The following is a reposting of a blog from February 2006. I am reposting it as this continues to be a problem for many well-meaning Christians who receive unsolicited emails from abroad that they just don’t know how to respond to. Sadly, this is one of the “downsides” of our electronically connected world.
Last week I received a phone call from a pastor, asking for some information on security issues involved in ministering in a certain south Asian country. As the conversation progressed, it came out that he was planning a trip to this country on the basis of an invitation to come and speak at a crusade in the capital city; an invitation that came out of the blue from someone whom he did not know but who had sent him an email. As I understand it, the email expressed a desire on the part of this indigenous ministry to "partner" with this pastor and his small congregation.
As gently as I could, I explained to this dear man of God that such offers are commonplace and that I receive several every week from a number of countries. I clarified that such invitations always carry expectations of continued financial support afterwards and that these crusades were relatively simple to arrange and were usually attended by vast crowds of people who were enticed to attend through the offer of a meal, gifts, books or healing from ailments (or a combination of them). To hold a crusade where thousands attend in some south Asian countries is really rather easy, just so long as the invited guest pays the expenses. The primary reason for such invitations, I explained, was not to bring people to Christ but to bring the guest to the country so that a patron/client relationship could be created whereby the guest would feel compelled to support such a "successful" ministry (after all, thousands attended the meeting and look at how many people came forward for salvation!) when he or she returned home.
This wonderful man was flabbergasted but it confirmed some of his unspoken fears. He had wondered how this group had gotten his email address in the first place. It's easy, I said. They found your email on a website somewhere, probably that of your denomination. I encouraged him to graciously decline the invitation unless this group was prepared to pay for all of his expenses and those of the crusade (which they are never prepared to do!).
The relief in this man's voice was palpable as we finished our discussion. He had very nearly been the victim of a tragic practice; one that has ensnared a number of well-meaning men and women from the West. They are often wonderful ministers who labour in relative obscurity and who were flattered to have been invited to a foreign country to serve the Lord. When there, they are treated like celebrities and are so impressed by what they see, that they commit to supporting the indigenous ministry afterwards. They are often told that "no one else supports us" (which is often not true) and that God had led them to contact them specifically (which, I suppose is possible, but highly unlikely).
Related to this are the emails from those who claim to have fled from a persecuted country to some other country and are now asking us to help them to make a refugee claim to Canada. What is amazing to me is how, while they often claim to have no money for food or shelter, they seem to be able to afford to send out repeated messages to people all over the Western world from an Internet café. I have travelled enough to know that the Internet is not cheap in most developing world countries.
For the record, The Voice of the Martyrs never responds to such requests made over the Internet. We have never found even one of them to have ever been legitimate. My advice to you when you receive these kinds of emails (and you will); ignore them and don't feel guilty about it.