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Kirk's cash crisis hits overseas missionaries
("Scotland on Sunday," December 19, 2004)

FOR more than two decades a Scottish minister and his wife have toiled under Jamaica’s tropical sun to help the poor. But the couple’s work is coming to a premature end because of cost-cutting 4,500 miles away in their dreich homeland.

The Church of Scotland is cutting 10 missionary posts in poverty-stricken areas of the world because of a cash crisis at home. Rev Roy Dodman and his wife Jane will leave Kingston, Jamaica, next year because the Kirk can no longer pay their wages.

They are not alone. Fellow missionaries tackling the Aids pandemic in Africa, and others working with the handicapped in Thailand, will also be coming home.

The Kirk’s missionary programmes are being devastated by a £20m cash shortfall which critics blame in part on the controversial decision to spend £10m on a luxury hotel in Tiberias, Israel.

The Church is refusing to reveal the names of the 10 missionaries who will be axed, details of where they are stationed, or what programmes they have been carrying out.

It will only say that contracts will not be renewed for an HIV/Aids worker and a lecturer in South Africa; a doctor and a minister specialising in HIV/Aids, education and church development in Kenya; two ministers and a development worker in Jamaica; a minister and a medical worker in Thailand; and a librarian in Lebanon.

The General Assembly decided in May to cut the budget of the Board of World Mission, which oversees missionary work, by £426,000 as part of overall savings of more than £800,000.

Scotland on Sunday can reveal the Dodmans will not have their contract renewed when it expires next October and nor will another Church of Scotland minister in Jamaica, Rev Margaret Fowler.

They have won respect and admiration on the Caribbean island for two decades helping the poor of Kingston with work, training and community development projects.

Dr Maitland Evans, the general secretary of the United Church of Jamaica and Cayman, with whom the Dodmans worked, said: "They are very highly regarded and are doing very important work."

Two Aids sufferers a day die at the Church of Scotland Hospital in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Set up by the Kirk at the turn of the last century, it became a South African government hospital in the 1970s, and treats more than 1,000 Aids sufferers.

Dr Tony Moll, who runs its Aids clinic, said he did not know of any HIV officer employed by the Kirk at his hospital but said he was amazed the church was pulling an Aids worker out while South Africa was facing an epidemic.

"We desperately need more doctors. This is an epidemic worse than anything the world has seen before, worse than the bubonic plague, and it has not yet reached its peak," he said.

The Board of World Mission also funds an HIV/Aids co-ordinator at St Paul’s United Theological College in Limuru, Kenya.

The Kirk has helped the Church of Christ in Thailand set up Bible training centres and a hospital for handicapped people.

A Church newsletter from Thailand confirming the departure of two Kirk workers next year states: "Please pray for the Church of Christ in Thailand, particularly that good relationships will be maintained despite inevitable feelings of being let down by the Church of Scotland."

The cash crisis was unveiled at this year’s General Assembly, which heard that, in the past four years, the Kirk’s pension fund had moved from a surplus of more than £8m to a deficit of £56m, and donations have dropped from dwindling congregations.

Despite that, in 1999, the General Assembly backed a plan by the Board of World Mission to spend £10m converting a former Kirk hospital at Tiberias into a luxury hotel.

The church hopes the hotel, which opened in October after long delays, will foster dialogue between Jews and Arabs, but critics say it has been a "black hole" for church funds.