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.




In which I confront one of my great fears
In which I can't Create if I'm always busy Reacting
thank you for sharing...
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  • So much good stuff in this post. I definitely agree with you that naive, overly-enthusiastic missionaries have the best intentions, but their problem is ignorance. I’ve been guilty of that too- not in the context of going to a foreign country, but just talking to other students at my university, trying to convince them they need Jesus, rather than first valuing them as friends.

    And God is already at work in every culture in the world. Amen! We need to look for what God’s already doing. We need to listen and learn.

  • I am an American who has sat in a pew and watched more than my fair share of those mission teams go out. I always felt vaguely uncomfortable about it for many of the reasons you have mentioned here. I have the same reaction to highly polished outreach events that end with a heavy handed sharing of the gospel. It makes me cringe because I know the people at those events didn’t show up to be someone’s project, and I can’t imagine a better way to turn people off of the message than by throwing a surprise church service at them.

  • mizmelly

    This. You should try living on mainland Europe. If I had euro for every time I’ve heard Europe referred to as spiritually dark and post-Christian…..*throws up hands in despair*

    • Seriously understand this. I get this question/perspective from a lot of people about postmodernism or a post-Christian society. Gah.

  • Thank you for writing this Sarah. I really appreciate the connections you’ve made and the tension you feel here. This post reminds me of some doubts/concerns I’ve had with the general format of western bloggers going to other countries to share the stories of others–this is where I take a deep breath. I see so much good being done, but there’s something nagging at the back of my mind. If I was in any of these other countries, would I want someone else to tell my story?

    I don’t want to sound judgmental or dismissive of anyone who has taken a blogging trip because I see this as more of an evolution. It’s certainly not a black and white matter. However, I think it’s worth asking the question whether some of the blogging trips could one day evolve into bloggers sharing their platforms to let others share their own stories. Does that make sense? I’m not saying something like the Wold Vision bloggers is bad or wrong. I’m just wondering if there’s a possibility to let folks tell their own stories, and then we could listen to them share in their own voices. And I’ll bet seeing the world through their eyes will be a powerful experience.

    I’ll just say it once again, I’m not trying to dismiss the good work bloggers have done in telling the stories of others. There is a lot of value there. However, I think it’s valid to ask whether we can go one step further where we can empower indigenous story tellers.

    • this is a great point Ed! and i’m glad that you brought it up! i know that everything we do at Help One Now is about supporting the indigenous leaders to do the work. at the same time, (i think it was jen hatmaker who said it first) we try to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. i think there’s a tricky balance in there…. someone like sarah knows her audience, and it may be that sarah sharing is the best way to reach her audience.

      but i LOVE, love, love the idea of using them to tell their own stories. there’s some video footage forthcoming from this trip where we captured some local sharing their stories, and i’m positive that you’ll see it all over the blogs from this team.

      and all of this has me thinking… i would LOVE to have a haitian write a guest post for me sometime…

      • I always struggle with the whole “voice for those who dont’ have a voice.” I think they do have a voice – we just usually aren’t listening. So maybe it’s more “giving a microphone or an amplifier to a voice”? I don’t know. I love the videos that were shot. It tears down barrieres when we see faces, hear stories, even if it’s through a screen. Oh, and #Fistbump. You’re a favourite of mine, Dan.

      • Thanks Dan! I appreciate how you understood the spirit of my comment. I look forward to the videos!

        • definitely… and we can probably do it offline, but i’d love to pick your brain more on this subject… it’s an interesting discussion!

          • Thanks Dan. I’ve been jotting down ideas about this for quite some time, and there is no shortage of challenges here, but I’m intrigued by what could result.

    • I struggled with that going, and I struggle with it now, in my real life, Ed. You aren’t judgemental or dismissive – I know your heart and motivations. I think of it as sharing my platform – small as it is – and almost like “making introductions.” I know a guy and I know you guys and so here, you two should meet. Maybe I’m too simplistic. I also want to leave a bit of a legacy behind that’s got some bricks on it.

      • It’s as simple and wonderful as “Love God, Love others,” so it sure works for me. Thanks for showing me grace as I think out loud here. It’s been on my mind for a while now, so I’m glad to see the interaction. Thank you for sharing your platform so graciously.

      • pastordt

        I LOVE this conversation – important and gracious and open and inviting. Keep it up – that’s how the kingdom grows as Sarah noted, like yeast through the dough. You’re a great batch of yeast, you are. Thank you.

    • Ed, I think these are really good questions. I want to push back a little on the idea that an indigenous storyteller can speak directly to American readers. It just isn’t that simple.

      The complicating factor in all of this is that their stories must be translated, out of their native languages and out of their native cultures, and into ours. I may be over-complicating things, but I know the challenge. I got to hear the stories first-hand. I needed to ask a LOT of questions to understand the significance of certain things. We needed a good interpreter, and then we had to figure out how to convey what we’d just heard to people who didn’t get to hear the story and the questions/answers. I saw my work as rather like a cross between journalism and interpretation. I was the interpreter into American culture, but I leaned heavily on the interpreter working with me.
      Does any of that make sense? Obviously, English-speakers would need less interpretation, but cultures don’t translate without explanation and someone to ask the right questions. Certainly someone who has learned about how Americans think would do better than the people I spoke with, but even then, it would need to be a conversation.

      Maybe that’s what we need to work towards. How do we facilitate a dynamic conversation in which others can share their stories and we can ask questions and they can answer and they can ask us questions and we can all learn together?

      • Oh, Joy, that is fantastic explanation. That articulates much of what I was feeling as well. Thank you for this.

        • And to keep this going further, there is a long history of discussions in literary circles about how to speak and when to speak, how to share the voice of people to an audience they might not otherwise have access to without appropriating that voice. It’s part of why I’m so passionate about talking about poverty and calling Christians’ attention to issues of representation. During the week I read academic books about how Western culture represents (O)thers and how to best “translate” their voice, then I go to church on Sunday and see many of the same issues of representation playing out again and again and I want to bring those conversations together. I think Ed is asking great questions and Joy is pointing toward a more complicated framework than we currently use in Western Protestant or Evangelical traditions. I have more thoughts I’ll mull over–I might have to blog on this tomorrow.

          Sarah, I just want to take a minute and say that you do a great job as a blogger of pointing to the complexity of a situation, allowing the tension and awkwardness to remain, without giving pat answers. Thank you for allowing that trip to launch a nuanced discussion on your blog that I think is truly important. We as Christians need to be able to think critically about poverty and the way we represent and portray “the poor.” This post is a great addition to that conversation. And thanks for the shout-out to my series on poverty! Didn’t you love Tara’s piece? I need to pin it to my wall to read everyday.

          • Thanks for this response J.R., a lot of my questions and ideas here have come from my wife’s studies of post colonial and transnational modernist literature. It’s so fascinating seeing how different cultures have been finding ways to tell their own stories, the forms they choose, and the ways these stories are spread. Also, there are concerns about, say, the effectiveness of a literary novel from a third world author–will that help bring about change?

            There’s so much here that has me asking what it would look like for folks in third world nations to be given the tools and basic training they need in order to shape and share their own stories online. To be frank, I think it will take a lot of time and work, and there are a thousand ways it can go wrong, but I can’t shake the thought that a person in Haiti, Bolivia, or Guatemala would think of ways to tell his or her story that would never cross my mind.

            All that to say, I really dig Joy’s comment. There is a place for reporters and storytellers who can translate stories. I agree with her. I just wonder what would happen if we made a commitment to train writers to share their own stories online. Who would their audience be? Would they prefer images, videos, or text? Ah, the questions! Maybe it’s a bad idea, but I can’t shake it for now.

          • I live and work in South Asia, a part of my job being to communicate and to connect other communicators with stories of what God’s doing in that part of the world. I’ve translated for the foreign visitors looking for stories and I’ve written the stories myself. So reading through this conversation string is interesting and challenging. I get the tension, I do.
            I’ve sat in the room, translating the story for a woman who will never be rich enough to move out of the one-room house she shares with six other family members. She works for an NGO staffed completely by South Asians doing amazing work not in a place on the photo-op trail. She oversees groups of women who are poorer than she is, teaching them how to save and pool their “pennies” in order to get government loans and start businesses and how to become activists and fight the corruption in their local governments.

            When I was facilitating for some foreign visitors, looking for stories, she felt compelled to tell them her personal story of being an unwanted, and therefore abused, daughter – a common fate for women in our part of the world. She told them how she fought as a little girl to go to school, how she came to be an advocate for other women, how through her testimony and care for her parents, they became believers.
            I translated. We were all crying.
            Hers is an incredible story and so I couldn’t fault the foreign visitors when they asked her permission to put it in their magazines and online media (I shared it online myself). But when I translated their request, her shoulders sagged a bit. She agreed, but told me they’d missed the point. For her – the point was that bond created in that room. The weeping and rejoicing together. The holiness of choosing to share her story with these certain women at that certain moment.
            You assume that a storyteller from another country is interested in sharing his or her stories with us wealthy, internet-savy, blog-reading, English-speaking Westerners. But there are conversations happening in other places, in other languages, in other countries that could care less if we don’t know what they’re saying. South Asia has its own famous writers & bloggers, its own famous TV talk-show hosts, its own Christian communicators. They have very well-trained, empowered storytellers who don’t care their message and stories won’t translate very well to an American audience. That’s not who they’re looking to reach.

          • “You assume that a storyteller from another country is interested in sharing his or her stories with us wealthy, internet-savy, blog-reading, English-speaking Westerners”

            I actually don’t assume that. That is just the kind of tension I want to explore. I really appreciate your story here. These are the conversations we need to have. Who is the audience for a writer in a country like Haiti or Cambodia? I’ll bet each writer in these communities will have different goals, objectives, and people in mind.

            It’s very possible that many of them won’t want to tell their stories to western folks. However, I wonder if there are some who sense that God has called them to speak internationally not because Americans are so needy but because they have a message to share with us. I want to figure out how I can help both the local and international story tellers accomplish their goals and fulfill their calling. Heaven knows it’s not easy even in America to make it as a story teller!

      • Thanks for this Joy. You’re hitting many nails on their heads here for sure, and as I’ve thought about this, it is probably even way more complicated to consider what I’m suggesting. I have more to share, but I’ll drop it below in reply to J.R.

    • Ed, I get what you are saying and I love this post and everything that Sarah has been writing about from her trip to Haiti.

      I think it’s a Both/And thing. We learn in listening to stories but we also learn in telling stories. Everybody is a storyteller.

      A couple of years ago I crafted my writing mission to this : To be the most effective communicator I can be for the sake of others.

      And then it occurred to me : to be the most effective communicator means to help others communicate their own stories for themselves. It means (to me) to empower people to speak up and speak out for their lives. Maya Angelou says that There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

      But there is a tension there. Oh that rascal tension is everywhere. As much as I want to help inspire and empower others to speak up for themselves, there are those who won’t or can’t or prefer to have a proxy.

      I was in Cambodia a couple of years ago at the invitation of a missionary. She wanted me to see her work up close and help record it. I took copious notes. I asked questions. I listened everywhere we went, but as a visitor I am not going to get a vulnerable insider story directly from a resident. I am the stranger. What I could do, though, was report what I did hear, retell where my first world values were challenged and wrecked. I could tell the stories of some of the kids my missionary friend told to me, stories that helped inspire more giving of resources to her and her barebones ministry.

      Writers will always fall a bit short. But we have our stories to tell to. There is tremendous value in listening and being listened to.

      Thanks for your comment. I always enjoy your POV.

  • Wow. Yes.

  • So this post made me think of this quote I saw the other day:
    I am not 100% on board with the quote (as the poster captioned, too) but it touches on these ideas of evangelism-cum-colonialism, and the tensions that exist in trying to do good when you’re someone with privilege, etc etc. anyway, good thoughts, sometimes the internet conspires to make connections, at least for me. Thanks, as always, for sharing your self with the rest of us 🙂

    • Very thought-provoking – thansk for sharing that.

  • Yes. Faithful. Loving. That’s the currency of the new kingdom. We are so easily confused.

  • Yes! Fantastic post. Another great read on this subject is Toxic Charity. When we destroy a person’s agency in the context of helping them, we often do more harm than good.

  • We have so struggled with and fought against this perception, the project. “God didn’t arrive in our community when they showed up; He was here all along. (He still is.)” This is our heart, our joy, our calling, too. To go where He is already working, pick up the plough, and join Him there. The church in Ireland is beautiful, a family table, at which I’m honoured to have a small seat and taste of living bread.

  • Mindi

    Thank you for this post. As someone who grew up in Alaska, I remember the youth mission trips that would arrive in our town on a Sunday evening, work through the week, host a revival on the Friday night, and be gone on Saturday. I remember hearing a similar message over and over and over again, all trying to get us saved within a week, not knowing the history of missionaries in Alaska or the churches that have already been here or the native spirituality long before my family came. Now I am a pastor, and when I have led mission trips, I’ve shared my experience as a local, and I’ve also remembered that the most important part of the trip was presence and listening–the relationships.

  • laura @ hollywood housewife

    I have always (always) had a problem with “mission” trips, and now that I’ve learned that it’s often just a different youth group painting the same barn over and over, my distaste has increased. However, what I like about these writers trips is that I don’t get the feeling that they’re bloggers-with-tracts. I certainly didn’t wield a hammer while I was in Sri Lanka with World Vision. I also didn’t try too much to tell their stories. I told MY story, which at the moment was about being in Sri Lanka. I caught a tiny bit of flack in that approach, but that’s okay. I like hearing these stories, and I don’t like the idea that we’re too unimportant (or wrong, or infringing) to tell them.

    • I agree – I like how Joy put it below. I looked at as introducing two people I really like – Haiti, meet my friends in Canada – that sort of thing.

  • This post was so helpful for me to figure out all my conflicted feelings about mission trips, going/sending, what it’s for and what we’re really doing there. When I was in Uganda, we came across a team that was definitely there to “win the slum for Christ” and though there were some good efforts for sustaining ministry there through a local church, the Americans who were “putting on” the crusade (AND THEY CALLED IT THAT) did and said so, so many cringe-worthy things that I couldn’t believe that people were still doing missions like that, in this day and age.

    And the numbers thing — yes. It was so frustrating to see people being counted up and reported on. They were a project for them. It was very, very uncomfortable to witness.

    But then, I still have questions about how much good I did when I was there, too. I love the idea of finding the kingdom of God as the seed, the leaven, and not presuming we’re there to plant it, but going with the intention of seeing it, helping it grow, however different that looks than at home.

  • Our small group at church is working through “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Many of the same thoughts there, as well. I think many well-intentioned people swoop in to provide the “quick fix” that we’re used to in Western culture, without taking the time to build relationships, learn the culture, identify communities’ assets, work with those assets, etc. And then we wonder why our methods fail.

    Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

  • I just want to types, “Yes!” over and over and over and… I come at this from another direction. I’ve never been “missions minded”. But I am drawn, and called, to young people. And I figured out early on that just being there for them, getting to know them, listening, spending time, paid off more than all the sermons, rallies, events, and what not put together. (Is there a place for those things? Sure- in family. In community. I keep coming back to what *did*[1] Jesus do?) The silly thing was, I thought it was just the way *I* was supposed to work.

    Maybe I should have stuck with, “Yes! Yes! Yes!…”

    [1] Not would. Did. Not to slavishly copy, but to learn who he is, and how he worked– which all grew out of relationship wi Daddy God, and knowing the people he was with.

    • And for what it’s worth, that happens within the US as well. People go to different states, cities, regions, denominations, congregations, ethnic groups, and do the exact same thing. Barf.

  • I don’t have anything brilliant to add. But, I have been on both sides. As a young person on trips to Utah to reach the Mormons I saw ugly stuff of arrogant attitudes, some in my own heart, some in others on our team. Over the years of going on this summer trip, my heart changed and soften a little bit each time.
    Now on the other side, I watch a youth group come to our own town on their summer trip. Our church is their host church. They come and do their own thing. They don’t utilize the willing souls from our congregation. They speak embarrassing Spanglish to the Mexican immigrant children. We have people at our church who for whom Spanish is their first language. But, instead they stand up in the park and call out to the kids, Hola! Come around, mi amigos. Ah!
    Thank you for hashing this out, Sarah.

  • lindseyfoj


    This. WAS. Good.
    Being a missionary kid who was born and raised IN Haiti…it felt a little weird to me to think of bloggers talking about “my homeland” yet even for me who grew up there, I am a third culture kid, not really even TOTALLY one of them, just as I am not totally American either. At the Relevant conference last year, I felt a little frustrated with how people were talking about this whole topic. I felt like you said in a comment below….the people in these countries HAVE a voice…we just are not listening. Yet I get that awareness needs to happen in our Western world and since I am truly of neither one…I have struggled to see, to know, to understand how the gap must be bridged. How do I share their words? How can I give them a voice? I still wrestle with this.
    Thank you for sharing this is SUCH a balanced way. I am ALL about balance as much as it can possibly be achieved in our lives. I appreciate the truth here.

    • Right with you on this, girl. Mk here, and moving back overseas. Hate telling people I’m going to be a missionary, because I just want to go and live and serve a place I love. What people think “missionaries” are and what they think countries need is SO far from what I actually am and feel called to do.

      • lindseyfoj

        I REALLY “get” that, Kacie…in so many ways!

  • Nancy Huggett

    What a good discussion, and applicable to any “marginalized” group. How do we provide opportunities to tell stories? Many stories! A diversity of stories! I s0ometimes work with/create with people with disabilities and learning how to listen to and honour their stories (even if they aren’t in my language or the way I would tell it), learning how to create spaces for them to tell their stories in the mainstream, in their communities, has always been an interesting and awesome challenge and delight!

  • Nancy Huggett

    Forgot to say that, in a different context, there is a great article by Norm Kunc (in the disability field) called Hell-Bent on Helping that parses out the helper/helpee relationship Again, a different context, but sometimes its those crossovers (in ideas) that are interesting. I just love your writing and your heart Sarah!

  • Sandy

    I think that the thing is to admit that you don’t know what you don’t know. Working, living and serving in another country is a humbling and often humiliating experience. You can live there many, many years and still make cultural mistakes and offenses. Yet it is the boots on the ground people, the ones who don’t blog or become known that do the real service. Those are the ones to get to know, to get your short term teams working with, to learn from. The unknown long term people have a lot to offer.

  • The hard part (for me) is when this happens inside the churches themselves, when you become the project of your fellow church members, and there’s no escape. Your sanctuary has become unsafe, despite their good intentions.

  • Erin

    Thank you.

  • Pingback: Questions of Representation: How Should We Talk about Poverty? « love is what you do()

  • Katie Blackburn

    Wow, this is just beautiful. So much to think about here, perhaps my favorite: “I think that the people of God stay when everyone else leaves to the next sexy project or cause.” Amen, sister.

  • Dina

    yes, truth but so timely for this missionary with a project-bent heart. as a family we reach out in love to a neighborhood in our city, wanting to love them through basketball in the name of Jesus. but those words, rete and koute, those are what I need to slow down enough from, pipe down enough from my megaphone of truth so that I can listen, so that I can labor where God is already at work. the one blessing in this revived work that we are involved with God in is that we are the ones that came back, with the full blessing of the city and this community. thankfully, they saw Christ and wanted more of Him. we are the seed planers, He must give the increase. this post was a blessing to me…thank you, dear fellow Canadian!

    • Dina

      sorry, slow down enough FOR…

  • Mimi

    Well said!! We must make a friend, be a friend, before we can lead one to Christ.
    Thanks you for putting it so eloquently.

  • Kyndra

    Bob Finley’s “Reformation in Foreign Missions” ( has much to say about the way in which the church and colonialism have been entangled. It is always exciting to see how much God can do when the church in North America is willing to support the church in other countries rather than take over…K

  • Thank you for this conversation. I was excited to be a part of J.L.’s discussion/focus on poverty this month and am loving all of the other posts she’s putting up. SO glad she linked to this today. I love all the comments too. We live in Haiti full time and I find myself grinding against so much of what the Church considers “missions” work. Being on this side of it, and yet having experienced the other, leaves me frustrated most of the time about how to communicate to well intended people that something needs to change. So many good voices out there about this right now and I find myself jumping up and down inside and reading things out loud to my husband, which he loves 😉 Thanks for sharing! I will be linking back and encouraging people to come read.

    Btw – I saw your header and thought, “That looks like BC!” So excited to find another BCer in internet land. It makes me miss home in a good way 🙂

  • This highlights perfectly the tension I feel… maybe you feel it more once the “project” transforms into a group of people you love and see as individuals rather than “projects?” We lived in rural China for 4 years working with an orphanage for little ones with serious medical problems, but while we were there, we started a small fair-trade artisan cooperative, mostly because we recognized so many problems were intrinsically rooted in poverty, and we wanted to make a way out of that for even just a few. (In China, a lot of little ones are abandoned because their parents can’t afford their medical care… I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of that tragedy. It makes me ache that the solution to one fairly serious problem is one irreparable tragedy.)

    Anyway, in recent months I’ve grown more and more sensitive to the way we talk about our artisans. On the one hand, telling their stories and letting people see into their lives is how we sell what they make! (And we aren’t making a bunch extra off the top… it isn’t like I’m capitalizing on their plight.) And they know we’re telling their stories and understand that’s how we help the person buying the product connect with them… but I don’t know if they realize we describe their lives as being in “poverty.” And if they did know, how would it make them feel? I mean by the world’s standards they are “in poverty,” but they are dignified and strong and able-bodied and business-minded, and I just feel like they probably wouldn’t want that label.

    But I don’t know how to handle it? I don’t know how to summarize their story to people who are more interested in a cute apron than hearing a treatise on the proper way to engage with a family whose daily reality is worlds away from our own. How do we say it in 20 words or less in a brochure or on a tag? We certainly do everything we can to not turn their lives into sob stories, but if we failed to communicate the reality of their difficult lives, we probably wouldn’t sell much of their wares – and that’s what they want us to do!

    Argh… tension, tension, tension… it’s hard being comfortable with tension. Thank you for taking this issue seriously…



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  • Beautifully written, and questions that I keep asking myself. David Smith’s “Learning from the Stranger” does a good job of illustrating some of these tensions. I myself am a third generation missionaries kid, and have watched on the sidelines for years as people come and go. In 1936, my grandparents moved to Ghana, and some of my family is still there. People came and people went. I think the difference in my family was they came, fell in love and Ghana became “home.” There were no great things. Just little things that slowly built on more little things until nearly seventy years after they first got off that steamship, the community today is a thriving one. But we still don’t know – was Ghana more of a blessing – welcoming in the strangers and inviting us to be a part or were we more of a blessing, building schools and clinics? The truth is both. And there is no way nor reason to measure the blessings.

    It’s not about that. The command to “go” doesn’t come so we, the better people can impart our great wisdom. It comes so that everyone’s cultural assumptions are broken down and our instinctive “us vs. them” tribalism is broken. Only when we let down the guard and are willing to learn and be blessed can we ever be a blessing. When that happens then, we are often unaware that we are even blessing, so humbled are we by the undeserved welcome we have been given.

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