Monday, July 28, 2008

some details on the short-term mission thing

When i was in Uganda, at an orphanage, in about my 7th month there or so, i was approached by one of the house mothers. "Auntie," she said [though she is my senior, the children call all of us auntie and sometimes we slip into it too], "can i ask you to teach the children something?"
"sure," i said, thinking about how to garden, or pronounce difficult words, or maybe even a sex talk... "what do you want me to teach them?"

"that it is important to behave yourself well, even in America."
We had just had a rowdy crowd of well-intentioned teenage visitors who painted the orphanage walls, distributed toys, and distracted the children from their chores for a week. Auntie B. told me that the children loved these visitors, and the attention they'd gotten from them, but that they were losing respect for the way things go in Uganda. The kids could run up to the Americans, jump on them, pull their hair, demand things from them... or alternately, whine to them and receive candy to "cheer them up." When these visitors left, the children were a bit petulant toward the regular home staff, who must always be addressed formally and respectfully, who don't deal in whining, and whose orders are obeyed. I was in the middle ground -- not a stranger, not one of them -- and had the power to reinforce the Americans' behavior, or the Aunties' rules. I went toward the side of local custom and formality, realizing that I could show the children love and affection without spoiling them.
So, this is just ONE of the times that I was ashamed to be identified with my "own" people, and for which I hope our mission programs can learn to be sensitive.

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