I had an entire post ready.
Probably 1,000 words.
And I just deleted every single syllable.
Because it was dripping with condemnation and completely void of grace. Don’t get me wrong, this a conversation that we are still going to have but I’m going to walk with a lot more love and a lot less sassyness. Sometimes my passion gets the best of me.
Here’s where I am – about 7 million people have covered the topic that I’m going to cover. From the incredibly sweet to the horribly cruel, it’s been covered so many times and yet I still feel the need to address it.
My experience with missions has been beautiful. I’ve been going on international short term missions since I was 15 years old. Jamaica – Mexico – Uganda – Kenya – that’s my roster. I’ve fallen in love with each country and Jesus has taught me so much about Himself through each and every place.
But unfortunately, I think so very often, I did more harm than good. My intentions were absolutely in the right place but I had no idea what I was doing.
Missions are good. Serving others is good. Loving people is good.
But you don’t have to go 8,000 miles away to do that.
Sometimes unqualified individuals travel to far away countries because they feel God calling them there. AND MAYBE THEY ARE. But sometimes, that’s just not the case.
I promise I’m not trying to be harsh. Pretend we’re having cocoa by a fire (can you tell I want it to be fall?) and we’re sitting on the couch with a big fluffy blanket. We’re talking, you and I. Talking about this broken world and how we can change it.
But unfortunately, we can’t. One person cannot change the world. Jesus is the only mechanism In which we can change the world and through love is the only medium.
Sometimes loving Jesus means trusting Him not to go to Africa. Sometimes it means raising $3500 to send to long term missionaries abroad. Sometimes it means serving the people in your own back yard instead of people across the world.
I have to say this because missions has broken my heart. And not for the reasons you think. The first time I really understood how much I was frustrated by westerners was in 2012 while living and working as a teacher in Kenya. I was on a field trip with my 3rd graders and a group of people saw them and starting taking pictures of them. As if they were animals. I’ve seen it happen over and over again with people I know and in the past, I did it too.
You go on one trip, you run some week long program, you have pictures of children you will never remember and yet your life is “changed forever.” By doing these types of mission trips, we are exploiting these people and disenfranchising them. By showing children that white people bring gifts, candy, and toys, we are teaching them that white people are only good for those things. Making things infinitely harder for the missionaries that are actually IN the community doing good work. By running a week long program with no follow up, we make things harder for those that gave their lives to Christ but have no community.
True change involves discipleship, accountability, and studying God’s word daily. If this follow up isn’t there, what’s the point of a one week evangelism project? Is it for the numbers? Is it to “travel the world spreading God’s word?” Where is your motivation?
Traveling is amazing and beautiful and wonderful. Please don’t use missions as the way that you get to “travel in your twenties.” Dear one, this isn’t good for you or the people that you “ministering” to.
You are both hurting and broken people. Serving is hard enough, doing it with the wrong intentions makes everything worse for everyone.
Sometimes westerners think we know everything. We think because we have ipads and electric cars that we know what people in poverty need. Sure, we haven’t come close to understanding the impact that hundreds of years of disenfranchisement, colonial domination, and slavery can have on a community but we understand poverty because we walked through a slum once.
I think it’s important we don’t go on missions just to “understand our privilege” – I’ve seen a lot of this recently. I’ve seen a lot of instagram posts of young people who want to have a place in the world and “do good” but end up having a vacation that exploits a people group instead of empowering them.
I think it’s time that we put some serious thought into the work that we are doing. We need to see if our gifts are best used at home (on the planning/admin side of trips) or in the field for whatever work is being done. And we need to seriously consider if they even need westerners to help with this certain area. I think it’s important we not only look at the motivations for our actions but the actions that we are doing.
I have no doubt that those of you who have gone love Jesus and want to serve Him but I do doubt that you were absolutely needed for this job.
Ouch. Sorry. I’m getting you another cup of cocoa as we speak.
When we started the beginning stages of planning to build a rehab center, I had ZERO input into the architectural design of the rehab center. Want to know why? I’M NOT AN ARCHITECT. Our job at One Love is to raise money for the center and awareness about addiction. Who will work at the center? KENYANS.
Let me ask you something, would you like to go to rehab and talk to someone who has never lived in your country and knows nothing about your life but thinks they are qualified because they have a degree from another country?
It makes no sense. Our center will be Kenyans for Kenyans. I will do whatever is in my ability to do for this center. But I will not do a job that I am not qualified to do just so I can get glory for myself.
Doing things you are not qualified to do ends up hurting the people that you are trying to help and exploiting the faces of humans you don’t really know.
This is a conversation that needs to keep on going. We need to constantly be talking about the programs and trips we are planning. These trips are not about us. I know the phrase “I came to serve them and they served me!” is common, and I know it’s meant to be sweet…but that mindset is exactly what I’m talking about.
Re-consider going on a trip just to “see poverty” because you can do that in the US, in every single city in America. Re-consider going on a trip just to “travel” – do that with your own money. Just re-consider. You’re going to be raising a lot of money for something, make sure it’s worth it.
And I hate to break it to you, but an instagram picture is not worth $3500.
There are a lot of people out there doing good, long-term work. Invest in those people. I know it’s hard not to get to experience other cultures for ourselves but that’s just it. It’s for YOU. That’s not what the great commission was about and that’s not what missions is about.
Everyone is gifted and everyone can serve but it’s so important we search out where we can serve best. If your passion is teaching, don’t go on a medical mission trip and vice versa. Use your gifts in a way that God gets the most glory. Your story should be about forming relationships and empowering the community.
Let’s make this life about loving Jesus and going off of His example to serve the world. If you have a heart for missions, then that means you are called to either be a missionary or support missionaries. Don’t be someone who bounces all over the world going on short term mission trips, capturing thousands of photos but making no relationships.
That’s just not Jesus. His heart is for community and relationships.
Be someone who fosters that community everywhere you go. And once you’ve found your place or your calling, stay there.
June, 2012June, 2013
Because moments like this are worth it. Watching my kids grow up has been my greatest joy. 2 years and 4 trips of going to the same place – I have found my community and I’m never doing anything else with my time abroad. God is good.
Also, please don’t read this post as someone who has done it perfectly. I have screwed up majorly in this area and that’s how I can write about it now. I’ve felt icky and strange and uncomfortable because I knew that I wasn’t really helping anyone. My goal now and our goal at One Love His Love is to empower the community and stand alongside them or even behind them in everything that they do. Even after 4 years and 6 trips to Kenya, I am JUST NOW beginning to truly understand the country and community that I love and how I can best be used.
“O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Thanks for reading, ya’ll. Get another cup of cocoa on me.
Keep loving well,