Sunday, July 16, 2006

Missionaries and Morals

I recently received an email from a person in Europe mournful over my position on missionaries outlined in my post on End of the Spear. Two comments struck me. First, his experience seemed to have been much more positive and it reminded me that I did not adequately draw the distinction between long-time European missionaries and American ones. Europe of course has a historically long presence in Africa, and those missionaries I did have respect for inevitably came from Europe, had been there often for generations, knew local customs and language, and were there almost exclusively to help people. American missionaries, on the other hand, were only there to get "soldiers" for Christ, had no respect for local culture, would not even bother speaking the local language, and generally ran rough-shod over local people (any "success" they had, they bought by throwing money around). I wouldn't consider the distinction hard and fast, but in general that's been my experience. Nonetheless, I still do not consider "missions", be they European, American or otherwise, to be positive institutions over all - again, the whole idea is to destroy native culture and replace it with something else.

Secondly, he suggested that by lying to missionaries on a regular basis I was also engaged in dishonorable behavior. First, I only lied about the fact that I was working with directly with local people - it was none of their business anyway, and I certainly didn't want a truckload of missionaries descending upon the groups I was working with - for their sake, more than mine. I would consider this no more a dishonorable act than I would a native Iraqi lying to American military personnel (or an American lying to Al Qeada personnel). If you think lying to missionaries is bad, I knew researchers (very few, by the way) who absolutely refused to help them under any circumstances - "If God's on their side, let God help them" was the attitude.

Finally, a Christian commenting on my own moral behavior is the pot calling the kettle black. Christianity as a whole is not functioning as a good role model for behavior - this community has some serious house-cleaning to do before they can claim any sort of higher moral ground.


Mike and Karen said...

We are American Christian missionaries and have practically the same observations of American missionaries in foreign lands (we've worked in a total of 12 thus far, and are looking forward to our next ministry being in Africa).

The dependency on money as a "tool" of ministry is the root of the problem. There exists a particularly pungent superficiality in American Christian ministry, as if ministry is a lark, an adventure! (Truth is, it's an adventure after, and only after, you survive it in many cases.)

Old-school missionaries (like European, David Livingstone) depended on faith alone, and his is a great example to follow, though there are also many other former great examples to follow also.

Americans fly in and out of ministry locations, bringing and leaving behind what we label as the "American spirit". Are they changed by the experience? Do they become deeper people as a result of their visits into drastic circumstances?

Or is the sum total of their experience merely one of being grateful to be in America, and of being more appreciative of the material advantages they enjoy?

Would to Christ the Lord could find people willing to give all full-time, and not just some part-time! Since the "cult wars" of the 70s-80s, it is much more difficult for young men and women to forsake all, I suppose, for fear of being taken advantage of by some malefactor with a personal agenda!

However, we are praying and waiting for a new generation who are not so belabored as the present by the consequences of sins in the days of their fathers!

Maybe then, our opinions of American missionary ministries will change for the better!

Thank you so much for your observations, your willingness to share the truth! Perhaps the Lord is calling YOU to be the better example you're hoping others would be?

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