Monday, February 3, 2014
As I was perusing my Facebook feed in the wee hours of the morning (you tend to do that when you have a newborn), I came across a meme posted, referencing the outcome of the Super Bowl that was played the day before.
It depicted a group of young African boys, in just their loin clothes, celebrating and dancing. The caption read, "Denver Broncos T-shirts Arrive On Monday." Normally I would have laughed and hit the "like" button along with many others in the church community that had already done so.
That was until I came on staff with an organization called Sounds of the Nations, and met an amazing man of God, Joseph Bataille, who proceeded to blow my mind with his perspective on missions work and how the American mindset and practical application of humanitarian aid is actually more detrimental to those we minister to than we know.
Through our ignorance, we have become skewed in what we think successful missions work is. We think that because we have surplus it must be given to those without, when in fact we are dishonoring those cultures by handing over our "junk" and calling it aid. Free clothing and food a lot of times hurts the nation more than helps. Tailors, farmers, shoemakers go out of business because we throw our unwanted stuff at these countries instead of empowering them to provide for themselves. Why would they support there own economy, by working to buy clothes of their own, clothes that is actually of their culture, when they can get free "cool" American shirts?
These beautiful people should be dressed in their own clothing and be celebrated for its diversity and worth. We as American missionaries may never say it out loud, but in our minds when we see an African kid wearing a leather strip around his waist, we believe he is obviously poor and needs to be clothed. Any shirt is better than no shirt. Any shoes are better than no shoes. This may be true to us, but it comes at a great cost when we force that mentality on our brothers and sisters in other nations.
What we think of as humanitarian aid is actually stripping cultures of their identity and showing them they are not capable of being successful as a nation. It says to them that they need to be provided for because they can't do it themselves. Say this to someone long enough and they will actually start to believe it.
Their are times when aid is desperately needed but it should never be a first response. It is our duty to first seek to understand both the circumstance and the culture involved, and determine what type of aid is actually a solution and not a band-aid. Because we have excess does not mean it benefits those without. Most of the time what is needed is a trust built through relationship and mutual respect where cultures exchange knowledge and values that benefit both sides. For example we can teach the value of an entrepreneurial spirit and they can show us how to not depend on our material goods.
It's a huge flaw in the American missions mindset that needs to be remedied. These cultures have a rich inheritance to share and we need to honor them instead of clothing them in our junk. If we truly have a heart to share Jesus, then we will seek to honor and empower others in their God given destiny and uphold the value of their diversity as much as He does. We have as much to learn from that African boy as he does from us.
This mentality switch is not just for large corporations providing bulk aid, but it starts in the heart of the individual. My hope is that before you step foot on the mission field, both locally and globally, you would consider Gods plan for his people before putting them in your own... before taking action in the name of Jesus.