Mention mission offerings to some Adventists and they think of giving to a "black hole." On Sabbath mornings they put into the plate the same dollar or pound or 100 yen that they've been giving for the past 20 years. No increase for inflation, because they have no enthusiasm for the giving. It's a ritual, not a conviction.
More than a decade ago when I visited the country of Chad for the first time, kind church members welcomed me like a long-lost family member. Leaders told me I was the first person from the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters to visit them, and it was easy to believe.
In the middle of Africa, Chad isn't a logical stop-over destination to many places -- you have to make a deliberate decision to go there. Everywhere I went people expressed joy that their world church hadn't forgotten them.
I didn't know much about the country, but I knew it was poor. Not just uncomfortably poor, but how-are-we-going-to-survive-tomorrow poor. More than 80 percent of the population existed below the poverty line and life expectancy was less than 48 years.
I think it's fair to say that the average Seventh-day Adventist doesn't give much thought to Chad or the church there. Many would probably have trouble finding it on a world map. At that time I wasn't aware of any Adventist organization providing funds for any specific projects in the country.
Back then more than 7 million men, women, boys and girls were living in Chad (today more than 10 million). They are God's children -- most of whom have never heard the name of Jesus, or know little about Him.
Even though Chad hasn't loomed large on the international church's radar, I discovered there was an Adventist mission office in the capital, N'djamena, and throughout the country nearly 1,500 baptized Adventists, 50 Adventist churches and companies, schools, and even a hospital. And a large group of Global Mission pioneers were planting new groups of believers.
Of course, like the rest of the community Adventists in Chad are desperately poor. There were only two ordained pastors, and only one had any means of transportation. The secretary-treasurer of the mission didn't even own a bicycle. But the church was alive and functioning. They had programs and projects. They were reaching out to their community.
I got to thinking about the old expression "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." Today in the church some wheels squeak loudly and with great skill. And often the big-wheel organizations that have the most interesting pictures, the most compelling video, the most heart-touching stories, get the big donations -- "the grease."
I don't want to downplay the importance of project giving. It does a lot of good. And the church's Global Mission initiative, for example, relies on it. But what do we do about those parts of the world, and those people groups, that can't or don't "squeak?" Those that have no way to share heart-gripping pictures and stories with us? What do we do? Just ignore them?
One of the beauties of the church's system of tithes and mission offerings is that they're pooled into funds that make sure the church also cares for areas of the world, such as Chad, which may not seem so "glamorous" or have the visibility of other areas.
Every time you give your tithes and mission offerings, you're helping make sure wheels that can't squeak get attention. You're helping fund the work of Dr. Cristy Shank, a young missionary doctor working at Malamulo Hospital in Malawi, and her brother, Dr. Greg Shank, at Koza Adventist Hospital, in a remote area of Cameroon. You're helping fund missionary Pastor Doug Venn, in charge of a major church-planting initiative in Bangkok, Thailand. You may have never heard of these missionaries, or hundreds of others like them, and you'll probably never get to meet them personally. But your faithfulness supports their ministries in these off-the-radar areas of great need.
We're thankful for the thousands of specific projects to which Adventists donate. But none of these projects would get too far if it weren't for a much wider and bigger system, which provides the foundation for ongoing support.
Every time you give your tithes and mission offerings, you're helping support schools, hospitals, publishing houses, media outreach, publishing, church planting and so much more. You're helping the church stay alive in areas where many church members earn less than a dollar a day. You're making sure that wheels that can't squeak also get some help.
Gary Krause is director of the Office of Adventist Mission at the Adventist Church world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.