to change you money into Kenyan shillings it may mean that they will give you 70 shillings per US dollar while the real exchange rate is 76 shillings they might hand you a wad of Kenyan shillings thinking that you will not check…or just lie to you about the exchange rate.

It’s not good to be managed

The point is that you are being managed not for the benefit of the gospel but for the financial advantage of your contact person and their circle of friends.  Another motivation for a person managing someone is so that you may provide him or her a means to come to America.  I know of one such situation that is going on right now…where a woman is pretending to facilitate a minister and his companions so that she might curry favor to secure a marriage and a U.S. citizenship.  She is not honest and has pulled all manor of shading dealings off . However, by playing the innocent victim she has managed to keep these ministers on the hook.

It is really hard to shake these types of people because we of the west tend to like to be polite but my recommendation is that once you find that you are being managed by a contact in Kenya that you break off all communication, cut your loses, and look for someone who has been a missionary in Kenya to show you the ropes.

You’re a Railroad

So your tight with your money and careful…but still you are being facilitated and managed by a con man or woman…what gives?  Ok, they can’t take you but you do have friends that may come later who might not have your sensibilities and good judgment, which in turn can be bilked of some cash and favors.  You’re viewed as a conduit and that is the incentive that may be in play in these situations.  Actually, the  term Kenyans use is Rail…your a set of tracks that will bring other people to them for fleecing later on.  This is common knowledge among the average Kenyan but is not normally told to outsiders.  They best thing you can do if you plan to bring friends over to Kenya to minister  is to tell them to give no money, make no business deals, and make no promises, and give out No Contact Information without first talking it over with you.  If you move too fast in Africa you will lose money.  If it is a good idea today it will be a good idea tomorrow and waiting will not be a catastrophe and might save you and your visitors a ton of cash.

Skimming along

So you find a widow or some orphans that you wish to support…of course this is good thing.  Your contact offers to help you do so by having you send the money to them and then they will distribute the funds to the needy you have chosen to support.  Good Idea?   Nope, not a good idea.  Chances are that only a portion of the money that you send will ever reach the intended purpose and that your contact will keep a large portion for themselves.  It does not matter that it might be intended for widows or orphans…these type of people have no compassion and believe me…there are many of that ilk in Kenya.  Before you consent to have someone distribute money in Kenya for you it is very wise to have built a relationship with them over a period of at least a year so that you can gauge their integrity and then be sure to there is some way that you can independently verify that the funds you have sent have actually gone for the purpose for which they were intended.

Poor widows not withstanding

I personally lost over 1600 US to a “minister” who was supposed to distribute the funds I sent to a widow with three small children.  I had sent enough funds to support the widow and children very well but when I finally arrived I found them living in poverty and badly behind in their bills.  When I confronted this minister he initially denied and told me how honest he was but with continued pressure confessed to taking almost half the money that I had sent through him.  Money is a very volatile issue in Kenya because people are so poor and someone from the west needs to be very careful when giving funds through an intermediary for the temptation is often times too great.  I would suggest that if you do wish to give funds to a certain widow that you do so through western union directly to that person.  Western Union transfers can be made without the person even having I.D. if a test question in provided.

False conversions

If you are a minister and host a crusade what is more satisfying then seeing many souls give their hearts to the Lord?  Beware of the sincerity of these conversions especially if you are being handled and managed.  Sometimes the ministers of various churches will instruct their members to answer the alter call and feign conversion simply to make the minister feel like they are changing the world for Christ.  The whole idea is to provide you with positive experiences that meet your expectations so that you will line their pockets with more cash.  I am not saying that this happens even time but if the conversions look questionable to you…listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying and don’t be fooled.

My house  burned down and I’m living in a tree

Some ministers from the west were visiting with a church group in Kenya.  During a ministers meeting a man came to them and told them the most pitiful story imaginable…my house burned down and family and I are living in a tree (to escape wild animals at night).  This man claimed to be a minister associated with the ministers they were visiting.  The man told the westerners that his house had burned down and being that he was a poor servant of the Lord they had no money to rebuild.  Therefore, his wife and children we sleeping under a tree by day and sleeping up in the tree at night.  The western ministers were incensed that the other ministers had not helped this poor brother out.  However, when the issue was brought up in the next meeting it was found out that the house burning victim was nowhere to be found, was not a minister, nor even part of the fellowship.  Beware of the most pitiful stories imaginable for they may be false.  Don’t believe much of what you are told until it is verified and that over time.

Instant Churches

Is a missionary coming to town and you don’t have a church to show him?  Solution: gather your friends and relatives together and create an instant church!  Pretend you are the minister and let the missionary preach his heart out to your close friends and relatives and then invite him meet some of the financial needs of your instant church along the way.  Or, better yet, barrow a friends congregation for a day or two and do the same thing.  I know of one Kenyan minister who not only created 19 different fake churches but then convinced two unsuspecting western ministers each group of churches were exclusively theirs.  The first minister disassociated himself with that Kenyan con man but the second minister refused to believe the truth even when confronted with testimony from two different sources that he was being scammed.  It seems that having 19 churches and 579 people in Africa calling you their apostle is so enticing that it didn’t matter that they were make believe.  Unfortunately, cons and those who wish to be conned exist on both continents.

Christian is as Christian does

They can sound sooo sincere, sooo pitiful, sooo underprivileged….we have sooo much and they have sooo little.  Comparatively Kenyans do live below western standards and are poor (most of them anyway).  However, poverty is never an excuse for lying and cheating ministers of God.  Kenyan con men and women are adept at playing on our heartstrings and telling you the most heart rending of stories…but let us not lose sight that Christian is as Christian does…even when the going is hard.  If someone cons you once…shame on them.  If someone in Africa cons you twice…then you are not being wise.  You need to steel yourself to act first upon what the Holy Spirit tells you and also upon the reality of the situation and not on the emotion of the situation.  No matter how desperate the stories are know this:  they will survive with or without you…they have been so doing all their life.  If the have defrauded you once they will most likely do it again.

A real warning sign is when you meet someone new and they start talking about the things other people do to con you…they are most likely telling you right then and there what they will end up doing the same to you in the long run…so be forewarned.

Changing Money

You get about 72 Kenyan shillings to one US dollar currently.  This means that when you change dollars you receive a whole fist full of Kenyan bills.  If someone has changed the money for you…take the time to do the calculation and then count your money.  Don’t believe them if they say the exchange rate is very much different than it was the last time you had you money changed…check for sure.  If you find someone has cheated you it is a real indication that he or she might be cheating you in other things too.

I wanna hold your hand.

Surprisingly, Kenyans…especially Christian Kenyans are very conservative.  If you are a minister beware of showing any affection to the opposite sex no matter how small and insignificant…even holding hands.  Dress modestly and do not allow members of the opposite sex to be in your private room…ever.

Why the caution?  I know of one minister who was accused of adultery with a Kenyan woman simply on the basis of holding hands with her and her talking with him alone in his motel room.  Not only did this cause people in Kenya to doubt his moral integrity but this  accusation was emailed to his wife in the states accusing him of  indiscretion.  Fortunately, his wife realized that this was bogus but nevertheless it was used to discredit him in Kenya.  So…ministers beware and be conservative.

Men…if a lady wishes to compromise you she can knowingly appear certain ways and do certain actions that to the western man seem innocent enough but to other Kenyans means that you are sleeping together.  Unless you are single and like the lady…stay formal at all times.

Beware of the “List”

If you have been with a certain church group or group of ministers for a while in Kenya at the end of your trip you will most likely be presented with a list of requests.  Anything from public address equipment, to vehicles, to land purchases, or monthly support.  This is the payoff they are looking for in return for the ministry tour you have just received. If you do end up “donating” your donations may be promptly sold after you leave and the cash pocketed.

It is best to just tell them that you are very poor and leave it at that.  Don’t promise or even hint that you are going to do anything.  One minister I know was being taken advantage on a regular basis so he started fasting during his trip and telling everyone he was doing so because he had no money to eat…thus they did not ask him for money anymore.

The bottom line when supporting people is that first you need to build a relationship with them and thoroughly check them out.  This takes time and cannot be a split second decision.  The money that most ministers have is hard won and comes from faithful supporters that give out of faith believing that the minister will use it wisely for the kingdom of God.  We can ill afford to squander such resources of God and must most slowly and surely when giving money away…especially in Kenya where the culture of corruption is so strong and deep-rooted.

93,000 decision cards.

When I was in Nakuru, Kenya recently and a large evangelistic ministry held a crusade.  It was reported that they spent over 100,000 US for a three-day crusade and that 93,000 decision cards were handed in (a decision card is a form a newly saved person fills out at the crusade).  Later that week during a Sunday service of a fairly good sized church people were asked to raise their hands if they had recently given there hearts to the Lord in that crusade.  Not one person raised their hand.  Why?  The 93,000 cards was a bogus number and really very, very few people gave their hearts to the Lord during that crusade. Most people I talked to just went for the music and then left during the preaching.

The fact is that this colossal lie was just a bigger form of what is done to other ministers and smaller ministries when people are told to come up and feign giving their hearts to the Lord.  The bottom line is that these western ministries spread a lot of money around, and pay handsomely to have a good Kodak moment to show their supporters back at home, and accomplished almost nothing real in the kingdom of the God.  If you are prone to pride and have visions a grandeur and want to be recognized as someone great plus have the bucks…the Kenyans are waiting for you and will be more than happy to make you feel like small god.

Let us eat off of him.

This is the way many Kenyans see you.  You are a rich tourist “whether you are a minister or not” that is only passing through which will go home never to be seen again.  Therefore your only purpose is to provide them with some extra cash. I remember I wanted to buy a pillow for my bed and I was quoted twice the regular price.  When my Kenyan translator challenged this man in Swahili he said, “why don’t you let us eat of him” meaning…tell him what I have said is the right price and I will give you something small.  My translator rebuked him but in reality this is the general view of western folk…we are money machines and easy pickings.  If you have a trusted friend in Kenya you will save a lot of cash if you have them purchase items for you…preferably without you being in sight.  If vendors even see a white person or someone that they perceive is from the west the price automatically goes up.  They don’t feel bad about it and so buyer beware.

Double pricing

Did you know the double pricing or having one price for Kenyans and another higher price for a non-national is legal in Kenya?  It is…for example-to visit lake Nakuru national game park is 100 shillings for a national but it is 2025 shillings for a non-national.  Like I said, if you really, really trust someone who is a Kenyan have them make purchases for you…they will always get a better deal than you.  The only place this does not hold true is in the Asian owned stores…they’re pricing is usually consistent across the board but sometimes haggling is in order there to.

My Mzungu!

Mzungu means, white man in Swahili.  Kenyans want you be to their Muzugu and want to receive all the monetary benefits from their association with you and the desperately want to exclude everybody else.  They can get quite possessive and will tell you anything that they think you will believe to keep you from associating with others that they feel might want to muscle in on their financial windfall.  If you feel this is happening to you it is a real indication that you are being managed and that you should strongly consider breaking off the relationship.

Coming to America

Everyone from Kenya, and there are few exceptions, wants to come to America.  You will find that many will befriend you with this aim in mind…some are obvious and some are not so obvious depending on the sophistication of the individual.  Be slow to tell anyone that you will help him or her come to America.  Even if they do come with good intentions…I am talking about Kenyan ministers…you will have introduced them to a standard to living that is impossible to have over in Kenya.  This has led many Kenyans to get their eyes off of God and onto material gain and has ruined them spiritually.

Having your baby

African women consider having the baby of a westerner a win win situation.  Either they marry and get to go back with the man to a better place to live or, if it does not work out or they do not wish to continue the relationship, she can divorce and sue for child support and thus live relatively comfortably in her home country.  Many Africa girls consider marrying “any” Muzugu, “their chance” and will jump at the prospect of marriage to a westerner whatever the circumstances.  Many Africans do not marry for love but rather marry for what they feel they will get out of the deal.  Remember, it takes a long time for an African to show their true intentions and feelings.  “Fast” in Africa is almost always a disaster for foreigners and you should consider going very slowly and testing your fiance’s motivation.  Remember, our of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks so listen carefully to what your intended says.

The general consensus in Africa is that marriage between  a western man and African woman can work out simply because African women are generally submissive.  However, it is also said that marriages between African men and western women almost never work out because African men tend to be authoritarian and can become abusive if they feel disrespected.  African men, even if they know about women’s liberation, do not, in practice, recognize it.

The bottom line

This list of scams represents the school of hard knocks.  Some of these things I have experienced personally and the rest have happened to people I have known.  It was quite a culture shock to me and at one point I became very discouraged.  However, in time I was able to dig down through the net of con men and women and find the real people of Kenya who are honest, genuine, and love God with all their heart.  Most of the con men you will find are in the cities and they will seek you out when you first arrive as fresh meat.  If you go to the rural areas and to the bush you will find people to be more honest.  What has happened to the ministers and people in the cities is that there are no jobs so many people buy a second hand Bible and declare that they have been called to live by faith…which means they have been called to live off western missionaries.

Go slow…very, very slow.

Take things slow and do everything deliberately and with prayer…there are a lot of legitimate needs in Africa but you will never be able to take care of all that come your way.  Pray and ask a lot of questions knowing that God said to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

I am glad that I stuck it out because I really feel that God has given me something to do of lasting value to do among the Luo tribe.  My hope is that you will have opportunity to do the same in your calling!

African Comedy enjoying Eddy Kenzo’s Viva Africa