My parents were decidedly anti-establishment when it came to religion and politics, particularly my father (don’t ever get him started about Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau….). So we came to faith in an unorthodox way, and we participated in small, organic, faith communities, we were never The Moral Majority up here. I still feel more comfortable in school gymnasiums, kitchen tables, forests, and pubs for church, than I do in the monuments to the modern mega church movement.
While I was growing up, American men were always arriving in Canada as missionaries or church planters. They would show up, ready for the mission of “Reaching Canada For Christ.” They usually had a bit of famous-name-power (or thought they did). I lost count of how many “revivals” I sat through, listening to all of the ways that the Canadian church was failing, the ways that Canada was going to hell in a hand-basket, the litany of how we did it wrong, and God had called them here to show us how to do this faith thing the right way and, then, “we would see a move of God like nothing ever seen before, bless God!”
One after another, their big projects, their church plants, their ministry launches, they all failed. And quickly. In less time than it takes to travel once around the sun, these charismatic preachers went home to the Bible belt, and their parting shot? It was our fault. “You Canadians” are a hard-hearted people. (Now, I think they meant that we weren’t as loud or communicative as they would like, they prefer a big show of emotion and we weren’t very good at that kind of thing, you see. We didn’t respond according to the textbook.)
I wonder now if it’s not so much “Reaching Canada For Christ” as wanting us to adopt their version of church and culture and success. They wanted us to worship like them, to lead like them, to process like them, to think like them. They truly believed that their way was the Biblical and Best way. Bless them, it must have been hard and confusing work in a different culture.
They left a lot of hurt in their wake. The wounds inflicted still ripple out, far-reaching, in a way that their pet missionary project never did.
I’ll be honest: it’s not much fun being The Project. No one likes being a Mission Field or Project or Prop or Photo Op. No one likes being talked down to, or patronized, or condescended. No one likes being Talked At or Talked About, it’s not fun to be generalized or stereotyped. (In the years since then, I’ve learned a bit more about postmodernism, and post-Christian culture, about missional church, about the contextualization of the Gospel, all of that stuff. That helps me understand a bit more of what happened there, and why those guys failed. And why it keeps happening. And I don’t feel bitter or resentful of the frequent arrivals and departures of missionaries, not in the least, some of them do great work, and I’m thankful for them. I try my best to assign positive intentions to these types of things, and give grace because God knows how many times I’ve done something eerily similar, and tried to make my way of understanding God and Church and Life equate with The Way, and I’ve probably hurt others in my blind zeal. In fact, I know I have. And I hate that.)
When I went to Haiti, I was reminded of those guys arriving in Canada. (Not exactly apples-to-oranges, I’ll grant you.)
I wondered if Haitians feel the same way sometimes about all of the Westerners arriving on their island to “show them the right way” to do everything from construction to Jesus. Is it humbling? Is it hurtful? Is there a way to partake in community development and discipleship without ethnocentric posturing, without railroading context and culture and wisdom? Is there a way to come alongside one another with tenderness and grace and friendship, honouring dignity and context, with humility?
I wondered how many people show up, determined to “Reach Haiti for Christ”, in their matching Mission Trip T-Shirts, and then blunder and hurt in their ignorant good intentions, before leaving to never return, only the wound remaining to fester. (Check out JR Goudeau’s series on poverty for some great perspectives on this.)
The problem was never that these guys came to Canada with the intention of reaching Canada for Christ. (I imagine them with very sincere intentions.) The problem was the way they did it. The problem was that we were their Project, we were their Mission Field. We weren’t their friends. And they were quick to leave us, to never return, to blame failures on us.
They didn’t see the ways that God was already at work among us.
God didn’t arrive in our community when they showed up; He was here all along. (He still is.)
I think the same way about Haiti. God is already at work among there, in new and beautiful ways, and we have much to learn FROM Haiti. God did not arrive in Haiti with the mission-trippers and NGOs. Tara Livesay said it so beautifully:
With each passing season I’m more and more convinced that the kindest, most loving, and most respectful, most relational thing we can ever do is to just rete (stay) and koute (listen). Don’t come to teach. Come to learn. Don’t come to tell. Come to listen. Don’t come to accomplish. Come to sit. Come to stay. Come to build one thing: relationship. Whenever I take an opportunity to truly do that, I am humbled and I learn.
I have decided (for now anyway) that how we do a thing is as much a part of the redemptive story of God as the conclusion of it all.
That was part of what I loved about the team at Help One Now – everywhere we went, people said, “Oh, you’re the ones who come back!” And I loved that about Heartline, too: the inherent friendship, the team atmosphere, the respect for each other, was palpable. What a difference from what I had experienced or heard about “missionaries” and mission trips!
The Kingdom of God is not about numbers and success stories, about outposts and flag plantings, about projects and missions, about slide shows in church with smiling brown babies, about compelling blog posts and child sponsorship manifestos.
The kingdom of God is a seed, a grain of wheat, the kingdom of God is a treasure in a field, it’s leaven in the bread, it’s a feast, and a wedding, and a party, it’s the forever way, there isn’t a flash-in-the-pan performance with God’s ways. And the people of God are salt, and light, a city on a hill.
There aren’t any “big things” for God anyway, in my opinion.
I think that the people of God stay when everyone else leaves to the next sexy project or cause.
We’re the people who love, who push back darkness together, we freely give honour and dignity. We make friends.
And we’re the ones who come back, the ones who learn before we teach, the ones who listen, and the ones who stay.