Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Hard and Soft (04/23/09)
TITLE: Calloused hearts. Deep pockets
By Gregory Kane
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“It's only because you're a pastor that they're willing to give you so much money. Don't think of it as dishonesty; look at it as a God-sent opportunity to help your loved ones.”
Chilemba stared at his older brother. By rights he should have already walked away. But family obligations were not something you could cast aside lightly. Amos might be devious, even downright crooked at times. But he had raised Chilemba, sending him to school every day, while their widowed mother eked out a living selling tomatoes by the roadside.
“Listen to me, these donor agencies have so much money, they don't know what to do with it all.”
“Maybe so but they've told me that they want the funds to go towards HIV care and prevention. To help those most in need, not for me to line my pockets with their cash.”
Amos suppressed a snigger at his brother's holier-than-thou attitude. This was the very reason the donors were prepared to trust him so implicitly. “Look at it this way. People with HIV aren't the only ones who need help. If anything, your friends are discriminating against the rest of us. If they want to sponsor AIDS orphans, we can easily send them some photos of cute black children in worn-out clothing. You've got plenty of kids in your church, haven't you?”
“Yes, but they're not orphans. And only a few are HIV-positive.”
“Does it really matter? Your friends get a load of photos they can use in their fund-raising programmes; your most needy church members get a monthly hand-out. Everyone's happy. Where's the harm in that?”
“I don't know. Maybe. But this business with the receipts is completely out of the question.”
“Little brother, don't you go getting all self-righteous on me. Remember who gave Masitemba such a hiding that he never bullied you again. I did that for you and right now it's payback time. Let's say that you buy fifty sacks of maize for a feeding scheme. All I'm asking is that you let me produce the receipts. I've got a selection of rubber stamps and I promise that the mark-up will never be more than 25%. I know what these whites are like. All they want is a nice, neat paper trail. Any profit we make will be just pocket change to them.”
“But it's stealing.”
“From whom? Let me tell you this, it won't come out of any of their pay packets. You know what you remind me of? That fable about the fool who tries to scoop up some of the river's water and throw it back. If you save these people any money, they won't thank you. And if you take a bit too much, they won't even notice. Stop being simple-minded and grow up!”
Chilemba couldn't take any more of this. He quoted the eighth commandment, assuming naively that the Word of God would effectively end the debate.
“Did you hear what your cousin Pastor Kwapena got away with?”
“He built himself a big church with money from the Baptists. Got a fancy painted sign on the front door.”
“Only he also got money from the Methodists and from the Nazarenes. Crafty man was paid three times to put up the same building.”
Chilemba was appalled. “God's Word says, 'Be sure your sins will find you out.'” he quoted smugly. “Some day one of those missionaries will pay Kwapena a visit and they'll see the sign. Then they'll take him to the police.”
“Oh, he's already thought of that,” Amos snorted. “He's had a different sign made for each of those churches. He just sticks up the appropriate board, depending on which missionary's in the area at the time. The people in his congregation aren't bothered by what they call themselves. And your cousin has a healthy bank balance.”
Amos guffawed as the door slammed shut. His little brother would fuss and fret initially. But once he saw the paltry offering on Sunday, he was sure to come round. Chilemba could hardly feed his family on a pastor's pittance, let alone pay school fees for his children. And every day he would look at all that donor money, just sitting there, ripe for the plunder.
There was no way Amos could resist that temptation. Why should Chilemba be any different?
Author's note: although this story is fiction, similar types of aid fraud go on all the time. Sadly they are sometimes perpetuated by supposedly trustworthy church leaders. It's a poignant reminder of the need for proper accountability in overseas giving. Yet it's not all negative - good, honest, faithful men do exist. It just takes time to work out who they are.
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