The Unfundamental Conversion
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Mission Field Problems: What Should Be Different?

March 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Lana Hope in Missions | Uncategorized
Last week I wrote about the ethics of converting other people’s children, particularly on the missions field.

 

Since I came back to the states, I’ve really struggled on how to process, unlearn, and relive all that I experienced in my three years overseas. 

 

I am no longer comfortable about much missions work. However, my heart has seen, touch, and felt too much to pull away altogether. In fact, just three days ago, one of my kids overseas contacted me. The last we spoke over the phone a few months ago, he was distressed and said he had to get out from his current home. Apparently he ran away the next day, ended up on the streets, and then he was picked up and put in the mental hospital. And now I heard from him again. Part of my heart wept for joy; the heart is pulling back because I don’t want to be hurt when he falls again.

 

I have never been satisfied with those who tell me just to help my own country first. Don’t get me wrong. I admire social workers in the US tremendously, but yes, I also feel responsible that the west holds most of the wealth, that children’s’ virginity are auctioned off at bars miles from my old house, and that I know kids extremely malnourished, who do not go to school, and who sleep under a tarp worse than a tent.

 

I just want to emphasize that if we cut out the typical evangelical answer to the problems overseas, we still have problems. And we still have people. And this demands answers from people who hold the wealth of the world.

 

I will say this. In general I am not in favor of sending money overseas, or sending clothes and even sending Christmas boxes. But I do support people willing to go into the slums and the roughest places and offer sincere friendship.

 

If you are not in favor of Christian missions, please understand. We still have work to be done.

 

To give you an idea, I am going to quote from Compassion International. I think they make a great example of this tension between needs and too much evangelism. If you are not satisfied with how Compassion answers, understand that these are still kids with needs. What will you do instead?

 

Here.

 

When her parents told her she was to be married, Sushama refused.“My parents forced me, but I denied getting married this early,” says Sushama. “My elder sister got married when she was 13. She had to quit her studies. She suffered from different sickness and couldn’t take care of her child properly. Her husband also beat her often. I don’t want that life.”Her parents weren’t pleased with her reaction. She was badly beaten by both parents, but Sushama didn’t back down.

 

Here.

Etagegn was only 14 years old when she moved to her nation’s capital looking for work. This isn’t uncommon—youth in Ethiopia often move to larger cities, lured by the promise of well-paying jobs and better lives for their families. Etagegn was no different. She secured a job as a housemaid and dreamed of sending her siblings to school.

After working for a year and a half, Etagegn married a man she thought was in love with her. But it didn’t take long for that love to turn into control. “I thought I was lucky to find love and a husband that will support me, but I was wrong,” she says. “Once he married me, he became a person who doesn’t really care about me. He forced me to choose between him and my Christianity.”

Confused and frightened, Etagegn obeyed her husband and abandoned her faith. Shortly after, he left her. She was 7 months pregnant.

And here.

The sun rises over Dhaka, Bangladesh, glinting off apartment buildings and slowly waking the city. In the shadow of these high rises sprawl the slums—near enough to be neighbours, yet ignored as though in a different world. Derelict structures are hastily built with bamboo, plastic, hard paper and tin. Families barely fit in their tiny shelters, but with 15 million people crammed into 815 square kilometres, personal space is a luxury most can’t afford.

This is where Al-Amin spends his days with his step-mother and three siblings. Their father abandoned them shortly after his youngest sibling was born. It’s not safe place to live. Al-Amin and his siblings are constantly at risk of being enlisted by slum leaders for illegal activities—something they can’t take to the authorities because slums themselves aren’t legal. Every year, government officials bulldoze the area, destroying the homes and anything left inside.

And here is another story on the same link. This is a story of a boy who was helped, but still ended back up on the streets. (This story resonates with me because it happened to my kid.)

Mawulolo lived off what he made selling scraps. Shortly after, a man promised Mawulolo and his peers a better wage working in his used clothing business. But the boys’ new employer was not the kind-hearted man he appeared to be. He locked them up during the day and violated them at night.

Now let me tell you some of my stories.

dump house

This man lives on the edge of one of the largest dumps in SE Asia. Unfortunately, the land is owned, and someone charges him $5 a month to live in this house that he built out of dump scraps. One day he was up in a tree, trying to cut branches to secure the roof of this house before the rainy season began. He fell down and broke his back. He laid there for 3 or 5 days until someone drove by who had a vehicle and took him to the hospital. Then he laid in the hospital for another 3 or 5 days because he had no money to pay the bill. Then the missionaries got word, and he was finally given pain meds and surgery.

Another day my friend was walking around the temple. A boy who looked about seven walked up and asked if he wanted to have sex with him. My face turned pall.

Is some of this “exaggeration” to raise funds? I can’t speak for other people. But I saw enough evil in four countries in my first two years that it shook my faith and made me depressed. The pillow and I became regular friends – sometimes that’s the only place I can take out the pain because people in the states did not really want to hear about how the kid I took in for a couple of days stole from me. The people in the states said I was stupid because I had kids who had turned into abusers under my roof, and I was told I was draining my funds.

I love the missionaries, even when we disagree, because they still dare to do big things. They dare to go into dark places, and they do not say I am too young to do big things. And they do not say the budget is too small to take in another kid.

 

What do you think should be done different? Please contribute. I would love to hear from non-religious people too.

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  • I think is is patently offensive to attempt to convert anyone from their personal/cultural/family religion. To put it bluntly, people of other religions do not need Chrstianity, Mormonism, or any other different religion. That said, if a missionary who is a Christian (as opposed to being a Christian missionary) desires to let their faith shine through their good works and THEN someone inquires about their faith, then I am fine with them sharing their faith. Most Evangelical missionary work is coercive and meeting temporal needs is secondary to winning souls for Jesus.

    You asked. 🙂

    • Lana Hope

      I always love your thoughts, Bruce, and I tend to agree, especially from the cultural aspect that you mentioned (Buddhism, for example, supports the public education You can’t get me interwoven in culture than that. Our culture is way more neutral than theirs.) My experience, though, is not everyone is out to convert people. There were those who had large parties just to get everyone saved, and there were those who never seemed to mention their faith. There are also plenty of christian expats there. Oddly those irritated the locals more because the westerners tend to live in the same neighborhood and not interact with them much.

    • Lana Hope

      I guess the question I still keep asking myself is if I am not satified with the current way missions is done (because of reasons like you just said), then how would we secular/non-religious or progressive christians move forward and take over the current work that is being done? It’s a loaded questions because there is so many ethical problems, not just converting, but the whole modernizing aspect, etc

      • The problem with many Western missionaries is that they are infected with American exceptionalism and they think that the American/Western way of life is God’s plan for every country and culture. It is hard to undo this kind of thinking. Yes, people have material needs, but they also have much to teach us. The internet has allowed me to come in contact with people from all over the world and this has greatly altered the way I look at the world. So many Americans are insular, thinking there is no culture worth living in but their own.

        That said, missionary groups have a tremendous infrastructure and through it could do more to meet the temporal needs of others than many NGO’s. Of course these missionary groups rely on funds from churches and people who want them to save and Westernize the heathens. When they come home on furlough their supporters will expect to hear great conversion stories. Sadly, in many churches, one hungry heathen getting saved is considered more important than making sure 100 people have food to eat.

        I have no easy answers. I wonder if it is possible to work within the framework as it is, or does it need to be burnt to the ground? Even as a Christian pastor, I had increasing reservations and doubts about how and why we did missions.

        My two cents.

        • Lana Hope

          Absolutely agree. In fact, it is imperative to start with the understanding that we are no better off as a country. It *has* to be a friendship, not institution.

          We also need to understand what “need” is (or need of our help is). Need is the kid locked in the brothal or living in the dump without shelter and food. Villages that don’t have schools are rarely in our need. They can build their own schools. Perhaps they need some building materials, but you get the point. The village where I lived built their school completely themselves; they hired no one to do it and needed no outside assistant (materials were donated – not by westerns, btw). Probably our missions ideal will have to be torn down; for one, as you said, there is too much wrapped into the perception from the states, who have too many expectations.

          So I guess my best answer right now is if the living conditions are really, really bad or sexually abusive or violent, then we need NGOs or some kind of organization that has time and money to help if the government is not doing it (although it’s still be to empower the locals, the locals can still often use support).

          Right now, for example, the sex trade in SE Asia is so massive that it is going to take the government, NGOs, and locals all working together for years to begin to clean it up. There is no way for it to be just the government, or just the local people, or just the NGOs. It’s an issue where all is needed. The NGOs are able to provide the undercover materials, the locals can report what they know, the westerners can go in and pretend to be bidding for a girl in order to get evidence and speak to the girl about her rescue (looks legit), but only the government can raid the brothal.

          The refugee camps would make another example where people need to work together. The locals are good about raising money and donating rice to the people. But the westerners are providing an important role with the Burmese right now because they teach the young teens English until they are nearly fluent, and that gets the permits to get into the cities.

          Some things are different in Africa. In general I’m in favor of paying kids school fees. Cambodia has school fees too. If the school fees are as much as a parent works in a year, school is a much better long term investment than us encouraging the kids stand out on the streets selling goodies to western tourists or being picked up for the sex trade. But when we start building all the schools, it pushes my buttons because I don’t think we should be giving kids a western education. But if the people already have their own education system, and a family just can’t afford it, I’d rather the kids have the opportunity to go than not.

          That’s a lot, but wanted to have this in the comments.

  • Do the missionary groups collaborate with other service providers and NGOs (international and in the countries they visit)? If so, do these collaborative efforts bear fruit? Social problems are too large for one group to tackle alone, so assembling a network of like-minded groups is a start.

  • (Hey! My first comment didn’t take. Attempt #2.)

    Do the missionary groups collaborate intensely with other service providers and NGOs (both international and based in the countries they visit)? If so, do collaborative efforts bear fruit? Social problems would be insurmountable for one group, but a collaborative network could coordinate efforts and pool resources.

    • Lana Hope

      It took. I had to approve it. I have a spam checker rather than making people feel out the XXOYZQ bit. However, sometimes it makes me approve comments. 1) If there are too many people commenting at once 2) If there links in the posts 3 )if the comment sounds spammy (such as “nice post”).

      Anyway, great idea. The Christian organizations definitely work with the government. I am not sure how often they work with the other major NGOs. In the case of the Burmese refugees, though, the UN is involved, and I think the UN work with a lot of the groups because it’s such a massive problem. (It’s an international problem. The refugee camps are in several border countries, including China.)

      I know the groups working to free the children who are sex slaves do work together. But that’s taken effort to start working together. But as I mentioned in one of the other comments, it can’t be fought alone, and needs to be joint.

  • sgl

    i support a charity called blinknow.org, which is run by a 27 year old new jersey woman, who’s mom to 44 kids, and founded a school for 350 kids, in one of the poorest districts in nepal, which is one of the 5 poorest countries in the world. the charity is non-religious. she participates in hindu ceremonies with the kids. at the same time, when there was a jewish volunteer a couple years ago, that volunteer showed the kids her religious traditions. so i think the kids are being raised in their native religious beliefs, while still being respectful and learning about other religious beliefs. they also celebrate christmas (gift giving at least), and halloween too.

    she seems to be quite successful. she gives a lot of credit to building partnerships with the local community. i think she’s also pretty good at getting money from grant giving institutions, plus some directly from individual donors. plus she runs a very lean organization. several years ago, her father, who was acting as the adminstrative person for the charity, wrote that exluding a big 100,000 charity grant that year that went to long-term land acquisition, the average donation was about $45, and that max was only $5,000. the total for running the childrens home and school for 350 kids was about $150,000 per year.

    there seems to be a lot of charity grant organizations. ie, there are charities involved in building wells or purifying water, where other charities can fill out a grant, and get the funding for a well in a village somewhere. so i think there’s a certain amount of project management/grant management that needs to occur. kind of like going to college, and getting a small scholarship from the rotary club, and another scholarship from a credit union, etc, rather than getting a single scholarship from a single source that pays for everything.

    also, the gates foundation is non-religious (assuming you think the microsoft/apple divide is secular not religious 😉 ), and is doing a lot of work too, altho i don’t follow them closely. i think they make grants to lots of other charities, based on a set of priorities that the gates foundation has set, eg, education, medical care, malaria control, etc.

    re: religious charities
    being non-religious myself, i think the fundamentalist variety of religion is quite toxic, domestically and internationally. seems to me that folks that have no clean water, malnutrution, lack of education, lack of jobs, bad medical care, and a bunch of social problems related to all that desperation, have a much bigger problems in life than not having a bible translated into their native language. shows a complete lack of sense of priorities to think otherwise, and in my opinion, incredibly bad theology too. fundamentalism has a severe case of ethnocentric tribalism at it’s core, which to me says they never understood the parable of the good Samaritan. as i’ve said before, my view is that if jesus came back today, it’d be called the parable of the good gay muslim instead of the good samaritan, and the pharisee’s of today (the fundamentalists) would be rabidly foaming at the mouth as the pharisee’s of yore were with jesus. or, as someone cleverly stated on a forum once: “jesus was a finger pointing to the moon, and now, 2000 years later, christians are still intently examining the finger.”

    lastly, i’ll say that too many charities siphon off a big chunk of revenue off the top in “overhead”, such that only 30% going to overhead is considered a “good” charity. i know those people have to eat too, but seems excessive. also, in the past, when i’ve made a small donation to a charity, they keep sending lots and lots of junk mail, such that my small donation is essentially spent on mailing me more requests for money. that’s not what i gave them the money to do, so i don’t give to those charities any more.

    (and related to blinknow.org: maggie doyne, the founder, didn’t take a salary for at least the first 5 years or so, i may still not be collecting a salary, not sure. also, most of the fundraising seems to be done via facebook, the web site, and her speaking at schools, rather than sending direct mail solicitations, so costs are very low. so something like 93% of the donations get spent on the charity itself, not overhead. very lean organization.)

    • Lana Hope

      ” seems to me that folks that have no clean water, malnutrution, lack of education, lack of jobs, bad medical care, and a bunch of social problems related to all that desperation, have a much bigger problems in life than not having a bible translated into their native language. ”

      Yes yes, yes *this* BUT as you know, this is due to a misconception of hell. If you believe everyone will spend eternity in hell, then the time is running short. And there is bigger problems.

      Maybe hell removes the commonsense.

      Yes, Napal is very poor. So glad to hear that story. I see nothing wrong with a westerner sharing traditions with other people as long as its recipical.

  • There are uncooperative people everywhere who work in many different types of organizations. In my experience, many people, both expat and local, and organizations partner in a variety of ways.

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