• One woman's stand for authentic faith

    Posted by Amanda

    25 October, 2013

    Gisela Schneider epitomises authentic faith: “strong and respected and not afraid of the future. She speaks with a gentle wisdom.”[1] That wisdom – sometimes fierce as well as gentle - comes from 30 years as a missionary doctor in various nations.

    Recently I caught up with this talented woman in London and she told me some of the things that have shaped her life with God. 

    Early on, Gisela knew that she wanted to do more than swim in the mainstream – “I didn’t want to stay in my nice, white middle class world” - and was drawn to be a doctor so she could do overseas mission work.

    Her ideals about “serving God on the mission field” were given a swift reality check in the Gambia. Life was often disorganised, and the political situation chaotic. Children and women were treated with scant respect and punishment was harsh. “They didn’t seem to understand forgiveness. All I could do was live out my values, try to demonstrate forgiveness, cry with the children. And people did start to notice. I guess you could call it authentic living.”

    From the beginning, Gisela encountered corruption. She is grateful that her mission had a firm No Bribery policy but soon after her arrival, when she was stopped at night travelling alone in her car, she paid a bribe. “I was afraid.”

    Gisela understands clearly the reasons why people pay and demand bribes and she knows that in many parts of the world, family and tribal obligations blur the lines of corruption. But she decided after that night that she would never pay bribes again.

    And she has stuck by that commitment even though it might mean medicines are delayed or a much needed document remains in a dusty out-tray. But despite the problems she is sure that the reputation of mission groups and Christian NGOs for honesty is vital. “In the long-term it pays off. If you start off paying $10, next time they expect $20 and you are caught. We can’t preach God’s values and then betray those values in the way we do our work.”

    Her methods to counter bribery are quite simple: “Be respectful, divert their requests, be polite but clear.”

    Gisela is disappointed that Christian mission founded large churches but so often fell short of teaching what Christianity means in terms of the social fabric and issues of justice. “So it seems to make no difference to issues like HIV and AIDs infection or corruption levels whether a country is very “Christian” or not”, she says. She has found it hard to recruit staff for her hospital: even though it pays above average wages, potential recruits knew they could not make money out of re-selling drugs on the black market so didn’t apply.

    Part of the issue for staff engaging in corruption, explains Gisela, is that wages are low. "Christian hospitals do not only need to live out our values of grace and compassion in how we treat our patients, but we also need to pay wages that will feed, clothe and educate families...... often we fall short of that and push people into corruption for survival.”

    She recognises that Christian NGOs need to be well managed e.g. wage levels for expats and locals need to be more equal and there should be trained financial staff. “We have excellent training for doctors and nurses but we don’t train financial managers and missions don’t budget for staff who can deliver transparent governance.”

    Gisela wants to see training in good financial practice. She says with direct common sense, “We can’t just expect people not to be corrupt, we have to train people. That means finding out what they find acceptable and building on that understanding.”

    Gisela is anything but an old-style missionary. When I asked her for a definition of “mission” in a changing world, here is how she described it: “Mission is now global ministry – incarnating God’s values and salvation love into creation. We turn chaos into dignity and life.”

    If corruption robs communities and families of justice (God’s core value) then Christians need to act to restore dignity and bring life.

    That is authentic mission from God!

    (Note: Gisela Schneider is on the Board of Micah Challenge in Germany and is involved in the German EXPOSED campaign)


    [1] Proverbs 31

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    This blog was originally published on the EXPOSED 2013 Campaign website.