A Christian perspective of philanthropy – more than just charity

By Neil Hart, executive head of the Mergon Foundation

Generosity through catalytic partnerships

The culture of biblical stewardship which underpins the character of Mergon dates back to a September morning in 1980. Francois van Niekerk found himself desperately reaching out to God as a lifeline to save his business. 

Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined just how significant that day was and how it would change the course of his life – how his influence would grow, his perspective on giving and stewarding finances would be shaped, and perhaps most importantly, how many lives would be impacted as a result. 

The Mergon story is unique in that, from humble beginnings and limited capital, Francois initiated a structure and financial ecosystem that now allocates the majority of its investment proceeds through the Mergon Foundation. In distributing these funds, the Foundation works with many ministries and NPOs across Africa and the Middle East.

A view on generosity

As a Christian faith-based organisation, some might say we have a unique view on giving and generosity. First of all, we believe it is more blessed to give than to receive. There is such joy in the act of giving when it is done with pure motives and it often promotes our own peace.

Secondly, it undoubtedly links up with our belief that nothing we have is our own, but that we are to steward what we have well, for the benefit of others and the generations that follow. Yes, we often also reap the benefits, but it is not as a result of holding on to what we have due to a fear that we might lack.

As Francois puts it in his book Doing Business with Purpose: “Whatever success we may achieve is not from within ourselves. We should continue to seek common ground not only in furthering commercial success but also to improve the social fibre of the world. A giving disposition brings significance to our lives and often also unexpected material benefit. But we receive the latter only if we do not give to receive, and the material blessing does not become the focus of our life.”

Thirdly, we don’t want to get attached to money and allow it to rule us or hold on to it for our own interest. The Bible teaches us that “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them.” (1 Cor. 7:31) and “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

RT Kendall also beautifully explains that “Joseph was given something that he could be trusted with because it didn’t mean that much to him.” That is, a Jew given the authority to manage the entire Egyptian empire on behalf of Pharaoh! 

From funder to partner

Over time, the Mergon Foundation has evolved from purely being a conduit of funds, to being a resource partner. Even though funding is still at the centre of what we do, there are several, equally valuable resources we make available to our ministry partners, such as leadership and organisational health tools and support. This is motivated by 1) our desire to see healthy, thriving organisations functioning at their full potential to achieve maximum impact and 2) our mission to be a catalyst. 

A catalyst is defined as a small dose of substance that, when released into the right environment, can cause a disproportionate effect. Scripture talks about a small seed sowed to yield a great harvest. Across Africa and the Middle East, we aim to sow our small seeds in order to be a catalytic partner that contributes to the multiplication and increase of the impactful work of our partner organisations – be that in discipleship, education, skills development, training or caring for the poor, marginalised and vulnerable. 

We ask ourselves how we can leverage that which has been put in our hand — funds, knowledge, experience, networks, and relationships — to facilitate a disproportionate impact. This has led to various impactful strategic initiatives and partnerships. 

Staying true to the calling

It’s 40 years later since its founding and the Mergon Foundation’s reach has increased to the point that thousands of lives are being impacted. From having only a handful of partners a few years ago, the Mergon Foundation now resources over 100 partners across three regions namely South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East & North Africa. This is not our doing, but God’s. Perhaps another thing that has played a role is the fact that our calling hasn’t changed and we remain committed to keeping it at the centre of all we do. 

As part of the Mergon Group, the Foundation’s vision is to see God’s Kingdom come in every level of society and every geographic region we work in. When ‘God’s Kingdom comes’ in a community or an individual’s life, we see that restoration takes place, peace is restored, people’s needs are met, and sustainable community transformation happens. 

We have a passion to see the good news of Christ shared and people being discipled; to see the poor and marginalised uplifted, filled with hope and their dignity restored; and to bring about reconciliation and peace in our nation and beyond. Because of this, we strategically deploy our entrusted resources through well-chosen partnerships for the maximum expansion of God’s Kingdom.

As a funder and partner, our focus is being faithful with what has been entrusted to us. That’s what drives us to be generous and give strategically.

We believe that we are part of God’s story and that we are merely stewards in amazement of what He is doing in and through us. As we mix our endeavors and resources with faith, we entrust them back into God’s hands with an expectation that He can do so much more than we can ask or imagine.

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