Monday, June 30, 2008

motherhood, apple pie, and fishing

Last January 68 people gathered, mission workers from all over our church and coming also from our global mission partners, and unanimously approved a document for presentation to the Presbyterian Church (USA). It came to us at the General Assembly in San Jose, under the disguise of just another overture -- numbered 08-20. An open hearing was set for those who agreed or disagreed to speak to it, and no one signed up. Quite quickly the overture was presented and advocated. There were only a few questions for the presenters, the clearest being "this is motherhood and apple pie! Who wouldn't want it?" Everyone wants to do better mission. Someone else asked "what are the financial implications?" and hearing "almost nil" the vote was unanimous to accept it. And, the entire discussion was over.

Here is an excerpt of the text:
...we realize that God is calling us to new patterns of mission. The world has changed, and the majority of the world’s Christians are now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The great growth and mission faithfulness of the Church outside the West invite us into a new posture. We must listen and learn to receive. We must also be open to new patterns of collaboration. These new patterns involve new cooperation and partnerships within the PC(USA).
and it looks like: Doing mission in the way of Jesus who humbled himself, showing the way of self-giving and self-emptying. (Philippians 2) and Striving in our mission to be aware of the context out of which we come, to respect the persons with whom we labor, and to honor the context in which they live. In an era of massive global inequalities we commit ourselves to be sensitive to and address the issues of power that result from our differences.

My beloved 08-20 passed without notice because nobody wanted to talk about the back-story. Experienced mission workers know it, but it's secret, because telling this back-story is opening a box of hostility and counter-stories, positive outweighing negative, and defensiveness and emotion.
The back-story is: last year 3 separate mission groups from America came in short succession to the same village in Guatemala and painted the same church over and over again. And this is not unique. The top-down, donation-driven model of mission is ridiculously ineffective. The church collectively spends millions of dollars per year to fly teenagers to the Global South for a few weeks, where they do sloppy paint jobs, gawk at the perceived "happiness" of poor people, and return with souvenirs and some vague gratitude, compassion, and commitment to the Christian faith. Meanwhile, a village that needed a well now has another fresh paint of paint on their school, lots of T-shirts and candy, and less respect for themselves than they ever had. This is the horrendous truth that goes on in widespread Christian practice, that no one will mention. I realize that many will jump on me for mentioning this, and I think even two years ago I would have disagreed with myself. It's harsh, because we who participate in such "mission trips" really do value the difference it makes in our own hearts.

If the great growth of the Church outside the West (in the non-western "Global South" to confuse us all) is going to invite us to a new posture we must kneel down and be humbled enough to realize our mistakes (which hurts, ouch). We must put aside our authoritarian, colonial, condescending model of doing mission, and get down and dirty, and not just for two weeks of a virtuous vacation.

We could... give someone a fish, and they'd eat it, and we'd feel good about ourselves, and this would end our interaction.
we could... teach them how to fish, and leave -- they'd keep eating after we left.
we could send them a packet of information and a fishing pole, and they'd fish, eat, and pass the information on.
or WE COULD learn how to fish, move across the world, sit down and fish with them, stay with them, and eat the fish together -- and it would be harder, but all of us would be transformed.

Mister Moderator, i move that we consider the last of these options.

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